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Chronicle AM: DOJ Takes Aim at SISes, States Demand Congress Act on Pot Banking, More... (8/28/18)

Even as a California safer injection site bill approaches final passage, the Justice Department takes aim at the harm reduction practice; state financial regulators want Congress to act on marijuana banking, and more.

Vancouver's InSite safer injection site. Coming soon to San Francisco? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Financial Regulators Call on Congress to Deal With Marijuana Banking Problems. The top financial regulators in 13 states sent a letter last week to congressional leaders demanding that they take action to protect banks working with marijuana businesses. The conflicts between state-level legalization and federal prohibition have created confusion in the financial sector and jeopardized public safety, the regulators said. "It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programs and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space without the looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties," the regulators wrote. "While Congress has taken some action, such as the Rohrabacher amendment prohibiting federal funds being used to inhibit state medicinal marijuana programs, this has been an impermanent approach that requires a permanent resolution." Regulators from Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington State signed the letter.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations Now Open for Public Comment. State officials are now asking the public for its input on the regulation and implementation of medical marijuana in the state. "Lawmakers in the legislative working group are seeking a path forward to implement State Question 788 in a way that conforms to the desires of voters who passed the law," said Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). "To do that effectively, the working group needs as much input as possible from citizens -- supporters, advocates, patients, health-care providers, public safety and law enforcement officers and even those who have concerns. I would encourage all Oklahomans who have an interest in this issue to use this opportunity to share input and have their voices heard." Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Messages will then be shared with members of the working group.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Attacks Safer Injection Sites. In an op-ed in the New York Times titled "Fight Drug Abuse, Don't Subsidize It," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein attacked safer injection sites as "very dangerous" and argued they would "only make the opioid crisis worse." He also points out that they are federally illegal and warns that violations are punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. His op-ed comes as cities such as New York, Seattle, and San Francisco advance plans to open such facilities in a bid to reduce harms.

California Safer Injection Site Bill Passes Senate. The Senate voted Monday to approve Assembly Bill 186, which will allow the city of San Francisco to undertake a three-year, pilot safer injection site program. The bill now goes back to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote before heading to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Help Us Stop a Major Human Rights Crisis Caused by the Drug War

While much of the world moves toward compassionate drug policy reform, a populist would-be dictator has led one country cruelly backwards. Since taking office, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has orchestrated a brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings, mainly as part of his "drug war." Credible estimates for the number of dead range from at least 12,000 to well over 20,000 and rising since mid-2016.

Ominously, a "Duterte effect" in the region has led to extrajudicial drug war killings in Indonesia and Bangladesh, and high-level officials in Malaysia and Turkey have also called for killings or other extrajudicial violence. In a move that has comforted human rights violators everywhere, President Trump has praised Duterte's drug war, twice.

"There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have..." [points at himself]
- Rodrigo Duterte, September 2016 (source: Reuters)

We at StoptheDrugWar.org ask your help in stopping this drug war tragedy that threatens global human rights:

Watch the powerful video from Senator Risa Hontiveros of the Philippines, sent for our event at the UN in New York last month:

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,


David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
Washington, DC

P.S. Our Philippines campaign flows from work we're doing at the United Nations seeking reform of the UN drug treaties to clear the way more for legalization, while advocating drug policies based on health and human rights. Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global to learn more about that side of our work.

Chronicle AM: CA Senate Passes SIS Bill, Black Vets More Likely to Be Drug Tested, More... (8/22/18)

Louisiana doctors could soon treat more medical marijuana patients, black VA patients on opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested and have their treatment halted for illicit drug use than whites, a Georgia judge throws out a heroin murder conviction, and more.

A facility like Vancouver's InSite could be coming to San Francisco. A bill to make it happen is moving in Sacramento. (CC)
Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Regulators Weight Raising Limit on Number of Patients Doctors Can Treat. The state Board of Medical Examiners is set to boost the number of medical marijuana patients a single doctor can treat. The board set a limit of 100 patients per doctor in 2016, but Vincent Culotta, the board's executive director, said the limit will be raised at the board's meeting next month. "We realize we're going to have to increase that number," he said.

Oklahoma Judge Rules Implementation of Medical Marijuana Rules Can Proceed. Cleveland County District Court Judge Michael Tupper ruled Tuesday that the Board of Health can proceed with implementing the state's medical marijuana rules and regulations. He ruled against a lawsuit by more than a dozen Oklahoma patients and businesses who challenged the rules. The decision Tuesday does not end the case. The judge could still throw out some or all the challenged rules at a later date or choose to leave them alone again. Another legal challenge is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study Finds African-American VA Patients More Likely to Be Drug Tested, Have Prescriptions Stopped. Black VA patients on long-term opioid therapy are more likely to be drug tested by their doctors and much more likely to have their opioid prescriptions halted if any illegal drug use is found, a new study finds. About 25% of black patients were tested within six months of being prescribed opioids, while only 16% of whites were. Black patients were twice as likely as white ones to have their opioid therapy halted if they tested positive for marijuana and three times as likely if they tested positive for cocaine. The findings were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Georgia Judge Dismisses Indictment in Heroin Overdose Death. A Georgia judge has dismissed a murder indictment against a man accused of injecting heroin into another man who overdosed and died. In the case, Superior Court Judge John Goger found that the defendant injected the fatal dose at the victim's request and that the victim had purchased the drug himself. Goger held that that didn't amount to heroin distribution by the defendant, and without the underlying drug felony, there is no felony murder.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Passes Bill to Permit Safe Injection Sites in San Francisco. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 186, which would allow San Francisco to implement a safe injection site. AB 186 permits San Francisco to establish facilities where individuals can use controlled substances under the supervision of staff that are trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, healthcare, and other services. Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as a significant majority of the San Francisco electorate, support piloting safe injection sites in San Francisco.

Trump's Tariffs and Trade War Will Hit the Marijuana Industry, Too

The Trump administration has included vaping devices and their components among the Chinese products subject to punitive tariffs, and that's going to have an impact on the marijuana industry. But it's not just vaping devices: Many other products made in China, from fixtures to packaging materials and more that are used in the pot industry, are also subject to increased tariffs.

The bottom line will be increased costs for legal marijuana companies and increased prices for their customers. To the degree that tariffs subdue growth in legal marijuana markets, they could also end up putting a hit on marijuana tax revenues for states and localities.

Companies selling vaping products are on the front line, said Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, co-CEO of the Blinc Group, which develops and sells technology and products related to vaping and runs an incubator program to research, develop, and brand technologies for marijuana and nicotine vaping. Dumas de Rauly made his comments in July 24 testimony at public hearings on the tariffs held by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The vast majority of vaping devices, as well as batteries, filters, and cartridges, are manufactured in China, Dumas de Rauly noted, and there are currently few alternatives for producing them. But the profit margin on such devices is only 10 to 15 percent, and that means companies will either have to find alternative sources, eat the hit to their bottom lines, or, more likely, pass the increases on to consumers.

And that will have an impact on the "entire cannabis consumption market -- including medical and recreational marijuana," Dumas de Rauly said.

It's not just consumers who will feel the impact, Dumas de Rauly warned. Higher prices mean decreasing sales and shrinking tax revenues and "25 percent of sales come from cannabis vaping products," he said.

The business press, which now actually treats the marijuana business as a real industry, found plenty of people who echoed Dumas de Rauly's sentiments. In an interview with Forbes, Brooke Davies, executive director of Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments, a non-profit trade association representing cannabis retailers in Washington State, said that tariffs were already having an impact. Small growers there, already under pressure from dropping marijuana prices, will see profit margins shrink even further because the glass jars they buy from China to package their buds are being hit by tariffs.

"The Trump tariffs will undoubtedly hurt the rural parts of Washington State," Greg James, publisher of Marijuana Venture and Sun Grower magazines, told Forbes. "There could well be a snowball effect that results in the outdoor growing community having an even harder time selling their crop," he said.

It's not just growers or vaping companies taking a hit. "Any items essential to the day-to-day operations of a cannabis business, from construction equipment to cell phones, will likely increase in price," Kevin Hagan of the Princeton Public Affairs Group told Forbes.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported that unlike other sectors targeted for tariffs, such as imported steel, aluminum, solar panels, and washing machines, whose impacts are slower to show up (how often do you buy a washing machine?), the tariffs on vaping products will have an almost immediate impact. That means consumers will quickly see price increases and adjust their behavior accordingly.

But for some people -- medical marijuana patients -- marijuana isn't a luxury, but a necessity.

"For those who need it, they don't have a choice," Mary Lovely, a professor of economics at Syracuse University and nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., told CNBC.

Maybe they can comfort themselves by reading Donald Trump's tweets. As he exclaimed in a tweet the same day as the Office of U.S. Trade Representative hearings, "Tariffs are the greatest!... All will be Great!"

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Horrible Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Could Finally Be Repealed

For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague, that it deters pregnant women from seeking prenatal and other health care, and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.

The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the US Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.

Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.

Loertscher was by no means alone -- hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law -- and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.

At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.

"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.

Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its web site.

Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.

"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFight292 explains on its web site.

"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292."

For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.

"This law only harms women and children," she said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter , a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Saying Goodbye to Mr. Methadone: Dr. Bob Newman Dead at Age 80

Dr. Robert Newman died earlier this month after being struck by an automobile earlier this summer. He was 80 years old.

Bob Newman at a Beth Israel staff meeting in 1985 (Arthur H. Aufses Jr. MD Archives at Mt. Sinai)
If any one man can be credited with carving out a space for the use of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction, he is that man. Working as a New York City public health doctor in the 1960s, he was given the task of ensuring that heroin addicts who wanted treatment could get treatment with methadone. His boss, city health department head Gordon Chase, told him he would be known as "Mr. Methadone."

While he did not achieve the goal of providing treatment to everyone who wanted it, Newman oversaw the rapid expansion of the city's fledgling methadone program in the early 1970s. The number of patients on methadone went from a handful to more than 10,000 in two years, and 35,000 by 1975.

And he stood up for those patients. When the NYPD wanted Newman to turn over patients' methadone records, he refused. Instead, he took to the courts to defend his patients' right to privacy -- and he won.

After that, he devoted his career to advocating for evidence-based treatment, traveling the country and the world and picking up a second moniker, "the methadone pope," as he advanced harm reduction ideas decades before they became popularized.

He faced opposition from abstinence and 12-step proponents, as well as from elected officials like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1998 tried to shut down the city's methadone program on the moralistic grounds that it merely substituted one addiction for another. The diplomatic Newman didn't challenge Giuliani head on but instead used interviews to make his case that methadone treatment allowed addicts to lead productive lives.

Newman also advocated for a humane approach toward addicted mothers and pregnant women, supporting groups such as National Advocates for Pregnant Women in their fight against the demonization and criminalization of those women. He was a drug policy reformer who served for decades on the board of the Drug Policy Foundation and then its successor the Drug Policy Alliance.

As this century's opioid epidemic deepened, Newman was cautiously optimistic that the work he had begun decades earlier would help further destigmatize addiction. "I'm hoping that pragmatism will win out," he said. "As more and more Congresspeople, people in the general community and physicians have children who develop a problem with prescription drug use and can't get treatment for it, I think it will make people more receptive to opening doors to treatment."

Newman was not only an influential physician in addiction issues, he was a giant in the hospital world as a whole. He served as President of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, and then of the entity that acquired Beth Israel along with other facilities -- and then of the entity that acquired that entity. But one could still talk him at a drug policy conference, or send him an email, and you'd get an email back.

Dr. Robert Newman's contribution to an enlightened approach to addiction cannot be overstated. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on.

(Read Bob Newman's 1998 interview with this newsletter here.)

Chronicle AM: PA Gov Says State Not Ready for Legal Pot, New FDA Guidelines on MATS, More... (8/9/18)

The FDA has issued new draft guidance aimed at expanding the use of medication-assisted treatments (MATs) for opioid addiction, Pennsylvania's governor says the state isn't ready for legal weed, the Oklahoma medical marijuana fight isn't over yet, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) isn't on the same page as his counterparts in New York and New Jersey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said during a radio interview on Tuesday that he doesn't think the state is ready to legalize marijuana. "There are, what, six states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the United States," Wolf said. (The actual number is nine.). "I don't think the citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it, and so the answer I would say is no… I don't think Pennsylvania's actually ready for recreational marijuana." The position puts Wolf at odds with two neighboring Democratic governors, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who is strongly pushing legalization, and Andrew Cuomo of New York, who just signed off on the notion.

Los Angeles Won't Vote on Raising Pot Tax in November. The city council has reversed a decision to place a 1% marijuana tax increase on the November ballot. The city estimated it would raise approximately $30 million per year from the tax increase, but faced immediate blowback from industry groups who said pot taxes were already too high and are driving consumers to the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers Wednesday that the Health Board still has concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Seeks to Expand Use of Medication-Assisted Therapies for Addiction. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday released new draft guidance aimed at promoting the creation and more widespread use of medication-assisted therapies (MATs) for opioid use disorder. The guidance adjusts how FDA evaluates new treatments for opioid addiction. Instead of only determining whether a treatment lowers opioid use, the agency will now assess whether the medication could help lower overdose rates and limit the spread of infectious disease. "We must consider new ways to gauge success beyond simply whether a patient in recovery has stopped using opioids, such as reducing relapse overdoses and infectious disease transmission," said Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner.

Chronicle AM: PA Pot Bill Coming, Philippines Police Vow "Surgical, Chilling" Drug War, More... (7/31/18)

A Pennsylvania lawmaker will file a marijuana legalization bill, Canada moves toward roadside saliva drug testing, the Philippines police vow more drug war, and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war will continue.(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmaker to File Legalization Bill. Citing a recent report from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that legalizing marijuana could create more than half a billion annually in tax revenues for the state, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) says he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "States from coast to coast have embraced legalization and those states are reaping the economic and criminal justice benefits," Wheatley said in a statement. "It is time Pennsylvania joins with those states in leaving behind the ugly stigma of marijuana."

Dark Web

Imprisoned Silk Road Founder Sees Some Charges Dismissed. Federal prosecutors in Maryland have dismissed an indictment against imprisoned Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The indictment contained the only charge that Ulbricht ever engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme. Despite the fact that those charges were never proven, or even tried, they were cited by his sentencing judge in handing down a draconian double life without parole sentence for online drug dealing. Ulbricht is currently appealing his sentence to the US Supreme Court.

International

Canada Set to Approve First Device for Testing Drivers' Saliva for Weed. The federal Justice Department has approved the first device designed to drug test drivers' saliva for the presence of marijuana. Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has now given a 30-day notice of a ministerial order to approve the Draeger DrugTest 5000, produced by a company based in Germany. The device is already approved in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany.

Philippines Police Vow "Surgical and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine police vowed Monday to revamp and ratchet up their fight against crime and drugs just a week after President Rodrigo Duterte promised to keep the bloody campaign going. "Surgical and chilling will be the trademark of the reinvigorated anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality campaign," police chief Oscar Albayalde told a news conference. Tends of thousands of purported drug dealers and users have been killed in Duterte's crusade, which is now under preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

There’s a Surprising Obstacle to Ending Marijuana Prohibition in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on, among other things, a promise to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office. That didn't happen. It may not happen at all this year, and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) is one major reason why.

New Jersey state Sen. Ronald Rice (NJSenDems via YouTube)
Marijuana legalization advocates led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) filed a pair of bills this session, S 2702 and S 2703 that provide lawmakers a framework for legalization, but opposition from the likes of Rice has blunted forward momentum so far.

Rice represents part of Newark, a district more than half black, and is the head of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. He is also a major anti-marijuana legalization advocate, with an array of arguments from the depths of Reefer Madness.

He most recently made headlines last week with his hyperventilating warning that if pot is legalized, Garden Staters will be faced with the prospect of -- gasp! -- "sex toys and oils with marijuana," and it could be happening right in his face.

"If in fact we legalize recreational marijuana, right across the street from my office they're going to put up stores," Rice told NJTV. "They want to call them dispensaries, but they're going to be stores that do retail selling cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toys and oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."

It's not clear why Rice thinks "kids" will be able to get marijuana products, or get them more easily than they could before. When marijuana is legalized, it has only ever legalized for adults -- not kids.

He also made a muddled attempt to deploy the discredited gateway theory that marijuana use leads to hard drug use, arguing that, "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people who've never used any type of drugs goes up substantially in terms of drug use." Say what?

Rice recognizes the devastating impact that racially biased marijuana law enforcement has on the state's minority communities -- the New Jersey ACLU reported last year that between 2000 and 2013, black residents were arrested at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups used weed at similar rates -- but says the answer is decriminalization, not legalization.

He has even filed a bill this year that would decriminalize the possession of up to ten grams, but that would also enable the state to force some marijuana users into drug treatment.

"I still want to deter people from doing something that's bad for them," Rice explained to Gothamist back in April. "If you get too high, you die from it. It kills you directly if it's too potent."

Of course, there is no known case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose, but somebody forgot to let Rose on the secret.

In that same Gothamist interview, Rice unleashed a Gish gallop of problems he claimed would be unleashed by legal (but not decriminalized?) marijuana: Babies born with THC in their brains, businesses desperate for workers who could pass drug tests, people cashing in food stamps to score weed, drug cartels getting in the legal pot businesses, an army of drug addicts as pot smokers escalate to harder drugs, and devastated inner cities, among other looming calamities.

Rice also took his anti-legalization views to Washington, DC -- on April 20th of all days -- along with Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark's Paradise Baptist Church and former Democratic US Rep. Patrick Kennedy to join up with the pot prohibitionist Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) at a press conference to blunt legalization moves.

The senator was in typical form there, warning that people already go hungry to buy drugs and that those numbers will only increase if it's easier to access legal marijuana. Rice also raised the specter of lethal violence if white college students from outside Newark come into the city in search of drugs or if blacks from the city go to white suburban towns to buy legal weed.

"Somebody's going to get killed," he said.

Rice has been in the state Senate since 1986, has won reelection easily in his heavily Democratic district, and didn't even face a primary challenger this year. He may be progressive on some issues, but on other issues, he displays the same reactionary tendencies he has displayed around marijuana. He was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against bills legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012. It may be time for District 28 voters to start looking for a senator from this century.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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