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The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Advances, NYC Times Square Ads Target Governor Over Overdoses, More... (11/27/18)

New Jersey's marijuana legalization bill is finally moving, activists in New York City target the governor over safe injection sites, South Korea becomes the first East Asian nation to approve medical marijuana, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/times-square-overdose-campaign-november-2018-200px.jpg
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Advances. The long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703, is moving in the legislature. It was voted out of a joint committee on Monday, with a 7-4 vote in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and a 7-3 vote in the Assembly Budget Committee. Now the bill goes to the Senate and Assembly floors for any amendments and final votes. The measure would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults and set up a statewide system of taxed and regulated production and sales.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Harm Reduction

Times Square Billboards Urge New York Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" by Authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. Advocates and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a series of electronic billboards that began airing throughout Times Square on Giving Tuesday, pressing the Governor to "Give the Gift of Life" this holiday season by authorizing Overdose Prevention Centers. The centers, also known as safer consumption spaces (SCS), are a proven tool for preventing unnecessary and tragic overdose deaths. As overdose deaths continue to increase across New York -- a New Yorker dies every 6 hours of a preventable overdose -- advocates in the EndOverdoseNY coalition are calling on Governor Cuomo to show his leadership and take immediate action to establish Overdose Prevention Centers.

International

South Korea Becomes First East Asian Nation to Approve Medical Marijuana. The South Korean National Assembly has voted to approve an amendment to the country's drug laws that will pave the way for the use of medical marijuana by prescription. Potential patients would be required to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Center and approval would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Chronicle AM: "Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites in Seattle, NJ Pot Votes Coming, More... (11/15/18)

A local activist reveals that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in the Seattle area, New Jersey legislative leaders say marijuana legalization will see votes this month, and more.

Vancouver's (legal) Insite safe injection site (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

GAO Scolds DEA over Marijuana Eradication Program. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over failings in its marijuana eradication program. GAO charged that DEA failed to collect sufficient documentation from state and local law enforcement agencies that partnered with DEA in the program, a fault that could prevent DEA from accurately assessing program performance. Furthermore, DEA "has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals," the report found.

New Jersey Legislative Leaders Say Vote on Marijuana Legalization Coming This Month. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney said Wednesday the legislature would move on marijuana legalization this month. Coughlin said he had the votes in committee to pass legislation, while Sweeney said he needed help from Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to pick up necessary votes in the Senate. "The only way something like this gets passed legislatively is if all three of us work together," Sweeney said. "If (the governor's office is) not going to lobby any votes for us then it won't get done."

Wisconsin Legislator Will Be Back With a Legalization Bill Next Year. State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said Wednesday that she will once again file a marijuana legalization bill when the legislature convenes in January. Sargent has filed legalization bills every year since 2014 but has renewed momentum after voters in 16 counties and two towns voted for legalization in non-binding referenda in the midterms. "The facts clearly show that legalization is right for Wisconsin and that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it's illegal," she said.

Harm Reduction

"Dozens" of Underground Safe Injection Sites Are Operating in the Seattle Area. Harm reduction activist Shilo Jama has told a local media outlet that "dozens" of unpermitted safe injection sites are operating in Seattle and surrounding King County. "They're slowly developing their own culture and their own service. It's a lot like the speakeasies of old where you've got to know someone to be invited in. You need the password or some kind of information that you're not, kind of, out to get them," Jama said. Seattle and King County authorities are moving toward officially allowing such facilities, but local harm reduction activists aren't waiting.

Chronicle AM: Gallup Has MJ Legalization at 66%, UN Drug War "A Failure," Report Says, More... (10/23/18)

A new Gallup poll shows still rising support for marijuana legalization, a new report from the IDPC calls for a radical shift in UN drug control policies, Bangladesh moves toward passing a bill mandating the death penalty or life in prison for even possessing small amounts of some drugs, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Two in Three Americans Now Support Legalizing Marijuana. Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup's trend over nearly half a century. The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support on the measure has increased and established a new record. The poll is in line with other recent polls that have shown support for marijuana legalization above 60%. Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year's figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support. Views that pot should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.

North Dakota Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. A poll commissioned by LegalizeND, the group behind the Measure 3 legalization initiative, has support for the measure at 51%, with 36% opposed. The poll has a 4.9% margin of error, so support could actually be under 50%. What is encouraging is that undecideds would have to break pretty decisively against the measure for it to be defeated.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Ponders Allowing Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. The state Health Department has proposed a rule change that would make medical marijuana available to potentially thousands of opioid users. "Physicians should consider marijuana as another appropriate treatment for patients with many medical conditions, especially diseases for which conventional therapies aren't working for their patients," Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the state health commissioner, said in a statement. Current rules allow only people who became addicted to opioids while trying to manage chronic pain from a musculoskeletal to qualify for medical marijuana, but the proposed new rule would allow anyone with an opioid use disorder to use it.

International

Report Calls UN's Global War on Drugs a Failure. A major new report from the International Drug Policy Consortium says the last decade of UN anti-drug strategy has been a failure and calls for a major rethinking of global drug policy. The report argues that the UN's "war on drugs" approach has had little impact on global drug supply while generating significant negative impacts on public health, human rights, security, and development. "This report is another nail in the coffin for the war on drugs," said Ann Fordham, the Executive Director of IDPC, in a prepared statement. "The fact that governments and the UN do not see fit to properly evaluate the disastrous impact of the last ten years of drug policy is depressingly unsurprising. Governments will meet next March at the UN and will likely rubber-stamp more of the same for the next decade in drug policy. This would be a gross dereliction of duty and a recipe for more blood spilled in the name of drug control." [Disclosure: StoptheDrugWar.org is an IDPC member group and provided feedback for the report.]

Canada's Ontario to Move Forward on Safe Injection Sites. The provincial government has decided to keep its overdose prevention sites open and repurpose them as "consumption and treatment centers," Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Monday. Premier Doug Ford had been opposed but said he would listen to advice from experts. Apparently, he has. Overdose-prevention sites are temporary facilities approved by the province to address an immediate need in a community, while supervised-drug-use sites are more permanent locations approved by the federal government after a more extensive application process.

Vanuatu to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The Republic of Vanuatu, a 277,000-person South Pacific nation, has taken the first step toward legalized medical marijuana. "I confirm that the council of ministers on Sept. 20 passed a policy paper to change the laws of Vanuatu to permit the cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes in Vanuatu by licensed parties," Vus Warorcet Nohe Ronald Warsal, the country's acting deputy prime minister and minister for trade, tourism, commerce, and Ni-Vanuatu business, said in a letter. The government will present legislation to the parliament later this year, with licenses expected to be issued by December.

Bangladesh Moves Forward With Death Penalty Drug Bill. The government has sent to parliament a bill that contains provisions mandating the death penalty or a life sentence for possessing, producing, or distributing more than five grams of methamphetamine or more than 25 grams of heroin and cocaine. Under current law, there is no provision for the death penalty or life sentence for heroin and cocaine offenses.

Chronicle AM: Canada's Era of Legal Weed Begins, VT Council Rejects Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/17/18)

Marijuana is now legal in Canada, the Canadian government moves to allow pardons for people busted with small amounts of it, a Vermont governor's council rejects safe injection sites, and more.

Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Opponents Get Big Out-of-State Bucks. Opponents of the Measure 3 legalization initiative are far out-fundraising proponents, thanks almost entirely to an out-of-state anti-marijuana group and in-state business groups. The anti-legalization SAM (Smart About Marijuana) has provided 100% of the funding for Healthy and Productive North Dakota, giving more than $50,000 in cash and more than $100,000 in in-kind donations, while a second anti-pot political action committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, has raised more than $116,000 from in-state business groups and political figures. Pro-legalization PACS have received only about $10,000 in cash and $14,000 in in-kind donations, with over half the cash coming from donations of under $100.

Harm Reduction

Vermont Governor's Opioid Council Rejects Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Phil Scott's (R) Opioid Coordination Council released a report Monday in which it says that the risks of operating a safe injection site outweigh any potential benefits of reducing overdoses and getting more people in treatment. Safe injection sites are "not a viable option for Vermont," the report says. "They are illegal under federal law and highly controversial. Cost-effectiveness and neighborhood impacts are unknown. Most importantly, they have an unproven track record of harm reduction and for providing a pathway to treatment." Some state officials support safe injection sites, but the council concluded that more study on the sites' effectiveness is needed.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana Today. Legal marijuana sales and commerce began in Canada today, just four months after the parliament approved marijuana legalization legislation. The first sale was made at 12:01am in Newfoundland. Canada becomes the second nation to free the weed, after Uruguay, and the largest national legal marijuana market. (It's still smaller than the legal market in the US state of California.)

Canada Will Pardon People Busted With Less Than 30 Grams of Marijuana. As the country enters the era of legal marijuana, the government is moving to pardon people who were arrested for possession of less than 30 grams of weed -- the amount now legal for personal possession.  People seeking pardons will have to apply for them. 

Chronicle AM: PA US Attorney's SIJ Warning, Malaysia MedMJ Death Penalty Lifted, More... (10/15/2018)

The US Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania tries to scare away a proposed safe injection site in Philadelphia, Malaysia's cabinet puts a "moratorium" on the death sentence for a medical marijuana provider -- and the country is likely to end the death penalty as a whole because of the case -- and more.

The specter of a safe injection like Vancouver's InSite in Philadelphia garners a warning from the federal prosecutor. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Regulators Put Temporary Hold on Pot Candy Ban. The State Liquor and Control Board last week announced a ban on certain marijuana-infused candies, but now says it will hold off on the ban for a month in order to allow marijuana industry groups to present alternative rules. The board will now accept public comment for 30 days before taking up the ban again.

Wisconsin Senate Candidates Clash Over Marijuana Policy. US Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) and her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, clashed over marijuana policy during a debate Saturday night. Baldwin said she would support changing marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow the drug to be researched for medical purposes. Vukmir responded by that it was "concerning" that Baldwin would support legalization (Editor's Note: She didn't). She also called marijuana highly addictive and suggested it would worsen the opioid crisis.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia US Attorney Warns on Safe Injection Sites. The US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, William McSwain, warned Saturday against the city moving forward with plans for a safe injection site. "This sort of facility that is being proposed is illegal under federal law," he said. He added that his office is reviewing possible options to stop it, including court orders, blocking the opening of the facility, and even possibly arrests and prosecutions. "Nobody is above the law -- and by that I mean nobody," McSwain said. "I mean the leaders who would be involved in setting up this proposed deadly drug-injection site, the board members… the city officials who would be involved in supporting it, the medical personnel who might be staffing it or the folks who might be using the drugs."

International

Malaysia Medical Marijuana Distributor Death Sentence on Hold as Case Prompts Likely End to Death Penalty Entirely. The Malaysian cabinet has agreed to place a moratorium on the death sentence for Muhammed Lukman, who was convicted of possessing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil. "As a consensus, we agreed that it (death penalty) should not have been imposed. At the same time, we have also agreed to put a moratorium on his death penalty," Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq told reporters.

But that's not all. The case has catalyzed a likely end to the death penalty in Malaysia entirely, with political figures up through the Prime Minister calling for it. Saddiq said about the issue, "[I]t's two accounts. One is the death penalty as a whole, which will be taken down. And second, at the same time, the usage of medical marijuana should never be punished by death penalty." He also said the Cabinet had agreed that patients who used medical marijuana should never be punished by the law.

Lukman was arrested in December 2015 for possessing 3.1 liters of cannabis oil, 279 grams of compressed cannabis, and 1.4 kilograms of "substance containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: US Clarifies Canada Pot Worker Entry, Rendell Defends Safe Injection Sites, More... (10/11/18)

The US has clarified that Canadiana marijuana workers and investors can enter the US but not engage in business here, New Jersey's governor says a vote on marijuana legalization will happen before month's end, Pennsylvania's former governor sticks up for safe injection sites, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says legislature should vote on legalization October 29. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Banning CBD Cocktails and Beverages. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 2914, which prohibits the sale of CBD beverages and alcoholic drinks. "This bill would prohibit an alcoholic beverage licensee from, at its licensed premises, selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products, including an alcoholic beverage that contains cannabis or cannabis products, and would provide that no alcoholic beverage shall be manufactured, sold, or offered for sale if it contains tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabinoids, regardless of source," says a legislative summary.

New Jersey Governor Says Legalization Coming at End of Month. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he and the legislature are looking at October 29 as the date the legislature will pass a bill legalizing marijuana. One issue yet to be settled, though, is how much to tax legal pot. Still, Murphy said, October 29 "feels about right."

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania Representative Proposes Bill to Add Drug Testing of Legislators to Bill to Drug Test Welfare Recipients. Philadelphia County Rep. Angel Cruz (D) has filed House Bill 620 as an amendment to Senate Bill 6. The Senate bill would mandate drug testing of welfare recipients; Cruz's bill would mandate drug testing of legislators. "If it's good for one, it's good for all," said Cruz. "The lawmakers are the lawmakers, and we're not above the law."

Foreign Policy

US Clarifies Policy on Entry of Canadian Marijuana Industry Workers. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has clarified its position on whether Canadians involved in the legal marijuana industry can enter the US. "A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the US for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the US," CBP said Tuesday. But there is a big but: "[I]f a traveler is found to be coming to the US for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible," CBD said.

Harm Reduction

Former Pennsylvania Governor Challenges DOJ on Threats to Prosecute Safe Injection Site Operators. Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is not backing away from supporting a Philadelphia safe injection site despite threats from Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rendell sits on the board of a nonprofit to run such a facility, and he said that if the Justice Department wants to crack down on the harm reduction move, it should start with him: "I have a message for Mr. Rosenstein: I'm the incorporator of the safe injection site nonprofit and they can come and arrest me first," Rendell said.

Chronicle AM: Trump Calls for "Stop and Frisk" in Chicago, Bangladesh's Bad New Drug Law, More... (10/9/18)

Efforts to establish safe injection sites in Philadelphia and San Francisco hit some bumps in the road, President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago, and more.

President Trump calls for "stop and frisk" policing in Chicago -- after the city agreed to stop it. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Governor Rejects Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proposal. Even though Philadelphia officials are moving ahead with plans for a safe injection site, having formed a nonprofit last week to oversee the project, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is not behind the plan. "It's not a workable solution to this problem," he said. "The course that I think we ought to take, and what I'm doing at the state level, is to figure out ways to get people to stop wanting to use those drugs. I would not want to be guilty of spending any public money to give people the sense that this is something that's OK. I just don't think that's a good idea." He and Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro worry about conflicting with a 1986 law, the federal "crack house" law that bars the use of a facility "for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance."

San Francisco Mayor Still Weighing Safe Injection Sites, Despite Veto of State Bill. Mayor London Breed (D) is now pondering the city's way forward with a safe injection site after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week vetoed a bill that would have put the state of California fully behind the effort. Breed is said to be concerned about threats of possible federal prosecution if the plan moves toward fruition.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Calls for Police "Stop and Frisk" Tactics in Chicago. Speaking to the International Association of Police Chiefs in Orlando Monday, President Trump called on Chicago police to embrace "stop and frisk" policing as a tool to reduce violence in the country's third-largest city. "Stop and frisk" was embraced for years by the New York City police department, but was widely criticized as overwhelmingly aimed at minority populations and ultimately ruled unconstitutional as carried out by the NYPD. "Gotta be properly applied, but stop-and-frisk works," said Trump. The city of Chicago reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in 2015 to curb stop-and-frisk procedures after the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit over the issue. A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) blasted Trump for his "clueless" criticism. "Even someone as clueless as Donald Trump has to know stop-and-frisk is simply not the solution to crime," Matt McGrath said in an emailed statement.

International

Bangladesh Moving to Impose Death Penalty for as Little as Five Grams of Meth. The cabinet has approved in principle a draft of the Narcotics Control Act of 2018 that introduces the death penalty for anyone producing, smuggling, distributing, or using more than five grams of methamphetamine. The draft also sets life in prison as the mandatory minimum sentence for such offenses. Less than five grams of meth would merit a sentence of up to 15 years, with a mandatory minimum of five years. The new law also would mandate the death penalty for more than 25 grams of heroin or cocaine.

Chronicle AM: CA Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Sites Bill, MI Pot Poll Looks Good, More... (10/1/18)

Jerry Brown signs and vetoes drug bills, the drug czar's office confirms the existence of a secretive marijuana committee, Johns Hopkins researchers suggest psilocybin should be Schedule IV, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been very busy lately. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

White House Confirms It's Been Running An Anti-Marijuana Committee. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has confirmed the existence of a secretive committee operated from the White House with an agenda to portraying marijuana as a national threat and propagating negative attitudes toward the drug and its users. The existence of the committee was revealed by Buzzfeed News last month, and ONDCP confirmed its existence in a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who inquired after the initial media report. ONDCP claims the work of the committee will be unbiased.

California Governor Signs Cannabis Equity Act into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Equity Act. The law aims to reverse some of the damaging impacts marijuana prohibition has had on people from disadvantaged communities. It is the first social equity marijuana law passed in the United States. Four California cities -- Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- have already established local equity programs, and they will be well-placed to receive funding under this new law.

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new poll from EPIC/MRA for the Detroit Free Press has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 55% of respondents, with 41% opposed. While that is a fairly comfortable lead, it is down from the 61% support reported by the same pollsters in a March poll.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Opponents Pony Up Cash. Opponents of the Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative are ponying up big bucks in a bid to defeat the measure. Wealthy Utahns have contributed $230,000 to the opposition group Drug Safe Utah in recent months and $65,000 to another anti group, the Truth About Proposition 2, while initiative sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition has raised only $68,000, with $50,000 of that coming from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1409, which clarifies the state's existing hemp laws. The law ends some certification requirements on hemp seed cultivars and restriction on how hemp can be produced.

Psychedelics

Johns Hopkins Researchers Suggest Psilocybin Should Be Reclassified as Schedule IV. In an evaluation of the safety and abuse research on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggested that if the drug clears clinical trials, it should be scheduled as Schedule IV, like prescription sleeping aids. It is currently classified as Schedule I, a drug with no known medical potential and a high potential for abuse.

Harm Reduction

California Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Site Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed San Francisco to open overdose prevention services that would let drug users use controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, and other services. "I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto," said Laura Thomas, Interim State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It's disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?"

Sentencing

California Governor Signs Bill Giving Judges Power to Set Aside Five-year Sentencing Enhancement. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Act. The bill will give state judges the discretion not to impose five-year sentencing enhancements if they feel they are unwarranted. "This new law is a crucial step in ending the mandatory use of failed and punitive policies from California's tough on crime era," said Eunisses Hernandez, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This five-year enhancement is one of the most used enhancements in California; with close to 100,000 years applied to sentences of people in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California can and must continue to be a leader in repealing ineffective and punitive policies that waste millions in taxpayer dollars on incarceration, tear families apart, and fail to help our communities thrive."

Drug War Issues

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