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Chronicle AM: Jail Populations Drop, Maine MJ Social Clubs Go Up in Smoke, More... (2/22/18)

An Arizona legalization poll has good numbers, asset forfeiture reform bills move in a couple of states, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on declining jail population numbers, Maine lawmakers appear ready to do away with pot social clubs the voters voted for, and more.

Jail populations have been declining for a decade. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A new poll from OH Predictive Insights and the Consumer Choice Center had support for marijuana legalization at nearly two-thirds. Some 62.9% of respondents supported taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, with 40.9% strongly supporting it. Voters in the state narrowly rejected a legalization initiative in 2016; efforts are underway to get one on the ballot this year.

Illinois Will Put Non-Binding Legalization Question on November Ballot. The Senate Executive Committee voted Wednesday to put a non-binding question on the ballot asking voters whether they would support marijuana legalization. Meanwhile, a legalization bill awaits action in the legislature.

Maine Lawmakers Erase Social Consumption. Lawmakers working to get the state's legal marijuana industry off the ground have eliminated any reference to social clubs where people can use marijuana, even though the initiative passed by voters in 2016 included them. "No other state has licensed social clubs," said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the implementation committee. "This is clearly the law, but it passed by the narrowest of margins. We ought to go slow and be conservative." The move came in a straw vote Wednesday; a final committee vote is set for Friday.

West Virginia Legalization Bill Filed. A Democratic congressional candidate who is also a current state senator filed a legalization bill Monday. Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) filed Senate Bill 593, which would allow adults to possess up to four ounces at home and two ounces in public and grow up to four seedlings and four mature plants. The bill does not contemplate a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana CBD Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 52, which would allow the legal sale of CBD cannabis oil with low THC levels. The bill is one of a number filed to address the state's CBD mess, which was created when the legislature passed a bill last year allowing for its use, but which left no means to legally obtain it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Bill to Lengthen Prison Sentences for Opioid Overdose Deaths of Minors Gets Hearing. The House Judicial Committee held a hearing Tuesday on House Bill 649, which would impose a prison sentence of up to 30 years for anyone convicted of selling or giving heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids to a minor who then overdoses and dies. Under the bill, even sharing drugs that result in a fatal overdose by a minor could result in a conviction. No vote was taken. Similar bills have been introduced in recent years, but went nowhere.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho House Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 447, which does not eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but does restrict it. The bill would ban police from seizing cash or property merely because it is in close proximity to an illegal substance and it would ban the seizure of vehicles unless they are connected to trafficking offenses. It also imposes new reporting requirements. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Kansas House Gives Preliminary Approval to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House voted Wednesday to give preliminary approval to House Bill 2459, which doesn't end civil asset forfeiture, but would impose stricter reporting requirements on all law enforcement agencies. The bill was set for a final House vote Thursday.

Incarceration

Jail Incarceration Rate Has Declined. The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced Thursday that the percentage of US residents in jail has declined since 2012. At midyear 2016, the jail incarceration rate was 229 per 100,000 residents, down 3.4% from 2012 and down 11.2% from 2008, the year jail populations peaked. There were some 740,700 inmates in jails at midyear 2016. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those in jail had not been convicted of a crime, but were awaiting trial.

Philadelphia DA Will Stop Jailing People Accused of Low-Level Crimes Who Can't Afford Cash Bail. District Attorney Larry Krasner said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who can't afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, including drug cases. The move is the latest in a growing movement that argues that the practice unfairly targets poor Americans. "There is absolutely no reason why someone who will show up for court, is not a risk of flight, is not a threat to their neighbors and community should sit in jail for days or weeks or months or years because they can't post a small amount of bail," said Krasner, a civil rights lawyer who ran on a liberal platform last year opposing mass incarceration. "We do not imprison the poor in the United States for the so called crime of poverty."

Chronicle AM: New Drug Czar Nominee, Purdue Pharma Stops Marketing Opioids to Docs, More... (2/12/18)

Good marijuana polling in Florida and New York, record marijuana sales in Colorado, the White House nominates a new drug czar, Purdue Pharma makes a big announcement, and more.

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin says it will no longer market its opioid products to doctors. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Slams Colorado GOP Senator in Fight Over Marijuana. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has been sticking up for his state by blocking Department of Justice nominees from consideration until Attorney General Sessions backs away from his decision to rescind Obama-era guidance to prosecutors allowing states to generally implement marijuana legalization without federal interference. And Jeff Sessions doesn't like it. He went after Gardner -- without mentioning his name -- in a speech at the National Sheriffs' Association Monday. "Too often, we've seen bad judgements, even politics enter into the work that we do," Sessions complained. "We're trying to confirm a number of important component heads at the Department of Justice. It's just getting to be frustrating, I've gotta tell you. Our nominee to the National Security Division -- the anti-terrorism division -- was approved unanimously in the committee. But because right now one senator's concerns over unrelated issues -- like reversing federal law against marijuana -- we can't even get a vote."

Colorado Sold a Billion and Half Dollars' Worth of Marijuana Last Year. It was a record-breaking year for the Rocky Mountain State. The Department of Revenue reported last Friday that legal marijuana sales topped $1.51 billion last year, with $1.09 billion coming from adult use sales and $416.52 million coming from medical marijuana sales. Those sales generated more than $247 million in taxes and fees for the state.

Florida Poll Has Healthy Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the University of North Florida finds that 62% of registered voters would back a state law regulating marijuana like alcohol, and 45% said they would "strongly support" such a law. The poll comes weeks after backers of a legalization initiative in the state conceded they did not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Massachusetts DAs Want Licenses Delayed for Cannabis Cafes, Delivery Services. In a letter last Friday to the Cannabis Control Commission, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association called on the commission to hold off on issuing licenses for cannabis social clubs and delivery services. "We have security concerns for these businesses, their employees and their customers," the prosecutors wrote. "Moreover, these businesses heighten our concerns relative to such issues as operating under the influence, increased marijuana access by persons under the age of 21, theft and diversion to the black market." The DAs also warned that immediately licensing such businesses would be "irresponsible, ill-informed, and dangerous."

Michigan Legalization Initiative Campaign Sees Organized Opposition. A political action committee has been formed to oppose the state's legalization initiative, which is currently awaiting confirmation that it has met signature-gathering requirements to appear on the November ballot. The Healthy and Productive Michigan Committee has $150,000, courtesy of a donation from anti-legalization crusader Kevin Sabet and his group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet says there could be more money coming, too.

New York Poll Has Healthy Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Siena College released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 56%. The figure was 60% for New York City, 55% for downstate suburbs, and even 52% in conservative upstate. Three-quarters of voters under 35 supported legalization, while voters 55 and older were evenly split. The poll comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is proposing a study to examine whether the state should legalize the weed.

Medical Marijuana

Utah House Fails to Pass Crucial Medical Marijuana Measure. The House last Friday voted to pass one medical marijuana bill, but failed to pass a crucial companion bill. The House passed House Bill 195, allowing terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, but then failed to pass House Bill 197, which would have actually implemented the law by instructing the state Department of Agriculture and Food to write rules on growing marijuana and contract with a third party grower to grow the plant. "One is dependent on the other," said the bills' sponsor, Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem), who is now second-guessing his decision to file the two bills separately. "Maybe it was the wrong policy, maybe it was the wrong decision." Meanwhile, a campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative before the voters in December is well underway.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oxycontin Maker Will Quit Marketing Opioids to Doctors. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, announced last Friday that it will stop marketing its opioid products to doctors. The move has been a key demand of numerous lawsuits blaming the company for helping to trigger the current wave of opioid misuse. Purdue said it had eliminated more than half its sales staff and will no longer send sales people to doctors' offices to discuss opioid drugs.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates White House Staffer to Head Drug Czar's Office. The White House confirmed last Friday that White House staffer Jim Carroll has been nominated to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Carroll has been a top aide to White House chief of staff John Kelly. Before that, he was an executive at Ford Motor Company, and before that, he was an assistant state prosecutor in Fairfax, Virginia, where he prosecuted some drug cases. He appears to have no public health experience. The drug czar's office has been empty throughout the Trump administration -- a previous nominee, Tom Marino, was forced to step down after he was linked to a bill DEA officials said limited their ability to prosecute corporate opioid cases -- and just last week, the administration once again threatened to drastically cut its budget.

International

Philippine Senator Jailed for Opposing Duterte's Drug Crackdown Calls on Him to Support ICC Probe of Drug War Deaths. Sen. Leila de Lima, who has been imprisoned for a year now on trumped up charges for opposing President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, challenged Duterte in a statement Saturday to support a probe by the International Criminal Court into "the rash of extrajudicial killings" unleashed by Philippines police. "Thousands of Filipinos are getting killed, and sadly, President Duterte remains unperturbed," said De Lima. "He chooses to ignore reports of glaring human rights violations and abuses by police and security forces who put law in their hands instead of facing the issue head-on. If he has nothing to hide, then it's high time for the President to support the independent investigation into the human rights violations and abuses incessantly happening under his regime," she added.

Britain's West Midland Police Announce Plan for Prescription Heroin, Safe Injection Sites. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has proposed allowing the provision of medicinal heroin to users unresponsive to other treatments, as well as a panoply of harm reduction measures, including "special consumption rooms," or safe injection sites. Jamieson said he hoped to see the proposals implemented by 2020.

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.

Kratom

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."

International

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: CA MJ Bank Plan, Israel Decrim Draft, No Drug Testing SD Lawmakers, More... (1/31/18)

California's treasurer wants to create a public bank for pot businesses, a New Jersey poll on legalization has mixed results, the Indiana House passes a CBD bill, Israel takes another step toward marijuana decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana decriminalization is coming to Israel.
Marijuana Policy

California Treasurers Lay Out Plan to Create Public Marijuana Bank. State Treasurer John Chiang on Tuesday laid out a plan to create a public bank for marijuana businesses, a defiant move in the face of the Trump administration's opposition to legal marijuana. "We are contending with the emergence of a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry that needs banking services, and a private banking industry that is stymied by federal law in meeting the needs of the new industry," said Chiang, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. "The current administration is out of step with the will of the people, not only those in California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis."

New Jersey Pot Poll Has Mixed Results. A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University has strong support for further marijuana law reforms in the state, but only a minority in favor of outright legalization. The poll found 42% said legalize it, 26% said only decriminalize it, and 27% said it should be legal only for medical purposes. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) champions the cause of legalization and with one legalization bill already filed in the Senate and another set to be filed in the House.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana House Approves CBD Bill. The House voted 93-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 1214, which would allow anyone to buy and use CBD cannabis oil, provided it contains less than 0.3% THC. The bill also gets around federal controlled substance prohibitions by designating CBD oil as an exempt hemp product. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employers Must Ignore Off-Work Marijuana Use, Cease Testing Applicants. As of Thursday, Maine becomes the first state to protect workers from adverse employer action because of their use of marijuana. The state Department of Labor has removed marijuana from the list of drugs for which employers can test in its model drug policy. The legalization initiative passed by voters bars employers from refusing to employ or otherwise penalizing any person age 21 or older based on that person"s "consuming marijuana outside the … employer's property. Employers can still discipline workers who are high on the job, but a positive drug test will not be deemed sufficient to conclude that a worker was under the influence at work.

South Dakota Lawmakers Reject Drug Testing Themselves. The House State Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to kill House Bill 1133, which would have required lawmakers to be drug tested within two weeks of taking office. The committee "deferred the bill to the 41st day," of the legislature's 40-day legislative session.

International

Israeli Ministry Releases Marijuana Decriminalization Draft Legislation. The Public Security Ministry on Tuesday published draft legislation to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the proposal, being caught with pot would lead to a $265 fine on a first offense, a $530 fine on a second offense, and possible prosecution for a third offense. The draft language doesn't specify the amount of marijuana being decriminalized, but it will likely be up to 15 grams. The draft legislation will be submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on February 18.

Chronicle AM: RI MedMJ Expansion Proposed, Trump's Junior Drug Czar to Step Down, More... (1/25/18)

It's the time of year for marijuana to start popping up in state legislatures, Rhode Island's governor proposes expanding the state's medical marijuana system, Trump's wet-behind-the-ears deputy drug czar is stepping down, a new poll finds support for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) wants to quadruple the number of dispensaries in the state. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

US Senators and Reps Send Trump Letter Urging Respect for State Marijuana Laws. Some 54 US senators and representatives sent a letter Thursday to President Trump expressing their "urgent concern" about threats to legal marijuana states and urging him to uphold his campaign pledge to respect state marijuana laws.

Iowa Senate Subcommittee Advances Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill. A Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee has approved Senate File 342, which would reduce possession of five grams of marijuana or less from a serious misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor. That would reduce possible jail time from a year to no more than 30 days and reduce fines from up to $1,000 to $65. The bill now goes before the committee as a whole.

New Mexico Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) has filed Senate Bill 141, which would reduce the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with less than an ounce would be subject to a fine of no more than $50 for a first offense and up to 15 days in jail. Possession would remain a misdemeanor. The Senate approved a similar bill last year, but it was never taken up in the House. Cervantes is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana House Calls for Study of Medical Marijuana. The House voted unanimously Thursday in support of a resolution calling for a legislative committee to study medical marijuana. If the Senate concurs, a special council comprised of lawmakers from both parties would do the study over the summer.

Kentucky House Calls for Feds to Remove Roadblocks to Marijuana Research. The House voted 73-5 Wednesday to approve a resolution calling on the DEA and the FDA to "expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of the use of marijuana for certain health purposes."

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. As part of her 2018-2019 budget plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing quadrupling the number of dispensaries in the state from three to 12, adding "acute pain" to the list of qualifying conditions, and allowing Connecticut and Massachusetts cardholders to buy medical marijuana in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump's 24-Year-Old Deputy Drug Czar to Step Down. Taylor Weyeneth, the 24-year-old former Trump campaigner who was given a senior post in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), will step down at the end of this month. Weyeneth's high-ranking position without any apparent qualifications for it, as well as the revelation that he had a habit of not showing up for work at a law firm where has was previously employed, aroused controversy earlier this month.

Sentencing

Poll Finds Broad Support for Reforming Criminal Justice System. A new Public Opinion Strategies poll finds that fully three-quarters of the American public believe the criminal justice system needs "significant improvements," with strong majorities in both parties in agreement on the issue. Similarly, strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans don't want to spend money locking up nonviolent offenders and that the primary goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation. Mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders are "toxic with voters across the political spectrum," the poll found, with 87% strongly supporting replacing them with a system that allows more judicial discretion.

Chronicle 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.

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.

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. (senate.gov)
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: Bush AG Criticizes Sessions' War on Weed, Scary AZ Pot Poll, More... (11/22/17)

Former GOP Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has no use for Jeff Sessions' would-be war on weed, a new poll has disheartening findings for Arizona legalizers, the Detroit city council wants to undo the will of the voters on medical marijuana dispensaries, and more.

Marijuana Policy

GW Bush Attorney General Says Sessions' War on Weed is a Waste of Time. "With respect to everything else going on in the US, this is pretty low priority," Alberto Gonzales, a Republican who was attorney general under President George W. Bush, told Newsweek, referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' desire to prosecute marijuana businesses in states where it is legal. "To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we've got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on."

Arizona Poll Has Bad News for Legalizers, But… A new statewide poll from OH Predictive Strategies has support for legalization at only 35%, with 48% opposed. The poll was an automated phone survey of 600 state residents. Those polls send calls only to people with landline phones, which could skew the results because older people are more likely to have landlines. Arizona's 2016 legalization initiative lost, but garnered a respectable 48.68% of the vote. A group called Safer Arizona is already out gathering signatures for its legalization initiative aimed at the 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Lawsuit Filed Over Medical Marijuana Implementation. A Miami-Dade nursery and a man suffering from epilepsy have sued the administration of Gov. Rick Scott (R) over the slow implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. The nursery wants a judge to order the Health Department to hand out new licenses for treatment centers, while the patient said the department is blocking patients from getting access to their medicine.

Detroit City Council Wants to Undo Will of Voters on Dispensaries. The city council is asking the city's legal department to challenge two voter-approved medical marijuana ordinances that ease rules on dispensaries in the city. The voters acted in November after the council passed an ordinance last March that made it more difficult for dispensaries to operate. The council approved a resolution on a 7-1 vote asking the legal department to challenge the results in court.

International

Indian Bill to Legalize Marijuana Heads to Parliament. A private member's bill to legalize marijuana will be introduced in parliament during this year's winter session. The bill is sponsored by MP Dharamyira Gandhi, who has long supported the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

Chronicle AM: MA Drug Lab Scandal Redux, PA MJ Support Strong and Rising, More... (9/22/17)

Pennsylvania support for marijuana legalization is strong and rising, Attorney General Sessions mixes drug and immigration policy, another federal court rules against Stingray, a second Massachusetts drug lab scandal could see thousands more cases dismissed, and more.

Massachusetts state drug testing labs continue to generate serious problems -- and thousands of case dismissals. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Issue Temporary Business Licenses. Regulators will introduce a temporary marijuana business licensing system to ensure a smooth start to regulated marijuana sales beginning on January 1, the state's top marijuana official announced Thursday. Businesses would only need to provide some "pretty basic information" for the temporary licenses, said Lori Ajax. The application will be available in early December, after temporary rulemaking is completed. "We don't have time to do regular rulemaking," she explained, adding that would come next year.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Strong, Rising Support for Legalization. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 59%, with only 31% opposed and 9% undecided. The pro-legalization numbers are the highest ever in the poll, up three points since May and a whopping 19 points since June2015.

Immigration

Sessions Blames Lax Immigration Policies for Drug Gangs, Cartels. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used concerns over drug gangs and cartels to attack "loose" immigration policy in remarks in Boston Thursday. He specifically singled out MS-13 as an example, while failing to note the gang's origins among Salvadoran refugees fleeing a US-sponsored civil war there in the 1980s. He also attacked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. "The gangs use this program as a means to recruit members," Sessions said. "We cannot allow young people to be brought into this life of crime." Sessions did not mention that DACA participants are carefully vetted and must have no serious criminal records or that 90% of them are working or in college.

Law Enforcement

DC Court Latest to Rule Against Warrantless Stingray Searches. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the warrantless use of a Stingray cell-site stimulator to monitor phone calls was unconstitutional. The ruling was only the latest in a string of recent federal appeals court judgments that ruled using the Stingray amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the DC case, the court found the violation so egregious that it excluded all evidence derived from it, overturning the conviction of Prince Jones on drug charges.

ACLU Calls for Thousands More Massachusetts Drug Cases to Be Thrown Out in Drug Lab Scandals. Bay State judges have already dismissed more than 20,000 drug cases tainted by the misbehavior of state lab chemist Annie Dookhan, but now the ACLU is calling for judges and prosecutors to dismiss thousands more in a second case of lab tech misbehavior. Amherst state lab chemist Sonja Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the lab and admitted she was high nearly every day from 2004 to 2013 on cocaine, meth, and other stimulant drugs she pilfered from her job. The ACLU charges that prosecutors have sought to minimize Farak's misbehavior in a bid to preserve drug cases and convictions and failed to notify defendants that the evidence in their cases had been tainted. "Far worse than the Hinton scandal, the Amherst scandal combines a lab crisis with prosecutorial misconduct of unparalleled scope and irremediable consequence," the ACLU argued. "This latest systemic lapse in the justice system demands a most emphatic response." And that response would be mass dismissals.

International

Iceland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Members of the Reform Party and the Pirate Party have banded together to file a bill that would legalize marijuana in the North Atlantic island nation. The bill would allow anyone 20 and over to possess and cultivate pot for personal use -- with a government permit. The bill would also allow retail sales and consumption lounges, but not at the same business.

Australia to See First Music Festival With On-Site Pill Testing. The Spilt Milk Festival in Canberra will provide on-site pill testing for attendees in a harm reduction move aimed at reducing overdoses and other bad drug interactions. The Australian Capital Territory government has given the okay for the project, which will be operated by the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events. That consortium consists of Harm Reduction Australia, the Australian Drug Observatory, the Noffs Foundation, DanceWize, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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