Marijuana Legalization

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Chronicle AM: OK Legalization Init Looks Less Likely, Ted Cruz Attack Backfires, More... (8/7/18)

The Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative has far fewer signatures than organizers claimed last week, marijuana is seeping into congressional and senatorial campaigns, and more.

Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke raked in big campaign bucks after Ted Cruz accused him of being a drug legalizer. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ads Backfire as Beto O'Rourke Has Huge Fundraising Weekend. Incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last Friday released a trio of ads attacking Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke, including one that claimed O'Rourke said "we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin." O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and, as an El Paso city council member, called in 2009 for a discussion about ending the drug war, including drug legalization, which is distinct from endorsing drug legalization. In the wake of the Cruz attack ads, though, O'Rourke reported raising $1.2 million over the weekend from some 39,000 grassroots contributions.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Looks Less Likely. Last week, Green the Vote, the group behind the State Question 797 legalization initiative, claimed it had more than 132,000 raw signatures -- slightly more than the number of valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot -- but the group admitted Tuesday morning that the actual raw signature count was actually around 75,000. The deadline for handing in signatures is Wednesday. "I've been working 24 hours a day to bring in those signatures to try to make up for it so that I wouldn't be letting you down, and I understand I have let you down," Green the Vote's Isaac Caviness said. "No matter what -- if we have the signatures, if we don't have the signatures -- I have let you down, and I accept that."

Wisconsin US Rep. Sean Duffy Slams Democratic Opponents Over Marijuana Legalization. Incumbent Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) is attempting to use support for marijuana law reform as a cudgel with which to attack his Democratic opponents. Both 7th District Democratic primary contenders, Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewart, have come out in support of marijuana legalization. When asked about his reaction, Duffy responded thusly: "I'm the father of eight kids and as a former prosecutor and now a congressman, I see what's happening in America with a drug epidemic, from opioids to meth to heroin. I think marijuana is a gateway drug to these other drugs," Duffy said.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Revised Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed a revised set of emergency regulations to govern medical marijuana use in the state. The first attempt at emergency rules blew up in Fallin's and the state Health Department's face, being widely criticized for provisions banning the sale of medical marijuana, requiring a pharmacist to be present in dispensaries, and requiring that women "of child-bearing age" undergo a pregnancy test. None of those provisions remain in the new rules, which Fallin called "very basic" and a good basis for developing a comprehensive regulatory regime.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Key NJ Pol Now Supports Legal Pot, UK Drug Deaths Spark Criticism, More... (8/6/18)

New Jersey's assembly speaker gets behind marijuana legalization, Ted Cruz attacks Beto O'Rourke as a drug legalizer, record-breaking British drug deaths spark a critique of government drug policy, and more.

Fentanyl deaths nearly doubled last year in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Key New Jersey Politico Now Supports Marijuana Legalization. Assembly Speaker Chris Coughlin (D-Middlesex), a key player in the legislature, said Friday he supported making the state the next one to legalize marijuana. Both Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) have both been more enthusiastic about legalization than Coughlin up until now. "For folks who don't want to legalize it, I understand their view. But I would ask, are we satisfied with the status quo," Coughlin said on his regular "Speak to the Speaker" radio program. "Use of marijuana is still a constant. Three out of five drug arrests are for marijuana. African Americans are three times more likely to get arrested for marijuana," Coughlin said. "We're trying to address those things and I think, if you got the right bill, we'll go ahead and try to pass it."

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Awards First Medical Marijuana Processing Licenses. The state Department of Commerce on Friday issued seven provisional licenses to aspiring medical marijuana processors. This is just the first round of licensing for processors; the state could license up to 40 such operations.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ad Slams Beto O'Rourke as Drug Legalizer. With the underdog Democrat nipping at his heels -- a recent poll has the Texas senate race as a statistical dead heat -- incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is using an ad that accuses O'Rourke of being a drug legalizer. "Beto O'Rourke said we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin," says one ad running in Lubbock. The O'Rouke campaign said that is not true -- that O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and says we need a larger discussion about ending the war on drugs. The campaign also warned supporters more than a month ago such attacks would be forthcoming. "It is these kinds of mischaracterizations of our positions, preying on the fears and anxieties of our fellow Texans, that they will try to use as they have used in the past," O'Rourke said on June 29.

International

British Drug Deaths at Record High (Again), Fentanyl Toll Doubles. The British government has reported 3,756 drug deaths in 2017, making the year the fifth in a row to see increases in drug deaths. The 2017 figure is the highest since comparable records began in 1993. The most dramatic drug death increases were around fentanyl and its analogs, which nearly doubled in the space of a year.

British Reform Advocates Rip Government Policies over Drug Deaths. "After five years of record or near-record drug-related deaths, the UK Government has nowhere left to hide. They are responsible for vulnerable people dying in droves, because they are blocking, or refusing to fund, measures proven to save lives in other countries," said Martin Powell of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. "No one has ever died from an overdose in a supervised drug consumption room or heroin prescribing clinic, anywhere. In Portugal -- where drug use is decriminalized -- the drug death rate is less than a tenth of ours. So Government claims that these deaths are all the result of an aging population of drug users is a lie. The Government must fully fund drug treatment, stop criminalizing people who use drugs, and allow supervised drug consumption rooms now. Longer term, all political parties should back legal regulation of the drug market to take it out of the hands of criminals, save lives, reduce crime, and protect our communities." Also commenting was Rose Humphries of the Anyone's Child Project, who lost two sons to heroin overdoses: "It upsets me to see the figures for drug deaths at record levels year after year. The government is complicit in these deaths because it will not try the successful measures that work in other countries to reduce drug deaths and crime. Those of us in the Anyone's Child campaign can see the evidence of what works -- including legally regulating drugs. Why can't the government?" she asked.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Three MO MedMJ Inits Qualify for Ballot, House Panel Queries Big Pharma, More.... (8/3/18)

Oregon's US Attorney fires a warning shot over pot, three different Missouri medical marijuana initiatives qualify for the November ballot, a House panel wants answers on opioids from three big pharmaceutical companies, and more.

Show Me State voters will be voting on three separate medical marijuana initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Says Marijuana Industry There Is Out of Control. Oregon US Attorney Billy J. Williams fired a warning shot across the bow of the state's pot industry on Thursday. Responding to a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report this week that accused the state's marijuana growers of overproduction, Williams minced few words: "The recent HIDTA Insight Report on marijuana production, distribution, and consumption in Oregon confirms what we already know -- it is out of control," he said. "The industry's considerable and negative impacts on land use, water, and underage consumption must be addressed immediately. State officials should respond quickly and in a comprehensive manner to address the many concerns raised by this assessment," said Williams. "To date, we've seen insufficient progress from our state officials. We are alarmed by revelations from industry representatives, landowners, and law enforcement partners describing the insufficient and underfunded regulatory and enforcement structure governing both recreational and medical use. A weakly-regulated industry will continue to detract from the livability and health of communities throughout the state."

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Administration in Schools. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has signed into law a bill that requires public schools to allow the parents of sick children to administer medical marijuana to them at school. The law allows parents to administer "cannabis-infused products" if both the child and the parents have been approved under the state's medical marijuana law.

Missouri Will Vote on Not One, Not Two, But Three Medical Marijuana Initiatives. The secretary of state's office on Thursday certified three different medical marijuana initiatives for the November ballot. There is a constitutional amendment from New Approach Missouri, as well as a constitutional amendment from Find the Cures and an easier to amend statutory initiative from Lowell Pearson, a Jefferson City attorney.

Oklahoma Health Board Approves New Medical Marijuana Rules. The Board of Health on Wednesday adopted new rules to govern the state's medical marijuana system. The new rules amend or totally revoke the original proposed rules, which included a ban on the sale of smokeable marijuana, a requirement that a pharmacist be present at dispensaries, and a requirement that women of childbearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana. Also gone are guidelines that limited THC levels.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Panel Presses Drug Companies on Opioid Crisis. The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent letters to three companies that manufacture opioids requesting they appear before the committee to answer questions about how they marketed opioids and whether they ignored evidence of abuse of their products. The companies are Insys Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma. The letters make no mention of ensuring that chronic pain patients continue to receive adequate supplies of opioids.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Endorses Marijuana Legalization, States Ask Congress to Help on Banking, More... (8/2/18)

New York's governor gets behind marijuana legalization, the National Conference of State Legislatures wants Congress to fix the legal pot industry's banking problems, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gets on board with marijuana legalization. (Pat Arnow/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Legislatures Ask Congress to Help Marijuana Businesses Access Financial Services. The National Council of State Legislatures approved a directive Wednesday calling on Congress to help legal marijuana businesses gain access to banking and financial services. The policy directive will help guide the council's lobbying activities in Washington.

New York Governor Endorses Marijuana Legalization, Forms Working Group. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Thursday that he has formed a working group to draft legislation to legalize marijuana. Cuomo said he hoped the legislature would consider a legalization bill in the next session. The legislation will be based on the findings of a multi-agency study headed by the state Health Department that was released last month. "As we work to implement the report's recommendations through legislation, we must consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice, and state revenue, and mitigate any risks associated with it," he said.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Dispensaries Now Offering Buds. For the first time since state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in the state, patients can buy dried flowers from plants grown under the legal system. At least 16 dispensaries in the state were offering buds as of Wednesday, with more certain to follow as harvest season looms. But under state law, the buds cannot be smoked -- only vaped.

Why Marijuana Will Play a Major Role in the Next Two National Elections [FEATURE]

Last week, the San Jose Convention Center hosted the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) 2018 Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. More than 7,000 marijuana industry players and hopefuls crammed into exhibition halls and conference rooms for the three-day confab, located squarely in the heart of the world's largest legal marijuana market -- California.

The variety of stuff on display was mind-boggling: Armored cars, safes, "California compliant" marijuana delivery vans, multi-thousand-dollar extraction devices of gleaming metal and shining glass, lighting systems, cooling systems, myriad forms of packaging, business management systems, POS systems, cannabis industry talent headhunters, greenhouses, modular grow fixtures, insurance companies, law firms, real estate firms -- vegan CBD gummies -- and much, much more. And while a few tie-dyes could be spotted in the crowds, they were few and far between.

While for most attendees the expo was all about business, the legal marijuana business still has to ponder the specter of federal marijuana prohibition actually being enforced. And even at the state level -- where the industry can make money -- it is still constrained by the annoying fact that adult use marijuana is only legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. One panel of experienced marijuana watchers zoomed in on the politics of pot law reform to try to divine what the near future holds -- not so much for the industry, but in terms of consolidating the political victories that have already seen marijuana move from the back alleys to, well, shiny big city convention centers.

The discussion among panelists NCIA director of governmental relations Mike Correia; Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, covered a variety of topics and sketched the outlines of what pot politics could look like and achieve between now and the 2020 elections.

Federal Legislation

DPA attorney Forman pointed to three pieces of federal marijuana legislation:

  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, S. 3032, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with five Republican and four Democratic cosponsors. The bill would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not apply to people acting in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal.
  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, S. 3174, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The Marijuana Justice Act, S. 1689, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by a virtual who's who of Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for marijuana commerce.

While both the Schumer bill and the Booker bill would decriminalize marijuana, the STATES Act, which would only apply in places it's already legal, is more likely to gain traction, said Forman, a position seconded by Correia.

"The STATES Act is most likely to move," said Correia, who spends his days haunting the corridors of power on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for the industry. "Congress is incremental."

Movement could come faster if Democrats take the House or Senate, he said. "Maybe the Democrats will be more aggressive," Correia suggested, drawing a comparison with movement on gay and lesbian issues in recent years.

Not so fast, said Hudak, noting that key congressional committee chairs have bottled up marijuana bills so far. "Until both parties stop putting in foes of reform in leadership positions, there will be no progress," he said. "And it's not just the GOP." (Until a few months ago he might have been referring to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who represents the world's largest legal pot market but who only dropped her opposition to legalization last May in the face of a primary challenge and is only beginning to shed last century's prohibitionist ideology.)

There is no reason for Democrats to put enemies of reform in leadership positions, Hudak said. "Cannabis is already a Democratic core value."

"Marijuana legalization could pass Congress right now," Correia argued, "but it doesn't get any hearings; it doesn't get any votes."

If Congress Fails to Act

DPA's Forman explained that while it is now clear that states have the right to not criminalize marijuana and not enforce federal prohibition, a hostile Justice Department could still potentially wreak havoc.

"What is untested in the courts is whether federal preemption could block regulation," she said. In other words, it's possible that the Justice Department could blow up states' ability to tax and regulate the industry.

Forman noted that medical marijuana states are currently protected from Justice Department interference by the repeated passage of amendments to spending bills blocking the DOJ from using its funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal.

"We need the same for adult use," she said.

Without legislation protecting marijuana, "the executive branch can do things, it could be more aggressive," said Hudak. But he added that doing so would have a price. "That could affect the department's working relationship with the states," he warned.

Correia thought Justice Department meddling was unlikely, despite Jeff Sessions' druthers. "It makes zero sense politically to interfere," he argued, pointing to marijuana's popularity in opinion polls.

Hudak pointed out a possible flip side to a hostile executive power. "A reform-minded president could do a lot," he said, perhaps thinking of the Obama administration's Cole memo laying out how federal prosecutors would lay off legal marijuana in the states. Despite Sessions having nullified the Cole memo, it still seems to be largely the approach of the land.

The 2018 Midterms

"This is an exciting year for cannabis policy politics," said Hudak, pointing to the example of Texas, where progressive Democratic challenger and legalization advocate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is closing in on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

"Beto is getting close to Cruz, and the whole time, he's screaming about his support for cannabis reform. That's transformational," he said. "Politicians lag behind; they've been terrified of this issue. Now it's politically beneficial. If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you."

It's still an uphill battle in Texas, though. Cruz is leading O'Rourke by 8.4 points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But that's only half as much as Cruz's 16-point victory in his 2012 Senate race, and O'Rourke has three more months to move up. And just today, a new Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz leading only 41% to 39%, well within the poll's margin of error.

According to Correia, trying to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill has led to lessons learned: "We see no point in trying to work with the GOP any longer," he said. "We'll be giving money to challengers in competitive races. The Democrats are thinking about this; they will run on marijuana."

The 2020 Election

It looks like marijuana is going to be a popular issue in 2020 -- or at least the people thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination seem to think so.

"Potential Democratic candidates are getting their names on big pot bills," Forman noted.

Marijuana is also likely to be on state ballots in 2020, and that will be good for Democrats, said Hudak.

"There will be more initiatives, and those drive Democratic turnout," he argued. "In 2012, Democrats in Colorado voted for cannabis -- and for president, too. Democratic politicians are seeing this."

But Correia said the current president could be a wild card here (as in so many other places): "Trump might just decide to steal the issue, to take it off the table."

Given that Trump has signaled support for the STATES Act, and given Trump's willingness to adopt any position if he thinks it brings him political gain, that's not impossible. And it would take some immeasurable oomph out of Democratic sails.

The Next States to Legalize

Michigan will vote on a legalization initiative in November, and there will be efforts in Arizona and Ohio in 2020, the panelists said. But grassroots initiatives could also bubble up in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, both of which saw serious efforts this year that will almost certainly not make the November ballot but do lay the groundwork for the next cycle.

Vermont became the first state to free the weed via the legislative process (although it does not allow retail sales), but Correia sketched out how the next couple of years could see Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island fall in line behind it. By the time November 2020 rolls around, most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states could be legal, with Illinois and Michigan creating a major toehold in the heart of the Midwest.

When it comes to marijuana policy and ending pot prohibition, it looks to be a very interesting and fruitful next couple of years.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Yet Another Good News Pot Poll, Colombia's Santos Rips Drug War, More... (8/1/18)

Another national poll has a solid majority for marijuana legalization, Manhattan quits prosecuting most small-time pot cases, Colombia's outgoing president takes a parting shot at drug prohibition, and more.

Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has some parting words for the war on drugs. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Has a National Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Harris Insights and Analytics has support for marijuana legalization at 57% and support for medical marijuana at a whopping 85%. The poll is in line with numerous recent polls showing majorities for marijuana legalization.

Manhattan Prosecutor Quits Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office's new policy of not prosecuting most small-time marijuana cases went into effect today. People will not be arrested for possessing small amounts or smoking in public, but could still get busted for sales or if there is a public safety threat.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Votes to Cap Dispensary Numbers. The city council voted Tuesday night to limit the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city to 75. The measure also regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, testing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and imposes limitations on the size, location, and operations of medical marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma Health Board Considering New Rules for Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health is meeting Wednesday to try once again to come up with regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program. The revised guidelines now eliminate a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and a requirement that a pharmacist be present in every dispensary. The new rules also drop the requirement that women of child-bearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana.

International

Colombia's Santos Directs Parting Shot Against War on Drugs. Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ripped into the global war on drugs in an opinion piece in the Americas Quarterly. "The War on Drugs has taken too many lives: The cure has been worse than the disease. In Colombia, we have paid a very high price for it, perhaps the highest of any nation," Santos warned. "The time has come for the world to take a moment of sober reflection. We must study, seriously and rigorously, the efforts that have been made around the world to regulate the drug trade, in order to learn from our successes, as well as our difficulties and failures," added the Nobel Prize winner.

Ghana Drug Control Board Member Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Michael Addo, deputy executive secretary of the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board, called Tuesday for drug decriminalization, saying that the country was wasting resources imprisoning drug users and calling for alternative sanctions for them. He also called for the strengthening of drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

Italian Health Minister Says Government Will Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Health Minister Giulia Grillo said Tuesday that the government will ramp up its medical marijuana program. She said the government will explore licensing private companies to produce marijuana and that she would "make every effort to make medical cannabis available" in pharmacies alongside other prescription drugs.

Watch: Jeff Sessions Acknowledges States Have the Right to Pass Their Own Marijuana Laws

Even as he defended federal marijuana prohibition, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Thursday conceded that states have the right to pass their own marijuana laws.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions (senate.gov)
Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana legalization, has moved to rescind Obama-era guidance to prosecutors that gave some protection to state-legal marijuana operations, but the reality on the ground is that even when given a green light by the Justice Department to go after state-legal marijuana, federal prosecutors in those states are largely leaving it alone.

Sessions has also been left isolated by President Trump, who has signaled support for legislation that would end federal marijuana prohibition.

Last Thursday, Sessions was in Massachusetts, where voters in 2016 approved marijuana legalization and where sales in pot shops are expected to begin sometime this year. A reporter asked Sessions about his stance on legalization.

"We'll enforce the federal law; the federal law remains the law of the land," he replied. "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

After the press conference, a Department of Justice spokesperson told MassLive.com the comments did not represent a shift for Sessions. This is true: Sessions remains committed to federal marijuana prohibition, but he can't seem to get his US attorneys in states where marijuana is legal to do much about it. And now, he's at least admitting that states have the right to craft their own pot laws.

Here's the video:

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

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Concedes State Can Make Own MJ Laws, Mexico Opium, More... (7/27/18)

The US attorney general admits states can make their own pot laws, a new report finds racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in the New York suburbs, a Mexican governor calls for legal opium production, and more.

Jeff Sessions acknowledges states' rights even on marijuana policy. (Senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Sessions Acknowledges States Can Set Own Marijuana Laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while staunchly sticking up for federal marijuana prohibition, acknowledged Thursday that states can set their own pot laws. Responding to a reporter's question in Boston, he said the Justice Department will continue enforcing federal marijuana laws, but added: "Personally, my view is that the American republic will not be better if there are marijuana sales on every street corner, but states have a right to set their own laws and will do so, and we will follow the federal law," he said.

Report Finds Racial Disparities in Suburban NYC Pot Arrests. A report from the WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform, and the Drug Policy Alliance released Thursday finds that marijuana prohibition in suburban Westchester County has largely targeted people of color and that the harms of prohibition have been visited almost entirely on them. While black people account for only 14% of the county's population, they made up more than half (52%) off all pot possession busts. Latinos were similarly arrested for pot possession at disproportionate rates. The report also noted the targeting of youth. Some 58% of people arrested for pot possession were 25 or younger.

International

UN Chief Warns Colombia It Must Consolidate Peace. In a report to the UN Security Council released Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Colombian government must address major challenges and consolidate peace. He said there is no greater challenge than bringing development, security, and the rule of law to "vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence" and that the challenges to peace included continued violence in conflict zones. "The proliferation of illegal groups and the growth of the coca economy, as well as frustration and fears among former combatants and among communities who feel bypassed by the peace process, leave no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenges that await the new government, Colombian institutions and civil society alike," he said.

Governor of Mexico's Guerrero Wants Opium Production Legalized. Hector Astudillo, governor of the south-central state of Guerrero, Mexico's leading opium production region, said he supports the incoming government's plan to explore regulating opium production for pharmaceutical use. "It's time," Astudillo told Mexican radio. "I'm delighted that a different way of dealing with the poppy is finally going to be explored." Astudillo himself had floated the same idea back in 2016. "To curb the violence, we must look for another approach to poppy cultivation, not only in Guerrero but in the golden triangle," he said, referring to the region in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Durango where large quantities of marijuana and poppies are grown. "Because it's such an important ingredient for medicine, the poppy could be used for medical purposes, as is being done in other countries," Astudillo added.

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions -- At Least Until Fall

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that. In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority.

"I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune -- one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills, S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it's a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it's not regulated, it's not taxed. So I'll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that's a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I'm all in. I think the Assembly speaker... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

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

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