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Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, NH Decrim Bill Passes, More... (5/11/17)

A legalization bill in Vermont awaits the governor's signature, and so does a decrim bill in New Hampshire, Trump names an anti-reform drug commission, Senate Democrats signal their concerns over Trump drug policies, and more.

New England is happening! A Vermont legalization bill is on the governor's desk, so is a New Hampshire decrim bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 110, which would allow people 21 and over to possess marijuana and buy it from marijuana shops, which would be limited to 75. There is no provision for people to grow their own. The bill now goes to the House floor.

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. With approval by the Senate on Thursday, a decriminalization bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). House Bill 640 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction. It is currently a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania Poll for First Time Has Majority for Legalization. For the first time, the Franklin and Marshall College Poll is reporting a majority of Keystone Staters favoring marijuana legalization. The poll had support at 56%, a whopping 16-point increase over the last time Franklin and Marshall asked the question in June 2015. But only 44% of Republicans supported it, and the GOP has huge majorities in the state legislature.

Vermont Legalization Bill Awaits Governor's Action. In a historic move, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana possession and allow for limited cultivation by people 21 and over, as well las creating a commission to study the best ways to tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the future. Now the question is whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He has expressed concerns about drugged driving, but also said he thinks legalization is "inevitable." He says he will "review" the bill and did not commit to vetoing it.

Medical Marijuana

Calls Grow for Florida Special Session to Deal With Medical Marijuana. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has joined a growing number of people calling for a special legislative session to come up with rules for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Joe Negron has also said the legislature should be responsible for crafting the rules. The session ended earlier this week without the legislature reaching agreement on how to regulate medical marijuana. If the legislature doesn't come back into session to deal with the issue, it will be left up to the state Health Department.

Drug Policy

Trump Names Members of Commission to Combat Drug Addiction. President Trump has named the members of his new commission to combat drug addiction, and the list of names is heavy with opponents of marijuana legalization. The members are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Project SAM co-founder and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Bertha Madras.

Senate Dems Send Letter Raising Concerns on Trump's Opioids, Marijuana Policy. Six Senate Democrats this week sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) saying they were concerned with the administration's "open hostility" to legal marijuana states and possible budget cuts they said could aggravate the opioid crisis. "We appreciate any sincere efforts to combat substance use disorders. We are concerned that this administration may revert to a policy that focuses on the criminal justice system over public health efforts," the letter reads. The senators referenced Trump's threat to radically defund ONDCP, as well as the repeal of other Obama-era policies responding to the opioid epidemic. "A meaningful effort to combat substance use disorders must focus on the full implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, adequate funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and improving the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services and health insurance," the letter says. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would be "a major step backwards in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction," they wrote. "We are very concerned that this administration will exacerbate the opioid epidemic rather than alleviate it," the letter said. And then, there's pot: "We are also concerned by the administration's open hostility to state policies legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of medical or recreational marijuana," the senators wrote. "Particularly given the severity of the ongoing opioid use epidemic, federal resources should be targeted at providing comprehensive substance use disorder programs and cutting off the flow of deadly drugs rather than interfering with state regulatory regimes for marijuana," the letter said.

International

Medical Marijuana Now Available in Chilean Pharmacies. Pharmacies in Santiago will begin selling medical marijuana this week, a first for Latin America. Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2015, but until now, patients could only obtain it by importing it or from a small number of dedicated farms set up by a charity. The Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow people to grow their own.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: Nevada Marijuana Sales Could Start July 1, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More... (5/9/17)

Nevada marijuana stores get an okay for early openings, Georgia's governor signs a CBC cannabis oil expansion bill, Chris Christie says drug czar budget cuts aren't going to happen, and more.

Peruvian police attack medical marijuana marchers in Lima last Saturday. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Recreational Marijuana Sales Can Begin as Early as July 1. The Nevada Tax Commission voted on Monday to approve temporary licenses for qualifying pot shops so that they can open without waiting for the commission to draft rules, a process that must be completed by January 1. The marijuana retailers must, though, have state and local licenses to operate, and most counties have yet to approve their own regulations.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the number of qualifying conditions for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and allows patients in hospice care to possess it. The new qualifying conditions are AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette's syndrome.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Says Cuts to Drug Czar's Office Won't Happen. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was named by President Trump to head an advisory group on the opioid epidemic, said on Tuesday that a widely-reported deep cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is "not going to happen." The governor added that: "I believe there will be funding and I believe funding will take different forms." But he also criticized the office, saying the opioid epidemic was evidence it wasn't doing its job.

International

Australia Welfare Recipients to Be Subject to Drug Testing. The federal government is aiming to cut welfare expenses, in part by going after people affected by drugs and alcohol. Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his budget speech that a pilot drug testing program will be run on 5,000 welfare recipients. Anyone who tests positive will have his or her benefits locked to a cashless card that can only be used for "essential living expenses" and will also be "subjected to further tests and possible referral to treatment."

Peru Police Attack Medical Marijuana Rally Marchers. Activists calling for the legalization of marijuana announced Monday they had filed a lawsuit against the National Police after officers violently attacked marchers in a peaceful demonstration last Saturday. "We were just marching peacefully when the police started attacking us with tear gas, including our children, regardless of the fact that some of them were in wheelchairs," said Looking for Hope leader Ayde Farfan. Police also arrested eight activists, although they released them the next day. The Peruvian Congress is set to debate a medical marijuana bill next week, but it doesn't include a provision for growing your own, which is what the marchers were calling for.

Trump Threatens to Defy Congress to Go After Medical Marijuana

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter.

The president wants to ignore the will of Congress when it comes to funding for medical marijuana enforcement. (Gage Skidmore)
Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.

Despite those state laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize "medical marijuana."

The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The language suggests that Trump could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions his go ahead when it comes to enforcing marijuana policy. Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has scoffed at arguments for its medical use as "desperate."

"I reject the idea that we're going to be better placed if we have more marijuana," Sessions told law enforcement officials in an April speech. "It's not a healthy substance, particularly for young people."

But the language also sets up a potential power struggle with Congress, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to appropriate funds for federal government operations.

As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington told Bloomberg News, the signing statement signals a desire to usurp power from Congress.

"It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending," said Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. "This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a primary sponsor of the rider who is also a Trump supporter, threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary to protect medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal thought they had some protection, thanks to the congressional budget action, but in typical Trumpian fashion, the president's signing statement has once again introduced doubt and uncertainty, leaving at risk not only patients and providers, but also traditional limits on executive authority.

Chronicle AM: Trump Budget Slashes ONDCP, ACHA Leaves Millions Without Treatment, More... (5/5/17)

The Trump administration wants to slash funding for the drug czar's office by 95%, the American Health Care Act approved in the House Thursday would leave millions without access to drug treatment, and more.

ONDCP faces massive cuts under the Trump budget. But it's early.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan 2018 Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Backers of a proposed initiative to legalize pot next year launched their campaign on Friday. The initiative is backed by in-state activists and the Marijuana Policy Project, and needs 252, 000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. A similar effort in 2016 came up short after state officials moved to tighten timelines for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Amended House Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday gave its okay to a heavily-amended House Bill 1397, sending the measure back to the House for final approval. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) offered and the Senate approved a "delete all" amendment basically replacing the House text. Among the changes: limiting growers to five retail facilities, allowing the Health Department to grant 10 new licenses this year, and a provision to add five more licenses for every 75,000 patients. The legislative session ends on Monday, so the House must act quickly.

Drug Policy

White House Proposes Massive Cut in Drug Czar's Office Funding. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget has released a document that calls for a 95% cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Under the proposal, funding would be slashed from $388 million to $24 million, with up to 33 employees laid off. The budget would also eliminate grants for programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program. The OMB says the budget document is preliminary, not final.

Drug Treatment

House Passes Health Care Reform Bill That Would End Access to Treatment for Millions. The House passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA) on Thursday, placing addiction treatment opportunities for millions at risk. As the Drug Policy Alliance noted, "millions of people would lose treatment coverage under this bill and efforts to end the opioid crisis will be put in grave jeopardy." As a result, the advocacy group warned, "people struggling with problematic substance use could relapse to riskier opioid and other drug use behaviors that increase risk for developing costly medical conditions, contracting and transmitting blood-borne disease, and experiencing life-threating overdose." The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

UN Investigator on Executions Rebukes Philippines Over Drug War Killings. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions rebuked the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, saying world leaders have recognized that a bloody-handed approach doesn't work, can compound social problems, and "can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law." Some 7,000 to 9,000 people have been killed in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year.

Congress Will Give the DOJ Exactly Zero Dollars to Go After Medical Marijuana

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The bipartisan congressional budget agreement to keep the federal government operating through September contains exactly no money for the Justice Department to wage war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The agreement reached Sunday instead explicitly bars the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana.

You're safe -- sort of -- at least until September. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
And it sends a strong message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana and loosening marijuana laws, who told reporters in a February Justice Department briefing that while states "can pass the laws they choose," it remains "a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The budget agreement eliminated funding for medical marijuana enforcement by adopting the language of an amendment that has been successfully used since 2014 to keep the feds out of medical marijuana states. Known originally as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and now as the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, the measure bars the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from "implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The budget language lists the states that have medical marijuana laws, but curiously enough, does not include Indiana and North Dakota, both of which recently adopted medical marijuana laws. At this point, the omission is considered an error, not evidence of malign intent toward those two states.

It should be noted that the budget move does not necessarily mean medical marijuana operators are now free and clear of potential federal attention. Federal prosecutors could attempt to go after such operations by arguing that they are somehow not in compliance with state laws.

Still, the move was greeted with studied approval by medical marijuana supporters, who are now calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty," said Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use."

It is time to "amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America's rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape," agreed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The best way to do that, Strekal said, is "removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit."

Adding restrictive amendments to the Justice Department budget bill has served in recent years to block the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states, but is only a stopgap measure. The amendments have to be renewed each fiscal year, and there is always a chance they could fail. That's why activists and the industry want the certainty that would be provided by either changing the federal marijuana laws or by making the funding ban permanent.

"Medical cannabis patients in the US can rest easy knowing they won't have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine," said Jeffrey Zucker of the marijuana business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. "Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn't for naught and their employees' jobs are safe."

But only until September -- and that's why it's not quite time to get comfortable, he said.

"While this is great as a continuing step, it's important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant," Zucker said.

In the meantime, medical marijuana is protected in the 29 states where it is legal. But adult-use legal marijuana, legal in eight states, is not under the purview of the budget agreement and is still theoretically at risk from a Sessions Justice Department.

But even Sessions, a fire-breathing foe of the weed, increasingly seems disinclined to make good on earlier vows to go after legal pot. Like Donald Trump discovering that health care reform is "complicated," Jeff Sessions is apparently coming to understand, as he reportedly told Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff last week, that the Obama administration's toleration of state-legal marijuana legalization under specified conditions is "not too far from good policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: Trump Invites Drug War Criminal Duterte to WH, Mexico Okays MedMJ, More... (5/1/17)

President Trump is buddying up to Filipino President Duterte despite an ever-rising death toll from his drug war, Mexico okays medical marijuana, the Vermont legalization bill is still alive -- but just barely -- and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wins apparent kudos from Trump for his deadly drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Justice Department Says People in Pot Business Can't Use Bankruptcy. The Justice Department's bankruptcy watchdog, the US Trustee Program, wrote a letter to trustees handling consumer bankruptcy cases last week reminding them that marijuana is illegal under federal law and warning them against handling any money from the sale of marijuana-related property. The agency said it had seen an increase in the number of bankruptcies where "marijuana assets" are disclosed. "Our goal is to ensure that trustees are not placed in the untenable position of violating federal law by liquidating, receiving proceeds from, or in any way administering marijuana assets," the Trustee Program warned. The directive applies "even in cases in which such assets are not illegal under state law."

Vermont Legalization Bill Advances as Clock Ticks Down on Legislative Session. The House Human Services Committee approved a legalization measure, House Bill 170, last Friday, clearing the way for the bill to get a House floor vote as early as Tuesday. The session ends on Friday. Neither this bill nor a late Senate bill that would more broadly legalize marijuana is expected to win final approval this session, but favorable House votes would keep them alive for the second half of the session, set for January.

Medical Marijuana

California Issues Medical Marijuana Regulation Draft Rules. A trio of state agencies last Friday releases 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida Legislators Edge Toward Agreement on Medical Marijuana Regulations. The House last Friday modified its medical marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 1397, to make it more palatable to patients and the state Senate. The bill was amended to do away with a 90-day waiting requirement for and to allow the use of vaporizing and edibles. The House also backed away from requiring doctors to recertify patients every three months. But the House and Senate remain divided on how many operations should be added to the state's seven "dispensing organization," with Senate Bill 406 added five licenses, while the House bill only adds one. Legislators have only until Friday to get it done; the session ends then.

International

Trump Calls Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Apparently Supports His Murderous Drug War, and Invites Him to White House. President Trump invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House after having a "very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte" on Saturday. According to a statement issued by the White House, the two "discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs." Since he was elected President last May, Duterte has championed a campaign that is responsible for extrajudicial killing of thousands of people. "To host President Duterte at the White House is to endorse his deadly drug war policies," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "The Trump Administration should immediately withdraw its invitation to Duterte and publicly denounce the mass killings he has advocated for, or risk embarrassing the country with the sight of the US President greeting a remorseless, self-confessed murderer."

Mexican Parliamenent Approves Medical Marijuana. The Chamber of Deputies voted 374-7 last Friday to approve the use of medical marijuana. The Senate approved the move five months ago, so the measure now goes to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is expected to sign it -- he proposed the idea last year.

Chronicle AM: Nevada MJ Bills Moving, NY Safe Consumption Campaign Underway, More... (4/26/17)

A group of DAs have published a report critical of marijuana legalization, Nevada marijuana bills are moving, a New York campaign for the establishment of safe drug consumption rooms gets underway, and more.

Will El Chapo pay for the border wall? Ted Cruz thinks it's a swell idea.
Marijuana Policy

In New Report, Prosecutors Slam Marijuana Legalization. The National District Attorneys' Association has released a report, Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective, that criticizes legalization as leading to greater access by children and creating challenges for impaired driving enforcement. The DAs also criticized state-level legalization and decriminalization as "an obstacle to the comprehensive federal framework." The report will be used by the Trump administration to help fashion its marijuana policy.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill Barring Use of Cash Welfare Benefits to Buy Pot. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 3194, which would bar the use of cash welfare benefits to purchase marijuana. State law already prohibits cash benefits from being used to purchase alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pornography. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Nevada Marijuana Bills Advance. In a frenzy of last-minute activity, legislators approved a series of marijuana bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 375, which advocates for tribes' right to establish marijuana facilities; Senate Bill 344, which establishes packaging standards; Senate Bill 236, which would allow for on-site consumption; and Senate Bill 374, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, all passed the Senate and head for the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 259, which would allow courts to seal the records of people charged with possessing an ounce or less. That bill now heads for the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved House Bill 1397, which aims to regulate the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system. Critics call the House bill too restrictive and are calling on legislators to instead support a rival bill in the Senate.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Files Bill to Make El Chapo Pay for the Border Wall. US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed Senate Bill 939, "to reserve any amounts forfeited to the US government as a result of the criminal prosecution of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (commonly known as "El Chapo"), or of other felony convictions involving the transportation of controlled substances into the United States, for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.

Harm Reduction

Safe Shape Tour across New York State Calls for "Safer Consumption Spaces" to Combat Skyrocketing Overdoses. In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS) supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services. Click on the link for much more information and how to register for events.

Not One Step Back: Drug Policy Reformers and African American Academics Convene in the South

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Hundreds of members of the Atlanta community and dozens of the nation's leading advocates for drug policy reform gathered in a groundbreaking meeting over the weekend. The meeting aimed at building alliances with the African American community to both advance smart public health approaches to drug policy and maintain and protect existing reforms in the face of hostile powers in Washington.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters, asha bandele
Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, Georgia State University's Department of African American Studies, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Amnesty International, The Ordinary People's Society, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Peachtree NORML, "Not One Step Back" marked the first time the drug reform movement has come to the historically black colleges of the South and signals the emergence of a powerful new alliance between black academics and reform advocates.

The event included a series of panels filled with activists, academics, and public health experts, including Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrice Cullors and VH1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, and was highlighted by a keynote address by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

To the delight of the audience, "Auntie Maxine" slammed the drug war as aimed only at certain communities while those making fortunes at the top of the illegal drug trade go untouched. The representative from South Central reached back to the days of the crack cocaine boom to make her case.

"The police did everything you think wouldn't happen in a democracy," she said, citing illegal raids and thuggish behavior from the LAPD of then-Chief Darryl Gates, the inventor of the SWAT team. But if low-level users and dealers were getting hammered, others involved went scot free.

"Something happened to devastate our communities," she said, alluding to the arrival of massive amounts of cocaine flowing from political allies of the Reagan administration as it waged war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. "The CIA and DEA turned a blind eye," Waters argued. "If you're the CIA and DEA, you know who the dealer is, but they take the lower-level dealers and let the big dealers keep selling drugs."

"Ricky Ross did time," she said, referencing the South Central dealer held responsible for unleashing the crack epidemic (with the help of Nicaraguan Contra connections). "But those big banks that laundered all that drug money -- nobody got locked up, they just have to pay fines. But for them, fines are just a cost of doing business. Even today, some of the biggest banks are laundering money for drug dealers," Waters noted.

"We have to defend our communities; we don't support drugs and addiction, but you need to know that people in high places bear some responsibility. One of the worst things about the drug war is that we never really dealt with how these drugs come into our communities," Waters added.

The selection of Atlanta for the conclave was no accident. Georgia is a state that incarcerates blacks for drug offenses at twice the rate it does whites. While blacks make up only a third of the state's population, they account for three-quarters of those behind bars for marijuana offenses.

The state has the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, with a prison population on track to grow 8% within the next five years, and one out of every 13 adults in the state are in prison or jail or on probation or parole.

Atlanta is also the powerhouse of the South -- the region's largest city, and one that is increasingly progressive in a long-time red state that could now be turning purple. And it is the site of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Drug Policy Reform Conference -- the world's premier drug reform gathering -- set for October. What better place to bring a laser focus on the racial injustice of the drug war?

"The drug war is coded language," said Drug Policy Alliance senior director asha bandele. "When the law no longer allowed the control and containment of people based on race, they inserted the word 'drug' and then targeted communities of color. Fifty years later, we see the outcome of that war. Drug use remains the same, and black people and people of color are disproportionately locked up. But no community, regardless of race, has been left unharmed, which is why we are calling everyone together to strategize."

And strategize they did, with panels such as "Drug Reform is a Human Rights Issue," "This is What the Drug War Looks Like: Survivors Speak," "Strength, Courage, and Wisdom: Who We Must Be in These Times," and "Dreaming a World: A Nation Beyond Prisons and Punishment."

While denunciations of white privilege were to be expected, the accompanying arguments that capitalism plays a role in perpetuating oppression and inequality was surprisingly frank.

"We have to dismantle both white supremacy and capitalism," said Eunisses Hernandez, a California-based program coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to reach a place where trauma is dealt with in a public health model. The current system of law enforcement, prisons, and jails doesn't do anything for us."

"We're in agreement here," said Dr. Hill. "We have to eliminate white supremacy and capitalism."

That's not something you hear much in mainstream political discourse, but in Atlanta, under the impetus of addressing the horrors of the war on drugs, the search for answers is leading to some very serious questions -- questions that go well beyond the ambit of mere drug reform. Something was brewing in Atlanta this weekend. Whether the initial progress will be built upon remains to be seen, but the drug reformers are going to be back in October to try to strengthen and deepen those new-found bonds.

Atlanta, GA
United States

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