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Chronicle Interview: A Conversation With New DPA Head Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno [FEATURE]

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

Led by Ethan Nadelmann since its formation 17 years ago, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been the most influential drug reform organization in the country, with a hand in advancing the causes not only of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, but of drug law reform more broadly, in all its manifestations and intersectionality.

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno (Drug Policy Alliance)
Thanks in good part to Nadelmann's vision and the efforts of DPA -- and its campaign and lobbying arm, the Drug Policy Action Network -- in state houses and court houses, in Congress and the executive branch, in media outreach and educational campaigns, the drug laws in America have changed for the better. Pot has gone mainstream, the mass incarceration mania of the Reaganite drug war (abetted by too many Democrats) has broken, sensible and life-saving harm reduction measures are spreading.

But now Nadelmann is gone -- at least as director or staff -- and DPA and the drug reform community face a Trump administration apparently intent on reviving and revitalizing the worst of drug war practices from the last century. Nadelmann's successor not only has big shoes to fill, but also faces reactionary impulses in Washington.

That successor is Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, holder of a law degree from New York University School of Law and for the past 13 years Co-Director of the US Program for Human Rights Watch (HRW), where she picked up plenty of domestic drug policy experience. There, she managed a team that fights against racial discrimination in law enforcement, punitive sentencing, and deportation policies that tear families apart -- all issues inextricably intertwined with the war on drugs.

The bilingual McFarland Sánchez-Moreno grew up in Peru and spent her early years at HRW researching Colombia, where drug profits helped fuel a decades-long civil war and corroded governmental legitimacy through corruption. That sharpened her awareness of the need for social justice and drug policy reform. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, HRW became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform. [Ed: McFarland's help and advice made it possible for Human Rights Watch to endorse our UNGASS sign-on statement.]

She is regularly quoted and published in national and international media, has testified before Congress on multiple occasions and has extensive experience advocating with US congressional offices, the White House, and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense. She recently authored a non-fiction book, There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, which will be published by Nation Books in February 2018.

Now, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno turns to drug reform as her primary remit, at the head of an organization with a $15 million budget; offices in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, DC; a considerable cadre of experienced and talented professionals; and a well-earned reputation for being able to make drug reform actually happen. Drug War Chronicle spoke with McFarland Sánchez-Moreno on Friday about what lies ahead.

Drug War Chronicle: You're about to head the most powerful drug reform group on the planet. What is it about you and your experience that makes you the person for this job?

Mass incarceration is a drug policy issue. (nadcp.org)
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: I don't know that I'm the right person to ask about that, but I will say I have been passionate about drug policy for a long time; it cuts across many of the social justice issues that I've been involved with throughout my career, starting in Colombia documenting atrocities committed by armed groups who were overwhelmingly financed by illicit drugs and for whom trafficking was their reason for existing. I came to realize that if you got rid of the illicit market, you could do serious damage to those groups.

And that continued in my work at HRW's US Program, covering issues like criminal justice and immigration, where you see so many vast problems in this country that are strongly linked to the war on drugs. From mass incarceration to large-scale deportations, a lot of it is people getting convicted of low-level drug offenses. And this also connects to a fundamental matter of justice: People shouldn't face prison time for choices about what they put in their bodies, absent harm to others.

Drug War Chronicle: Does your selection suggest that DPA is going to be even more internationally focused than it is now?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's too early to say whether we will invest more internationally, but our main focus has to be domestic. We're a national organization with offices in many states, and we want to build on that strength. There's plenty of work to do right here, so we will remain focused on the US. While there is an argument to be made for the importance of international work, you don't need to worry about us shifting away from the home front.

Drug War Chronicle: What are some of the key global drug policy challenges? And where do you see opportunities for positive change?

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: Both domestically and internationally, there's real momentum around drug reform. After Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala called for an international discussion of drug policy, which led to last year's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, the nature of the debate around drugs began to change, and we're seeing real openness to reform in many countries. At the same time, in places like the Philippines or Indonesia, you see serious backsliding, with large scale killings in the name of fighting the war on drugs in the former and use of the death penalty in the latter. And in places like Mexico and Central America, we're seeing very serious violence related to drug prohibition.

The international situation is complex: There are some openings, some room for progress -- and when you have countries like Portugal and Uruguay moving toward reform and potentially setting good examples, that's something to point to here at home -- but we still have very, very serious problems associated with the war on drugs that we need to monitor and speak up about.

Drug War Chronicle: Here in the U.S., it's sort of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we have medical marijuana in 29 states, pot decriminalization in 13 or 14, and legalization in eight, with more likely to come in the next year or so. We have state legislatures enacting sentencing reforms and asset forfeiture reforms. At the same time, we have the Trump administration apparently leading federal drug policy down a retrograde prohibitionist path. How do you assess the overall situation?

The fight for legal marijuana will continue. (Creative Commons)
McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's similar to the international situation in that there are enormous opportunities for progress around marijuana law reform and harm reduction measures in some places, but we have a federal Justice Department that seems to be intent on doubling down on the war on drugs and using the most draconian measures possible.

All the horrors we're seeing with overdoses is leading many people to do some serious soul-searching about what's the best way to address this problem, so we're seeing some progress on harm reduction measures like access to naloxone, for example. Now, there's room to have some conversations where there wasn't before, such as decriminalizing the possession of all drugs. A few years ago, that would have been a hard conversation to have, but HRW released a report last year calling for it and DPA has just released its own report echoing that call, and there is a real receptiveness in the public to talking about that. We're in a different place now and can make progress at the state and local level.

But that fairly heated rhetoric coming from the attorney general, appealing to people's worst fears and often distorting reality, is a real problem. It's not just about what Sessions says and what policies he adopts at Justice; it's also about that dark narrative starting to take hold, people in other parts of the government thinking its more acceptable to return to those failed policies. It's disturbing to see bills filed that are headed in the wrong direction, like Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) Back the Blue Act (Senate Bill 1134). A year ago, he was part of bipartisan sentencing reform. Why is he going the other way now?

And then there's Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act (Senate Bill 1237), which would give Sessions the power to schedule new synthetic drugs without any scientific basis. I think having someone who is so extreme in his views at the Department of Justice is a green light for people in other parts of the government to take us in the wrong direction. This is a major challenge for DPA and the drug reform movement in general, and we will be focusing on that right off the bat.

Drug War Chronicle: Let's talk about racial equity. How do we advance that? Whether it's participation in the legal marijuana industry or sentencing policy or consent decrees to rein in police departments, race is implicated.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: It's all bound up with what's coming out of Washington and the broader policies we're talking about. It's hard to disentangle racial justice issues from some of these other issues. We've been working on drug reforms in New Jersey and New York, and one of our biggest concerns has been to ensure that new reforms have a strong focus on empowering the very communities most damaged by the war on drugs. Making sure drug reforms takes that perspective into account and creates new opportunities for those communities is a critical part of our work.

Sessions backing away from consent decrees, the demonization of Black Lives Matter, and all that is very clearly tied to rhetoric coming from the White House and the Justice Department that is designed to stigmatize groups and lump people who use drugs in with drug dealers, with communities of color, with immigrants. They use that demonizing combination to justify very harsh policies that will be devastating to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country. We have to fight back against that; it's a big part of the story here.

And then there's the impact of the drug war on immigration policy. My colleagues at Human Rights Watch documented how a very large number of immigrants -- and not just undocumented ones -- ended up deported because they had a drug conviction, in many cases from many years back. They are torn apart from their families and often sent to places with which they have little connection, countries where they don't even speak the language. It's not just the deported -- their kids, parents, spouses, sibling, all of them suffer serious consequences. It's cruel and senseless.

It's very clear this administration has made immigration enforcement a top priority. Some very extreme portion of its base really views this as a priority. It's hard to talk to them, but most of the country favors immigration reform, and a very large and increasing number of people understand that using the criminal law when talking about drug use is harmful and makes no sense. If we can make progress on drug reform, we also make progress on immigration by reducing the number of people convicted and exposed to deportation. We have to talk about these issues together and work with immigration reform groups and take them on board in our joint fight.

Chronicle AM: US Lawmakers Rip Duterte, Harris/Paul Senate Bail Reform Bill, More... (7/21/17):

A congressional panel ripped into Philippines President Duterte and his bloody drug war Thursday, Kamala Harris and Rand Paul file a bail reform bill, a South Carolina Republican congressman files a bill to allow drug testing of unemployment applicants, and more.

US Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) at hearing of congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Thursday. (TLHRC)
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves Bill Requiring Marijuana Be Tested for Safety. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require the state Agriculture Department to set up testing facilities for marijuana before it could be sold. This is the first bill from a special select committee of legislators charged with creating a regulatory regime for legal pot. It goes against the wishes of Gov. Paul LePage (R), who wants the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to be in charge of all legal marijuana regulations.

Criminal Justice

US Sens. Kamala Harris, Rand Paul File Federal Bail Reform Bill. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 on Thursday. The purpose of the bill is "to encourage states to reform or replace the practice of money bail, the requirement that individuals awaiting trial remain in jail unless they pay for their release." Without being able to make bail, people charged -- but not convicted -- with a crime can spend weeks or months behind bars, with devastating consequences for employment, finances, and families. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Rep Files Federal Unemployment Drug Testing Bill. US Rep. Buddy Carter (R-SC) filed a bill on Thursday that would let states screen unemployment applications for drug use and force them to undergo drug testing in some circumstances. The bill would deny unemployment benefits for 30 days to anyone testing positive for drug use, and a second positive drug test would result in a year-long ban. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

US Lawmakers Rip Philippines Drug War Abuses. At a hearing of the Congress's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Thursday, American lawmakers ripped into Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte over drug war abuses, including the killing of thousands of drug suspects, and called on President Trump to condemn Duterte -- and to rescind an invitation to visit the White House. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said she was "troubled" by the invite, while Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said he would "lead the protest" if Duterte shows up. "President Duterte, by all accounts, seems to not have a high regard for human rights," McGovern said. "The United States government cannot afford any degree of complicity with the kinds of human rights violations that are occurring," he said. "No other country -- I repeat that, 'no other country' -- comes to mind where people are assassinated on the streets in the name of fighting drugs, and leaders brag about it as a good thing," he added.

UN Says Bolivia Coca Cultivation on the Rise. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed concern about what it says is a 14% increase in land under coca cultivation. "This increase is a concern for us," said UN Drugs and Crime Representative of Bolivia, Antonio De Leo. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed regret at the report, but noted that much more illicit coca is being grown in Colombia and Peru.

Chronicle AM: MA Legal MJ Bill Heads to Gov, DOJ Restarts Forfeiture Sharing, More .... (7/20/17)

Massachusetts lawmakers approve the legal marijuana bill, the Justice Department officially resurrects "adoptive sharing" for asset forfeitures, Gallup says more Americans have smoked pot than ever, and more.

California is on the verge of approving a state law to allow supervised injection sites to operate in the state. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Number Who Say They've Used Marijuana at All-Time High. Some 45% of American adults have tried marijuana, according to Gallup. That's an all-time high, and it's more than ten times the number (4%) who admitted smoking pot in 1969, the first year Gallup asked the question. About 12% said they currently use marijuana.

Massachusetts Legislature Approves Compromise Legalization Bill. The House and Senate both approved a compromise measure to implement marijuana legalization Wednesday. House Bill 3818 now heads to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Bid to Expand Medical Marijuana Defeated. An effort to expand medical marijuana in the state was stopped by the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday. Rep. David Knoll (R) had tried to add an amendment to a special session bill authorizing the Texas Medical Board and other agencies, but the amendment never got enough support to come up for a vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Brings Back Aggressive Asset Forfeiture Policy. As Attorney General Sessions vowed earlier this week, the Justice Department on Wednesday formally unrolled a revamped "adoptive forfeiture" policy that will allow state and local law enforcement agencies to hand drug cases over to the feds to ensure that the cops get the great bulk -- 80% -- of the proceeds from seizures, in many cases doing an end-run around state asset forfeiture law. The program was halted by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 after a rising outcry over abuses. The move was praised by law enforcement but criticized by civil rights groups and even some members of Congress.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Epidemic. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) Wednesday signed into law three bills aimed at the state's opioid problem. One allows law enforcement to access an electronic prescription database without a warrant, one requires doctors to discuss the risks of addiction with patients when prescribing opioids, and one expands the kind of drugs that can be electronically prescribed. "Every Rhode Island community has been touched by this crisis, and I'll take every step I can to fight back," Raimondo said in a signing statement.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Awaits Senate Floor Vote. A bill that would allow supervised injection sites in the state has already passed the Assembly and has now been approved by both the Senate Health Committee and the Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 186, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) now awaits a Senate floor vote. If the bill passes, it will go back to the Assembly for concurrence, and then to Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

Medical Marijuana Update

A measure that would allow VA docs to issue medical marijuana recommendations advanced in the Senate, Massachusetts' highest court rules in favor of a worker fired for using medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a Senate panel approved medical marijuana for veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year, when it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Massachusetts

On Monday, the state's high court ruled for a woman fired for using medical marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada

On Sunday, medical marijuana patients complained of higher prices after recreational sales began. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

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

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Marijuana Pharmacy Sales Begin, DPA Names New Chief, More... (7/19/17)

All New England states have now either decriminalized or legalized marijuana, the Drug Policy Alliance names a new head, Uruguay begins legal pot sales at pharmacies, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Implementation Bill Could Go to Governor This Week. Legislative leaders defended their compromise pot bill, House Bill 3818, Wednesday, and votes on the bill could come at any time. The measure is expected to pass the legislature and then head to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it. The bill increases taxes from 12% to up to 20%, and would allow authorities in localities that didn't vote in favor of the legalization initiative to ban pot businesses without a popular vote.

New Hampshire Governor Signs Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has signed into law House Bill 640, which eliminates criminal penalties for the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. Instead of jail time, violators will face a $100 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $350 for a third offense within three years of the original offense. With the state now adopting decriminalization, all of New England has now either legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Names New Executive Director. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the nation's most powerful drug reform organization, has selected a replacement for founder and long-time executive director Ethan Nadelmann, who stepped down earlier this year.The DPA board of directors announced Tuesday it had voted unanimously to appoint Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno as Nadelmann's successor. McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is moving over from Human Rights Watch, where for the past 13 years she served as Co-Director of the US Program, where she picked up plenty of domestic and international drug policy experience. She also pushed for the group to more directly take on the war on drugs as a human rights issue, and as a result, Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights organization to call for drug decriminalization and global drug reform.

International

Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales in Pharmacies Get Underway. Pharmacists in Uruguay began selling marijuana to customers Wednesday, the last step in a pioneering national legalization process that began more than three years ago. Uruguay is the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use. Canada is set to be next.

Chronicle AM: MA Solons Reach Legalization Accord, Sessions Wants More Forfeiture, More... (7/18/17)

Bay state lawmakers come together on implementing marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions signals a ramped up asset forfeiture effort, DanceSafe is offering fentanly test strips, and more.

Fentanyl test strips being offered for sale by the harm reduction group DanceSafe (dancesafe.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Legalization Implementation Bill. Lawmakers announced Monday they had agreed on a rewrite of the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. Under the deal, taxes on pot could reach 20% (up from the 12% approved by the voters, down from the 28% proposed by the House). The measure, House Bill 3818, also addresses the issue of local control by requiring jurisdictions where a majority voted for the initiative to hold a popular vote before banning marijuana businesses; jurisdictions that didn't favor the initiative could ban such businesses without a popular vote.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Renews Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePascuale (D) came out in support of marijuana legalization earlier this year, and he was at it again this week. Now, he's arguing that legalization could help in fighting the opioid epidemic."So the connection I'm drawing there is: there are times when there are going to be people who will smoke marijuana as a way to reduce their pain," DePasquale said. "The ideal would be for nobody to have any pain, but that's not reality. In many instances, marijuana is a much safer alternative than opioids."

San Francisco Creates Office of Cannabis for Pot Businesses. The city has taken initial steps to create a new Office of Cannabis to handle marijuana permits and complaints and serve as a clearinghouse for the public and pot businesses. It will be responsible for creating and managing the permitting process for all pot businesses, as well as providing policy analysis and serving as the main point of contact for businesses, state regulators, and the public.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Sessions Wants to Ramp Up Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Dept. of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces. Sessions said in prepared remarks for the National District Attorney's Association meeting, "We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture -- especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime."

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe is Now Offering Fentanyl Test Strips. The rave culture-oriented harm reduction group has studies various fentanyl detection strips and found that one offered by Canadian company BTNX was most effective at detecting the synthetic opioid and its analogues. It is now offering those strips for sale via its website. Click on the link for complete information.

Chronicle AM: Houston Cops Drop Faulty Field Drug Tests, AK Pot Clubs Coming, More... (7/17/17)

Houston police will quit using faulty field drug tests that sent hundreds of innocents to jail, a Colorado appeals court rules a drug dog alert on marijuana in a vehicle is not sufficient grounds for a vehicle search, the Massachusetts high court sides with an employee fired for medical marijuana use, and more.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in favor of an employee fired for medical marijuana use. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Advance Social Consumption Proposal. At its meeting last week, the state Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 to approve draft rules for on-site marijuana consumption at retail outlets. Now there will be a 60-day public comment period before the rules come back to the board, most likely at its November meeting.

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Marijuana Scent Not Enough to Search Vehicle. An appeals court ruled last Thursday that a drug dog's detection of the scent of marijuana in a vehicle does not give police the authority to search the vehicle. "Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana -- but not specific amounts -- can reveal only the presence of "contraband,'" he wrote.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts High Court Rules for Woman Fired for Using Medical Marijuana. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a woman fired after testing positively for legally recommended medical marijuana can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The employer had argued that the use shouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the high court disagreed. If a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for a debilitating condition, "an exception to an employer's drug policy to permit its use is a facially reasonable accommodation" and "the fact that the employee's possession of medical marijuana is in violation of federal law does not make it per se unreasonable as an accommodation."

Nevada Medical Marijuana Patients Facing Higher Prices With Legalization. Medical marijuana patients are complaining of "price gouging" in the wake of the advent of legal recreational marijuana sales in the state. "Our prices have almost doubled in some places," patient Emily Wilson said. Some patients are reportedly resorting to the black market because of high legal prices.

Drug Testing

Houston Cops End Use of Field Drug Tests That Sent Innocent People to Jail. Police in the nation's fourth largest city have ended the use of $2 chemical field drug tests, whose use have led to hundreds of wrongful convictions in recent years. Police announced the move as an officer safety measure in the face of dangerous new drugs, but did not mention the faulty tests' role in the recent scandal over convictions based on false positives.

Chronicle AM: Dark Web Drug Sales Site AlphaBay Busted, Owner Kills Self in Jail, More... (7/14/17)

AlphaBay is history, Nevada moves to ease its legal pot shortage, the White House opioid commission misses a deadline -- again -- and more.

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Regulators Approve Emergency Measures to Ease Pot Shortage. The state Tax Commission voted Thursday to let the Department of Taxation to again determine whether limiting marijuana transport licenses to licensed alcohol distributors would result in a shortage of legal marijuana distributors. If the department does make that determination, it could then award transport licenses to previous medical marijuana distributors. "When businesses operate we get the tax revenue and that's what the state wants," testified Deonne Contine, director of the Department of Taxation. "We need to do everything we can to get more distributors licensed so these businesses can continue operating."

Industrial Hemp

Utah Regulators Give Initial Approval for Hemp Research Grows. The state Agricultural Advisory Board on Thursday gave initial approval to a new rule that would allow limited marijuana cultivation for research purposes. The rule would allow anyone with a permit to grow industrial hemp. State universities are already able to cultivate hemp for research purposes under the 2014 federal Farm Bill, but this rule now expands who can grow the plant. The rule is open for public review through the summer and if finalized, would allow the state to begin issuing permits next January.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Again Misses Deadline. The president's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), will miss a second deadline for filing an interim report. Under a Trump executive order establishing the commission, the panel had until June 27 to file its interim report, but failed to do so and said it would on July 17. Now, in a notice printed in the Federal Register Friday, the commission said it would reschedule its July 17 call until July 31, again missing its deadline. The commission has until October 1 to issue a final report.

Law Enforcement

Dark Web Giant AlphaBay Busted, Owner Hangs Himself in Thai Jail. AlphaBay, one of the largest drug sales websites on the Dark Web, has gone dark. It wasn't, as some suspected, a scam and rip-off by the owners, but the result of a joint law enforcement operation by police in Canada, the US, and Thailand. Canadian citizen Alexandre Cazes, identified as AlphaBay's owner, was arrested July 5 in Thailand, where he owned three luxurious homes. He was found hanged in a Thai jail cell Wednesday.

Chronicle AM: Vets MedMJ Vets Advances in Senate, Drug War Bill Advances in House, More... (7/13/15)

Congress is dealing with medical marijuana and drug policy issues, legalization advocates call on New Hampshire's governor to kill a marijuana study commission bill, Rhode Island's governor issues an executive order dealing with the state's opioid crisis, and more.

VA docs could recommend medical marijuana for veterans under legislation moving in the Senate (Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska's Largest City Wants Social Consumption at Pot Shops. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday urged the state Marijuana Control Board to allow tourists and locals to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at retail stores. The move comes as the board is set to meet in Fairbank later this week. The board is expected to examine several proposals related to consumption in pot shops at that meeting.

Montana Man Challenges State's Standard for Marijuana DUIs. A Billings man facing a vehicular manslaughter charge for an accident while he was allegedly under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state's de jure standard of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Kent Roderick Jensen and his attorney argue that the standard is arbitrary and the charge should be dismissed. "There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone," his attorney wrote in a motion seeking dismissal. The judge in the case has heard oral arguments and received written briefs, but has yet to make a decision.

New Hampshire Governor Should Veto Marijuana Study Commission, Reform Advocates Say. Advocates sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu (R) asking him to veto House Bill 215, a bill that would create a study commission to consider marijuana legalization and regulation. The letter, which was signed by leading advocates including the bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), notes that, "The commission envisioned by the final bill includes numerous vocal opponents, such as the Association of Chiefs of Police and New Futures, but it does not include any known supporters." The House version of the bill included a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, which would have added some balance to the commission, but the Senate removed those prospective members from the bill.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) on Thursday announced she would file a marijuana legalization bill. There are no details on it yet. This would be the fourth time she has filed a similar bill.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to adopt an amendment that would allow military veterans to get medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bipartisan measure picked up four more votes than last year in the committee. Then, it was approved by the full House, but killed in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Rhode Island Governor Signs Executive Order Dealing With Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was joined by White House acting drug czar Richard Baum on Thursday as she signed an executive order aimed at curbing the "alarming rate of deaths" due to opioid overdoses. The 18-point order includes directives calling for a family task force on impacts of opioid use, expanded access to "sober" homes for people in recovery, and the creation of diversion programs to keep people out of the criminal justice system, among others.

Drug Policy

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill that Gives Attorney General Sessions Unchecked Power to Ban New Drugs and Set Criminal Penalties. The committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that greatly expands the penalties for new drugs and gives Attorney General Sessions unilateral new powers to schedule drugs. Opponents warned that the legislation is a counterproductive approach to the opioid crisis that will exacerbate mass incarceration and enable Attorney General Sessions to ban hundreds of substances and prosecute people with long federal prison terms in violation of the new drug laws. The measure is House Resolution 2851, the "Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017," or "SITSA."

International

Colombia's Coca Crop Substitution Program Faces Same Old Obstacles, Report Finds. A new report from the Colombian Ideas for Peace Foundation casts doubt on the government's ability to eradicate 250,000 acres of coca plantings, saying a vacuum left by the demobilization of leftist FARC guerrillas has not been filled by the state, but is instead being filled by illegal armed drug trafficking groups and paramilitary formations. That means the state is not providing adequate security measures and sustainable alternatives in areas historically hit hardest by decades of armed conflict.

Chronicle AM: CT Ends Civil Forfeiture, Sessions Calls for More Drug War (Again), More... (7/12/17)

Connecticut has become the 14th state to end civil asset forfeiture, Nevada's state government is moving to ease a potential marijuana shortage, Jeff Sessions gives another drug war speech, and more.

Attorney General Sessions showed up at DARE to slam Obama-era drug reforms. (senate.gov).
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Says Deal on Legalization Close. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Thursday lawmakers are close to reaching a deal on a bill that will regulate legal marijuana in the state. The House had favored a 28% tax and allowing localities to ban pot businesses without a popular vote, while the Senate held to the 12% tax included in the voter-approved legalization initiative and wouldn't allow pot shop bans without a popular vote. "I'm told there are only a couple minor things that are outstanding. I hope they get them done because if they don't get them done, I think at some point, we're going to have to go forward with the law as it was written," said Baker.

Nevada Regulators Set to Approve Emergency Regs to Avoid Pot Shortage.State tax officials are set to vote Thursday on an emergency regulation that they hope will allow marijuana stores to avoid running out of supply. The regulation would allow the state to issue distribution licenses that are currently being held up by a legal challenge from liquor distributors, who want a cut of the action. Because of heavy demand since legal sales started July 1, some shops are "running on fumes," said Nevada Dispensary Association President Andrew Jolley.

Asset Forfeiture

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 7146, which ends property or cash seizures in the state without a criminal conviction. Connecticut becomes the 14th state to require a criminal conviction in most or all forfeiture cases.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Again Attacks Drug, Sentencing Reforms. In a speech at the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) training conference in Dallas on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the country's drug problem "unprecedented" and generally blamed it on Obama-era sentencing reforms that led prosecutors "not to charge the most serious offenses." Sessions said a new Justice Department police directing prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum sentences was the way to go. "We are going to trust our prosecutors again," Sessions said Tuesday. "This policy empowers trust in professionals to apply the law fairly and exercise discretion when appropriate."

Drug War Issues

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