Ballot Measures

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Chronicle AM: AZ Groups Want Needle Exchange, DE Judge Rules for Fired MedMJ User, More... (12/24/18)

A Delaware judge says a medical marijuana user fired for failing a drug test can sue his former employer, Arizona public health advocates want the governor to approve needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Becomes Cosponsor of Marijuana Justice Act. What a difference an election makes! Outgoing House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) reliably blocked any marijuana reform legislation, but things are going to be different under incoming Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA). McGovern has already said he is "not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done," and now he has just signed on as a cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act (HR 4815).

Indiana Governor Not Down With Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has made it clear he will oppose any legislative moves to legalize marijuana. "I'm just not willing to look at that, especially since it is illegal right now according to the federal government," Holcomb said.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has filed a statement on the language of an initiative to legalize marijuana, the first step in the process of getting the measure on the ballot. According to the attorney general's statement, the measure would allow anyone 21 and over to grow, possess, use, and sell marijuana. Localities would be barred from taxing or regulating marijuana businesses. And, the attorney general says, "it forbids prosecutions for driving under the influence of ingested marijuana," but the language of the initiative only bars prosecution for "consumed cannabis metabolites."

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Judge Rules Fired Medical Marijuana User Can Sue Former Employer. A factory worker fired from his job after failing a drug test can sue his former employer, Superior Court Judge Noel Primos ruled on Monday. Jeremiah Chance claims his firing violated the anti-discrimination provision of the state's medical marijuana law and that he was targeted for retaliation after pointing out safety issues with railroad ties manufactured by the Kraft Heinze plant in Dover. The company had argued that the anti-discrimination clause was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, but the judge disagreed. The law does "not require employers to participate in an illegal activity... but instead merely prohibits them from discriminating based upon medical marijuana use," Primos wrote.

Oregon to Allow Medical Marijuana Deliveries in Areas That Ban Dispensaries. State regulators have approved medical marijuana deliveries in areas where dispensaries are banned effective December 28. The rules were approved last week after patient advocates voiced concern about rules that limited access to medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Criminalize Using Fake Urine to Pass Drug Tests. Under a bill already approved by an interim legislative committee, it would be "a criminal offense to distribute, possess, or sell an adulterant or synthetic urine;" or "to defraud an alcohol or drug test using an adulterant, bodily fluid of another person, or bodily fluid expelled or withdrawn before collection for the test." The measure would make violations a misdemeanor.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Public Health Advocates Urge Governor to Legalize Needle Exchange Programs. In a letter delivered last week to Gov. Doug Ducey (R), more than 30 organizations involved in public health and addiction recovery called on him move to legalize the proven harm reduction intervention. "Arizona has fallen behind in its response to this national crisis, states like North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky have all implemented syringe service legislation and are seeing the benefits in their communities," the letter says. "Too many lives are on the line to continue with the status quo."

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: NY Gov Wants Legal Marijuana in 2019, UT Offenders' Drug Treatment Report, More... (12/17/18)

The governors of New Hampshire and New York have very different views on marijuana legalization, New Jersey doubles the number of dispensaries, a new report examines drug treatment for criminal offenders in Utah, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now says free the weed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bill to Ban Marijuana Home Grows Defeated. A bid by the outgoing Republican Senate to undo the will of the voters by amending the state's new marijuana legalization law to ban home cultivation has failed by failing to obtain a supermajority. The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Rapids) needed three-quarters of the vote to pass. Meekhof is sad now: "I'm very disappointed. I knew it would be a heavy lift," he said. "What we're going to be allowing to happen is going to make our society less safe," he complained without explaining how or why.

New Hampshire Governor Rails Against Legalization. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) isn't exactly climbing on the marijuana bandwagon. In remarks over the weekend, he said preventing legalization would be one of the biggest fights for his administration, and that he would "absolutely" veto any legalization bill "regardless of what the language looks like." Still, he was cognizant that the trends aren't on his side. "But then there's a good chance that veto could get overruled," he conceded.

New York Governor Calls for Legalization in 2019. In a Monday speech outlining his 2019 agenda, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for freeing the weed. "Let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana, once and for all," Cuomo said. He is also reportedly exploring whether to make expungement part of the push.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Just Approved Six More Dispensaries. The state Department of Health on Monday effectively doubled the size of its medical marijuana program by approving six additional dispensaries. There are only six in the state right now. Click on the link to see the list.

Drug Treatment

Utah Report on Treating People in the Criminal Justice System. The Utah Foundation has released Rethinking Rehabilitation: Improving Outcomes for Drug-Addicted Offenders in Utah. The report explains efforts to address addiction within the context of the justice system in Utah and explores alternative approaches for people struggling with substance use disorders. It also sets forth policy guidance for future action. Among the report's key findings are that efforts to reduce the state prison population appear to be bearing fruit. However, the populations of local jails in Utah are rising, and local facilities often lack the drug treatment programs found in state prisons. Another key finding is that investments in drug rehabilitation for offenders can yield significant savings to taxpayers in the long run.

Oregon Initiative Would Decriminalize Psilocybin [FEATURE]

An initiative that would decriminalize most psilocybin offenses and open the door to regulated production and therapeutic use of the psychedelic substance in Oregon is moving forward.

Magic mushrooms could be decriminalized under the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative (Wikipedia)
Late last month, the secretary of state approved ballot title language for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative. The next step is a signature-gathering drive to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. Some 117,578 valid voter signatures are required, and petitioners have until next July to obtain them.

Under the initiative, anyone possessing up to 50 grams of dried magic mushrooms or 10 doses of psilocybin would not be charged with a crime, but with a violation similar to a speeding ticket. The only punishment would be a fine. Similarly, distribution of up to 50 grams or 10 doses without a license would be a violation -- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor.

As quantities possessed increase, so do the potential penalties. Possession of more than 50 but less than 100 grams would still be a violation, except for the two prior felony folks, who would then face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 100 grams but less than 500 would still be a violation, except for people with one or more previous felonies, who again would face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 500 grams but less than a kilogram would be a misdemeanor for all. It would take possessing more than two kilograms to earn a felony charge for all.

Similarly, unlicensed sales of up to 50 grams or 10 doses would not be a crime but a violation punishable only by a fine-- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor. Penalties gradually stiffen, but under the initiative, it would take the sale of more than 15 kilograms to trigger felony charges for anyone regardless of prior criminal history.

Under federal law, possession of any amount of psilocybin is a felony. Under Oregon state law, though, possession of small amounts is only a misdemeanor, although possession of "substantial amounts" (more than 60 grams) is a felony, as is distribution.

But while the changes in the state's criminal code would be significant, the primary goal of the petitioners is to clear the way for the therapeutic use of psilocybin via licensed and regulated producers, processors, and therapists.

"The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world," chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote on the campaign web site. "The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and integration afterward. We envision a community-based framework where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards."

The move comes as both the public and the scientific community are shifting their opinions on marijuana and psychedelics. Recent studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of therapeutic use, including reducing anxiety in people with cancer and as a treatment for depression and alcoholism. There is also new evidence that magic mushrooms are among the safest recreational drugs.

Chronicle AM: Prospects Dim for First Step Act, UT MedMJ Advocates File Suit, More.... (12/7/18)

The surgeon general suggests it's time to revise federal drug schedules, the First Step Act is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, Utah patient advocates sue to block a legislative gutting of the voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

A prison and sentencing reform bill is running out of time on Capitol Hill. Blame Mitch McConnell. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) has pre-filed House Bill 157, which would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants, with three plants flowering at one time. The bill does not create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Advocacy Groups Sue to Block Compromise Agreement on Medical Marijuana. A pair of patient advocacy groups filed suit Thursday to block a legislative agreement that supersedes the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative passed in November. The groups accuse the Mormon Church of unconstitutional interference in a process that led to the gutting of the measure approved by voters. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to set aside the revised medical marijuana law approved by the legislature and to keep the original version in the initiative.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lame Duck GOP Legislature Pushes Through Food Stamp Drug Testing. As part of the GOP-dominated legislature's effort to weaken the incoming Democratic governor and other state officials, the legislature passed a sweeping measure imposing restrictions on welfare recipients, including a requirement for drug screening and testing of people apply for food stamps. If outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs the bill, Wisconsin will be the first and only state that requires drug testing for many non-felon food stamp applicants.

Law Enforcement

Surgeon General Says Federal Drug Classification Scheme Needs Changes. The country's drug classification needs an overhaul, but that doesn't mean drugs should simply be decriminalized, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday. "Our scheduling system is functioning, but not as ideally as it could," he said of the federal schedule for controlled substances maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. "Things aren't static. We have to continue to evolve. Just as we need to look at our criminal justice laws, we need to look at our health laws and regulations, and that includes the scheduling system," Adams said.

Sentencing Reform

The Door is Closing on the Federal Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. Prospects for passage of the First Step Act (S. 3649) grow dimmer as the clock ticks down on the end of the congressional session later this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't made it official, but he has told Republicans there is almost no time left to take up the bill, and Senate Republicans left town Thursday afternoon without taking up the topic at two party lunches this week. "Each passing day they get less," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the bill's chances. "We're still lobbying Sen. McConnell. He has all the power to allow it or not allow it."

Chronicle AM: Trump's Chinese Fentanyl Flub, UT MedMJ Law Amended, More... (12/4/18)

There's a bunch of medical marijuana news today, and President Trump misstates a Chinese position on fentanyl.

The president was unclear on just what China promised regarding fentanyl and synthetic opioids. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Adds Alzheimer's to List of Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding the degenerative neurological disorder to the medical marijuana program, despite concerns about the effectiveness of treatment with marijuana. "Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease." Minnesota will become the 13th state to okay medical marijuana for Alzheimer's.

Pennsylvania to Consider Adding Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has approved a new process for expanding the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and in coming weeks will begin accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions to be added to the list. Patient advocates are expected to petition for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

Utah's Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law Amended. Lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping changes to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) immediately signed them into effect. The changes ban many marijuana edibles, prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary, and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking medical marijuana wasn't allowed under the original ballot measure and still isn't. Opponents of the meddling with measure said the changes will create major obstacles for patients and are planning to sue to block the changes. "It's an almost complete disregard for the will of the people," attorney Rocky Anderson said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Misstated Changes in China's Fentanyl Policy. This past weekend, President Trump claimed he had persuaded the Chinese to make fentanyl a controlled substance, but he was mistaken. Fentanyl is already a controlled substance in China. What the Chinese announced was that they would shift the way it regulates synthetic opioids. Now, "China has decided to list all the fentanyl-like substances as controlled substances and start working to adjust related regulations," China's foreign ministry clarified.

Chronicle AM: Trump Pressures McConnell on Sentencing Reform, NJ Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing, More... (11/26/18)

The president wants to see criminal justice reform move in the Senate, New Jersey lawmakers take up marijuana legalization today, and more.

Mitch McConnell is getting pressured by the president to move on the First Step Act. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Governor-Elect Says Legalize It. Incoming Democratic Governor Tim Walz says it's time for the state to get on the legalization bandwagon. "I just think the time is here and we're seeing it across the country," he said. "Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right." Wise's Democratic allies control the state House, but Republicans control the Senate.

New Jersey Legislature Takes Up Legalization Bill. Hearings are underway at the statehouse for the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

North Dakota Lawmaker Will File Decriminalization Bill. In the wake of November's failed legalization initiative, one lawmaker says he will file a decriminalization bill during the coming legislative session. State Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R-Fargo) said her bill would probably decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce. Possession is currently a Class B misdemeanor.

North Dakota Initiative Campaigners Will Try Again in 2020. Legalize ND, the folks behind November's failed legalization initiative says it will be back in 2020. Group leader David Owen said he is "100% certain" the group will try again but with some changes. Next time, the proposal will contain provisions for tax revenues from sales and limits on how much individuals can grow and possess. This year's initiative lost 59%-41%.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Narcs Try to Arrest Each Other in Drug Bust Gone Awry. It was Keystone Cops in the Motor City earlier this month when a group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug dealers attempted to arrest another group of undercover Detroit narcs posing as drug buyers. The end result: A shouting match and shoving and punch-throwing brawl among more than two dozen armed police officers. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday. Two Detroit police officers were killed in a similar incident in 1986.

Sentencing Reform

Trump Urges McConnell to Act on Criminal Justice Reform. In a tweet last Friday, President Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a prison and sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act (S.2795) to be voted on in the Senate. McConnell said last week there wasn't time to get the measure through this session, but he has faced intense lobbying pressure, not only from the president but also other Republican senators and the religious right. "Really good Criminal Justice Reform has a true shot at major bipartisan support," Trump said in the tweet. "@senatemajldr Mitch McConnell and @SenSchumer have a real chance to do something so badly needed in our country. Already passed, with big vote, in House. Would be a major victory for ALL!"

International

French National Assembly Approves Fines for Drug Use. The National Assembly last Friday approved a bill that introduces a fixed fine of 200 Euros for the use of drugs, and marijuana in particular. Since 1970, illegal drug use has been subject to up to a year in prison and up to a 3,750 Euro fine, but such sentences were rarely imposed, especially for marijuana. Some ministers on the left criticized the measure as disproportionately affecting poor young people and condemned the lack of involvement of health authorities.

Thai National Assembly Gives Preliminary Approval to Legal Medical Marijuana, Kratom. The National Legislative Assembly has accepted "in principle" amending the country's drug law to allow for the medicinal use of five substances, including marijuana and kratom. Under the amended law, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board will be assigned to designate areas to be used for the production of the drugs and the quantity to be produced.

Chronicle AM: NJ Legalization Bill Unveiled, UT MedMJ Fight Continues, More... (11/23/18)

New Jersey embraces industrial hemp and moves toward passing a marijuana legalization bill, New York's governor says a legalization bill will likely pass there next year, and more.

Hemp is coming to New Jersey. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legalization Bill Finally Unveiled. Lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of a marijuana legalization bill, S2703. The bill would legalize up to an ounce for adults and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana production and distribution. The bill sets a 12% tax rate on marijuana sales, which includes the state's 6.625% sales tax, but also would allow localities to seek up to 2% in additional marijuana taxes.

New York Governor Says Recreational Marijuana Bill Will Pass Sometime in 2019. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he expects his state to legalize marijuana next year, but he offered few details beyond that. "We now have a working group that is putting together a piece of legislation that would do it, because the devil is in the details: How do you do it, where do you do it, what are the ages, etc.? What is New Jersey doing? What has Massachusetts done?" Cuomo said. "So that legislation is being crafted. I expect it to be introduced next year. The when and the how we're not clear."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

Industrial Hemp

New Jersey Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law S3145, which will establish a pilot program for research and cultivation of hemp. The bill had received nearly unanimous support in the legislature. "This pilot program is a win for local farmers who need a diversity of opportunities to compete in the global agriculture market," said state senator Declan O'Scanlon. "Hemp is growing in value as a cash crop, and I am sure the New Jersey economy, and our farmers will benefit from this pilot program."

Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Busts Way, Way Down; New Federal Fentanyl Sentences in Effect, More... (11/9/18)

New York City marijuana possession arrests plummet (finally), Utah patients will have some legal protection beginning next month, federal fentanyl sentences just increased, and more.

a lethal dose of fentanyl (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan US Attorneys Warn That Federal Prohibition Remains in Force. In a joint statement released Thursday, US Attorneys for Michigan Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge warned that even though voters there legalized marijuana on Tuesday, "marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law" and that they "will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal 1." That said, the federal prosecutors then conceded "our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders" and that "as we weigh the interests in enforcing a law, we must also consider our ability to prosecute with our limited resources."

Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession have Decreased 90 Percent Following New NYPD Marijuana Guidelines. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have plummeted 90 percent since new NYPD marijuana enforcement guidelines took effect in September. There were 151 arrests for low-level marijuana in the entire city of New York in September 2018, less than 10 percent of the 1,500+ arrests last September and 3 percent of the 4,300+ arrests that took place in September 2010. However, racial disparities in enforcement still persist, with Blacks and Latino people comprising around 80 percent of the 1,000 summonses issued for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Patients Will Have Legal Protections Beginning December 1. Although it could take months or years for the state to get a medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system up and running, medical marijuana patients will win some protections from arrest and prosecution beginning on December 1. That's because the Prop 2 initiative approved by voters includes an "affirmative defense" provision protecting them from a criminal conviction. It doesn't explicitly protect patients from arrest, but the hope is that with little likelihood of a successful prosecution, police will have little incentive to actually arrest patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Harsher Federal Penalties for Selling Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Are Now in Effect. New federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect November 1 significantly increase the possible prison sentence faced by people who sell heroin or cocaine laced with fentanyl. The new guidelines "create a four-level enhancement for a defendant who knowingly misrepresents or knowingly markets as another substance a mixture containing fentanyl or a fentanyl analog," which translates into sentences nearly twice as long as previously. While the guidelines only apply to someone who intentionally sought to deceive buyers, the realities of the federal criminal justice system -- where the vast majority of cases end with plea bargains -- mean that prosecutors will rarely have to prove the intent to deceive.

Green Wave Update: Marijuana Initiatives Go Three for Four in Midterms, and More [FEATURE]

The expansion of legal marijuana continued apace in Tuesday's elections, with medical marijuana initiatives winning in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana winning in Michigan. The only loss for weed came in North Dakota, where voters approved medical marijuana two years ago but weren't ready to take the next step this year.

a glorious day in Michigan (and Missouri and Utah) (Creative Commons)
Michigan becomes the 10th state to legalize marijuana and the first one in the Midwest. With Missouri and Utah now joining the ranks, medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states.

In Michigan, the Proposal 1 legalization initiative was winning with 55.8 percent of the vote, with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

"The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the US," said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign. "Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use. Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses. In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country."

"Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which through its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, helped fund and played a significant role in drafting the initiative. "With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there's only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out."

In the past decade, Michigan has seen more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, the vast majority (84 percent) for simple possession. Those arrests won't be happening anymore.

In Missouri, two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both MPP and DPA.

"Thanks to the unflagging efforts of patients and advocates, Missourians who could benefit from medical marijuana will soon be able to use it without fear of being treated like criminals," said MPP's Schweich. "We hope lawmakers will implement the measure efficiently and effectively to ensure qualified patients can gain access to their medicine as soon as possible."

In North Dakota, the cold wind of prairie conservatism and the Red Wave that swamped Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) was strong enough to overwhelm the Measure 3 legalization initiative. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

In Utah, despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins.

Drug reformers pronounced themselves pleased with the results and pressed for federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

"This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana," said MPP executive director Steve Hawkins. "Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it's safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation."

But wait, there's more. Voters in a number of Wisconsin localities, including the population centers of Madison and Milwaukee, overwhelmingly approved non-binding referenda calling for marijuana legalization, while voters approved decriminalization in five out of six Ohio cities where it was on the ballot, including Dayton.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates embracing marijuana legalization (and broader drug reform), including Gavin Newsom (CA), Jared Polis (CO), J.B. Pritzker (IL), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), all emerged victorious. The last two are especially notable since, as chief executives of as yet pot prohibitionist states, they can guide their states to legalization.

And in one of the sweeter outcomes of the Democrats' retaking of the House, one of the biggest obstacles to marijuana reform in Congress, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost to Democrat Colin Allred, a supporter of marijuana reform. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked reform measures from advancing. But his time has come and gone.

All in all, election day was a pretty good day for weed.

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

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug Reporter and Drug War Chronicle.

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