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Chronicle AM: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

Republicans Are Playing Dirty in Their Bid to Stop North Dakota's Legal Pot Initiative

As North Dakotans prepare to head to the polls in November to vote on the Proposition 3 marijuana legalization initiative, they rely on their state government to come up with an estimate of what it will cost taxpayers. It's not just this initiative—state law mandates that voters be informed of the potential budgetary impacts of any measure on the ballot.

North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the prairies meet the badlands. (Creative Commons)
But for voters to accurately assess the cost of a measure, the cost estimates must reflect reality. That's not the case with the cost report issued last week by the state's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and approved in a party-line vote over the objections of Democratic lawmakers.

The OMB report put the cost of implementing the marijuana measure at $6.7 million, but two-thirds of that figure is to pay for a program not mandated in the initiative. OMB said it would take $2.2 million in clerical costs to expunge some 18,000 marijuana arrest records, as the initiative requires, but that it would also cost $4.4 million for a youth education campaign that the state Health Department argued would be necessary and the salaries of two full-time employees to run it for the next four years.

The Health Department may think such a campaign is necessary, but the initiative itself does not require—or even mention—any such campaign, and to include the Health Department's wish list in the measure's fiscal impact statement is just plain dishonest. That didn't stop Republican lawmakers from voting to approve it.

Democrats tried to stop them. House Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) offered an amendment to approve the fiscal impact statement but omit the Health Department’s figures, with other costs to be determined.

"This does not lead to a $6.7 million fiscal impact. It’s a $2.2 million fiscal impact, with more that’s likely to happen but it cannot be determined," Mock said. "It will cost more than $2.2 million. We just don’t know how much."

The amendment failed on a 10-5 party line vote. The Legislative Management Committee then approved by the same margin a motion by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) to accept the fiscal impact statement with the Health Department's cost estimate included.

Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) told the Bismarck Tribune after the vote that the fiscal impact statement as passed amounted to a lie.

"There seems to be a disagreement among this committee about what we want versus what the language in the measure actually says," Oban said. "I think there was universal agreement, probably around this table, about wanting, if Measure 3 passed, an education campaign from the health department about the impacts of marijuana, especially on youth, for prevention purposes. But the measure does not require that. To me, it is lying to claim that Measure 3 required that because it didn’t."

One Republican lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden), defended including the Health Department costs on rather dubious grounds.

"Until the measures are passed, and the Legislature and all the agencies can dig in and put an actual cost on it, I think our job has been simply to approve something that somebody said might cost this," Klein told the Tribune.

The Health Department argued that because it has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of North Dakotans, the educational campaign would be warranted, but again, it is not mandated in the initiative itself, and the Health Department doesn't exactly have a great record when it comes to marijuana measures.

As North Dakota columnist and political blogger Rob Port pointed out in a column laying into the shady cost estimates, the Health Department was way, way off in its estimate of the costs of the successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative there.

"What people should keep in mind is that two years ago when the health department presented their information on what they estimated to be the cost of medical marijuana if it passed they said $8.7 million," he quoted one lawmaker as telling him after the vote. "For fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, their actual cost was $363,000."

That inflated figure didn't stop voters from approving medical marijuana in 2016. Perhaps the inflated figure this year won't stop voters from approving marijuana legalization in 2018, but it would be better if North Dakota Republicans could just be honest about the costs.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Research Bill Advances, ACLU Smart Justice Campaign, More... (9/13/18)

A federal marijuana research bill advances (although with an undesirable provision), the ACLU rolls out a national plan to reduce state prison populations by half, and more.

A federal marijuana research bill wouldn't let anyone with a pot conviction participate. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Officials, Lawmakers Make Huge Stretch in Estimating Legalization Initiative Costs. The state's Office of Management and Budget has released a report on the cost of implementing the Proposition 3 marijuana legalization initiative that vastly overstates the cost by including costs for an education program that the initiative does not mandate. OMB put the cost of implementation at $6.7 million, but $4.4 million would be for a youth education campaign that the state Health Department argued would be necessary. Legislative Democrats sought to approve the fiscal impact statement without the education campaign funding, but were defeated by House Republicans. The fiscal impact also includes $2.2 to pay for clerical costs in expunging some 18,000 marijuana arrest records but does not include any estimate of tax revenues from legal marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Bill Approved by Congressional Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Research Bill, Leaves in Provision Barring People with Drug-Related Misdemeanors. The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve the Medical Cannabis Research Act, HR 5634. The bill would require the Justice Department to begin issuing more licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes but was controversial with drug reformers because of a provision barring anyone with a "conviction for a felony or a drug-related misdemeanor" from any affiliation with research cultivation operations. "There is no legitimate health or public safety justification for the inclusion of this language and we urge you to strike this unnecessary, punitive ban on individuals with previous drug law violations," reads a letter sent to the committee's leaders on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, #cut50, the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups. "To help lower recidivism rates and improve public safety, we should be making it easier for people with records to obtain jobs, not more difficult." An effort to amend the bill in committee to remove the provision was halted after Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said he would not be opposed to changing the language before it goes to a House floor vote.

Sentencing

ACLU Launches "Smart Justice" Campaign with State-By-State Blueprints for Cutting Incarceration in Half. The American Civil Liberties Union's Campaign for Smart Justice today unveiled the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half. The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the first-ever analysis of their kind and will serve as tools for activists, advocates, and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices. The 51 reports -- covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia -- will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports. The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is here: https://50stateblueprint.aclu.org

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.

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.

Why Are California's Legal Marijuana Sales So Low?

California is on track to generate $1.9 billion in legal marijuana sales this year, according to new data from a financial analysis firm tracking the market. That's a lot of weed, but it's only half the amount the same firm previously estimated the state would rake in.

The estimates are from New Frontier Data, which crunches cannabis industry numbers, and are based on tax revenues from pot sales, which so far have fallen dramatically short of projections. According to New Frontier, the state collected $33.6 million in pot taxes between January 1 and March 31, which makes it extremely unlikely that tax revenues will meet original expectations of hitting $175 million in the first half of the year.

New Frontier had earlier estimated that the state would see $3.8 billion in marijuana sales this year, and this latest estimate slashes that number by a whopping 50%. The company also slashed its projections for the size of the legal industry by 2025. Instead of the $6.7 billion in sales it earlier estimated, it now says it thinks sales will only hit $4.7 billion, a hefty one-third reduction.

That's bad news not only for state tax revenues but also for an industry that is supposed to be coming in out of the cold. What happened? New Frontier has an idea.

"It is quite clear that the new adult use regulations have made it more difficult than anticipated for the legal market to get established and for consumers to transition to from the illicit market. Given the number of local government bans on cannabis businesses, we are not seeing the same kind of conversion rates that we have seen in other legal markets," said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, New Frontier Data founder, and CEO.

State and local licensing fees for marijuana businesses can range from $5,000 to $120,000 per year, depending on the type and scope of the business. And complying with regulatory mandates, such as those around zoning, water usage, and lab testing, costs even more.

It's not just onerous -- and expensive -- regulation for those who want state licenses to grow, distribute, and sell marijuana that's the problem. There's also a serious lack of buy-in by a good portion of the state's cities and counties, and that means that a big hunk of the state has no access to local legal marijuana.

"If there's (no governmental support) locally, then there's no option for a state license, and that's why most people are being shut out at this point in time," California Cannabis Industry Association executive director Lindsay Robinson told the Marijuana Business Daily. "The process gave local authorities an option to kind of sit on their hands, and that's the biggest barrier that we're seeing."

According to CCIA spokeswoman Amy Jenkins, only about a third of the state's 540 local governmental entities have approved commercial marijuana activity. Lack of legal access is "forcing consumers to turn to the illicit market," she told the Los Angeles Times this week.

Or return to it. Or stay in it, if they never left. Humboldt State University economics professor Erick Eschker pegged the size of the state's pot market -- legal and illegal -- at about $7.8 billion. Of that, about $2.3 billion came from the medical marijuana market, leaving about $5.5 billion for legal, grey market, and black market pot sales. If the legal market is only accounting for $1.9 billion in sales, that suggests that grey and black market sales are still about twice the size of legal sales. These consumers don't get hit with stiff sales and excise taxes, and if they can still get it from the guy down the street, why pay those high, state-legal prices?

If California wants to eliminate the black market in marijuana, it's got a whole lot of work to do. And no matter what steps the state takes to deal with its internal black market, there's still the export black market to the non-legal states in the rest of the US. Ultimately, the only way to end the black market is to legalize it nationwide, but we're not quite there yet. In the meantime, California's transition to a legal marijuana regime is facing some unhappy realities.

Chronicle AM: No Home Grow for NH This Year, Australia Welfare Drug Test Plan, More... (5/8/17)

A new report finds legal marijuana makes a marginal contribution to state budgets, a major Las Vegas casino quits pre-employment testing for marijuana, an Australian Senate panel advances a controversial plan to drug test welfare recipients, and more.

A major Las Vegas strip casino gives up on pre-employment screening for marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Report: Legal Marijuana Boostz Government Revenues, Somewhat. A new report from Moody's Investor Service finds that legalizing and taxing marijuana boost revenues, but not dramatically. In Colorado, the report found, marijuana taxes accounted for 2% of the state budget; in Washington state, 1.2%.

No Home Cultivation for New Hampshire This Year. Legal home cultivation is dead in the Granite State this year after the Senate refused to advance a bill approved by the House. The measure, House Bill 1476, would have allowed residents to grow two mature and 12 seedlings. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted to refer the bill to "interim study," where bills simply expire at the end of the session.

Major Las Vegas Casino Gives Up on Pre-Employment Marijuana Screening. In another sign of decreasing resort to drug testing for marijuana in a time of spreading legalization and low unemployment, Caesars Entertainment Group announced Monday that it has ended pre-employment drug testing for pot. "A number of states have changed their laws and we felt we might be missing some good candidates because of the marijuana issue and we felt that pre-screening for marijuana was on the whole, counterproductive," said Rich Broome, executive vice president of corporate communications and community affairs for Caesars. "If somebody is believed to be using or high at work, then we would continue to screen for marijuana and other drugs."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Licensing Imbroglio. The state Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear oral arguments on a judge's decision to prevent the state from licensing medical marijuana cultivation operators. The judge had ruled that the licensing program violated the voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana after a complaint from a business that failed to get a license.

Georgia Governor Signs Bill Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil for PTSD, Intractable Pain. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Monday signed into law House Bill 65, which adds PTSD and intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions that can be treated by CBD cannabis oil.

International

Australian Senate Committee Endorses Plans to Drug Test Welfare Recipients. The Australian federal government's Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee issued a report Monday recommending passage of the government's highly controversial plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients. The bill would create a trial program under which some 5,000 welfare recipients would face mandatory testing. People who test positive would be placed on "income management" for two years, while those who test positive twice within two years could be forced to undergo drug treatment. The plan has been condemned by medical and social welfare organizations, including the Australian Medical Association, which expressed "significant concern" about the plan. "Elements of the proposal are unnecessarily punitive and will increase stigmatisation among the most disadvantaged in the community," the AMA said.

Chronicle AM: Canada Liberals Endorse Drug Decrim, Gillibrand Says Legalize It, More... (4/23/18)

Canada's Liberal Party formally endorses drug decriminalization (although Justin Trudeau is keeping his distance), the State Department cites continuing human rights concerns in the Philippines drug war, a Utah medical marijuana initiative appears set to make the November ballot, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says it is time to legalize marijuana. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Kirsten Gillibrand Says Time to Legalize Marijuana, Calls on Sessions to Meet With People Busted for Pot. The junior senator from New York and potential Democratic presidential contender said Sunday the time has come to legalize marijuana and that she had sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions inviting him to discuss the impact of the drug war with New Yorkers who have been denied jobs, housing, and college financial aid because of non-violent drug crimes. She also called on Sessions to reinstate the Cole memo, the Obama administration's policy of largely leaving state-legal marijuana alone.

Idaho Democratic Gubernatorial Contenders Split on Marijuana Policy. One Democrat running for governor wants to legalize marijuana; the other does not. In a Sunday night debate on Idaho Public Television, contender Paulette Jordan said she fully supports legalization and cited the tax benefits for the state. Boise businessman AJ Balukoff, who is also seeking the nomination, disagreed. He said he is opposed to the substance and believes medical marijuana needs to be properly tested. Idaho is one of four states in the country that has not passed any form of marijuana law reform, not even a CBD medical marijuana law.

Albuquerque Decriminalization Went into Effect on 4/20. New Mexico's largest city has now decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The change went into effect last Friday after a measure was passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Tim Keller. Possession remains a crime under state and federal law.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Initiative Appears Set to Qualify for November Ballot. A medical marijuana initiative from the Utah Patients Coalition looks very likely to qualify for the November ballot. While it won't be official until May 15, petitioners appear to have met the overall signature requirement, with 145,000 registered voter signatures in hand, well above the 113,000 required. But the initiative also must meet specific signature thresholds in each of the state's 29 state Senate districts. As of last Friday, they had done so in 26 of them.

Foreign Policy

State Department Says Drug War Killings Remain Top Philippines Human Rights Concern. In its global rights report for 2017, the State Department said drug war killings and rising police impunity remain the top human rights concerns in the Philippines. "Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,"reads the report released Friday (Washington time). The report also expressed doubt and uncertainty over Filipino government reports on the killings. "Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings,"the report read in part. "Some civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings,"it added.

International

Canadian Liberals Formally Endorse Drug Decriminalization, Trudeau Demurs. Canada's governing Liberal Party endorsed the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs at its national convention Saturday. But party policy isn't necessarily government policy, and party leader Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has distanced himself from the decriminalization plank. Drug decriminalization, as well as the decriminalization of sex work and proposals to reform health care, which the party also approved, are seen as bolstering the Liberals' odds against the New Democrats, who traditionally attack them from the left.

(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 web site. 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: DEA Deploys Against Opioids, NY Gov's Criminal Justice Plan, More... (3/29/18)

Mucho medical marijuana, a Connecticut legalization bill gets a hearing, the DEA is deploying 250 agents to fight opioids, Louisiana could get a full-fledged needle exchange program, and more.

The DEA is ready to fight some more drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Third Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A marijuana legalization bill that also includes funding for drug treatment and prevention got a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. House Bill 5394 calls for drafting a plan to legalize and regulate weed by October 1, as well as requiring a treatment and prevention plan by the same date.  The bill did not get a vote. Two other legalization bills before the legislature do not contain the treatment and prevention funding provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Judge Puts Hold on State Medical Marijuana Program. A state judge last week put the state's program on hold because of objections to the licensing process, but was apologetic for imposing the delay. "Amendment 98 to the Constitution of Arkansas, an initiative by the people, exists because Arkansans want to provide medical marijuana to persons who suffer from chronic, debilitating, and life-threatening health challenges," Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in his order last week. "The prospect that Arkansans must now endure more delay before gaining much needed access to locally grown medical marijuana should be unpleasant to anyone concerned about providing relief to people who suffer from serious illnesses."

Kansas House Votes Down Medical Marijuana. As they debated changes to the state's drug laws, lawmakers in the House voted down an amendment that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana. The amendment was offered by Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Lenexa), who said her own daughter, who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, could benefit from access to the medicine. "Please don’t make us lawbreakers," Holscher said. "Give us an option for something that has been proven to work." But the underlying bill contains a provision that allows for the limited use of CBD cannabis oil.

Louisiana House Committee Approves Medical Marijuana for Autism. The House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would add certain types of autism to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The move comes as dispensaries are set to open in the state just four months from now. The measure, House Bill 627, now goes to the full House.

New Hampshire Senate Approves Bill to Add More Dispensaries. The state Senate last week approved a bill that would allow for two additional dispensaries in the state.  The state currently has four medical marijuana outlets. The bill now goes to the House.

South Carolina Senate Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a medical marijuana bill on Thursday. The measure, Senate Bill 212, now heads for a Senate floor vote.  But advocates worry the bill will die for lack of action in the House. The House has declined to hear its own medical marijuana bill so far this year, and the deadline for doing so is April 10.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Second House Committee Vote. The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 1749, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a dozen qualifying conditions.  The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Utah Poll Shows Enduring Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. More than three-quarters (77%) of Utahns "strongly" or "somewhat" favor legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones & Associates. The poll is in line with other recent state polls show high levels of support, undaunted by the legislature's passage of a bill that allows for a "right to try" medical marijuana for terminally ill patients. An initiative that would create a full-blown medical marijuana system in the state will likely be on the ballot in November.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Federal Spending Plan Has Nearly $5 Billion to Deal With Opioid Crisis. The omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Trump last week contains some $4.6 billion. The biggest chunk of the money will go to states and tribes, especially those with the highest overdose mortality rates. Some 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. The funding is less than the $7 billion for fighting AIDS, which killed 42,000 Americans last year.  

DEA Deploying 250 Additional Agents to Fight Opioid Crisis. The DEA announced Tuesday that it is deploying 250 additional task force officers and dozens of analysts across the country in a bid to crack down on opioids. The additional agents and analysts will go to areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

Oregon Governor Signs Opioid Bills into Law. Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law two bills and an order setting deadlines for a drug policy commission that has been plagued with staffing and other issues. The order declares addiction a public health crisis in the state. Two bills, House Bill 4137 and House Bill 4143, cover similar ground and require studying barriers to addiction treatment.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Launches Campaign to Overhaul Criminal Justice System. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Monday launched a "Campaign to Restore Fairness in New York’s Criminal Justice System." The governor's package would eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses, ensure access to speedy trials, improve the disclosure of evidence, reform asset forfeiture, and improve reentry programs for people leaving prison.

Harm Reduction

Louisiana House Approves Needle Exchange Bill. A bill that would expand needle exchange programs by allowing them without seeking approval from local governments was approved by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice on Wednesday. House Bill 661 also expands the types of materials and programs a needle exchange can offer, including access to naloxone. The bill now heads for a House floor debate and vote next week.

International

Colombia Coca Growers Threaten to Suspend Cooperation With Peace Process. The federation that represents coca growers, COCCAM, said in a statement on Tuesday it is consulting its members "to define whether to suspend our participation" with the government program that seeks to substitute legal crops for coca.  The federation cited continuing violence, noting that more than 200 coca farmers have been killed since the beginning of the peace process in December 2016. The growers are also unhappy with the government's response to their complaints with Justice Minister Enrique Gil for proposing a law shielding coca growers from criminal prosecution, but which excludes families that have already signed up for the program. The bill also more than halved the amount of land to be considered a small grower, changes the federation called a "flagrant betrayal of the peasants, Afro-descendants and indigenous people who put their trust in the peace process by joining the program."

Georgia Drug Decriminalization Bill on Hold After Controversial Rewrite. A bill that would decriminalize drug use and possession has been held up after an interagency commission expressed support for a new draft drug policy law that activists say no longer talks about decriminalization.  The new draft also fails to differentiate quantities of drugs for personal use from those for distribution except in eight cases, meaning people caught with any amount of other drugs face years in prison. "Nobody mentioned decriminalisation at today’s hearing, which is alarming," Guram Imnadze, a lawyer from local rights group the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC) said after it was over. The current draft doesn't address the key problem with the country's drug policy, which, he said, was that "people spend years in prison for drugs they intended for personal use."

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers, Brazil Drug War Targets Rio Slums, More... (2/26/18)

The president makes downright scary remarks about killing drug dealers, the Brazilian army and cops roar into Rio's favelas, California's Democratic Party reaffirms its support of legal pot, and more.

Iranian drug executions -- Trump's solution to the drug problem? (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the state was snuffed out last week by House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Eddie Farnswoth (R-Chandler). The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2037 would, if passed, have put the issue directly before voters in a referendum.

California Democrats Reaffirm Commitment to Legal Marijuana, Diss Anti-Pot Feinstein. Meeting over the weekend, the California Democratic Party approved numerous platform planks in support of marijuana legalization, including one that says they "support the ongoing legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol, while prioritizing the health, education, and safety of California's communities and the country over revenue or profits." In other action, the state party failed to provide its endorsement to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who has lagged far behind other state Democrats when it comes to marijuana policy.

Maine Legalization Implementation Bill Kills Off Social Clubs, Tax Revenue Sharing. The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee took a final vote on the overhauled implementation bill Friday. The final version of the bill contains no provision for marijuana social clubs, nor does it allow for the sharing of marijuana tax revenues to the state with localities that allow marijuana businesses. The excise tax on wholesale marijuana is set at 21.5%, or about $335 a pound at current prices. The measure will go before the whole legislature in a few weeks.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Be Delayed to 2019 or 2020. At a press conference last Friday, Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould, the man behind the failed 2015 "monopoly marijuana" legalization initiative, said his plans to get another initiative on the ballot may not come to fruition this year. He said language for the proposed measure was not yet set and the initiative may not appear on the ballot until 2019 or 2020. The deadline to hand in enough vote signatures to qualify for the ballot this year is July 4.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Health and Welfare Committee has approved House Bill 577, which would legalize the possession of low-THC CBD oil for medical use. The bill advanced despite the opposition of law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Trump Says He Wants to Execute All Drug Dealers. President Trump has been making some disturbing authoritarian and blood-thirsty private remarks about what he'd like to do to drug dealers, according to a new report from Axios. Worse yet, his dark fulminations may foreshadow some repressive policy prescriptions not too far down the road. Trump seems obsessed with fighting drugs, according to the Axios report. It cites five sources who've spoken with Trump on the subject who say "he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty" and that softer approaches to drug reform will never work.

Arizona Bill Would Impose Mandatory Minimums on First Time Heroin, Fentanyl Sellers. A bill that would create five-year mandatory minimum sentences for first-time heroin and fentanyl sellers passed the House last week. House Bill 2241 now heads to the Senate.

International

Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Operation. The army and the state police have launched a massive anti-drug operation in several favelas (shantytowns) on the west side of the city, military spokesmen announced last Friday. More than 3,000 soldiers and police are taking part in the operations in Vila Alianca, Coreija, and Vila Kennedy. In the latter, there have been at least 13 shoot outs between drug traffickers and police since January. The operation started just days after an army sergeant and police commander were killed there last week.

Colombia Coca-Country Clashes Are Creating Refugee Flows. Three-way fighting between rightist paramilitaries, leftist ELN guerrillas, and the Colombian military in the coca-rich Bajo Cauca region some 80 miles north of Medellin has displaced some 1,500 people already, with the prospect of more to come. "The clashes between the armed groups continue to cause fear amongst the indigenous communities and rural populations," said the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is assisting victims of the violence.

Manila Demonstrators Protest Philippines Drug War. Thousands of marchers organized by Catholic groups took to the streets of Manila Saturday in a "walk for life" to protest the thousands of killings that have occurred under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. "We will not tire in walking for life even if the path ahead is winding and soaked in blood," Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Philippines Police Kill Ten in Night of Bloody Drug Raids. In the single bloodiest night of the country's drug war since police resumed participation in December, police said they killed 10 suspected drug dealers and arrested 63 more last Wednesday night. The operations took place in Bulacan, north of Manila, the capital. Police said the suspects were killed in eight separate towns during 45 "buy-bust" incidents.

Drug War Issues

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