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Clemency and Pardon

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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


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

New Synthetic Substances

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Law Enforcement

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


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

Chronicle AM: Fed MJ Amendments Coming, Trump to Name Marino as Drug Czar, More... (9/5/17)

Trump nominates a drug czar, federal drug prosecutions are down, Obama's clemency program barely scratched the surface, British nitrous oxide prosecutions get laughed out of court, and more.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) is Trump's pick for job czar. (
Marijuana Policy

Federal Representatives File Marijuana Banking Amendments. Congressional supporters of legal marijuana have filed two amendments to the House Treasury appropriations bill. One would prohibit Treasury from spending money to punish banks that service the legal marijuana sector; the other bars Treasury from altering FinCEN's guidance to banking institutions. If passed, the bills would allow marijuana businesses in compliance with state laws to have access to the banking system.

Rep. Ted Lieu Files Amendment to Cut DEA Eradication Funding. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced an amendment to slash funding for the DEA's marijuana eradication program by half. Last year, the budget for eradication was $18 million, spent mainly on uprooting low-THC feral hemp in the Midwest. The program "is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana… it is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime," Lieu said.

California Regulation Bills Die As Legislature Gets Out of the Way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Friday bottled up ten bills aimed at regulating legal marijuana commerce, leaving the way clear for the state's new Bureau of Cannabis Control to finish its own rulemaking process before lawmakers come back with additional restrictions. "Legislative leaders are working with the administration on a budget trailer bill to resolve cannabis-related issues. It makes sense to take a comprehensive approach," Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) chairman of the committee, told the Marin Journal.

Colorado Lawsuit Claims DOJ Using IRS to Do Criminal Investigations of Pot Businesses. The owners of a medical marijuana business in the town of Silt have filed a lawsuit challenging IRS subpoenas to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division that seek information about how much marijuana the businesses have grown, who they sold it to, and when. The lawsuit alleges that the information is being sought for possible use in criminal investigations by the Justice Department. The IRS says it is simply trying to verify financial records.

Delaware Task Force on Marijuana Legalization Will Meet Wednesday. A state legislative task force charged with studying how marijuana might be legalized and making recommendations on doing so will meet for the first time on Wednesday. The task force was created by legislative resolution after a bill to legalize marijuana failed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

Trump to Name Pennsylvania Republican Congressman as Drug Czar. The White House announced Friday that President Trump will nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino had been mentioned as a possible drug czar earlier, but withdrew from consideration in May, citing family illness.

Law Enforcement

Federal Drug Prosecutions Fall Under Trump. Despite all the tough talk about cracking down on crime coming from the White House and the Justice Department, the latest data from the department show that overall criminal conviction and drug conviction are both down during the first 10 months of Fiscal Year 2017. Overall criminal convictions were down 12.3% over last year and are now lower than at any time since 2008. Federal drug convictions were also down by 4.0%, reaching their lowest level since 1997. Of all DOJ prosecutions, immigration offenses accounted for 53.1%, followed by drug conviction at 18.6%.


Report on Obama's Clemency Initiative Finds Only a Small Percentage of Those Eligible Actually Got Clemency. The US Sentencing Commission has released an analysis of the implementation of the Obama administration's 2014 clemency initiative, which encouraged long-serving, nonviolent drug offenders to apply for sentence cuts. The report found that while President Obama granted more commutations than any other president (1,928) and that most of them (1,696) were sentence commutations under the 2014 Clemency Initiative, the initiative only saw sentence cuts for only 3.4% of all federally imprisoned drug trafficking offenders who appeared to meet all the clemency criteria. On the other hand, those who did get sentence cuts saw an average reduction of nearly 12 years.


Philippines Drug War Has Nation's Jails Creaking Under the Pressure. While the horrid killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers had grabbed the world's attention, President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has also seen nearly 100,000 people arrested on drug charges, with almost all (94%) of them still in jail awaiting trial. As a result, the country's jails are now tremendously overcrowded, with one prison with an official capacity of 262 inmates now holding 2,975 -- three-fourths of them for drug offenses. It's not just the jails that are feeling the pinch; the Public Attorney's Office, which defends the cases, reports a backlog of 303,000 drug cases, nearly 2 ½ times the backlog when Duterte took office.

British Courts Throw Out Laughing Gas Prosecutions. In the past few days, two cases in which the government attempted to prosecute people for supplying nitrous oxide (laughing gas) have collapsed, with courts ruling that that the stuff is a medicine and thus exempt from last year's Psychoactive Substances Act. This is no surprise to drug experts, including the government's own drug advisors, who warned the law was overly broad and unworkable.

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Drug Sentences, Iran Hangs More Drug Prisoners, More... (1/17/17)

As his term winds down, President Obama continues to free more drug prisoners; New Jersey Dems plan a legalization bill, Wisconsin Dems plan a medical marijuana bill, and more.

Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (
Marijuana Policy

New York Times Editorial Board Calls on Feds to Remove Barriers to Marijuana Research. In a Tuesday editorial, the Times cited last week's report from the National Academy of Sciences as it called on the federal government to reschedule marijuana out of Schedule I or, at least, remove regulatory barriers to further research on it. Marijuana "does not belong with LSD and heroin on Schedule I," the Times declared, but "even if Mr. Trump and Congress are unwilling to reclassify marijuana, they could remove the regulatory barriers to research and let scientists get to work."

New Jersey Democrats Prepare Legalization Bill, Despite Christie's Opposition. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) said Monday that he and other Democrats will introduced a legalization bill in February, despite the opposition of Gov. Chris Christie (R). But Christie will be gone after the next election, and the legalization bill will still be there.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin Democrats to File Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D) are circulating a medical marijuana after Republican Assembly Speak Robin Vos said he would be open to the idea. Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is not in favor. The Democratic pair have until January 26 to come up with cosponsors and file the bill.


Obama Commutes Sentences for Another 200+ Drug Offenders, and Chelsea Manning, Too. President Obama Tuesday announced he has commuted the sentences of 209 federal prisoners, nearly all drug offenders, as well as imprisoned leaker Chelsea Manning. Tuesday's actions bring to 1,385 the number of sentences commuted under Obama, far exceeding the number of commutations granted by any modern president.


Iran Hangs 14 More Drug Prisoners. At least 14 people were hanged at Karaj Central Prison on drug-related charges in the past week, Iran Human Rights reported Tuesday. The group named 10 of the executed: Mohammad Soleimani, Ali Ebadi, Ali Reza Moradi, Majid Badarloo, Omid Garshasebi, Ali Yousefi, Seyed Ali Sorouri, Ebrahim Jafari, Ali Mohammad Lorestani, and Mohsen Jelokhani. The continuing executions come even as the Iranian parliament considers ending the death penalty for drug offenses.

Brazil Approves First Marijuana-Based Medicine. Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa)has issued a license for Metavyl, a drug containing 27 milligrams of THC and 25 milligrams of CBD per milliliter. The drug will be available as an oral spray. But Anvisa has designated Metavyl a "black label" drug, meaning it can only be used by patients who have not responded to conventional medicines.

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations Coming, HIA Sues DEA Over CBD, More... (1/16/17)

President Obama will commute more drug sentences before he leaves office this week, the hemp industry sues the DEA over its new CBD rule, New York's governor wants to fix his state's decriminalization law, and more.

Obama is about to free hundreds more nonviolent drug offenders. (
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor to Propose Clarifications to State's Decriminalization Law. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced plans to remove a loophole in the state's decades-old decriminalization law that lets police charge people with a criminal offense for possession in "public view." That loophole has been applied mainly against racial minorities. Governor Cuomo pushed heavily for closing that loophole in 2014 but was blocked by Senate Republicans who opposed a measure that would have standardized the penalty for all low-level possession as a violation, which would have resulted in a fine instead of arrest.

Medical Marijuana

HIA Sues DEA Over CBD. The Hemp Industries Association filed a judicial review action against the DEA last Friday over the agency's new rule establishing coding for marijuana derivatives such as CBD cannabis oil. The DEA overstepped its bounds and put at risk a booming cannabis and hemp industry, the suit alleges.

North Dakota Bill Would Delay Medical Marijuana Implementation. State Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 2154, that would suspend implementation of parts of the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law until the legislature could write a comprehensive law to govern medical marijuana in the state.


Obama Set to Commute Sentences for Hundreds More This Week. As the clock ticks down on his term, President Obama is set to keep on granting clemency to drug offenders up until the last minute. Justice Department officials say he will grant hundreds more commutations this week. He has already cut the sentences of more than 1,100 nonviolent drug offenders, more than any president in modern history.

Chronicle AM: Guam Gov Files Legalization Bill, More Iran Drug Executions, More... (1/11/17)

Marijuana legalization bills get filed in Guam and the District of Columbia, the Global Drug Policy Commission asks Obama to commute more sentences, Chris Christie vows to fight drug addiction during his last year in office, and more.

Iran has already executed ten drug offenders this year, with another dozen set to face the gallows. (
Marijuana Policy

Guam Governor Files Legalization Bill. Gov. Eddie Calvo Tuesday introduced a bill to legalize marijuana on the US island territory. "I am introducing this bill, not because I personally support the recreational use of marijuana, but as a solution to the regulatory labyrinth that sprouted from the voter-mandated medical marijuana program," Calvo said in a press release. The measure would legalize marijuana for people over 21 and impose a 15% tax on sales. Medical marijuana patients would be exempt from the tax.

DC Councilmember Files Bill for Legal Marijuana Commerce and Regulation. Councilmember David Grosso Tuesday filed a bill to establish a full tax and regulatory framework for legal marijuana commerce. If passed, the bill would put the District in conflict with Congress, which must approve city spending. But Grosso said that Congress had forced the District's hand with its meddling in city affairs.

Drug Policy

New Jersey Governor Vows to Heighten Fight Against Drug Addiction. In his final state of the state address, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he will spend his last year as governor fighting drug addiction. "Our state faces a crisis which is more urgent to New Jersey's families than any other issue we could confront," Christie told the legislature in Trenton. "Beyond the human cost, which is incalculable, there is a real cost to every part of life in New Jersey." Christie is pushing for treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug offenders, expanded drug courts, and expanded needle exchange programs, among other initiatives.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill to Clear Way for more Surplus Military Gear for Police Filed. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) has filed House Resolution 426, which would bar the federal government from limiting the sale or donation of excess federal property to state and local agencies for law enforcement purposes. The bill is a response to the Obama administration's short-lived decision last year to block the transfer of military-style equipment to domestic police forces.


Global Drug Policy Commission Asks Obama to Free More Prisoners. In an open letter to the outgoing president, the commission, which includes a number of former heads of state, thanked Obama for his efforts to shift from a punitive approach to drugs, noted that he had freed more than a thousand drug war prisoners through his clemency program, and asked for more: "We hope that in these final days of your presidency, you will use the power of your office to commute even more prison sentences of low-level drug offenders, and restore dignity and hope to their lives," the commission wrote. "May your example inspire not only your successor, but also governors across the country."


Colombia Coca Cultivation Set to Increase. Colombia's post-conflict minister, Rafael Pardo, said Tuesday that coca cultivation will increase this year, the third year in a row that has seen increases in the country's coca crop. Pardo said part of the reason was the government's turn away from using aerial eradication, but that a bigger part was the government's devaluation of the peso, which dramatically increased profit margins for drug traffickers.

Iran Starts New Year With Spate of Drug Executions. The world's leading drug executioner is at again. In the first week of the new year, Iran executed 16 people, 10 of them for drug offenses. Iran executes hundreds of people each year, with drug offenders accounting for an increasing number of them. In 2015, the last year with full statistics, 66% of all executions in Iran were for drug offenses. Another 12 prisoners were set to be executed for drug offenses this week.

ALERT: Urge President Obama to Grant Blanket Clemencies

President Obama's historic visit to a federal prison, July 2015
In April 2014, the Obama administration issued an historic call for clemency petitions. Since that time, Pres. Obama has released more than 1,200 people under this program, most of them nonviolent prisoners who've served ten years or more for low-level offenses

The next few weeks are Obama's last chance to show such mercy to more people. A range of organization and individuals, including mayors, foundation executives and philanthropists, formerly incarcerated including past clemency recipients and others, have urged the president to take a broader approach that will help more people. Advocates have also noted the program to date has largely left out prisoners convicted of marijuana offenses, and that it has failed to proportionately help female prisoners, many of whom were charged for the drug trafficking offenses of their partners under conspiracy laws.

Please use our form to urge Pres. Obama to grant as many more appropriate clemencies as he can. When you're done, please use this call tool from Weekly Actions to Resist Trump to call the White House too. Lastly, please use the comment board on this web page to post any petitions or other efforts you know about that advocate on individual clemency appeals or in support of the general clemency effort.

Suggestions for the president include:

  • issuing blanket commutations for crack cocaine prisoners still serving the longer sentences Congress repealed in 2010;
  • giving special priority to veterans, elderly prisoners, and prisoners sentenced to double mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses;
  • granting relief to prisoners who have multiple convictions but whose sentences were triggered only by drug offenses;
  • granting blanket relief to any drug war prisoners serving a more than 20-year sentence, possibly excepting only the highest-level kingpins, as well blanket relief to prisoners with much shorter sentences who have just one or two convictions;
  • reconsider clemency petitions from marijuana prisoners and women who may have been convicted under conspiracy laws; and
  • use existing categorizations about prisoners' risk of re-offending, based on prison officials' determinations as well as age and past offenses, as an expedited vetting process to be able to get these done before January 20th.

This is a brief moment in time when it is possible to change the lives of drug war victims in the most dramatic way possible. Your emails and phone calls to Pres. Obama could make all the difference for any number of people. Thank you for taking a stand for justice.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA has clarified that it still considers CBD to be illegal, Arkansas moves forward on implementation of its new program, Michigan gets legal dispensaries and a favorable court ruling, and more.


Last Wednesday, DEA clarified that, yes, it still considers CBD to be illegal. The DEA added a new code for marijuana extracts, including low-THC CBD cannabis oils, in the Federal Register. The code defines marijuana extracts as "an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant." That means that marijuana extracts, even those derived from low-THC industrial hemp, are considered marijuana and are placed under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

On Monday, imprisoned California dispensary operators were seeking a presidential commutation. Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, California, until their arrest by federal drug agents 10 years ago. They were prosecuted and convicted of federal drug crimes for their efforts and sentenced to 21 years 10 months and 20 years, respectively. Now, they are formally seeking sentence commutations from President Obama, who has cut the sentences of more than a thousand other federal drug prisoners so far this year. The pair point out that they would not have been prosecuted under current federal policies largely turning a blind eye to marijuana in states where it is legal, whether recreationally or merely for medical purposes.


On Tuesday, a state appeals court ruled that local officials can't use federal law to harass dispensaries. In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that local officials can't use the federal ban on marijuana to refuse to provide zoning for dispensaries. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (R) had no legal basis to claim that federal law trumps the state's voter-approved medical marijuana, the court held.


On Tuesday, state regulators set the number of commercial grows at five. The state Medical Marijuana Commission voted Tuesday to allow up to five commercial cultivation centers in the state. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, approved by voters last month, specified that there could be between four and eight centers; the commission opted to start on the low end. Grows won't start, however, until rules about growing, processing, and distribution are finalized.


Last Thursday,Mthe governor said the state should "get rid of" medical marijuana after legalization. Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage called for an end to the state's medical marijuana program: "If you've got recreational marijuana, it's over the counter," he said. "Why do we need medical marijuana?" But initiative backers said the intent of the legalization initiative was to respect medical marijuana and have "dual programs running side by side."


On Tuesday, the state's new medical marijuana laws went into effect. New state laws that will explicitly allow for dispensaries, regulate growing and processing facilities, and allow patients to use non-smokable forms of the drug are in effect as of Tuesday. "This new law will help Michiganders of all ages and with varying medical conditions access safe products to relieve their suffering," Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said after signing the bills back in September. "We can finally implement a solid framework that gives patients a safe source from which to purchase and utilize medical marijuana."

Also on Tuesday, the state appeals court ruled that the medical marijuana law protects people transporting it. The state Court of Appeals ruled that the state's medical marijuana law extends to people accused of illegally transporting it. A state law written after voters approved medical marijuana, requires that it be stored in the trunk or other inaccessible part of the vehicle, but the court held that law is invalid because it imposes additional requirements on medical marijuana users.


Last Thursday, the state Pharmacy Board issued draft rules for dispensaries. The board has issued proposed rules governing medical marijuana distribution in the state. The rules envision up to 40 dispensaries operating, with applicants having to show they have at least $250,000 in liquid assets. Applicants would have to pay a $5,000 non-refundable application fee, and if approved, would have to pay an $80,000 annual fee. Dispensaries would also have to pay a $100 fee for each advertisement, which would have to be approved by the board. The rules are open for comment until January 13. The Board of Pharmacy is one of three state agencies tasked with regulating the nascent industry. The State Medical Board has already released rules for doctors, and the Commerce Department is charged with regulating growers and processors.


Last Wednesday, Republicans rolled out a medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and state Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) held a press conference Wednesday to introduce their "conservative proposal" to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Their draft bill would set a limit of 50 grow houses statewide, with each allowed to operate one on-site and two storefront dispensaries. It appears to make no provision for patient or caregiver grows. And it limits medical marijuana eligibility to a small list of specified conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, PTSD, and Alzheimer's.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit]

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, ME Pot Opponents Give Up on Recount, More... (12/19/16)

President Obama has just commuted the sentences of another 153 drug offenders, Maine legalization foes concede their recount isn't going anywhere, Marc Emery's Montreal pot shops get raided in a hurry, and more.

Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (
Marijuana Policy

Guam Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Guamanian Gov. Eddie Calvo (R) says it's time to legalize it. "I want us to look at how states navigated into recreational marijuana," Calvo, a Republican, said in a Facebook post on Monday. "Let's figure it out and then tax the heck out of it and use those taxes to help fund our hospital, public safety and education." The comments come just days after Calvo vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own, saying it would "impose new and different duties upon our health and law enforcement agencies that will deplete their already strained resources."

Maine Legalization Opponents Give Up on Recount. The anti-legalization group that challenged the narrow victory of Question 1 in last month's elections has given up the ghost. No on 1 said Saturday it was apparent that the recount would not change the outcome. "We promised folks that if we came to a point where we could not see any chance of reversing the result, we would not drag the process out,"said Newell Augur, legal counsel for the No on 1 campaign. "We are satisfied that the count and the result are accurate." Now, the election result can be certified by the secretary of state, and legalization should go into effect sometime next month.

Medical Marijuana

Imprisoned California Dispensary Operators Seek Presidential Commutation. Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Modesto, California, until their arrest by federal drug agents 10 years ago. They were prosecuted and convicted of federal drug crimes for their efforts and sentenced to 21 years 10 months and 20 years, respectively. Now, they are formally seeking sentence commutations from President Obama, who has cut the sentences of more than a thousand other federal drug prisoners so far this year. The pair point out that they would not have been prosecuted under current federal policies largely turning a blind eye to marijuana in states where it is legal, whether recreationally or merely for medical purposes.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Another Round of Sentence Commutations. The White House announced Monday that President Obama has commuted the sentences of another 153 federal prisoners, bringing the total this year to more than 1,100. A list of the prisoners and their offenses is not yet available, but Obama's earlier commutations had been directed almost entirely at people serving draconian drug sentences.


Marc Emery's Montreal Pot Shops Raided One Day After Opening. Long-time Canadian pot gadfly Emery and nine others were arrested after a series of raids Friday on his chain of Cannabis Culture pot shops. While Canada is moving to legalize marijuana, it hasn't done so yet, and authorities are working to keep the lid on the bubbling industry. Emery slammed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for the raids. "The mayor's behavior is despicable," he said. "If the mayor of Montreal wants to keep his city backward, behind and full of oppression, then that is the statement he just made to the world." As conditions of his bond, Emery cannot consume marijuana, communicate with anyone involved in the Cannabis Culture shops, or be in the province of Quebec except to show up for court dates.

China Denies Being Source of New Synthetic Drugs. Chinese officials have called assertions that China is the source of synthetic opioids linked to the deaths of thousands of drug users "unsubstantiated." Such statements "lack the support of sufficient numbers of actual, confirmed cases," China's National Narcotics Control Commission told DEA's Beijing office in a fax dated Friday. The DEA has said that China is the predominant source of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin, which has been implicated in thousands of drug overdose deaths.

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