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RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

Clarence Thomas Questions Federal Marijuana Prohibition, ONDCP Reports on Colombia Coca, More... (6/28/21)

A major pharmaceutical company settles with the state of New York over opioid distribution, Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing policing reforms, and more.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questions the viability of federal marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Clarence Thomas Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition May No Longer Make Sense. One the Supreme Court's most conservative justices said Monday that because marijuana is already legalized either medically or recreationally in a growing number of states, federal pot prohibition may no longer make sense. "A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas as the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks. "Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning," he said. "The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Johnson & Johnson Settles With New York for $230 Million, Agrees to Stop Selling Opioids. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $230 million settlement with the state of New York over its role in the country's opioid crisis, which has led to nearly half a million dead of overdoses in the past two decades. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to not promote opioids and confirmed it has quit distributing them in the US. Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have faced a barrage of lawsuits over opioids, with governments arguing that the companies pushed the drugs and caused people to become addicted and then turn to illegal opioids as states and the federal government cracked down. The companies argued that they were distributing medically necessary opioids for people who need them. The crackdowns on opioid prescribing have left one group of people in particular in the lurch: chronic pain patients, who must seek opioids and doctors willing to prescribe them in large quantities in the midst of the retrenchment.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach "General Agreement" on Policing Reforms. Legislative leaders of both the Democratic Farm Labor Party and the Republicans have reached "general agreement" on a broad-ranging police reform bill, leaders of both parties said late Saturday. Among other things, the bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms (but not an outright ban), reforms of fines and fee structures, restrict the use of confidential informants to better protect them, and make modifications to state police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad cops off the street. The legislature is working under a deadline: If the broader public safety bill that includes the policing reforms is not passed by Wednesday, key government public safety functions, such as running state prisons and the State Patrol, would theoretically face shutdowns. But Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) said he will keep those operations functioning, even if that is legally questionable.

International

US Drug Czar's Office Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Expanded Last Year. Colombian coca cultivation increased 15% last year and potential cocaine production rose 7.9% to around a thousand metric tons, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday. The report from ONDCP differed from a report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on June 9, which had a lower figure for crop cultivation but a higher figure -- 1,228 metric tons -- for potential cocaine production. In either case, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, ahead of second place Peru and third place Bolivia.

Cuba Reiterates Zero Tolerance Drug Policies. Cuba used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday to make clear that its zero tolerance policy toward drug use, production, and trafficking remains unchanged. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez vowed that the island nations will never be a place to use, store, or traffic illicit drugs.

Federal Appeals Court Taps the Brakes on Drug Induced Homicide Prosecutions of Drug Users [FEATURE]

A woman who bought heroin with a pair of friends, one of whom shortly afterward suffered a fatal overdose on the drug, is not a murderer, at least according to the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. That was the June 1 ruling in US v. Semler, a case that may not set binding precedent, but does send a signal to the prosecutors and the judiciary that the federal courts do not want to see a federal law aimed at so-called drug kingpins applied to mere drug users.

As described in the decision, the case began when two heroin-addicted Philadelphia women, Emma Semler and her old drug rehab buddy Jennifer Werstler, went to score heroin together at Wertsler's request. They were joined by Semler's sister Sarah, who drove them to the West Philadelphia locale where they bought their heroin. It is unclear who actually purchased and then shared the heroin. The trio then shot up in the restroom of a nearby KFC restaurant. Werstler began to show signs of overdosing, and the Semler sisters "attempted to revive Werstler by splashing cold water on her, then left the bathroom and called their mother for a ride home. They did not call 911 or alert anyone to Werstler's condition."

Werstler was later discovered by a KFC employee, who called 911, but EMTs arrived too late to save her and she was pronounced dead. Her official cause of death was "adverse reaction to heroin."

Semler was then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with "distribution of heroin resulting in death," punishable by a 20-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. As an added bonus, she was also charged with doing so within 1,000 feet of a school, as well as aiding and abetting on both counts. She was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Semler appealed, arguing that friends sharing jointly procured drugs did not qualify as drug distribution and that the district court had erred in refusing to allow a jury instruction to that effect, as well as erring in failing to instruct the jury that there had to be a "proximate cause" for it to convict.

Scott Burris, JD, is a professor of both law and public health at Temple University and directs Temple's Center for Public Health Law Research. He is also Semler's appellate counsel and coauthor of an amicus curiae brief supporting Semler, which nicely laid out the issues at play.

"This case presents the Court with an opportunity to determine the proper scope of the Drug Distribution Resulting in Death (DDRD) sentencing enhancement provision," the abstract explains. "The provision, its parent statute, and the totality of modern federal law and policy to stem the overdose crisis are intended to target major drug traffickers. Research suggests that DDRD prosecutions routinely pervert this intent, indiscriminately deploying DDRD and similar provisions to target end consumers of illicit drugs affected by addiction. Rather than deterring drug trafficking, such prosecutions deter help-seeking during overdose events and interfere with overdose prevention measures. This cuts at cross purposes to overdose crisis response, leading to more, not fewer deaths."

The 3rd District Court of Appeals agreed, vacating Semler's conviction and sending her case back for retrial using proper legal instructions for jurors. "We hold that the definition of 'distribute' under the Controlled Substances Act does not cover individuals who jointly and simultaneously acquire the possession of a small amount of a controlled substance solely for their personal use," wrote Judge Jane Richard Roth.

It was a victory, if not a complete exoneration, for Emma Semler and any other drug user federal prosecutors in the 3rd Circuit might have been thinking about charging under that statute. Hopefully it also serves as a distant early warning signal for states that have passed drug induced homicide laws, as well as for state-level prosecutors, who are zealously embracing them to convict low-level drug users as murderers.

The Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law reported that the number of states with such laws jumped from 15 to 25 in from 2009 to 2019, while the number of drug induced homicide prosecutions hovered at near zero from the 1970s until the early 2000s. Then, as overdose deaths jumped, so did prosecutions, rising to 100 per year by 2011 before skyrocketing to nearly 700 per year by 2018.

In a 2019 Utah Law Review article, Northeastern law professor and faculty director of the Health in Justice Action lab faculty adviser Leo Beletsky found while the laws are ostensibly aimed at drug dealers, "half of those charged with drug induced homicide were not, in fact, 'dealers' in the traditional sense, but friends and relatives of the deceased." He also found that in cases that involved a traditional "drug dealer," half of those prosecuted were black or brown people who sold drugs to whites -- a fact he noted does not fit the demographics of the United States or of drug dealers.

"In view of that context," he wrote, "these findings suggest that drug-induced homicide charges are being selectively and disproportionately deployed to target people of color. This disparate application can further reinforce already dire racial disparities, particularly in the enforcement of drug laws and the length of sentencing for drug-related crimes."

And, as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) pointed out in its 2017 report, An Overdose Death is Not a Murder: Why Drug Induced Homicide Laws Are Ineffective and Inhumane, those laws don't work to reduce overdoses: "Prosecutors and legislators who champion renewed drug induced homicide enforcement couch the use of this punitive measure, either naively or disingenuously, as necessary to curb increasing rates of drug overdose deaths. But there is not a shred of evidence that these laws are effective at reducing overdose fatalities. In fact, death tolls continue to climb across the country, even in the states and counties most aggressively prosecuting drug-induced homicide cases."

"The Semler case is one more example of how the Drug War has warped our legal system and led to mass incarceration," DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner told the Chronicle in an email exchange. "Prosecutors twisted the law to criminalize this young woman and subject her to a more than 20-year sentence after several friends bought drugs to use together and one suffered a tragic fatal overdose. Urging the jury to convict one of them of drug distribution when each of these users were suffering from substance use disorder and using together was not only overreaching, it highlights the arbitrary nature of our drug laws."

It is also counterproductive, he added: "This prosecution and those like it do nothing to make people safer, but instead put people in greater danger. By elevating the threat of prosecution, they make it less likely that people close to an overdose victim will call for help," he pointed out.

"Thankfully in this case the Court of Appeals rejected the prosecution's overbroad definition of distribution, but what's clear is that we need an entirely new approach," said DPA's Gardner. "Instead of the failed War on Drugs, we need to stop turning to the criminal legal system and spending billions on these ineffective policing strategies. Instead we need better approaches -- such as investments in drug checking, overdose prevention centers, and expanded access to naloxone -- to protect those who are experiencing addiction and are at the greatest risk."

"The court seemed sympathetic to the view that criminal law is not the best way to get at substance use disorder and the behavior of people coping with it," Burris told the Chronicle in an email exchange.

The appeals court labeled its decision as non-precedential, meaning it is not binding on federal district courts in its region, but it still may have a broader impact in the federal courts, Burris explained.

"I think her lawyers are going to ask the court to reconsider that," he said. "It is at least what we call 'persuasive authority' in that its reasoning may be adopted voluntarily by other courts."

As for impact on state and local prosecutions, not so much, he added.

"It has no impact other than as persuasive authority," Burris said. "The state attorney general and local district attorneys pursuing these cases seem to think they are sensible and just, and they are hard to shake," he confessed.

"The overdose crisis is just one symptom of the fundamental disease of inequality and inequity in our country," was Burris's bottom line. "Getting at that root cause requires a sea change in policy such that government at all levels -- and the people who elect the government -- commit to ensuring the basics of decent life to everyone: good work, good housing, good education, good transportation, and a place of respect in the community. In this the 'deaths of despair' idea seems to be to get the problem just right. Of course, short of that, there are many things to do: stop criminalizing drug use; create safe injection sites everywhere they are needed; eliminate regulations that make methadone and buprenorphine harder to get than the drugs whose use they are meant to reduce."

Supreme Court Rejects Reduced Charges for Low-Level Crack Offenders, ICC Prosecutor Seeks to Open Philippine Drug War Investigation, More... (6/14/21)

Connecticut lawmakers will meet in special session this week in a bid to get marijuana legalization done, Wyoming activists began initiative campaigns for marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana, and more.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has requested authorization to open a formal investigation of Phiiippines drug war abuses. (ICC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Lawmakers to Take Up Marijuana Legalization in Special Session This Week. After failing to reach agreement on marijuana legalization legislation during the regular legislative session, lawmakers are set to return to Hartford this week to take up the issue. Democrats say they have the votes to pass it, despite Republican concerns.

Wyoming Marijuana Advocates Roll Out Medical Marijuana, Decriminalization Initiative Campaigns. Marijuana advocates and Libertarian Party members held a press conference outside the state capitol in Cheyenne as they turned in two ballot initiatives, one that would legalize medical marijuana and one that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Sentencing

Supreme Court Rejects Reduced Charges for Low-Level Crack Cocaine Offenders. The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the First Step Act does not apply to low-level crack cocaine offenders, even though supporters of the law said it was intended to do so. The court held that the language of the law meant it applied only to people convicted of possessing larger amounts of cocaine, not those arrested with only a small amount. The decision was unanimous.

International

International Criminal Court Likely to Proceed with Official Investigation of Philippine Drug War Killings. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has concluded its preliminary examination into drug war-related abuses in the Philippines and decided there is sufficient evidence to request judicial authorization to proceed with an official investigation. "The situation in the Philippines has been under preliminary examination since 8 February 2018," said Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. "During that time, my Office has been busy analyzing a large amount of publicly available information and information provided to us under article 15 of the Statute. On the basis of that work, I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines 'war on drugs' campaign."

Idaho Activists Ponder Two Marijuana Initiatives for 2022, Asian Meth Boomed During Pandemic, More... (6/11/21)

Brazil's lower chamber of parliament approves a hemp and medical marijuana bill, a federal appeals court hears arguments in a marijuana rescheduling case, and more.

The global pandemic boosted meth production in Asia, a new UNODC report finds. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Appeals Court Hears Marijuana Rescheduling Arguments in Case Against DEA. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Thursday in a case pitting a group of scientists and military veterans against the DEA. The plaintiffs seek to force the DEA to formally reconsider marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug.

Idaho Activists Eye Two 2022 Marijuana Initiatives. Gem State activists are aiming to get two marijuana-related initiatives on the 2022 ballot. One, called the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act, would set up a system of dispensaries for patients, who would not generally be allowed to grow their own. The other, the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act, would allow for people to possess up to three ounces of marijuana on private property or while driving in one's vehicle back from a legal weed shop in another state. Both initiatives face major challenges in what is arguably the most anti-marijuana state in the county.

International

Asian Meth Industry Boomed During Pandemic, UNODC Reports. Asian drug trafficking organization flooded markets with meth and other synthetic drugs even as the global economy ground to a halt last year because of the pandemic, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report Thursday. "While the pandemic has caused the global economy to slow down, criminal syndicates that dominate the region have quickly adapted and capitalized. They have continued to aggressively push supply in a conscious effort to build the market and demand," Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement provided to CNN.

Brazil Lower House Approves Bill Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana Cultivation. The Chamber of Deputies' Special Commission on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal, veterinary, scientific, and industrial use despite the best efforts of allies of anti-reform President Jair Bolsonaro. Marijuana could be grown only by companies, patient associations, or NGOs -- not individuals. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Supreme Court Hears Crack Sentencing Case, Afghan Opium Cultivation Jumps, More... (5/5/21)

An Alabama medical marijuana bill struggles to get past final obstacles, a watered-down Tennessee medical marijuana bill is moving, a Swiss parliamentary committee votes to legalize marijuana, and more.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow and grow and grow as cultivation jumped dramatically last year. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama House Republicans Filibuster Vote on Medical Marijuana Bill. House Republicans blocked a vote on a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46, by tying the chamber up in a nine-hour debate Tuesday afternoon and evening. Now, the House may try to get it passed again on Thursday.

Tennessee Legislature Moving on Watered Down Medical Marijuana Bill. After a medical marijuana bill was narrowly defeated in the House last month, legislators have now approved a watered down version of House Bill 607 that would allow only for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and create a commission to study legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Bill Lee (R) is expected to sign the measure into law.

Sentencing

US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Case. The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of Tarahrick Terry, who is seeking to get his sentence cut by citing a provision in the First Step Act, passed by Congress in 2018. The act was aimed at redressing racial inequities around crack versus powder cocaine sentencing and made the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity, retroactive. But justices appeared skeptical that the law applied to low-level offenders such as Terry. He had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute less than four grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to 15 ½ years in 2008. Higher-level crack offenses are already covered by the First Step Act, and more than 2,500 people have already been released under its provisions, but hundreds of lower-level crack offenders remain behind bars, hoping for some relief from the Supreme Court.

International

UN Reports Afghan Opium Cultivation Leaped Last Year. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, the world's largest producer, jumped a whopping 37% last year to more than 500,000 acres of poppies planted, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan government reported Tuesday. The study estimated the crop could produce about 6,300 tons of opium, one of the largest figures in the past quarter-century. Helmand province in the southwest appears to be the poppy heartland, accounting for more than half of all poppy plantings.

Swiss Parliamentary Committee Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Health Commission of the National Council, the country's lower legislative chamber, voted 13-11 last week to federally legalize marijuana for adults. The measure calls for expanding a current pilot program that allows legal access for some 5,000 registered participants to the entire adult population. If the proposal is fully approved by the National Council, it would move next to the Council of States, the upper body of Switzerland’s Federal Assembly. Marijuana has been decriminalized there since 2012.

Ecstasy Shown to Help with PTSD When Paired with Therapy, LA Smokable MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (5/4/21)

The Maryland Court of Appeals rules that the smell of marijuana is not sufficient probable cause to justify an officer stop, the DC city council ponders reserving some medical marijuana licenses for formerly incarcerated drug offenders, and more.

Pain pill distributors went on trial in Huntington, WV, Monday over their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Appeals Court Rules Smell of Marijuana Doesn't Justify Officer Stops. The state Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that simply smelling the odor of marijuana does not justify a police officer stopping and investigating someone. The court held that police need "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed and that just smelling marijuana doesn't meet that standard. The state decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams back in 2004, and the court held that since possession of less than that amount is not a crime and since the "odor of marijuana alone does not indicate the quantity, if any, in someone's possession," police cannot rely solely on the odor to conduct a stop and investigation.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana House Approves Bill to Allow Patients to Use Smokable Marijuana. The House on Monday voted 73-26 to approve  House Bill 391, which would expand the state's limited medical marijuana program to allow patients to purchase whole-flower marijuana. The measure now heads to the Senate.

DC Council Considers Legislation to Reserve Some Business Licenses for Formerly Incarcerated Drug Offenders. The city council on Tuesday is taking up legislation that would reserve some new medical marijuana licenses for people who have done time for drug offenses. It is the latest move by the District to try to increase equity in the industry. The bill instructs the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which regulates the industry, to reserve at least one dispensary license, one cultivation center license, and one testing lab license for ex-offenders.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Distribution Companies Go on Trial for Allegedly Fomenting Opioid Addiction Crisis. A federal lawsuit targeting a trio of big drug distribution companies for their role in the ongoing opioid addiction crisis got underway Monday in Huntington, West Virginia. The city of Huntington is suing AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health Inc, and the McKesson Corporation and alleging they pumped 1.1 billion opioid pain pills into the state, leading to widespread addiction and more than 1,700 opioid overdose deaths statewide. The lawsuit does not address the need of chronic pain patients to have access to sometimes large amounts of prescription opioids. It is one of hundreds filed against drug makers and distributors over the opioid crisis.

Psychedelics

Ecstasy Shown to Help with PTSD When Paired with Therapy. A study about to be published in Nature Medicine found that people with sever post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who were given MDMA (Ecstasy) in conjunction with talk therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptom severity than those who got therapy and a placebo. The study also reported no serious adverse effects, although some participants experienced mild nausea and loss of appetite.

NY Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization into Law, Biden White House Sets Drug Policy Priorities, More... (4/1/21)

The Biden administration has filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting an effort to expand sentencing reductions under the 2018 First Step Act, the New Mexico legislature has voted to legalize marijuana, and more.

New York State Capitol
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization, Governor Will Sign Bill. New Mexico has become the second state in as many days to see lawmakers approve marijuana legalization. New York did it on March 30, and with the approval of House Bill 2, the Cannabis Regulation Act, and Senate Bill 2, the Expungement of Certain Criminal Records Act, by legislators in Santa Fe, New Mexico got it done on March 31. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supported the effort and says she will sign the bills into law.

New York Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill into Law. One day after the legislature passed Senate Bill 854, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it into law Wednesday. That makes the state the 15th to legalize marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday approved House Bill 1480, which would impose new reporting requirements for property seized by police. The bill would require more information be provided in courts' forfeiture judgments, including where the seizure took place, the alleged crime, and the outcome of the case. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Doug Burgum (R), who has three legislature days to either sign or veto it.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases First Year Drug Policy Priorities. Citing the nation's "overdose and addiction crisis," the Biden administration on Thursday laid out a set of drug policy priorities for its first year. "President Biden has made clear that addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his administration… President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead. The President has also emphasized the need to eradicate racial, gender, and economic inequities that currently exist in the criminal justice system."

Sentencing

Biden Administration Urges Leniency for Harsh Crack Sentences. The Biden administration on Wednesday filed a brief with the Supreme Court endorsing an effort by low-level crack cocaine offenders to obtain reduced sentences. The brief urged the court to widen eligibility for sentence reductions for some drug offenses under the 2018 First Step Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Tarahrick Terry v. U.S., No. 20-10482, on May 4.

Medical Marijuana Update

An Idaho initiative campaign aimed at 2022 gears up, a court rules that Michigan probationers can use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Biden Administration Opposes Marijuana Dispensary's Tax Fight for Supreme Court Review. In one of the first actions regarding marijuana in the Biden administration, the IRS has argued against a Denver-based dispensary, Standing Akimbo LLC, having its case heard in the US Supreme Court. The dispensary is seeking to challenge an IRS rule that business tax deductions cannot be taken by marijuana businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Connecticut

Connecticut Bill Would Require "Labor Peace" for Marijuana Businesses. A bill now before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, HB 6377, would require that marijuana businesses enter into labor peace agreements with a union before being granted licenses. The bill would require an agreement "between a cannabis establishment and a bona fide labor organization that protects the state's interests by, at minimum, prohibiting the labor organization from engaging in picketing, work stoppages or boycotts against the cannabis establishment." Under the bill, marijuana employers would give up some rights, including the right to speak to employees about union organizing efforts.

Idaho

Idaho Campaigners Cleared to Begin Signature Gathering for 2022 Medical Marijuana Initiative. Kind Idaho, the group leading the campaign for a 2022 medical marijuana initiative, has been cleared to begin signature gathering. A 2020 signature-gathering campaign was disrupted by the coronavirus and ultimately failed to back the ballot. This move comes as a medical marijuana bill has just been introduced in the legislature and as the legislature also considers legislation that would prevent the state from legalizing any currently illicit drugs.

Michigan

Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Right of People on Probation to Use Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that judges cannot prevent people from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation. The ruling came after a Traverse County district court judge barred Michael Thue from using medical marijuana while on probation, saying it was a policy of circuit court judges in the county. But the appeals court ruled that anyone who has a state-issued medical marijuana card is immune to such penalties.

South Dakota

South Dakota Governor Seeks Delay in Implementing Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Wednesday that while she will not stand in the way of implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the state will need more time to get the program up and running. "We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly," Noem said. "The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time." Under state law, voter-approved ballot measures are supposed to take effect the following July 1, but Noem and the state's Republican legislative leadership say they will delay implementation until July 1, 2022.

Federal Appeals Court Rules Planned Philadelphia Safer Injection Site Violates Drug Law [FEATURE]

With a decision Tuesday, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals has brought to a screeching -- if hopefully temporary -- halt for efforts to establish a groundbreaking permitted safer injection facility in the city of Philadelphia. In the case of US v. Safehouse, the nonprofit group set to run the site, the court held that allowing the supervised onsite consumption of illegal drugs "will break the law" because it conflicts with a 35-year-old amendment to the Controlled Substances Act aimed at crack houses.

The Vancouver safer injection site. We still can't have those in America. Yet. (vcha.ca)
Never mind that the city is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic and needs to try something new after decades of failed prohibitionist drug policies. The sanctity of the drugs laws must be maintained, the court held: "Though the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law," it opined.

This is just the latest twist in the years-long effort to address an opioid overdose outbreak in the city that began about a decade ago, with overdose deaths nearly doubling between 2009 and 2018 and numbering more than a thousand a year every year since 2016. The crisis led to the formation of a Mayor's Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia, which issued a final report and recommendations in 2017 calling on the city to consider rolling out overdose prevention services, including safe injection sites, or, as Safehouse refers to them, overdose prevention sites.

Safehouse was formed to make that possibility a reality. Led by Jose A. Benitez, the executive director of the harm reduction group Prevention Point Philadelphia, Safehouse picked up a powerful ally in board member Ed Rendell, the former governor of the state and mayor and district attorney of Philadelphia. With Rendell's clout, the organization had overcome local obstacles and was preparing to open the first legal safe injection site in the country when Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department struck.

The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a civil lawsuit in February 2019 asking a federal judge to find safe injection sites illegal under the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" statute, throwing plans to open up into limbo. Eight months later, the court held that "the ultimate goal of Safehouse's proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it, and accordingly, [the "crack house" statute] does not prohibit Safehouse's proposed conduct."

A February 2020 ruling from the same court reiterated the legality of safe injection sites in the Eastern District, but that summer, the judge ordered Safehouse to pause amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the police violence protests. Meanwhile, the US Attorney appealed the ruling that the proposed safe injection site was legal, with oral arguments held in November, and the 3rd Circuit's decision issued this week.

The Justice Department pronounced itself pleased.

"The Court's decision reaffirms that 'safe' injection sites are a violation of federal law," said Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a statement. "The Department supports efforts to curb the opioid crisis ravaging this country, but injection sites are not the solution. There are more productive ways to address drug abuse, and today's ruling by the Third Circuit has confirmed that these sites are illegal and therefore not the answer."

"The rule of law is still alive and well in Philadelphia -- having been re-affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held that it is a federal crime to open a heroin injection site or 'consumption room' for illegal drug use," added US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain. "The 3rd Circuit's opinion is a faithful reading of the statute's plain language and is consistent with Congress's intent to protect American neighborhoods from the scourge of concentrated drug use."

Reform advocates saw it quite differently.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the already devastating overdose crisis, the Third Circuit's reversal of the earlier court's decision -- which held that safe consumption sites do not violate federal law -- will inevitably result in the unnecessary loss of countless lives," Lindsay LaSalle, managing director of policy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), said in a statement. "The 3rd Circuit's decision is misguided -- it is abundantly clear that Congress never intended to criminalize legitimate public health interventions through [the 'crack house' statute]."

The 3rd Circuit's decision is precedential, meaning it holds throughout the district, which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the US Virgin Islands. But other jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and New York City, where similar efforts are underway, are not bound by it, and DPA is encouraging groups pursuing such efforts to "continue to work toward authorization and implementation of supervised consumption sites to address the overdose crisis in their cities and states."

There may be help coming in the new Congress and Biden administration as well. Advocates say they will seek action in Congress to clarify that safer injection facilities should be permitted, and from the Biden Justice Department to provide guidance to US Attorneys to lay off on them.

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