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Chronicle AM: Joint-Smoking IL US House Candidate, DEA Link to Mexico Murders, More... (2/28/18)

An Illinois Democratic congressional candidate goes bold on weed, New Jersey legalization efforts face an uphill battle in the Senate, congressional Democrats call for investigations into DEA-linked drug war deaths in Mexico, and more.

Illinois Democratic congressional contender Benjamin Thomas Wolf lights up in new ad. (
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidate Smokes Joint in Ad. Former FBI national security official and current Logan Park restaurateur Benjamin Thomas Wolfe is running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 5th congressional district -- and he's putting marijuana legalization front and center. A photograph Wolf released Monday features him sitting in front of an American flag painting. Above him, smoke rises from the joint he presumably just puffed on. "As a cannabis user, I think it's important we get out front and talk about it," Wolf said. "We realize that cannabis can bring billions of dollars to the state, it's medicine for millions of people around the country, it changes criminal justice reform and personally I think it's a wonderful recreational substance as well."

New Hampshire Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization -- Without Sales. A new Granite State poll has across the board support for a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sale or taxation of it. The poll had support at 56% overall, with 61% of Democrats, 56% of independents, and 49% of Republicans behind it.

New Jersey Senate Survey Suggests Hard Road Ahead for Legalization. A survey of all 40 state Senate members by NJ Cannabis Insider finds there is some work to be done before the body is prepared to pass a legalization bill. The survey found only five senators said they would vote yes, 20 would vote no, and 15 were either undecided or did not reply. A legalization bill, Senate Bill 830, awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee narrowly approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The committee voted 4-3 in favor of House Bill 1749, with the key vote provided by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Harm Reduction

New York Advocates Call on Mayor de Blasio to Release Study on Safe Injection Sites. Advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, and Camelot gathered at city hall Tuesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio release a $100,000 study on the feasibility of safe injection sites. De Blasio said last month he would release the results "relatively soon." On Tuesday, the Health Department again said "soon." The city council authorized safe injection sites two years ago.

Law Enforcement

Congressional Democrats Want Investigation into Mexico Murders Linked to DEA Activities. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have sent a letter to the Justice and State departments asking that their inspectors general investigate DEA-led operations in Mexico that triggered violent retaliation from drug cartels, leading to the death or disappearance of dozens or even hundreds of people. The Democrats cited a 2010 cartel attack in Monterrey and a 2011 massacre by Zetas in the state of Coahuila. In both cases, the killings were linked to DEA surveillance activities, and in both cases, the DEA downplayed its involvement and didn't help investigate the killings.

(This article was prepared by'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: Senate Sentencing Reform Bill Under Attack, DEA Threatens SIJs, More... (2/15/18)

The Marijuana Justice Act gets a third cosponsor, the DEA threatens to go after safe injection sites, the attorney general and leading law enforcement groups target the Senate sentencing reform bill, and much, much more.

Jeff Sessions and major law enforcement groups are trying to kill the Senate sentencing reform bill. (
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Suggests He Will Defer to DEA, Congress on Rescheduling Lawsuit. At a hearing Wednesday over a lawsuit seeking to have marijuana de- or rescheduled from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein suggested he would rule in the government's favor. He dismissed plaintiffs' claims that marijuana prohibition was motivated by racism and political concerns when it was passed 80 years ago and he said he didn't think he had the authority to reschedule the drug. "The law is the law," the judge said. "I'm sworn to enforce the law."

Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act Gets Third Sponsor. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Wednesday that she had signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689). The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States and Businesses. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) has filed the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act (no bill number yet), which would essentially codify the protections for state-legal marijuana embodied in the now-rescinded Cole memo. "To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis," Correa said. "Attorney General Sessions' decision to rescind the 'Cole Memo' created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws."

Connecticut Legalization Bills Filed. Twenty-two lawmakers filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 5112, would authorize the retail sale and taxation of the herb. Separately, House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) filed another legalization bill, House Bill 5111. Similar bills last year failed to get a floor vote in either chamber. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on General Law.

Massachusetts Legalization Advocates Protest "Intimidation Campaign" Aimed at Forcing Restrictive Regulations. Legalization advocates are criticizing Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and other officials, saying they have conducted a "coordinated intimidation campaign" against the state body charged with crafting rules and regulations, the Cannabis Control Commission. In a series of letters to the commission, officials from the governor's office have raised public health and safety concerns and recommended it scale back its framework of rules. Advocates took their concerns to the State House Thursday, where they held a press conference.

New Jersey Lawmakers, Wary of Legalization, File Decriminalization Bill Instead. A bipartisan group of legislators urging caution on pot legalization has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 472 would make the possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalizing marijuana, and legalization bills have already been filed in the Assembly and Senate.

Jackson, Mississippi, City Council Votes to Decriminalize Weed. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. Violators would face no more than a $100 fine. Under current Mississippi state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will depend on local law enforcement discretion. The possession of any amount of marijuana can result in up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $250, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Committee Votes to End Civil Forfeiture by Police. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Senate Bill 213 would require a criminal conviction before cash or property could be seized. Senators said they expected the bill to face additional negotiations before it goes to a Senate floor vote.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill to Block Employers from Testing for Marijuana to Be Filed. Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said he plans to introduce a bill that would block employers from drug testing for THC or disqualifying people from jobs because of a drug test with positive results for marijuana. The bill would apply to both public and private sector workers, but not those operating heavy equipment. "Consuming THC weeks or months out from a job interview should not disqualify someone from finding employment any more than someone who drank a few beers on another date should be kept out of work" Bowen told the Isthmus in an email. "While I am in favor of the safe legalization and regulation of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, until that happens, people should not be stigmatized for using a substance whose effect on society is less negative than society's reaction to it."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congressional Republicans Try to Blame Sanctuary Cities for Opioid Crisis. GOP lawmakers used a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security to try to scapegoat sanctuary cities for the country's opioid crisis. "We have heard countless stories of sanctuary practices and the havoc they wreck on public safety, national security, and the sanctity of the rule of law," said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), the committee chair. "Our public safety and our public health are tied to eradicating opioids, which can never be accomplished when the force multiplier that is ICE is sidelined." But committee Democrats and analysts rejected the link. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said There was no "factual basis in connecting so called sanctuary city policies with the opioid crisis," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). "It would be laughable if it weren't so serious," she said. "If it weren't so hurtful to the characterization of immigrants across this country." Last month, Republicans tried to blame Obama's expansion of Medicaid for worsening the epidemic.

Harm Reduction

Trump Administration Threatens to Go After Safe Injection Sites. Several US cities are moving forward with plans to open safe injection sites, but the DEA has just fired a shot across the bow. In an interview with Buzzfeed, DEA spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the agency may take action against the facilities because they are federally prohibited. "Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law," Pfaff said. "Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action." She cited a 1980s crack house law that could be used. But in Seattle, at least, local prosecutors say they welcome a legal challenge and think they can convince the courts that public health powers are superior to criminal laws against drug dens run for profit.

New Mexico Passes Legislation to Examine Administering Pharmaceutical-grade Heroin or Other Opioids by Medical Practitioners to People Struggling with Long-term Addiction. The state House Tuesday approved House Memorial 56, which charges the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to take testimony on supervised injectable opioid treatment as a feasible, effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. This memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the governor.

Sentencing Reform

Attorney General Sessions Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said. The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Police Groups Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. The National Sheriffs' Association and the Fraternal Order of Police have both come out against the Senate sentencing reform bill, calling on President Trump to reject the bill and saying it will put violent drug dealers back out on the street. "Sheriffs will have to arrest most of them again at the county level and that will shift the cost and responsibility to us without fixing the underlying problems of violent crime and drug and human trafficking in the country," said a letter to Trump from the National Sheriffs' Association. "At a time when our nation is being ravaged by an epidemic of overdoses from the use of heroin and opioids, it seems at variance with common sense and sound policy to drastically reduce sentences for drug traffickers and then apply these reduced sentences retroactively," said the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Trump's Drug Budget Doubles Down on the War on Drugs

The Trump administration released its proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget Monday, and it looks like a return to last century's failed law-and-order drug war policies. While paying lip service to the nation's opioid crisis, the administration shows its priorities by asking for more money for Trump's quixotic border wall than to actually address opioids.

In contrast with the Obama administration, which sought to tip the balance between law enforcement and treatment and prevention by tilting funding toward more counselors than cops, the Trump budget tilts back toward law enforcement.

The budget would also gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office), a move that is alarming mainstream critics of Trump's drug policies, but one that more radical critics of drug prohibition -- on both the left and the right -- have mixed views about.

But overall, the Trump budget is doubling down on the drug war. Here are some of its lowlights:

"Trump's budget proposes new funds for addressing the opioid overdose crisis, but far more money is being sought by the president to escalate the war on drugs," said Grant Smith, interim director of Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We know from decades of locking people up for drugs that it doesn't work to curb drug use, but Trump's budget proposes wasting billions of dollars to do exactly that. That money would be much better spent on harm reduction and treatment interventions that actually prevent overdoses and save lives."

The Trump budget does include $900 million in increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to address the opioid epidemic, and it claims it would allocate a total of $13 billion to "combat the opioid epidemic," but that figure mixes treatment, prevention and war on drugs funding. And it's still less than what Trump wants to spend on his border wall.

The bright side is that the Trump FY 2019 budget is likely dead on arrival. It's a wish list, likely to be shredded and reconstructed during budget negotiations, and unlikely to look much like the proposal by the time things get done. Still, it demonstrates Trump's priorities with cold clarity.

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Budget, NH Marijuana Bill Hearing, OR Opioid Emergency, More... (2/13/18)

The proposed FY 2019 Trump budget features more drug war and cutting the drug czar's office, a legal marijuana bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, Oregon's governor declares a public health emergency over opioids, and more.

The president's proposed budget has billions for more drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Bills to Reduce Penalties Filed. A pair of bills filed in the legislature seek to reduce the criminalization of marijuana users. House Bill 865 would make possession of up to two ounces a misdemeanor. Under current law, possession of more than one ounce is a felony. Senate Bill 105 would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce. Legalization bills were filed earlier in the session, but they are not expected to go anywhere.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing on a limited legalization bill today. House Bill 656 would legalize the possession of up to a quarter ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, but would not set up a system of legal marijuana commerce.

Virginia Senate Approves Arrest Expungement Bill. The Senate voted 38-2 on Monday to approve Senate Bill 954, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Noment (R-James City). The bill would allow people charged with first-time possession to later pay $150 to have the charge expunged. The measure must now be approved by the House.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Selzer & Company poll has 78% in favor of medical marijuana, with 19% opposed, figures that are roughly unchanged over the past couple of years. What has changed is support for recreational marijuana, now at 39%, up from 28% four years ago.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Marijuana in Fight Against Opioids. Lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state capitol in Santa Fe Monday to urge state officials to add opioid addiction to the list of disorders qualifying for medical marijuana. And advisory panel has twice considered petitions seeking to add medical marijuana as a tool against opioid abuse, the most recent last November, but the state Health Department has yet to act.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oregon Governor Declares Addiction a Public Health Crisis. Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) on Tuesday released an executive order declaring opioid addiction to be a public health crisis in the state. She said she would soon set a deadline for the state Alcohol and Drugs Policy Commission to come up with a plan to fight the problem.

Drug Policy

Trump Budget Doubles Down on Drug War. The Trump administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget is heavy on drug war spending, with an additional $400 million for the DEA, $334 million in the law enforcement-oriented Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, $50 million for the once-discarded anti-drug media campaign, $43 million for drug courts, and a cut of $20 million in offender reentry programs. The budget includes $18 billion over two years for the Mexico border wall, which Trump justifies on both drugs and immigration grounds, which is more than the $13 billion the administration says it is allocating to fight opioid abuse.

Trump Budget Would Gut Drug Czar's Office. The Trump FY 2019 budget would also dramatically slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), primarily by moving two grant programs elsewhere. Under the proposal, the Drug Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program would be moved into the Health and Human Services Department and Justice Department, respectively. The move is opposed by some lawmakers and a coalition of more than 150 advocacy organizations, but more radical critics on both the left and the right would like to see the agency go away altogether.


New Jersey Governor Revives Sentencing Commission. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is reviving the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2009 to examine racial disparities in sentencing, but remained dormant under former Gov. Chris Christie (R). Christie never appointed any members to the commission. "We can and must do better," Murphy said in a statement. "A Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission can undertake the important review of our sentencing laws and recommend reforms necessary to ensure a stronger, fairer, and more just state." Murphy has already appointed two people to the commission's 13-member board, which must issue a report within a year of its first meeting.

Chronicle AM: DEA Emergency Ban on Fentanyl Analogs, Fox Legalization Poll, More... (2/7/18)

A Fox poll has support for legalization at an all-time high, Colorado's governor ponders freeing marijuana prisoners, the DEA emergency bans fentanyl analogues, New York's governor bans synthetic cannabinoids, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fox News Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Record High. A new Fox News poll has the poll's highest numbers yet in support of freeing the weed. Some 59% said legalize it, up from 51% in 2015, 46% in 2013, and 26% in 2001. The Fox poll results are in line with other national polls, which are now typically showing support for legalization in the high 50s or low 60s.

Colorado Governor Ponders Freeing Marijuana Prisoners. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is considering releasing nearly 40 prison inmates serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses. "Right now, we have not enough room left in our prisons. So if what these people are serving serious time for wasn't violent -- is no longer illegal -- maybe we should be looking at (whether) it safe to release them," he said in an interview with The Denver Post. "We are talking about going out and finding people who are still in prison, and saying, 'If you want to apply we think your application will have favor,'" Hickenlooper said.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Support for Decriminalization. A new poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University has support for decriminalization at 76%, with even 60% of Republicans in favor. The poll comes a week after Republicans in the state Senate killed a decriminalization bill.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Emergency Schedules All Illicit Fentanyl Analogs. The US Drug Enforcement Administration this week placed all illicit fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I -- the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use -- for two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The action is intended to reduce these substances' flow into the country and slow the alarming increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids, but time will tell.


FDA Ramps Up Warnings on Kratom, Calls It "Opioid." The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday ramped up its warnings about kratom, saying that new research says the herb has "opioid properties" and is linked to 44 deaths. "We feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. New data has reinforced the agency concerns about kratom's "potential for abuse, addiction and serious health consequences, including death."

New Synthetic Substances

New York Governor Uses Temporary Budget Amendment to Ban Sales of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday a 30-day budget amendment to add 36 different synthetic cannabinoids to the state's controlled substance list. While the substances are banned federally, only some New York counties had banned them. "As the manufacturers of this poison continue to evolve and find new and insidious ways to skirt the law, New York's statutes must continue to keep pace," Cuomo said. "With this action, we'll continue to identify and crack down on hazardous compounds that emerge in our communities, and give law enforcement the tools they need to end this public health threat."


Canada Legalization Rollout Could Be Delayed. Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Tuesday that recreational marijuana sales will only begin a few months after legalization later this year because the new legal sales system will take time to begin working properly. The Liberal government wants the new law in place by July 1, but if it takes until that date, legal sales could be pushed back to the fall.

Israel Prime Minister Blocks Medical Marijuana Exports, Calls for More Studies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended plans to allow Israeli medical marijuana growers to export their crops pending new reviews by the Health Ministry and the chairman of the National Economic Council. The move came after a Sunday meeting where Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan presented data on the diversion of medical marijuana into recreational markets.

Chronicle AM: Trump Again Proposes Slashing Drug Czar's Office, More... (1/19/18)

Trump once again proposes radically slashing the drug czar's office, senators want answers on federal drug policy appointments (and the lack thereof), Vermont's governor will sign the legal pot bill this weekend, and more.

From marijuana to the opioid crisis, drug policy is getting attention in Congress these days. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana Dies. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), coauthor of the McClintock-Polis amendment protecting state-legal marijuana programs, has pulled the amendment from the continuing budget resolution, citing lack of support from the Republican leadership. The amendment would have protected both medical marijuana and adult use marijuana by barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after them.

Trump Administration Reviewing Guidance for Banks Dealing With Legal Marijuana. A top Treasury Department official told Congress Wednesday that the administration is reviewing whether to keep Obama-era guidance providing a route for banks to serve marijuana businesses without getting in trouble with federal regulators. "We are reviewing the guidance in light of the attorney general's recent decision to revoke a Justice Department memorandum on this issue, Sigal Mandelker, the department's deputy secretary, said at a Senate hearing in remarks reported by Marijuana Moment.

Vermont Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill This Weekend. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Thursday he will sign the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 511, sometime this weekend. The bill legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not commercial activity. Scott said he will sign the bill without ceremony out of respect for those who oppose the measure. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the state legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Congressman Files Federal Medical Marijuana Research Bill. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) filed a House version of a bill aiming at encouraging medical marijuana research on Thursday. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) filed the Senate version of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act, Senate Bill 1803, in the Senate in September.

Pennsylvania's First Dispensary Opens for Business. Keystone Canna Remedies had its grand opening in Bethlehem on Wednesday -- but it doesn't actually have any product to sell. The dispensary said it will be doing educational workshops until it gets its first shipments of medical marijuana next month.

Tennessee CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A pair of Republican lawmakers have filed the Medical Cannabis Only Act, which would legalize the use of cannabis oil products, but not edibles or raw marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Again Plans Deep Cuts to Drug Czar's Office. The administration is once again planning to slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). According to a report in Politico, the plan is to shift ONDCP's two main grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grants and the Drug Free Communities grants to the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, respectively. That would shift ONDCP's budget by about $340 million, or 95%. The move comes as the nation confronts a severe opioid crisis, lending fuel to claims the Trump administration isn't doing enough on the issue.

Senators Call on Trump Administration to Explain Drug Policy Appointments. Driven by revelations that a 24-year-old former campaign worker is playing a key role in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), as well as the administration's failure to fill key drug policy positions, a group of senators sent a letter Thursday calling on the administration to provide information on all political appointees serving in drug policy positions. The letter also called on the administration to identify, nominate, and confirm qualified leaders for the drug czar's office and the DEA. "You have claimed that that the opioid epidemic is a top priority for your administration, but the personnel you have staffing these key agencies -- and the lack of nominees to head them -- is cause for deep concern," the letter said. "This crisis knows no bounds, and we are committed to working across party lines with anyone who is serious about addressing this devastating epidemic."

Chronicle AM: Govs Seek Fed Help for Opioid Crisis, KY GOP Leader Files Legal MJ Bill, More... (1/18/18)

Governors call for more help with the opioid crisis from the federal government, a Kentucky GOP leader files a marijuana legalization bill, the ACLU of Montana warns an overzealous prosecutor, and more.

The nation's governors want Trump and the Congress to step up on dealing with the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Reintroduce Bill to Protect Marijuana from Civil Asset Forfeiture. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) reintroduced the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act on Wednesday. The bill would block seized funds from being used to in the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression program. This year's version of the bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the 2015 version is available here.

Kentucky Republican Leader Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale), a member of the Republican leadership team, filed a marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday. The bill would allow people 21 and over to legally use marijuana, and it would also legalize the production and sales of pot. The measure is Senate Bill 80.

New Jersey Legalization Bid Must Overcome Democratic Wavering. Newly seated Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office, but he's going to have to whip some Democratic senators into shape first. At least a half dozen Democratic senators say they plan to vote against any legalization bill. The state Senate has 40 seats; the Democrats hold 25 of them. If all six Democrats actually vote no, that means passage would depend on at least two Republicans voting yes. There are two GOP senators, Chris Brown of Atlantic and Dawn Addiego of Burlington, who have said they are leaning toward supporting the bill.

Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Would Pardon Marijuana Offenders. A leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn, said Wednesday he would pardon all low-level, non-violent marijuana offenders if elected. Flynn has repeatedly called for marijuana legalization in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Voters Ready for Full-Fledged Medical Marijuana Program, Poll Finds. A new poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds that more than three-quarters of those surveyed want to see the state's limited medical marijuana program expanded. Some 77% said they want greater access to medical marijuana. The poll comes as the legislature considers a measure, House Bill 645, that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. The poll also found that support for recreational marijuana was at an all-time high in the state, with 50% saying legalize it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Governors Call on Trump, Congress to Do More to Solve Opioid Crisis. In its first coordinated response to the opioid crisis, the National Governors Association called Thursday for the administration and Congress to provide more money and coordination to fight against it. "While progress has been made, the consequences of opioid addiction continue reverberating throughout society, devastating families and overwhelming health care providers, law enforcement and social services," the governors said as they released a set of 22 recommendations. Among other suggestions, the governors are calling for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, increased efforts to block illicit fentanyl shipments into the country, and a requirement that drug prescribers undergo substance abuse training and register to use state prescription monitoring databases.

Law Enforcement

Montana ACLU Vows to Challenge County DA's Crackdown on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users The ACLU of Montana said Wednesday it will fight any action by Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris to arrest or incarcerate pregnant women based on alleged harm to the fetus. Harris announced last week that he would seek protection orders barring pregnant women from using any non-prescribed drugs or alcohol and seek contempt orders and jail for any woman who violates them. The ACLU called Harris's move "an egregious abuse of power" and noted that a similar effort in Ravalli County in 2014 was killed in the courts. "If these reports are accurate, then Big Horn County's 'crackdown' on pregnant women is not only counterproductive, paternalistic and cruel, it is also illegal. If your office actively attempts to enforce such a policy, ACLU is prepared to challenge those actions in Court," the group said in a letter sent to Harris.


New Jersey Enacts Law to Examine Racial and Ethnic Impact of Sentencing Changes. On his last day in office, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed racial and ethnic impact statement legislation this week that will provide an opportunity for lawmakers to address the state's high rate of racial disparity in incarceration. Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, racial impact statements provide legislators with a statistical analysis of the projected impact of criminal justice policy changes prior to enactment. Armed with the data analysis, policymakers can make more informed decisions about public safety issues without aggravating existing racial disparities. Four other states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oregon -- have similar policies.

America Declares War on Jeff Sessions' Threatened War on Marijuana [FEATURE]

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

With his announcement that he is freeing federal prosecutors to go after marijuana operations in states where it is legal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has excited strong bipartisan opposition -- splitting the Republicans, providing a potential opening for Democrats in the 2018 elections, and energizing supporters of just ending marijuana prohibition once and for all.

Attorney General Sessions wants to keep the DEA busy with marijuana. (DEA)
On Thursday, after a year of dilly-dallying, the fervently anti-marijuana Sessions declared that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors which basically told them to keep their hands off marijuana operations that were acting in compliance with state laws. The move not only puts Sessions at odds with public opinion, it also puts the lie to President Trump's campaign position that marijuana policy was best left to the states.

With legalization of marijuana enjoying consistent majority support in opinion polls -- a Pew poll released Friday put support at 61% -- the blowback has been immediate, fierce, and across the board. Feeling particularly vulnerable, legal pot state Republicans howled especially loudly.

Republican Howls

"I am obligated to the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado and their rights," said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), taking to the Senate floor to announce his amazement and dismay at the move. He threatened to block all Justice Department nominees until Sessions relents.

Gardner, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, said that both Trump and Sessions had assured him before he voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general that going after legal marijuana in the states was not a priority. He wasn't happy with the turnabout.

Neither was another Republican legal pot state senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, she said she had repeatedly urged Sessions to leave legal weed alone. His move Thursday was "regrettable and divisive," she said.

Maine is about to become a legal marijuana state -- if the Sessions move doesn't throw a wrench in the works -- leaving Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who supported Sessions' nomination, walking a tight-rope.

The attorney general isn't getting a lot of support in his march boldly backwards. (
While Collins acknowledges the medical uses of marijuana, according to her spokesperson, Christopher Knight, "there is considerable scientific and medical evidence of the detrimental impact that marijuana can have on the brain development of otherwise healthy teenagers," Knight said, according the the Press Herald. "Congress and the Department of Justice should review the Controlled Substances Act, which generally prohibits growing, distributing or using marijuana, in light of current medical evidence as well as actions taken by states."

Marijuana should be "a states' rights issue," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who doesn't represent a legal marijuana state, but has long been a proponent of drug law reform. "The federal government has better things to focus on."

Another leading Trump ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), doesn't represent a legal pot state, but he does represent a medical marijuana state. He's not happy, either, calling the move "heartless and cold." Sessions' move "shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients."

And that's from friends of the administration. The Democrats, unsurprisingly, are even harsher.

Democratic Growls

Congressional Democrats were quick to pounce on what they correctly perceived as an opening to attack Trump and Sessions on an issue where the public is not on their side. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose state just began the legal sale of recreational marijuana this week, led the way.

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision bulldozes over the will of the American people and insults the democratic process under which majorities of voters in California and in states across the nation supported decriminalization at the ballot box," Pelosi said. "Yet again, Republicans expose their utter hypocrisy in paying lip service to states' rights while trampling over laws they personally dislike."

Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said they would attempt to block Sessions by extending a current ban on Justice Department funding to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But that would not protect the legalization states.

Other legalization state Democrats were also quick to go on the offensive and happy to throw the "states' rights" issue in the face of Republicans.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is among those speaking out. (
"It is absurd that Attorney General Sessions has broken Trump's campaign promise and is now waging war on legal marijuana and states' rights," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "The growing Colorado economy is in jeopardy with the news that the Attorney General will now go after states that have decided to regulate marijuana. The Trump Administration needs to back off, and allow marijuana to be treated like alcohol under the law. At stake is a growing industry that has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in tax revenue in Colorado. I'm calling on President Trump to overrule Attorney General Sessions and protect consumers, our economy, the will of the voters, and states' rights."

"Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies," charged Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade." Wyden is demanding that any budget negotiations must include protection for legal marijuana states. "Any budget deal," Wyden said, "must... prevent the federal government from intruding in state-legal, voter-supported decisions."

That's just a representative sample of statements from congressional Democrats, who see the Sessions move as an enormous political gift. California House Republicans, for example, were already facing an uphill battle this year, thanks to Trump's unpopularity in the state. With a Republican administration messing with legal marijuana in the Golden State, they could go extinct in November.

State Officials Stand Up to Washington

It isn't just politicians in Washington who are taking umbrage with Sessions. Across the legal marijuana states, elected officials are standing up to stick up for the will of the voters.

"As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state's laws against undue federal infringement," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D). "In Washington state we have put a system in place that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a former US attorney herself, said Seattle police wouldn't cooperate in any crackdown: "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions," she said. "Let's be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults," she said in a statement. "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions."

Calling Sessions' move "deeply concerning and disruptive," Oregon Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) told the feds to back right off. "States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people," she said. "Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians. My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."

Similar notes were heard from California.

"Akin to the ill-conceived positions the Trump Administration has adopted on so many important public policy topics during the past year, Attorney General Session's decision today is out of step with the will of the people of not only California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis," said California Treasurer John Chiang. "The action taken by Attorney General Sessions threatens us with new national divisiveness and casts into turmoil a newly established industry that is creating jobs and tax revenues. Until the slow, clunking machinery of the federal government catches up with the values and will of the people it purportedly serves, states -- like California -- will continue to both resist and, more importantly, to lead."

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) also weighed in on what he called Sessions' "harmful and destructive attempt to revive the failed war on drugs." Sessions' position, he added, "defies fact and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal framework for legal marijuana, and is just another part of the Trump administration's cynical war on America's largest state -- its people and its policies -- through policy reversals, health care repeals, and now, marijuana policing."

The Republicans Own This

Despite the howls from legal pot state Republicans (and a handful of others), this backwards-looking policy shift lies squarely with the GOP and the Trump administration. It is driving wedges between Republicans and widening the gap between the GOP and the desires of the nation.

Whether the Republicans pay a penalty for messing with marijuana come November remains to be seen, but Jeff Sessions may have inadvertently done us a favor: Not only does his move hurt Republican prospects, even endangering control of the House, it may a spark movement to quit dancing around with the end of marijuana prohibition and just get it done.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Top Ten US Drug Policy Stories of 2017 [FEATURE]

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands die of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands get arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights:

Drug overdoses killed record numbers of Americans in 2017. (Wikimedia)
1.The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century. Policy efforts to curtail the problem have sometimes included regressive moves to up drug sentences, and have generally given only limited consideration to the needs many patients have to access these substances. But public health measures like naloxone distribution and "Good Samaritan" non-prosecution policies have also advanced.

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne is In Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, in part, perhaps, because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor, and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids -- even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

So far, Attorney General Sessions' bark is worse than his bite when it comes to marijuana policy. (
4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. …But Fails to Implement a War on Weed, So Far

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened yet. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, although the future of that law after January 22nd remains in doubt. But there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, so all is not safe, but today legal marijuana is still standing.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (pop. 36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by 2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- losing only in Arizona, closely -- anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation though the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting though in the US. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities -- although not without staunch opposition -- and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

Chronicle AM: Wyden Signs On to Booker Pot Bill, Ithaca Safe Injection Site Talks, More... (12/19/17)

Cory Booker's federal marijuana bill finally finds another sponsor, Kentucky's ag commissioner pronounces himself "dumbfounded" at the DEA's recalcitrant position on industrial hemp, and more.

Cory Booker is feeling just a little less lonely after picking up Ron Wyden as a cosponsor for his marijuana bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Wyden Signs On to Booker's Federal Marijuana Bill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced Monday that he is cosponsoring Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, Senate Bill 1689. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize it without fear of federal interference. The bill would also withhold funds from states that continue to criminalize marijuana and disproportionately arrest and imprison minorities for marijuana offenses, as well as allowing people sentenced under racially biased marijuana law enforcement to file civil lawsuits against their states. Wyden is the only cosponsor of the bill so far.


Kentucky Ag Commissioner "Dumbfounded" at DEA Position on Hemp. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has written a letter to the DEA requesting a meeting about hemp policy. "I was dumbfounded" to read about the DEA's position that hemp-derived CBD oils are illegal, even if they contain no THC," Quarles wrote. "Consumable hemp products are legal to buy," Quarles noted. But the DEA maintains that hemp is the same thing as marijuana, and DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson responded that Quarles is "knocking on the wrong door." Patterson said the DEA was simply enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, and if people want to change hemp policy, they need to talk to Congress.

Drug Testing

Illinois Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Coming Soon. Police in the northwestern town of Carol Stream will begin a pilot roadside drug testing program in February. Officers will use mouth swabs to screen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and opiates. Testing will begin on a voluntary basis, with drivers asked if they will consent to giving a saliva sample. The test results could be used to help police build drugged driving cases, but since Illinois does not have a zero tolerance drugged driving policy, test results alone would not be sufficient to prove guilt.

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Continues Discussions on Safe Injection Site. County officials on Monday continued discussing a proposal from Mayor Svante Myrick to open a safe injection site for heroin users in the city. The county legislature's Health and Human Services Committee heard from proponents of the harm reduction measure in what is the second hearing on the topic in two months.

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