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Chronicle AM: Fed Bill to Protect State-Legal Pot, PA Protects MedMJ Gun Rights, More... (12/15/18)

Members of Congress moved in two different ways to protect state-legal marijuana, a leading Illinois gubernatorial candidate doubles down on suppot for legalization, Pennsylvania moves to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients, and more.

Efforts to protect state-legal marijuana heat up on Capitol Hill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nearly 70 Congress Members Sign Letter Supporting Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana . A letter sent last Friday to the House leadership asking it to include an amendment blocking the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal marijuana came with the signatures of 69 US representatives. They want the McClintock-Polis Amendment included in "any forthcoming appropriations or funding bill."

Oakland Congresswoman Files Bill to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018 (HR 4779) last Friday.  It would bar federal agencies from spending money to "detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business or property, that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis" when those actions comply with state law or local regulations.

Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Will Make Pot Legalization Centerpiece of Campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker signaled last Friday that he intends to make marijuana legalization central to his campaign. At a press conference, the businessman said he would "intentionally include black and brown entrepreneurs" in the state's legal marijuana business as a way of addressing "historically systemic racism." Embracing legalization helps draw a distinction between Pritzker and both one of his main Democratic competitor, Chris Kennedy, who more cautiously embraces decriminalization, and incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Federal Judge OKs Medical Marijuana at School for Sick Girl. Two days after her parents filed a lawsuit against a school district and the state of Illinois over her school's refusal to allow her to use her medicine on school grounds, a federal judge ruled in her favor. The quick move came after the judge heard from the school district, which had concerns its employees could be subject to legal penalties for helping the 11-year-old. Lawyers for the state and the school district will meet with the judge next week to come up with a long-term solution.

Pennsylvania Moves to Protect Patients' Gun Rights. The state Health Department announced last Friday it will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. The move came after newspapers in the state reported that patients would not be able to buy firearms. Under state regulations, the department was required to post a database of patient names to an online portal accessed by law enforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

 Drug Policy

Pennsylvania Sued Over Taking Drivers' Licenses for Drug Offenses. Two men convicted only of minor drug offenses filed suit last Wednesday in Philadelphia against the state for its law mandating drivers' license suspensions for non-driving-related offenses. "Drug convictions are the only crimes for which the Department of Transportation suspends the driver’s licenses of adults over 21," the complaint says. The state  "thus punish[es] people found in possession of a small amount of marijuana (unrelated to driving) as harshly as those who have been convicted of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter, or any other dangerous activity that results in the loss of one’s ability to drive." Such laws were once the norm, but have now been abolished in 38 states.  

International

Greece Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A Greek government official said Sunday that the parliament is expected to approve a medical marijuana bill in coming weeks. "In a few weeks' time, an amendment will be brought to parliament to define the legislative framework for the cultivation and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products based on medical cannabis, which will open the way for Greek and foreign investments," deputy agricultural development minister Yannis Tsironis told AFP. Last year, the government authorized the import of several medical marijuana products; now it appears ready to take the next step.

 (This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, 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: VT Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill, IL MedMJ at School Lawsuit, AZ Syringe Access Bill, More... (1/12/18)

Vermont is set to become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, New York gets a hearing on legalization, Arizona's legislature gets a Republican-sponsored syringe access bill, the parents of an Illinois child sue over access to medical marijuana at school, and more.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will sign a marijuana legalization bill. (vermont.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly Health Committee took up the topic of marijuana legalization at a hearing Thursday. Committee Chair Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said he called the hearing because the state needed to take a serious look at its antiquated drug laws. The committee heard from medical professionals, nonprofit groups, and individuals, most of whom said the state would benefit from legalization. A representative of the State Sheriff's Association, though, worried about drugged driving and voiced concern that legal marijuana could add to the state's opioid epidemic, although he didn't say precisely how. [Ed: Multiple studies, including this recent one, have found that legal marijuana availability reduces opioid overdose deaths.]

Vermont Governor Says He Will Sign Legalization Bill. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) said he plans to sign House Bill 511, which legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sales. Scott said once he receives the bill from the legislature, his staff will review it to make sure it is "technically" correct. "Then I'll sign the bill," he said. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana via the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Parents Sue Over Medical Marijuana Access at School. The parents of an 11-year-old suffering from leukemia have sued the state and a suburban Chicago school district over a state law that bars her from taking her medicine at school. The medical marijuana law the state passed in 2014 prohibits the possession or use of marijuana on public school property. The family argues that provision of the law denies their child due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school district involved is School District 54 in Schaumburg.

Indiana Sees Bevy of CBD Bills, But Only a Restrictive One Gets a Hearing. Responding to an attorney general's opinion last November that restricted the use of CBD to epileptics on a state registry, lawmakers have filed a number of bills to ease access to the substance, but the only one yet set for a hearing, Senate Bill 294, would actually make access even more restrictive. That bill, filed by Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), would mandate bar-coded cards for people on the registry and limit sales to card holders.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Needle Exchange Bill Filed. Rep. Tony Rivero (D-Peoria) has filed a needle exchange bill, House Bill 2389. The bill would allow a city, town, or nonprofit organization to establish and operate "a needle and hypodermic syringe access program." The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

International

Portugal Moves Toward Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Portugal is on the cutting edge when it comes to drug reform, having decriminalized the possession of any drug in 2001, but it lags behind other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. Perhaps for not much longer, though: The parliament has now begun considering a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, and it is debating a draft bill that allows for personal cultivation. But that provision could be excised from the final bill, as the bill's sponsor, the Left Bloc, ponders concessions to make it more palatable to other parties.

Chonicle AM: Major Iran Drug Death Penalty Reform, NJ Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/11/18)

Iran moves to put the brakes on drug executions, another national poll has strong support for marijuana legalization, a legalization bill gets filed in New Jersey, a medical marijuana bill gets filed in Kentucky, and more.

Iran drug executions. We will see many fewer after the Islamic Republic approved reforms. (Hands Off Cain)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization, Opposition to Sessions Move. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday had support for marijuana legalization at 58% nationwide, roughly in line with recent polls from the Pew Trust (61%) and Gallup (64%). The only demographic groups not embracing legalization were Republicans (33%) and people over 65 (41%). Hispanics were evenly divided with 48% opposed and 48% in favor. But every group said they opposed the push to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with 70% opposing such a move. Marijuana "is here to stay, either for fun or to provide medical comfort," said pollster Tim Malloy in a statement. "And the message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hands off."

Study: Legal Marijuana Could Create a Million Jobs, More Than $100 Billion in Federal Taxes. A study from New Frontier Data, an analytics firm focused on the marijuana industry, estimates that if marijuana were legal nationwide, it would generate federal tax revenues of nearly $132 billion over the next eight years. The study also calculated that nationwide legalization would create nearly 800,000 jobs, with that number rising to more than 1.1. million by 2025.

Sessions, Gardner Meet Over DOJ's War on Weed: No Progress. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) met Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding their conflict over marijuana policy, but Gardner reported no progress. "Nobody changed their mind in today's meeting," he said. Gardner, who represents a legal marijuana state, has vowed to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions backs away from his order last week rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that law-abiding pot operations in legal marijuana states should be largely left alone.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex) filed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The bill would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of weed, 16 ounces of infused pot products, and 72 ounces of liquid infused products, but would not allow for home cultivation. It would also allow for the licensing of commercial grows and pot shops within a year of the bill's passage. Incoming Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports legalization. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Norfolk, Virginia, Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council in Virginia's second largest city passed a resolution Tuesday calling on state lawmakers to decriminalize pot possession. The resolution also called on the legislature to expand the list of medical conditions for which doctors can recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil Incoming Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made decriminalization a centerpiece of his compaign, often describing the issue in racial justice terms.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Secretary of State Allison Grimes announced Tuesday that a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, House Bill 166, has been filed. The bill would allow people suffering from a qualifying list of conditions to use medical marijuana. It would also allow patients to grow up to 12 plants in a locked and closed facility.

North Dakota Sets Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regions. The state Department of Health has established eight regions for where dispensaries can be located. State law allows for up to eight dispensaries, with more to be added if necessary. As of now, the eight regions include the state's largest cities and a 50-mile radius around them. The state is no yet taking applications for dispensaries or grow operations.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania Governor Declares Opioid Epidemic a Statewide Disaster. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed a statewide disaster declaration Tuesday regarding the state's opioid and heroin crisis. "While we have made progress in combating the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania's response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians," Wolf said in a statement. "I am taking this step to protect Pennsylvanians from this looming public health crisis, and I am using every tool at my disposal to get those suffering from substance use disorders into treatment, save more lives, and improve response coordination." The disaster declaration includes 13 initial initiatives in three broad areas: enhancing coordination and data collection to bolster state and local response, improving tools for families and first responders to save lives, and speeding up and expanding access to treatment.

International

Iran Reforms Death Penalty for Drug Offenses; Could Spare 5,000 Death Row Prisoners. The head of the Iranian judiciary on Tuesday made it official: Iran has reformed its death penalty statutes and will radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses. It does so by raising the weight threshold for a death sentence. Under the earlier law, possession of 5 kilograms of opium of 30 grams of heroin merited the death sentence; under the new law, it will take 50 kilos of opium or 2 kilos of heroin. The new thresholds are to be applied retroactively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row.

Paraguay Legalizes Medical Marijuana. Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes signed into law a medical marijuana bill on Wednesday. The measure legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana and cannabis oils, allows for local production of medical marijuana, and allows for the import of cannabis oil. Paraguay now joins Mexico and the South American countries of Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in allowing medical marijuana. Uruguay has legalized marijuana for all uses.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization, US Prisoner Numbers Drop Again, More... (1/10/18)

Vermont is just a governor's signature away from becoming the first state to legalize marijuana at the statehouse, Maine stakeholders reach agreement on a legalization implementation bill, the US prisoner population declines for the third straight year, and more.

Montpelier says yes to marijuana (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Ease Expungement of Old Convictions. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed a bill, Assembly Bill 1793, to make the expungement of past marijuana misdemeanors and the reduction of past marijuana felonies to misdemeanors automatic. The expungements and downgradings are part of the 2016 legalization initiative, Prop 64, but the initiative language required people to initiate proceedings themselves.

Maine Stakeholders Reach Agreement on Legalization Implementation Bill. The legislature's Marijuana Implementation Committee said Tuesday it has come up with a framework for regulating legal marijuana in the state. This marks the second effort to put the will of the voters into effect: Last year, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the original effort. Under the agreement, legal sales will be taxed at 17.5% and localities will have to opt-in to participate. Now the committee needs to actually draft the bill and get it to the governor.

Vermont Legislature Approves Noncommercial Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Wednesday took a final vote on a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not taxed and regulated sales. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will sign the bill into law. The bill, House Bill 511, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of two mature and four immature plants by persons 21 or over. It does not allow for legal commerce, instead "retaining criminal penalties for the possession, dispensing, or sale of larger amounts of marijuana." For now, anyway -- the bill also calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges "Racial Quota" in Medical Marijuana Program. A company that failed to win a slot in the state's medical marijuana program has filed a lawsuit claiming it lost out because of "an unconstitutional racial quota." PharmaCann Ohio Inc. said it finished 12th out of more than a hundred applicants for 12 cultivation licenses on the state's application ranking system, but that it lost out because a state quota system requires 15% of those licenses to go to minority-owned groups. That requirement gave an unfair boost to companies that scored lower in the rankings, the company argued, saying the racial requirement violates the Constitution's 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

Harm Reduction

Florida 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Bill Advances. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted Tuesday to advance a 911 Good Samaritan overdose bill, Senate Bill 970. The measure would grant immunity to drug possession charges to people who seek medical help for a drug overdose. Florida is one of only a handful of states that have yet to pass such a law. The measure still faces a vote in the Judiciary Committee before moving to a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

State and Federal Prison Populations Declined for Third Straight Year in 2016. The number of state and federal prisoners declined for the third straight year in 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Wednesday. At year's end 2016, the number of people in state and federal prison was 1,505,400, a 1% decrease from 2015. Federal prisons accounted for more than a third (34%) of the decrease, with the federal prison population dropping from 196,500 in 2015 to 189,200 in 2016. Nearly half (47%) of all federal prisoners are doing time for drug offenses.

Vermont Legislature Approves Noncommercial Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Vermont Senate Wednesday took a final vote on a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not taxed and regulated sales. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will sign the bill into law.

The governor says he will sign the bill. (Wikimedia)
If and when he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the legislative process. Eight states and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, but those were all through the initiative process.

The bill, House Bill 511, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of two mature and four immature plants by persons 21 or over. It does not allow for legal commerce, instead "retaining criminal penalties for the possession, dispensing, or sale of larger amounts of marijuana."

For now, anyway. The bill also calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31.

Vermont very nearly legalized it last year. The bill passed both houses of the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Scott, who said it needed small changes to win his approval. The Senate quickly approved the changes, but House Republicans blocked a needed vote on them during a short budget session last summer.

The New Hampshire House approved a similar legalization on Tuesday. The actions in both New England states come just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors deprioritizing federal pot law enforcement in states where it is legal.

While the threat of federal intervention was not the driving force in the two states' moves to legalize personal possession and cultivation, but not a legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana market, the lack of legal commerce may provide some cover from federal prosecutors, who would be left looking for people with an ounce of weed or a couple of plants. They probably have bigger fish to fry.

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Marijuana Legalization, CO Safe Injection Site Sought, More... (1/9/18)

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week of a possible renewed war on marijuana continues to reverberate, the New Hampshire House passes a bill to legalize possession and cultivation, but not sales; Colorado lawmakers want a safe injection site as part of their response to the opioid crisis, and more.

New Hampshire, live free and high
Marijuana Policy

Colorado GOP Senator, Sessions to Meet This Week. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who took to the Senate floor last week to denounce Attorney General Sessions' move to end the Obama administration's laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana, will meet with Sessions later this week. Neither Gardner's office nor the Justice Department would supply any more details, although it's safe to speculate that marijuana policy will be on the agenda.

Massachusetts US Attorney Will Not Rule Out Going After Marijuana Businesses. US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling has said he will not rule out prosecuting businesses involved with marijuana. Lelling suggested supporters of legal marijuana should just get it legalized: "Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do,"  Lelling said in a statement. "The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process."

New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Possession and Cultivation But Not Sales. The House voted 183-162 Tuesday morning to approve House Bill 656, which would legalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and allow individuals to grow up to three plants. The vote came after the House amended the bill to remove provisions allowing for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana sales. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Colorado Lawmakers Have Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Crisis, Including Safe Injection Site. A bipartisan committee of lawmakers has crafted a package of six bills aimed at curbing the opioid crisis in the state. One bill would limit initial prescriptions of opioids to just seven days; another would make naloxone available at public schools; another would take $3 million from marijuana tax revenues to fund education for doctors on pain management; but the most controversial would allow for a safe injection site to operate in Denver.

International

Canada's Saskatchewan Will Have Privately Owned Marijuana Stores. The provincial government announced Monday that legal marijuana will be sold by private operators issued marijuana retail licenses by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority. Retail stores will initially be allocated in areas of the province with more than 2,500 people, with some 40 municipalities and Indian reservations on the list. Saskatoon, the province's largest city, will eventually receive more licenses.

Colombia Sends 2,000 Troops to Restive Coca Port Town. More than 2,000 soldiers flew into the Pacific port town of Tumaco Monday to try to tamp down rising violence that has left more than 240 people dead in the past year. Tumaco is the municipality with the most coca cultivation of any in the country and has seen conflict between rival armed groups involved in the coca and cocaine trade, as well as attacks by traffickers on farmers who have participated in the government's coca crop substitution program.

Chronicle AM: Trump Touts "Very Harsh" Drug Policies, CA Marijuana "Sanctuary State" Bill, More... (1/8/17)

A California lawmaker revives his marijuana sanctuary state bill, President Trump lauds "very harsh" drug policies, Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues, and more.

President Trump seems to have a soft spot for "very harsh" drug policies and those who implement them. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

San Francisco Begins Legal Adult Marijuana Sales. The city by the bay joined the legal recreational marijuana sales era last Saturday, as the Apothecarium on Market Street opened its doors to a line around the block. Sales in the state began on January 1 in locations where permits and licenses had been issued, but San Francisco wasn't quite ready on day one. Now it is.

California Bill Would Make State a Marijuana Sanctuary State. In the wake of US Attorney Jeff Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) is renewing efforts to pass a bill he filed last year, Assembly Bill 1578. Modeled on the state's law making it a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the measure would prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from helping the DEA target the state's marijuana industry without a federal court order. The bill passed the Assembly last year before being stalled in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Okays First Dispensary. State regulators announced last Thursday that they had approved the state's first dispensary to begin selling medical marijuana once it becomes available from a licensed grow. The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem was the first out of the gate. The dispensary will open later this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but doesn't expect to have product on hand until mid-February. Regulators said they expected more dispensaries to open in coming weeks.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Lawmaker Wants to Automatically Jail Parolees, Probationers Who Fail Drug Tests for Illicit Opioids. State Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miami Valley) has proposed a bill that would automatically jail probationers or parolees who test positive for heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. The bill would also allow an option for treatment, but Antani said there are not enough treatment facilities and "until that time, jail is simply the safest place for someone to detox and to be safely placed if they are using heroin and fentanyl." The bill is not yet available on the legislative website, but some of Antani's other bills are, including one that says police body camera footage is not a public record and another that would toughen the requirements for getting initiatives on the ballot and for passing them.

Collateral Consequences

Indiana Bill Would End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) has filed Senate Bill 11, which would lift a ban on residents with drug felony convictions from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The ban derives from a federal law, but that law allows states to exempt themselves from using it, and a majority of states have done so. Under Bohacek's bill, drug felons who had completed probation or parole would be eligible.

Drug Policy

Trump Says Countries That Are "Very Harsh" on Drug Policy Do Better. Speaking at a Camp David press conference last Saturday, President Trump appeared to give a big thumbs up to drug war criminals such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte by saying countries that are "very harsh" on drug policy have fewer difficulties curbing the problem. His remarks came as he addressed the opioid crisis in the US. "We are going to do everything we can," said Trump. "It's a very difficult situation, difficult for many countries. Not so difficult for some, believe it or not, they take it very seriously, they're very harsh, those are the ones that have much less difficulty. But we are going to be working on that very, very hard this year, and I think we're going to make a big dent into the drug problem."

Harm Reduction

Maine's Tea Party Governor Blocks Easy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) continues to block new rules that would allow state residents to obtain the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. The state Board of Pharmacy unanimously approved letting pharmacists dispense the lifesaving drug without a prescription in August, but ever since, the plan has been stalled, with the rules still at the governor's office pending review. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz confirmed as much last Friday, but declined to offer any timeline or explanation regarding the delay. LePage vetoed a naloxone bill in 2016, only to be overridden by the legislature.

International

More Than 30 Killed in Mexico Drug Clashes. At least 32 people were killed in less than 24 hours late last week in the northern state of Chihuahua as rival drug gangs battled each other. The killings appear related to a dispute between La Linea, enforcers for the Juarez Cartel, and La Gente Neva, enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel. At least seven were reported killing in Chihuahua City, with most of the others being killed in Ciudad Juarez. Among the dead were at least five women and children.

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. (senate.gov)
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. (congress.gov)
"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.

Chronicle AM: AG's Pot Move Sparks Outrage, VT House Votes to Legalize, More... (1/5/18)

The attorney general's war on marijuana proves unpopular, legalization proves popular (again), Vermont moves forward on a legalization bill, and more.

the Pew Poll over time
Marijuana Policy

Sessions' Marijuana Shift Generates Bipartisan Opposition. Attorney General Sessions' announcement that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave state law-abiding marijuana operations alone, has ignited a firestorm of opposition, including high-ranking Republican elected officials. Among them are Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both representing legal pot states, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), representing a medical marijuana state. Less surprisingly, Democratic senators and representatives, as well as state government officials, have also denounced the move.

New Pew Poll Finds Six in 10 Americans Support Legalization. A Pew poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, nearly double the 32% who supported it only seven years ago in 2010. All demographic groups reported in the poll had majority support for legalization, except for two: Republicans at 43% and white evangelical Christians at 38%.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill (With No Sales). Ignoring the hubbub emanating from the nation's capital, the House on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but would not allow taxed and regulated sales. Instead, a task force appointed by the governor would study the issue and report back by December 15. The measure, House Bill 511, now goes back to the Senate, which already approved it last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R), has said he is comfortable with the bill and has signaled he will sign it. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Three Kettle Falls Five Members See Convictions Vacated, Charges Dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

Oklahoma Will Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in June. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

International

Turkish Interior Minister Says Police Should Break Drug Dealers' Legs. In the latest iteration of 21st Century drug war thuggery, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has called for the imposition of physical violence on some drug sellers. "If a dealer is near a school, the police have a duty to break his leg," he said. "Do it and blame me. Even if it costs five, 10, 20 years in jail -- we'll pay." Well, hey, at least he isn't calling for them to be killed, as in Malaysia, or actually killing them, as in Indonesia, and to a much greater extent, the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana, More... (1/4/18)

It took him a year, but Attorney General Sessions has now torn up the Cole memo, opening the way for a renewed federal war on marijuana. Vermont legislators are advancing a legalization bill anyway, New York's governor calls for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Is this what we have to look forward to? (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he had rescinded the Obama-era Cole memo, opening the way for federal prosecutors to go after marijuana in states where it is legal. The Cole memo, which directed prosecutors to take a laissez faire approach to state-legal marijuana except for specified circumstances (violence, diversion, use by children, etc.) undermines "the rule of law," Sessions said in a statement. "Today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all US attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country," he said.

New Hampshire Legislature Postpones Vote on Legalization Bill. The House voted Wednesday to postpone until the next calendar session a vote on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 656, because one of its chief proponents was out of the country. The bill would allow for personal possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as setting up a system of regulated and taxed sales.

Vermont Legalization Bill Moving Forward Fast. The House Judiciary Committee approved the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, and the House on Thursday rejected two attempts to slow passage. One Republican-led effort sought to delay a vote until mid-month, while the other sought to delay legalization until 2019. The House may well have passed the bill by the time you read these words; if so, it would then go back to the Senate for a final vote. The measure would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not retail sales.

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Attorney General Seeks Stiffer Sentences for Meth Sales. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) said Tuesday he intends to ask the legislature to impose tougher sentences for meth distribution, and he had a unique reason for doing so: He argued that it would lead to fewer people in prison because it would scare meth dealers away. He is proposing raising the maximum sentence for distribution from 10 to 15 years, among other enhanced penalties. Jackley is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed sweeping changes in the state's criminal justice system Thursday. Among them are: Eliminating cash bail for defendants facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges, speeding up trials by forcing prosecutors to share evidence before the trial date, and asset forfeiture reforms.

International

Mexico City Mayoral Candidate Calls for Personal Marijuana Cultivation. Mexico City residents should be able to grow their own marijuana, mayoral candidate Salomon Cherorivski said Wednesday. "My proposal is the legalization of private cultivation for personal consumption, not for sale, in homes in Mexico City," the center-left Chertorivski  told Reuters. Chertoriviski is seeking the nomination of a left-right coalition for the mayoral candidacy. That coalition is currently polling second to a left-wing party in the Mesoamerican megalopolis.

Australian Government Will Allow Medical Marijuana Exports. The federal government announced Thursday that it will allow the export of medical marijuana in a bid to boost opportunities for Australian producers. The proposal needs approval by the federal parliament, but the government is behind it, and the main opposition party has already signaled its support. Australian marijuana stocks surged on the news.

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