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Key Democrat Will Refile Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill, MD House Approves Police Reforms, More... (3/12/21)

A Vermont drug decriminalization bill is filed, Rhose Island's governor rolls out a marijuana legalization plan, Morocco moves toward legalizing hemp and medical marijuana, and more.

The Maryland House has approved sweeping police reforms including limits on no-knock raids. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key Congressional Chair Will Refile Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), head of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Thursday that he will reintroduce his bill to legalize marijuana this session. The bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, passed the House last year, but was not taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, the Democrats control both houses.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Dan McKee (D) on Thursday released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2022, which includes a plan for legalizing marijuana. McKee is calling for 25 retailers to be licensed in each of the first three years of legalization, with five being earmarked for minority-owned businesses, including those owned by women. Legislative leaders filed their own bill to legalize marijuana earlier this week. Both lawmakers and administration officials said they plan to work together to achieve legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Senate Revives Substitute Medical Marijuana Bill Killed by House. After the House on Wednesday killed a bill to substitute for a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, Senate Bill 2765, the Senate moved late Wednesday night to revive it. Although SB 2765 is dead, Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-South Haven) successfully amended another bill, House Bill 119, using the exact language in SB 2765.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would legalize hemp, House Bill 126, which has already passed the House, has now been unanimously approved by the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee and is headed for a Senate floor vote. Idaho is the only state where industrial hemp production remains illegal.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bill to Make Legalizing Drugs More Difficult Passes Senate. A proposed constitutional amendment that would make it impossible to legalize marijuana or any drug through the initiative process has been approved by the Senate and now heads to the House. Under the bill, the legalization of any drug would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. This bill now needs to be approved by two-thirds of the House. If approved, it would then go before voters in 2022.

Vermont Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Reps. Selene Colburn (P) and Logan Nicoll (D) have filed House Bill 422, which would decriminalize the possession and dispensing of personal use amounts of all illicit drugs. Under the bill, personal use quantities would be set by a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board within the Health Department. Persons caught with personal use amounts of drugs would face a $50 fine, which could be avoided by agreeing to be screened for substance abuse disorder.

Law Enforcement

Maryland House Approves Sweeping Police Reform Bill. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus police reform bill, House Bill 670, that, among other things, would require the use of body cameras by 2025, ban chokeholds and create a duty for police to intervene in the face of misconduct, and would limit but not ban no-knock raids. The Senate has already approved a package of nine bills with many provisions similar to the House bill. The two chambers will meet to attempt to reconcile the bills and send them to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

International

Morocco Government Approves Bill to Legalize Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The cabinet has approved a bill that would legalize non-recreational uses of marijuana, i.e. hemp and medical marijuana. The bill will now be submitted to parliament. The country is seeking to establish a regulatory framework for the entire chain of cultivation, production, processing and marketing of marijuana for medical, cosmetic and industrial uses such as textiles or paper. Morocco has long been one of the world's leading marijuana producers and currently supplies Europe with black market hashish.

House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, HI Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (3/5/21)

A Long Island doctor has been the first in New York to be charged with murder for his opioid prescribiing practices, there's strong popular support for marijuana legalizaion in Connecticut, and more.

The killing of George Floyd has now led to the House passage of a major policing reform bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). The bill would turn the current possession misdemeanor for less than two ounces into a violation with a maximum $250 fine. Possession of more than two ounces would be a misdemeanor, but punishable only with a fine. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Sacred Heart University has support for marijuana legalization at 66%, with 38% strongly supporting and 28% merely supporting. The poll comes as Gov. Ned Lamont (D) seeks support for a marijuana legalization push.

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a joint meeting Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees voted to approve Senate Bill 767, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over and create a path toward legal marijuana commerce. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday approved SB0854/HB0621, the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act. It is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow use of the substance for a set of specified qualifying medical conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Physician Charged with Murder for Pain Pill Prescribing. A Long Island doctor, George Blatti, has become the first physician in the state to be charged with second-degree murder after police and prosecutors accused him of "depraved indifference" in prescribing opioid pain medications to his patients, including five who died of drug overdoses. Prosecutors characterized the 76-year-old physician as a "serial killer" who knowingly prescribed "huge" amounts of opioids to his patients.

Blatti's arrest is part of a larger trend of going after doctors for opioid prescribing. In 2011, 88 nationwide doctors faced criminal charges, civil lawsuits or medical suspensions over opioid prescribing; in 2019, that number had jumped to 477. Historically such prosecutions haven't always been reasonably targeted -- the '00s case of Dr. Frank Fisher is instructive -- and deciding whether a given prosecution of this type is a reasonable one can require extensive research.

Law Enforcement

House Passes George Floyd-Inspired Police Reform Bill. The House on Wednesday approved HR 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on a 220 to 212 vote mainly along party lines. The measure had passed the House last year, but didn't move in the then Republican-controlled Senate. The bill would create a national database to track police misconduct, ban some no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, and move to end racial and religious profiling. It would also weaken "qualified immunity" for police officers, lowering the bar for people to sue police for alleged civil rights violations. Now, the ball is in the Senate's court.

DEA Releases Annual Drug Threat Assessment, RI Senate Approves Safer Injection Sites, More... (3/2/21)

The DEA points to Mexican drug cartels as the nation's greatest criminal drug threat, senators in Washington state move to reinstate the state's invalidated felony drug possession law, Dallas police are pushing to stop making small-time pot possession arrests, and more.

A California bill would end almost all marijuana drug testing for employees. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would End Most Workplace Marijuana Drug Tests. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hollywood) has introduced AB 1256, which would bar employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as hair or urine tests, to discriminate against employees. The bill is supported by CA NORML. "It is those tests that we want to ban, because they don't detect anything related to impairment," the group's longtime director Dale Gieringer said. The tests can show whether someone has used marijuana in the past, but not whether they are currently intoxicated.

Dallas Police Push No Arrests for Marijuana Possession Up to Two Ounces. Dallas Police are proposing to the city council Tuesday that it adopt a policy of no longer ticketing or arresting people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana. Pot busts accounted for 7% of all arrests in the city during the first three weeks of February, and 80% of those pot arrets were for fewer than two ounces. The proposal goes before the council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Safe Consumption Sites for Illegal Drugs. The state Senate last week quietly approved SB 0016, which would authorize the creation of "Harm Reduction Centers" where drug users could inject drug under medical supervision. The bill would create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state Health Department on regulating safe injection sites. A companion bill, HB 5245, though, is stuck in the House Committee on Health and Human Services, which has not set a date to vote on it.

Drug Policy

Washington State Senators Bill File to Bring Back Drug Possession Felony Crimes. Just days after the state Supreme Court threw out Washington's felony drug possession law, a pair of Democratic state senators, Mark Mullet and Steve Hobbs, have filed legislation to make possession of a controlled substance a felony again, SB 5468. The court threw out the law because it did not require prosecutors to prove that someone "knowingly" possessed drugs; this bill would merely add "knowingly" to the statute.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment Tuesday. The agency said that "the opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, affecting large portions of the country. Meanwhile, the stimulant threat, including methamphetamine and cocaine, is worsening both in volume and reach, with traffickers selling increasing amounts outside of traditional markets." DEA also pointed the finger at Mexican "transnational criminal organizations" as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Washington House Approves Bill to Ban Chokeholds, No-Knock Warrants. The House on Saturday approved HB 1054, which would ban police from using chokeholds and using no-knock search warrants. The bill is now being considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

NJ Governor Signs Marijuana Bills, VA Considers Mandatory Minimum Repeal, More... (2/22/21)

New Jersey finally gets marijuana legalization done, Virginia lawmakers are trying to do the same, a Massachusetts drug decrim bill is filed, and more.

The Nevada legislature is considering legislation that would limit but not ban raids with no-knock warrants. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Makes It Official; Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization, Legalization Bills. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Monday signed into law a pair of bills implementing voter-approved marijuana legalization (A21) and decriminalizing marijuana possession (A1897). He also signed into law a bill setting penalties for underage use, S3454, an issue that had held up legalization for more than two months after the legislature passed the first two bills.

Virginia Legislators Meet in Conference Committee to Reconcile Marijuana Legalization Bills. House and Senate negotiators are meeting this week to try to reconcile marijuana legalization bills passed by the respective chambers, HB 2312 an SB 1406. They need to thrash out differences over local authority, licensing rules, and timing to reach a consensus.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D) have filed HD 3439, which would remove all criminal penalties for personal amount drug possession and replace them with a maximum fine of $50. People caught with drugs could avoid the fine by attending a "needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services." A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Julian Cyr (D), SD 2248, is virtually identical.

Psychedelics

Massachusetts Bill to Study Psychedelic Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mike Connolly (D) has filed HD 3829, which would create an interagency task force to "study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi." The task force would be charged with developing recommendations on how to legalize natural psychedelics "in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants."

Law Enforcement

Nevada Bill to Restrict No-Knock Warrants Gets Hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on Senate Bill 50, which would restrict but not entirely ban no-knock arrest warrants. The bill would ban no-knock warrants for misdemeanors, property crimes or simple drug possession. In other cases, law enforcement would have to show a risk to public safety by not using a no-knock warrant, explain why just knocking on the door isn't appropriate, and certify that a no-knock warrant is the last resort. A proposed amendment from the ACLU of Nevada and defense attorneys and public defenders would exclude evidence gathered in no-knock raids if police don't follow the guidelines for no-knock warrants. But that amendment threatens to derail law enforcement support for the bill.

Sentencing

Virginia Legislature Ponders Ending Mandatory Minimums. The House has passed a bill that ends mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, HB 2331. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed another bill, SB 1443, which ends all mandatory minimum sentencing under state law. A conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and House will try to hash out the significant differences between the bills, though it remains to be seen whether a compromise can be struck.

NM & UT Safe Injection Site Bills, FL & GA Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills, More... (1/27/21)

There's a marijuana legalization bill filed in Maryland, a second Houston police officer has been indicted on murder charges in a misbegotten drug raid that left two innocent citizens dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George's County) has filed House Bill 32, which would legalize marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. The bill calls for tax revenues from pot sales to be invested in the state's historically black colleges.

Psychedelics

Florida Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Coming Soon. State Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami Beach) is set to introduce a bill that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state. The bill is expected to be filed this week. "I know at least two people personally who have gone through microdosing sessions, and they claim it's completely cured their depression," Grieco said. "All this would be doing is creating a controlled environment, where folks can potentially address an issue. We should not be afraid of trying new things, especially if it's controlled and safe."

Hawaii Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Filed. A bill to legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has been filed. Senate Bill 738 would direct the state Health Department to "establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn," the psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms. The bill would also remove the two substances from the Schedule I of the state's controlled substances list.

Drug Testing

Atlanta Mayor Takes Executive Action Abolishing Pre-Employment Drug Screens for Many Public Employees. Saying municipal drug testing requirements are "outdated and costly barriers to onboarding new talent in the city of Atlanta," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) has issued an executive order suspending pre-employment drug tests for city employees not in safety-sensitive positions. Atlanta now joins other major cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC, in eliminating a drug testing requirement as a condition of employment.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. Rep. Debbie Armstrong (D-Albuquerque) has filed House Bill 123, which would give localities the authority to set up overdose prevention programs, including safe injection sites, that meet state Health Department guidelines. "Overdose prevention programs in hundreds of other cities across the world have proven to link people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reduce overdose deaths, prevent transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reduce street-based drug use and syringe disposal," says Armstrong. "If we are serious about reducing overdoses, and helping people to feel safe, supported and cared for in order to engage in treatment and recovery, then we have a responsibility to create overdose prevention programs here in New Mexico."

Utah Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. State Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D-Salt Lake City) has filed House Bill 146, which creates an "overdose prevention site," a place for people with substance use disorder to be monitored while actively using opioid drugs. In other words, a safer injection site. "This is in no way, shape, or form a policy that condones drug use or says that it is permissive to do so," she said. "I hope people will look at this with an open mind," she said. She filed the same bill last session, but it went nowhere.

Law Enforcement

Houston Cop Indicted on Murder Charge in Fatal Botched 2019 Drug Raid. Fallout from a misbegotten 2019 drug raid that left a Houston couple dead in their own home continued Monday, as a grand jury indicted Officer Felipe Gallegos on a charge of murder. That now makes 12 officers who have been charged in the incident, with Gallegos being the second one charged with murder. Retired officer Gerald Goines was charged with murder last year as prosecutors accused him of lying to get a search warrant.

Drugs and the Year from Hell: The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

What a year! Pandemic, civic unrest, national elections -- 2020 has been a year of tumult that can't be done with soon enough. But when it comes to drug policy, it wasn't all bad; in fact, a lot of it was pretty darned good. Some of it however was quite tragic Here's our year-end round up of the biggest drug policy stories of the year.

Update: The 2020 top ten list now goes to eleven, with Congress removing the drug conviction question from the federal financial aid for college form. See below.

The Pandemic

Just as it has infiltrated just about every aspect of American life, the coronavirus pandemic has been felt in the world of drugs and drug policy. Social distancing requirements early in the pandemic, precisely at the time drug reform initiative campaigns were typically in the midst of signature-gathering drives proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

It has also infiltrated jails and prisons. One in five prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. 1,700 of them have died from it. Prison wardens have worsened the situation by blocking congressionally legislated compassionate releases for prisoners. Second waves are now hitting the nation's penal institutions. And most vaccinations in the prisons have been for staff, not prisoners. With drugs directly accounting for about one-in-four prisoners, COVID-19 in the prisons is partly a drug war story.

Amidst the layoffs, shutdowns, and social distancing imposed by the pandemic, drug use jumped. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

In September, a study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network found that drug test positivity rates for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine ha increased nationwide during the pandemic. That same month, in a new study, Millennium Health reported that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The pandemic almost certainly also has had an impact on fatal drug overdoses (see below).

One of the most striking impacts of the pandemic has been on policing. Early on, big cities began to forego drug arrests and prosecutions as a discretionary luxury they could no longer afford as they struggled with the coronavirus. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, police or prosecutors announced they would not arrest or would not prosecute small-time drug possession cases. In March, prosecutors from more than 30 cities, including Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis signed on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. They called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors." These were not intended as permanent moves, but perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will take the opportunity to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

Advocates for marijuana legalization folded the pandemic into their arguments for ending federal marijuana prohibition. More than 30 state attorneys general cited the pandemic in calling for Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services. The House HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, passed in May, included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms, mostly aimed at reducing the prison population during the pandemic, but also included that marijuana banking language.

COVID was also cited as making it even more imperative to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884). Over the summer, as the pandemic simmered, a coalition of justice and drug reform groups called on Congress to pass the bill, arguing that legalization was especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

That was followed by an even broader assemblage of 125 religious, human rights, and drug reform groups calling for passage of the bill. "[T]he circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said. The MORE Act passed in December.

The Long, Hot Summer Uprising Against Police Violence and Racism

It all started with that horrid video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer over an alleged miniscule offense, but as people took to the streets all over the country, the name Breonna Taylor also loomed large. The totally innocent 26-year-old black EMT was gunned down by Louisville police in a misbegotten "no-knock" drug raid (it might be more accurate to call them "home invasion raids") in March, and her killing not only powered months of street demonstrations in her hometown, it also engendered howls of outrage and promises of reform from politicians around the land. And it brought heightened scrutiny to business as usual in the war on drugs.

As the streets overflowed in May, nearly four dozen members of Congress called for an independent investigation of the raid, calling Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." That was followed by a bevy of bills in Congress, including the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. House Democrats pushed the bill through in three weeks in June. Republicans in the Senate responded with Sen. Tim Scott's Justice Act, which wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. But the GOP bill never moved in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate. As with so many measures passed by the House, McConnell's domain was where a congressional response to the crisis went to die.

But some states and localities actually enacted laws or ordinances aimed at reining in no-knocks. The Louisville Metro Council banned no-knock search warrants by unanimously passing "Breonna's Law" in June. Other cities, including Indianapolis, Memphis, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Santa Fe moved to either restrict or ban no-knocks. And while several states saw efforts to ban no-knocks, the only state where it's come to fruition so far is Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law House Bill 5099, which bars police from breaking into a home or business to conduct a raid without first announcing their presence.

In Historic Move, House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Breaking almost but not entirely along party lines, the House voted on December 4 to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (HR 3884). The MORE Act would effectively end federal pot prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's list of scheduled substances and eliminating federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation and sale.

The bill would not affect state laws that criminalize marijuana, but it would end the conflict between states that have already legalized marijuana and federal law. The bill also includes strong social equity provisions, including the creation of a fund to support programs and services for communities devastated by the war on drugs, a provision for expungement of past federal marijuana offenses, and a provision that bars the federal government from discriminating against people for marijuana use. The latter would protect immigrants from being deported for past marijuana convictions and would ensure that earned benefits are not denied to marijuana users.

The historic vote marks the first time either chamber of Congress has voted for legalization. But there is virtually no chance that the Republican-led Senate will take up -- let alone approve -- the measure in the remaining days of this session, meaning this is a battle that will continue in the next Congress.

Here Comes Psychedelic Drug Law Reform

Denver made history in May 2019 by becoming the first locality in the US to effectively decriminalize a psychedelic drug -- psilocybin-bearing magic mushrooms -- and as a psychedelic reform movement has spread across the land, this year saw more important advances. As the year went on, three more cities -- Ann Arbor, Oakland, and Santa Cruz -- passed similar ordinances.

Then on Election Day, voters in Oregon approved the groundbreaking Measure 109, the Psilocybin Services Act, with 56 percent of the vote. It will create a program to allow the administration of psilocybin products, such as magic mushrooms, to adults 21 and over for therapeutic purposes. People will be allowed to buy, possess, and consume psilocybin at a psilocybin services center, but only after undergoing a preparation session and under the supervision of a psilocybin service facilitator.

On the East Coast, Washington, DC, voters approved Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Policy Act of 2020, with 74 percent of the vote. The measure will have police treat natural plant medicines (entheogens) as their lowest law enforcement priority. The measure also asks the city's top prosecutor and its US Attorney to not prosecute such cases.

This string of psychedelic reform victories has generated momentum that is likely to result in more pushes in more places next year and beyond. Since Election Day, activists in San Francisco and Washington state have announced plans for decriminalization, a New Jersey state senator has filed a bill to downgrade the offense of magic mushroom possession, and a California state senator has announced he plans to file a bill. that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics. And that's before the new year even begins.

Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs

With the passage by voters of Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, Oregon broke new ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The quantities decriminalized are up to one gram of heroin, up to one gram of or five pills of MDMA, up to two gram of meth, up to 40 units of LSD, up to 12 grams of psilocybin, up to 40 units of methadone, up to 40 pills of oxycodone, and up to two grams of cocaine. That's thousands of drug arrests that now will not occur in Oregon -- and now Oregon can set an example for other states to follow.

Red State or Blue State, Voters Choose Legal Marijuana When Given the Chance

The November election saw marijuana legalization on the ballot in four states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two states. They all won. Evenly-divided Arizona saw Proposition 207: The Smart & Safe Arizona Act, cruise to victory with 60 percent of the vote, while in blue New Jersey, Public Question 1 garnered a resounding 67 percent.

The really surprising results were in two red states: In Montana, Constitutional Initiative 118 and its companion Initiative 190 won with 58 percent and 57 percent of the vote, respectively, while in South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote. Both those states are Trump country, with the president taking 57 percent in the former and 62 percent in the latter.

It was the same story with medical marijuana too, as Mississippi approved Initiative 65 with 74 percent of the vote, while South Dakota's Measure 26 won with 70 percent. Marijuana for adult use in now legal in 15 states and medical marijuana is now legal in 38.

Attack of the Progressive Prosecutors

The November elections didn't just end the reign of Donald Trump and bring drug reform victories at the state level, they also ushered in a new crop of progressive prosecutors who will have the ability to affect the conduct of the war on drugs at the local level. Led by George Gascon, who was elected prosecutor of the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles, and running on progressive platforms that included confronting police misconduct, ramping down the war on drugs, and shrinking prison populations, progressives won prosecutor races in Detroit (Oakland County), Orlando, and two large Colorado districts that had been held for decades by Republicans. Progressives didn't win everywhere they ran, but the shift from "law and order" district attorneys toward progressives that began with Kim Foxx in Chicago and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia really gathered momentum this year.

A Tough Year for Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites -- or supervised injection sites or safe consumption sites, take your pick -- are a proven harm reduction intervention with 120 in operation in 10 countries around the world, but no legal ones operating in the US. It looked like that would change in 2020, but it didn't. A proposed site in Philadelphia got the final go-ahead from a federal judge in February, but the local US Attorney then won a stay blocking it, with a hearing on that stay held in October and the decision from the bench still pending. Things were also looking good in San Francisco after the Board of Supervisors okayed a three-site pilot program in June, but the state-level bill that would have allowed the city to proceed, Assembly Bill 362, died in the Senate after passing the Assembly. A similar fate befell a Massachusetts safe injection site bill, House Bill 4723, which managed to win a committee vote but then stalled. Maybe next year.

Asset Forfeiture Reforms

Asset forfeiture, especially civil asset forfeiture (without a criminal conviction), is increasingly unpopular, with 35 states and the District of Columbia approving reforms between 2014 and 2019. A November poll found that only 26% support allowing police to seize cash or property from someone without a criminal conviction. Some 59% of respondents oppose "allowing law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property or its proceeds for their own use." Opposition to equitable sharing, a federal program that allows state and local police to evade state laws against civil asset forfeiture, was even higher, with 70% against the program.

Here are some reasons why: In March, in Georgia,the Department of Revenue got caught spending millions of dollars in seized cash on "engraved firearms, pricey gym equipment, clothing, personal items, even $130 sunglasses." That same month, in Michigan, the Macomb County prosecutor was hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use, including a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. In July, in Chicago, the city agreed to a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. Also in Michigan, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office faces a similar lawsuit for seizing thousands of cars and other property belonging to residents without criminal convictions.

Such abuses helped New Jersey become the 36th asset forfeiture reform state when Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Unfortunately, the few remaining non-reform states are tough nuts to crack, as we saw with reform bills killed in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But, hey, at least Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a 2019 Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, finally got his Land Rover back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust.

America Keeps ODing

Amidst all the death in the pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of drug overdose deaths got short shrift this shift, but Americans are continuing to die by the tens of thousands. In July, the CDC reported preliminary data showing that after declining for the first time in decades in 2018, fatal ODs rose 4.6% in 2019. There's a lag in data for this year, but initial reports suggest bad news ahead. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug found large increases in the use fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That same month, the Washington Post reportedthat fatal ODs have jumped and keep jumping during the pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post pointed to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Update 12/22: This year the top ten domestic stories goes to eleven, with the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" of the Higher Education Act set for repeal, as part of the massive spending bill sent to the president on the night of Monday the 21st. The provision barred students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for college, for varying lengths of time. The spending bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

Our own organization campaigned for many years for the law's repeal, through the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform and the John W. Perry scholarship fund. Extensive media coverage made the law controversial, and in 2006 it was scaled back to be limited to drug offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving federal aid. In 2010 legislation to limit its reach further passed the House of Representatives.The provision stayed on the radar for members of Congress and their staffs, and yesterday it got done.

Minneapolis Makes Feeble No-Knock Warrant Reforms, CT Dems Vow Legal Marijuana Push, More... (11/25/20)

Connecticut Democrats threaten to let voters have a say on marijuana legalization, Georgia opens applications for cannabis oil producers, and more.

Minneapolis enacts minor changes to its policy on no-knock raids, but activists say it isn't nearly enough. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Will Put Marijuana Legalization Before the Voters if Legislature Fails to Pass Bill. Incoming House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said Tuesday that if the legislature failed again to legalize marijuana, Democrats will do an end run and let the voters decide the issue via a ballot referendum. "I think it'll be a very, very close vote in the House," Ritter said. "But if we do not have the votes -- and I'm not raising the white flag -- I want to be very clear: We will put something on the board to put to the voters of the state of Connecticut to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana." That, however, could take until 2022 and possibly even 2024.

Detroit City Council Passes Recreational Marijuana Sales Ordinance. Ending its refusal to allow anything other than medical marijuana sales in the city, the Detroit city council on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve an ordinance allowing adult-use sales. The measure weights licensing preferences to favor longstanding city residents. Those "legacy Detroiters" will be eligible for half of the 75 licenses the city is proposing.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Opens Applications for Medical Marijuana Producers. Businesses that want to produce cannabis oil for medical use can now apply for state licenses. That's because the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission has finally given the go-ahead. Applications are available on the group's website and must be in by December 28.

Law Enforcement

Minneapolis Announces Small Reforms to No-Knock Warrant Policy. Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have announced changes to the city's policy on no-knock raids, but the changes aren't enough for local activists. Under the policy shift, no-knock raids are not ended, but police officers will instead have to announce their presence as they enter premises -- and keep doing so periodically while they are inside. The move comes in the wake of unrest after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. "This is about proactive policymaking and instilling accountability," Frey said. "We can't prevent every tragedy, but we can limit the likelihood of bad outcomes. This new, no-knock warrant policy will set shared expectations for our community and clear and objective standards within the department." Michelle Gross is president of Communities Against Police Brutality. The move was "pretty disappointing," she said. "Nothing about this would decrease the number of no-knock warrants," she said. "It simply enhances, to a certain degree, the announcement as officers move from room to room. But I don't see this as being a big advance, I really don't."

MT Poll Has Rising Majority Support for Marijuana Initiative, New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Falters, More... (10/30/20)

Santa Fe joins a growing list of cities and states that have banned no-knock raids, the Montana marijuana legalization initiatives look like they're heading for victory, and more.

It looks like no Marijuana legalization for Kiwis this year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Late Poll Shows Rising, Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A poll released Friday has 54% of respondents backing Initiative 190, the marijuana legalization measure. That's up five points from the same poll earlier this month. Majorities of Democrats (77%) and independents (63%) support the measure, but fewer than a third (31%) Republicans do.

Law Enforcement.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bans No-Knock Warrants. The Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance to ban the use of no-knock warrants in the city. "Tonight, the city of Santa Fe joins a handful of municipalities across the nation to outright ban no-knock warrants," saidEmily Kaltenback, Senior Director of Resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance."Santa Fe is doing the right thing by standing up against a paramilitary practice fueled by the war on drugs that has led to widespread civil rights violations and too often, the death of Black, Brown, Native and Indigenous people."

International

New Zealand Marijuana Legalization Initiative Trailing in Initial Count. New Zealand's bid to be the next country to legalize marijuana is faltering, with an initial vote count having it losing 46% to 53%. On the other hand, voters approved a referendum to allow voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill by a margin of two-to-one.

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

VA Governor Signs "Breonna's Law," Oglala Nation Legalizes Marijuana, Hemp, More... (20/29/20)

Two Native American nations take different paths on marijuana and hemp, Virginia's governor signs Breonna's Law into effect, and more.

Breonna Taylor. Virginia just became the third state to pass a "Breonna's law" banning no-knock police raid. (Family photo)
Navajo Nation Sues Farmers for Growing Marijuana, Hemp. The Navajo Nation is suing 33 farmers for allegedly violating tribal law by growing marijuana and/or hemp in the Shiprock area of the reservation. The move comes after tribal officials earlier this month amended the tribe's criminal code to define all parts of the cannabis plant as marijuana and make possession or distribution of the plant a criminal offense. This is the second lawsuit the tribe has filed over hemp operations that were established this summer in Shiprock and nearby communities, which became a contentious issue between residents.

Oglala Nation Passes Ordinance Legalizing Marijuana Use on Tribal Lands. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted this week to approve a new ordinance legalizing and regulating the possession and use of marijuana on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation. The move comes after tribal members passed a referendum in March in support of changing the laws. The ordinance permits the use of marijuana for both patients and adults (non-patients age 21 or older). It permits tribal members to cultivate and dispense marijuana and also allows for the establishment of social consumption facilities – which may be accessed by both tribal members and non-members.

Law Enforcement

Virginia Governor Signs Bill Banning Police No-Knock Search Warrants. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has signed into law House Bill 5099, which bars police from breaking into a home or business to conduct a raid without first announcing their presence. The state becomes the third to pass such a bill since Kentucky resident Breonna Taylor was gunned down by Louisville police in a misbegotten no-knock drug raid in March. The laws are known colloquially as "Breonna's law." The bill and other police reform measures "represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve," Northam said in a signing statement.

International

Bahamas Committee Recommends Legalizing Marijuana, Hemp. The island nation's Economic Recovery Committee, which is charged with laying out a plan for economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus, has recommended legalizing both recreational marijuana and industrial hemp. After receiving the report, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called the country's marijuana laws "outdate" and said they need to change.

KS Pot Poll Shocker, WY Company Sues DEA, CA Cops Over Destroyed Hemp Field, More... (10/28/20)

Massachusetts' highest court rules worker's compensation doesn't cover medical marijuana costs, a Mississippi mayor has issued a last-minute legal challenge to the state's medical marijuana initaitive, and more.

A hemp field. Female hemp plants look very much like female marijuana plants. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Poll Shocker: Two-Thirds Support Marijuana Legalization. An annual survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University has a whopping 66.9% in support of legalizing marijuana. The poll also had Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by 14.4 points. He beat Hillary Clinton by 21 points in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

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 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."

Hemp

Wyoming Company Sues DEA, California Cops for Destroying Its Hemp After Mistaking It for Marijuana. Agro Dynamics LLC, a Wyoming hemp company, has filed a federal lawsuit in San Diego against the DEA and California police for destroying more than $3 million worth of hemp they mistook for marijuana. State and DEA officers raided the company's southern California hemp field in September 2019 after an aerial inspection showed what they believed to be a marijuana field, but didn't bother checking to see if it was a registered hemp grow, the company argued. "Upon (police) arrival on the premises, a tenant in possession advised the officers that there was a legal registration issuance from the County of San Diego for the hemp growing on the premises. Law enforcement disregarded this information and continued to seize and destroy all plants that appeared to be marijuana," the lawsuit alleges. The company is seeking unspecified damages.

International

Colombia Claims It Is Near Target of Eradicated Coca Crops. The country is nearing its goal of eradicating 130,00 hectares (325,000 acres) of coca crops, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said Monday. "With 98,056 hectares of coca eradicated as of October 24, the Public Forces progress towards the target of 130,000 hectares eradicated in 2020," Trujillo said, adding that 101,273 hectares were eradicated in 2019.

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