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MA Drug Courts Agree to Allow Medication-Assisted Treatment, CT Psychedelic Treatment Bill Advances, More... (3/28/22)

Illinois Senate Democrats roll out a pair of bills to fight the opioid overdose crisis, South Dakota's governor vetoes a bill removing old pot charges from public background checks, and more.

Buprenorphine. This and other Medications for Opioid Use Disorder will now be allowed in Bay State drug courts. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Governor Vetoes Bill to Automatically Remove Old Marijuana Charges from Background Checks. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has vetoed Senate Bill 151, which would have automatically removed marijuana charges and convictions more than five years old from public background checks. The bill also required that past offenders have fulfilled their sentences and have no later arrests. In her veto statement, Noem said, "It also essentially codifies a convicted person's ability to be dishonest about their previous arrest and conviction by not requiring disclosure of the prior drug conviction." The bill did not pass with veto-proof majorities.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Lawmakers Advance Psychedelic-Assisted Treatment for Veterans. A bill that would allocate $3 million to help veterans and other disadvantaged people gain access to psychedelic-assisted therapies is advancing. House Bill 5396 passed the Public Health Committee on a unanimous vote last Friday and has now been referred to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysisprior to a House floor vote.

Drug Courts

Feds Reach Settlement with Massachusetts Drug Court Over Discriminating Against People with Opioid Use Disorder. The US Attorneys Office in Boston announced last Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Trial Court to resolve charges its drug court discriminated against people with Opioid Use Disorder, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal prosecutors argued that the drug court discriminated against people taking Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, by barring or pressuring them to stop using those medications in order to participate in the drug court program. Under the new agreement, all 25 state drug courts will allow the use of MOUDs, with decisions about their use taken only by licensed practitioners or licensed opioid treatment programs. "The opioid crisis has impacted nearly every household and family unit in the Commonwealth. My family is no exception. Sadly, in Massachusetts per capita rates of opioid-related deaths are above the national average. To combat this public health crisis we need to be doing everything possible to save lives. That includes ensuring access to all forms of medical treatment for OUD," said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. "We commend the Massachusetts Trial Court for working with us to implement a policy that sets a standard for other state courts across our country to follow. This policy helps ensure that the court system leaves MOUD treatment decisions to trained and licensed medical professionals."

Harm Reduction

Illinois Democrats Roll Out Pair of Bills to Address Overdose Crisis. Senate Democrats last Thursday unveiled a pair of bills that take aim at the state's opioid overdose crisis, where deaths related to synthetic opioids have increased nearly 25-fold since 2013. Sen. Laura Ellman (D-Naperville) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 17, a Good Samaritan law that would grant immunity from prosecution for possession of small amounts of fentanyl that for people suffering from an overdose or for people seeking to aid them. And Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 4556, which would allow pharmacists and medical professionals to dispense fentanyl test strips and other drug-testing supplies to anyone who wants them. adulterant testing supplies to any person without persecution for possessing drug testing supplies.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Supreme Court asks for Justice Department input on a pair of medical marijuana workers compensation cases, a South Dakota tribe defends non-tribal medical marijuana card holders who face arrest by state and local authorities, and more.

National

Supreme Court Asks Feds to Weigh in on Medical Marijuana Workers Compensation Cases. The Supreme Court has asked the Justice Department to submit a brief in a pair of workmen's compensation cases revolving around medical marijuana. The question is whether federal law protects employers who do not cover medical marijuana costs for workers injured on the job even in states that require it. The answer will depend on an interpretation of the constitution's supremacy clause. The cases involve Minnesota workers who sought workers compensation for medical marijuana expenses after being hurt on the job. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the claims were invalid because marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Hawaii

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Bill to Legalize Marijuana for People 65 and Over. In a bid to ease access to medical marijuana for senior citizens, the Senate Health Committee approved a bill that would allow people 65 and over to automatically qualify for medical marijuana regardless of whether they have a qualifying condition, in effect legalizing possession for seniors. The bill passed the committee on a 3-0 vote. It would alter the state's medical marijuana law by adding to the language requiring that patients be diagnosed "as having a debilitating medical condition" that medical marijuana will be available to anyone "who has reached the age of sixty-five."

South Dakota

South Dakota Tribe Aids Legal Defense of Customers Arrested by State, Local Police. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reported this week that more than a hundred people who have tribal medical marijuana cards have been arrested since it opened the state's first dispensary last year. State officials do not recognize cards issued by the tribe, and local police departments have arrested non-tribe members carrying cards and medical marijuana. "They're taking the cards and handing out fines," Tribal chairman Tony Reider said. "But most we don't know about, because most people are just paying the fines."

Last year, the tribe promised to aid customers facing legal problems, and this week, it said it is currently engaged in defending at least 10 active marijuana cases involving non-members. "I don't think the state has the authority to revoke a license issued by another jurisdiction," said tribal Attorney General Seth Pearman.

Washington, DC

DC Mayor Signs Bill to Let People Over 65 Get Medical Marijuana Without a Doctor's Recommendation. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law the Medical Marijuana Patient Access Extension Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, which will allow people 65 and over to self-certify their eligibility for medical marijuana without getting a doctor's recommendation. The bill also creates a medical marijuana tax holiday coinciding with 4/20 and extends the registration renewal deadline for patients.

NY Governor Signs Bill to Let Hemp Growers Grow Marijuana, Avocado Imports Resume After Cartel Threat, More... (2/23/22)

A new poll finds three out of four Floridans are ready to legalize marijuana, the Supreme Court asks the Justice Department to file a brief in a pair of medical marijuana workmen's compensation cases, and more.

Marijuana. It is popular in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll Finds Floridians Ready for Marijuana Law Reform. A new poll from the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab revealed three in four Floridians are ready to legalize pot. Some 76 percent of respondents supported allowing people to legally possess small amounts of marijuana, with just 20 percent oppose. That same 76 percent support figure came among Democrats, while even among Republicans, support was at 64 percent. Among independent voters, support was at 90 percent. Despite strong support for legalization, there is no sign the GOP-dominated state legislature is ready to embrace it, leaving a 2024 initiative campaign as the most likely path to progress.

New York Governor Signs Bill Allowing Hemp Farmers to Grow Marijuana This Season. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday signed into law S08084A, which will allow existing licensed hemp farmers to grow and process marijuana for the adult market this year. Hochul said the bill would help establish a safe, equitable, and inclusive new industry. It creates a new Conditional Adult-Use Cannabis Cultivator license for hemp farmers who want to make the transition. Licensees will be required to create "safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices, participate in a social equity mentorship program, and engage in a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization."

Medical Marijuana

Supreme Court Asks Feds to Weigh in on Medical Marijuana Workers Compensation Cases. The Supreme Court has asked the Justice Department to submit a brief in a pair of workmen's compensation cases revolving around medical marijuana. The question is whether federal law protects employers who do not cover medical marijuana costs for workers injured on the job even in states that require it. The answer will depend on an interpretation of the constitution's supremacy clause. The cases involve Minnesota workers who sought workers compensation for medical marijuana expenses after being hurt on the job. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the claims were invalid because marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

International

US Resume Avocado Imports from Mexico, Paused by Potential Cartel Threat. Guacamole lovers, take heart! A week-long shutdown of avocado imports from Mexico prompted by threats to US Department of Agriculture inspectors in the state of Michoacan has ended. "The safety of USDA employees simply doing their jobs is of paramount importance," the agency said. "USDA is appreciative of the positive, collaborative relationship between the United States and Mexico that made resolution of this issue possible in a timely manner." The threats are being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which is fighting local cartels for control of not only drug trafficking but also control over the lucrative avocado crop in the area.

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Settlement, 90-Year-Old Pot Prisoner Freed, More... (12/17/21)

The Ohio Senate approves a medical marijuana expansion bill, Baltimore will end pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for potential city government hires, and more.

Horacio Estrada-Elias with family, 2014
Marijuana Policy

90-Year-Old Federal Prisoner Serving Life for Marijuana Offense Wins Compassionate Release. A seriously ill federal prison doing life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana trafficking offense has been freed after a judge granted him compassionate relief on Tuesday -- overruling his own previous order denying the release. Horacio Estrada-Ellis, 90, had served more than a dozen years in prison and suffers from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease, and also contracted the coronavirus while in prison. His warden had recommended compassionate release but federal District Court Judge Danny Reeves denied the motion in July, saying a life sentence is "the only sentence that would be appropriate." But a three-judge panel of the 6th US Circuit Court that Reeves had "abused (his) discretion" by ignoring the fact that Estrada-Ellis was unlikely to reoffend and by "overly emphasizing" his nonviolent crimes, and Reeves then issued a new opinion approving his compassionate release. Estrada-Ellis left prison on Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow more dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, growers to grow more of it, and more patients to qualify for it by expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include any conditions for which a patients might "reasonably be expected" to find benefit or relief. The bill would also shift regulation of dispensaries from the pharmacy board to a new Division of Marijuana Control in the Commerce Department. The bill now heads to the House.

Opioids

Federal Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma Opioid Settlement, Leaving Sackler Family Vulnerable to Civil Lawsuits. US District Court Judge Coleen McMahon on Thursday blew up a carefully negotiated settlement between Purdue Pharma and thousands of state, local, and tribal governments that had sued the company, which manufactured OxyContin, for its role in the rapid rise of opioid addiction beginning in the late 1990s. The agreement had shielded the Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma, from more civil lawsuits in return for a $4.5 billion payment. But McMahon ruled that the bankruptcy code does not allow such an agreement. Purdue has already said it will appeal, but lawyers for some government entities that had appealed the originally settlement were quite pleased: "This is a seismic victory for justice and accountability that will re-open the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused," said William Tong, the attorney general of Connecticut. The explosion of opioid use that began with OxyContin eventually resulted in a backlash, leading to restrictions on the availability of prescription opioid that left chronic pain patients in the lurch and prompted many opioid users to move to the black market, fueling a large increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years.

Drug Testing

Baltimore to No Longer Require Pre-Employment Drug, Alcohol Screening for City Jobs. Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday that the city government will no longer require pre-employment drug and alcohol screening for new hires. The new policy has exceptions for safety-sensitive positions, such as law enforcement, and positions that require driving or operating heavy equipment.

"We want the best and brightest candidates to help us provide efficient and effective City services to our residents," the mayor said. "Frankly, the outdated and costly pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings only served to block qualified and passionate residents from obtaining employment with the City. This policy disproportionately harmed the prospects of talented Black and Brown job candidates. I am grateful that we are making this change now so that we can continue to improve local government operations and better serve the people of Baltimore."

Medical Marijuana Update

Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to implement medical marijuana, Connecticut patients are now able to grow their own medicine, and more.

National

Marijuana Researchers Ask 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Failed Classification Appeal. Researchers and veterans seeking to see marijuana federally reclassified have asked the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its dismissal of their petition last month. A three-judge panel in August held that plaintiffs Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Institute had not yet exhausted all administrative options to get the DEA to reschedule marijuana. But the plaintiffs argue that controlling Supreme Court precedent holds that federal judges cannot force litigants to pursue all administrative appeal avenues before turning to the courts for redress. The case is Suzanne Sisley et al. v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration et al., case number 20-71433.

Connecticut

Connecticut Patients Will Be Able to Grow Their Own Beginning This Week. As of this coming Friday, medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own medicine at home as a provision of the state's marijuana legalization law goes into effect. That legalization law also drops the requirement that patients designate a dispensary for their purchases and sets up a committee of physicians to decide a variety of issues related to medical marijuana. Now (or very shortly), patients will be able to grow up three mature and three immature plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household. People who are not registered patients will have to wait for 2023 to be able to grow their own personal use pot.

Mississippi

Mississippi Lawmakers Say They Have Agreement on Medical Marijuana Program, Will Ask Governor to Call Special Session to Enact It. House and Senate negotiators said Thursday they have agreed on a proposed medical marijuana program and are now expected to ask Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a legislative special session to pass it. Voters had approved a medical marijuana initiative last November, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it on technical grounds (the state constitution requires signature-gathering in all five congressional districts, but the state has only had four districts since 2000). The legislative proposal is more restrictive than the initiative approved by voters, allowing local governments a veto over medical marijuana operations. Because the bill includes tax provisions, it will need a three-fifths majority to pass, but legislative leaders say they are confident they have the votes.

Meth Deaths Were on Rise Before Pandemic, Scotland Moves Toward "De Facto" Drug Decrim, More... (9/23/21)

Violence continues in Colombia's coca producing regions, marijuana researchers appeal a US 9th Circuit Court dismissal of their rescheduling petition, and more.

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2015 and 2019, new research finds. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Researchers Ask 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Failed Classification Appeal. Researchers and veterans seeking to see marijuana federally reclassified have asked the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its dismissal of their petition last month. A three-judge panel in August held that plaintiffs Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Institute had not yet exhausted all administrative options to get the DEA to reschedule marijuana. But the plaintiffs argue that controlling Supreme Court precedent holds that federal judges cannot force litigants to pursue all administrative appeal avenues before turning to the courts for redress. The case is Suzanne Sisley et al. v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration et al., case number 20-71433.

Methamphetamine

Meth Deaths Tripled in Years Before Arrival of Pandemic. Methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled among adults aged between 18 and 64 from 2015 to 2019, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study pointed to more frequent meth use and mixing of drugs as possible reasons for the increases. The number of people using meth increased by 43 percent, but overdose deaths from stimulant drugs other than cocaine increased by 180 percent during the same period. While meth has traditionally been a drug associated with middle-aged white people, it is now spreading to other groups, such as Native Americans, and Black meth use disorder without injection increased 10-fold during that period.

International

Colombia Drug Traffickers Kill Five Soldiers. The Gulf Clan, Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking group, is being blamed for an attack Tuesday on the armed forces in a coca-growing region of Cordoba department that left five soldiers dead and tree more injured. Soldiers were patrolling in a vehicle when they were attacked with "explosive artifacts by presumed members... of the Gulf Clan." Leftist FARC dissidents, rightist paramilitaries, and criminal drug trafficking organizations all compete for control of the lucrative coca and cocaine business there.

Scotland Moves Toward De Facto Drug Decriminalization. Scottish police can now issue a formal warning for possession of Class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, instead of arresting and prosecuting people caught with personal use amounts of such drugs, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain told members of the Scottish Parliament. Conservatives called the move "de facto decriminalization," but it's actually more like discretionary decriminalization since police could still file drug possession charges. Police already are able to issue warnings for possession of Class B and C drugs. Bain said she decided to expand that policy so "officers may choose to issue a warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs," and also refer people accused of drug offenses to "diversion," where they are handled by social work teams instead of the criminal justice system. The move comes as the country confronts Europe's highest drug overdose rate and saw more than 1,300 drug overdose deaths last year.

CA Psilocybin Legalization Init Cleared for Signature Gathering, DE Supreme Court on Pot Odor, More... (9/17/21)

Supporters of a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site have asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision blocking it, the Delaware Supreme Cout rules the mere odor of marijuana is not sufficient cause for a warrantless arrest, and more.

A psilocybin legalization initiative could be on the ballot in California next year .(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Supreme Court Rules Marijuana Odor Not Sufficient Grounds for Warrantless Arrest. The state Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that the mere odor of marijuana does not give police "reasonable grounds to believe" that either a felony has been committed or that a person has committed a misdemeanor in the presence of an officer -- the only two grounds for which warrantless arrest is allowed. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is decriminalized, and the court held that the mere odor of marijuana cannot lead police to presume that a felony amount of marijuana would be present.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering. A proposed initiative that would legalize the possession, cultivation, and sale of psilocybin mushrooms has been cleared for signature gathering by the state attorney general's office. The office has issued an official title and summary for the California Psilocybin Initiative, which is being sponsored by Decriminalize California. It would allow the "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use of Psilocybin Mushrooms" for people 21 and over, as well as allowing legal psilocybin sales and cultivation. The campaign will now have 180 days to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Supporters Ask Supreme Court to Review Appeals Court Ban.Supporters of a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia that was blocked by a Trump-era appeals court ruling asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn that ruling. The appeals court held that allowing a safe injection site would violate a 1980s "crack house" law by allowing the use of drugs on site. The case will be closely watched because public officials and harm reductionists in a number of cities and states want to move forward with the harm reduction measure. The move is risky, though, given the current makeup of the court.

OH Marijuana Legalization Campaign Can Gather Signatures, Biden Considers Drug Sentence Commutations, More... (8/31/21)

An effort to force the DEA to reconsider the Schedule I status of marijuana has been shot down by the 9th Circuit, an Ohio marijuana legalization campaign gets the go-ahead to start signature gathering, and more.

Will the president commute some drug sentences to avoid sending people out on home confinement back to prison? (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Okay to Start Signature Gathering. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was approved for signature gathering Monday by the Ohio Ballot Board. The board determined that the initiative indeed addresses a single issue -- marijuana legalization -- and can proceed. Backers must now come up with 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the proposal before the legislature. If the legislature refuses to act, rejects the proposal, or amend it within four months, backers could then collect another 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the issue directly before the voters in 2022.

Medical Marijuana

US 9th Circuit Rejects Bid to Make Feds Rethink Stance on Medical Marijuana. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday refused to make the federal government reconsider its decades-old position that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use. The ruling came in a case brought by medical marijuana researcher Dr. Suzanne Sisley and three veterans who claim harm from marijuana being classified as a Schedule I drug. The plaintiffs asked the court to force the DEA to revisit its stance, with plaintiff's attorney calling the DEA's stance "a relic of a bygone era." In their 16-page opinion Monday, a three-judge panel rejected the petition, finding Sisley and her co-petitioners failed to exhaust other avenues of relief that they could have pursued before coming to court.

Criminal Justice

President Biden Considering Commuting Sentences of Some Drug Offenders. In a bid to avoid forcing drug offenders released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic back to prison after the emergency ends, President Biden is considering commuting their sentences by using his clemency powers. The proposal is aimed at nonviolent drug offenders with fewer than four years left on their sentences. Those with longer sentences or who committed other types of crimes would be out of luck. Normally, federal prisoners are only eligible for home confinement in the final six months of their sentences, and as many as 2,000 who were sent home are outside that limit and subject to being returned to prison when the COVID emergency ends (although thanks to recalcitrant Americans, that end date seems to be constantly receding). A Trump-era Justice Department memo concluded that once the emergency ends, legal authority to keep inmates in home confinement would "evaporate," but inmates advocates and some Democratic lawmakers are urging the administration to reject that memo and come up with a rationale to extend home confinements.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over, TX MedMJ Expansion Goes into Effect Wednesday, More... (8/30/31)

A Philadelphia site injection site that was blocked by a federal appeals court is asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, a third marijuana legalization initiative campaign emerges in Missouri, and more.

California psychedelic decriminalization will have to wait until next year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Sees Third Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerge. And then there were three. A group calling itself Legal Missouri 2022 filed a marijuana legalization initiative proposal last week that would allow people 21 and over to purchase at least three ounces of marijuana, tax sales at 6% with an additional local option of up to 3%, and allow people to grow up to six mature and six immature plants, but only after registering with the state. Another group, Fair Access Missouri, is pushing a number of initiatives, including several that would set up a system of legalized marijuana sales, but none of those proposals have yet passed muster for the secretary of state's office. Yet another group, New Approach Missouri, is also working on a 2022 initiative after their 2020 effort was thwarted by coronavirus restrictions during signature gathering. To qualify for the 2022 ballot, initiatives will have to get 171,592 valid voter signatures by early July 2022.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Goes into Effect This Week. A law approved by the legislature earlier this year that expands the use of medical marijuana in the state goes into effect on Wednesday. The expansion will now allow veterans who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and people suffering other specified medical conditions to join the list of qualifying conditions. The new law also raises the dosage limit of THC from .5% to 1%.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over for Next Year. The bill to decriminalize the possession of a number of psychedelics in the state, Senate Bill 519, is being held over to next year after stalling in the Assembly. In a statement last Thursday, bill sponsor state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the bill will be shelved even though the "groundbreaking legislation moved significantly farther than anticipated." More time is needed to "lay educational groundwork with members and the public to ensure the bill’s success" and that the delay will allow supporters to "capitalize on the momentum from this year while building support in the Assembly for next year."

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proponents Appeal to Supreme Court After Lower Court Ruling Halted Their Project. Safehouse, the group that was set to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia before being blocked last year by a federal court ruling, has filed a petition with the US Supreme Court asking it to take up the case. In the earlier case, the Trump administration sided strongly with federal prosecutors to block the site from opening; now the question is what stance the Biden administration will take. The administration has broadly embraced harm reduction, but President Biden has yet to weigh in on safe injection sites.  In what could be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years, Safehouse is taking a significant risk by going before a very conservative Supreme court. Having the administration on its side could only help its prospects.

Chicago to Take Drug Diversion Program Citywide, ACLU Sues AZ County over Coercing Drug Defendants, More... (7/9/21)

A group of US senators is seeking some help for state-legal marijuana businesses, Chicago moves to expand a program that diverts drug arrestees into treatment citywide, and more.

Chicago police are expanding a drug diversion program so they can devote resources to fighting violent crime. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Ask That Marijuana Businesses Get Access to Federal SBA Loans. A group of 10 senators led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that language allowing marijuana businesses to access loans and other aid through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) be included in an upcoming spending bill report. Allowing such loans to marijuana businesses "would fill gaps left by the private sector and help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." They are asking that Senate Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) issue a report that specifically includes such language and stop the Small Business Administration (SBA) to stop "denying loan applications for the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and 504/Certified Development Company Loan Program to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis sale and use."

Law Enforcement

Chicago to Expand Drug Diversion Program. The Chicago Police Department and Public Health Department have announced they will expand the city's Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program to include the entire city by the end of the year. Under the program, people arrested on drug possession charges who meet certain qualifying criteria can be diverted from the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation programs instead. The program began in one district in 2018 and has expanded to 11 of the city's 22 districts already. More than 700 people have been diverted from the arrest track so far, and city officials say the move helps police focus on issues such as violent crime instead.

The program appears to be similar to Law Enforcement Diversion Programs (LEAD), which began in Seattle in 2014 and has now expanded to at least 42 cities nationwide. LEAD uses a harm reduction and community-based model; the Chicago program includes social service programs among its alternatives, not just drug treatment, according to reports. The Chicago program offers walk-in access to drug treatment; one doesn't have to face arrest or its prospect first. The LEAD Bureau web site says that they have added purely voluntary access to its programs as well, in response to recent movement in the issue.

While drug reformers generally see diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system as an important step, the devil is in the details -- not every program presented as diversion does a convincing job of it, and how for example treatment programs respond to relapses or continued drug use by some clients determines how many people ultimately will be helped.

Prosecution

ACLU Sues Arizona County over Threats of Harsher Sentences for Drug Defendants to Force Guilty Pleas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney's Office routinely threatens people arrested for drug possession with "substantially harsher" punishments in order to coerce them into pleading guilty before prosecutors even have to turn over evidence. The threat is typically issued in writing, the lawsuit alleges, and explicitly warns that defendants who reject initial plea deals will face substantially worse plea offers in the future. The ACLU argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it punishes people for exercising their rights to a preliminary hearing and a jury trial and that it illustrates the '"vast racial and economic discrepancies in plea bargaining techniques used across the county."

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