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Happy New Year! Legal Adult Marijuana Sales in the World's Largest Pot Market Start Monday [FEATURE]

The world's largest legal marijuana economy gets underway on January 1, as California's voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana commerce goes into effect. It's been legal to possess and grow small amounts of weed since shortly after votes passed Prop 64 in November 2016, but as of New Year's Day, we see the unleashing of what is expected to be a $7 billion a year state cannabis industry.

legal marijuana grow, Colorado (scubabrett2 via Flickr)
But in a state of 39 million, only a few dozen shops are expected to be open for business on day one, and major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco won't be among them. That's because sellers have to have both a local permit and a state license, and few localities have completed their permitting procedures. San Francisco is among those  but it's still not quite going to be ready on day one. Expect recreational marijuana sales to begin there within a matter of days, though.

"It is going to take a while to get these businesses up and running," said Lori Ajax, who runs the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. "We're asking people to be patient."

Among the major cities that will have recreational pot shops open on day one are Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose. This interactive map charts all of the approximately 40 shops that will be open on January 1.

According to the Bureau of Cannabis Control, San Diego and San Jose will have the most stores open, with seven each, while two will be open in Berkeley and one in Oakland. Other pot shops open on January 1 are scattered across the state, from Mt. Shasta, Shasta Lake, Eureka, and Ukiah in the north, down to Santa Cruz on the coast, Palm Springs in the Southern California interior, and Woodlake, the only shop open in the entire Central Valley.

Medical marijuana dispensaries that have not applied for and received licenses for recreational marijuana sales will remain limited to serving customers with patient IDs.

While January 1 marks the beginning of the era of recreational marijuana sales, that doesn't mean California is turning into the Wild West of weed. The state has a reputation for being highly regulated, and that's no different when it comes to marijuana. Here are some of the things you can't do with legal marijuana in the Golden State:

  • You can't purchase or possess more than an ounce, unless it's from your personal grow.
  • You can't smoke it in public in most places, including bars and restaurants. Anywhere cigarette smoking is prohibited, pot smoking is prohibited. And if you're a renter, your landlord can ban pot smoking on the premises.
  • You can't get stoned while driving. Getting caught toking up behind the wheel will get you a $75 ticket, but if the cops think you are too high, you could also end up getting busted for driving under the influence, and that's a whole lot more than a $75 ticket.
  • You can't use marijuana's state-legal status to prevent your employer for firing you for smoking pot, even off the job.

People purchasing legal recreational marijuana will be contributing mightily to the state's coffers. In addition to the state sales tax of 8% and any local sales taxes -- some localities plan sales taxes of up to 10% -- a 15% excise tax on wholesale purchases by retailers will be passed on to consumers. This could end up putting a billion dollars a year in the state and local treasuries.

It could also make the state's existing black market more attractive to consumers. If Californians accustomed to buying their weed in the informal sector are faced with higher prices in shops than they can get from the guy down the street, they might just stay with the guy down the street.

And product shortages could also drive up prices, at least in the short run. While the state produces massive amounts of marijuana -- an estimated 13.5 million pounds each year -- up to 80% of that is destined for the black market, either for export to prohibitionist states or sold informally in-state. With permitting and licensing of producers for the legal recreational market at a very early stage, supply bottlenecks are likely to develop, leading to empty shelves, as they did in Nevada in 2017.

Still, California is now entering a Brave New World of legal marijuana. And with the nation's most populous state embracing legalization, there is probably no going back, regardless of what Washington thinks.

Chronicle AM: CA Legal Marijuana Sales Begin Monday, Reps Ask FDA to Rethink Kratom, More... (12/29/17)

The world's largest legal marijuana market is about to open for business, a New Hampshire legalization bill should get a vote next Wednesday, federal representatives ask the FDA to back away from its public health warning on kratom, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin Monday. As of 6:00am January 1, the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and over is legal. But because of permitting and licensing requirements, fewer than four dozen pot shops will be open for business on day one of the new era. Cities that will see legal sales on Monday include Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose. Neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco will be ready on day one, but should have shops open within days.

New Hampshire House to Vote on Legalization Bill Wednesday. The House is expected to take up a legalization bill, House Bill 656, on Wednesday. Earlier the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended against the bill's passage, but the House isn't bound by that recommendation. The bill is set to see an amendment that should help its passage: The proposed change would remove language on taxation and regulation of sales and simply allow adults to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Halts License to Black Farmer. A Tallahassee judge has ordered state officials to halt the issuance of a medical marijuana license to a black farmer, one of ten licenses set aside for growers who were members of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter. The black farmers had successfully argued that the state's law had squeezed them out, so the legislature approved a bill that guaranteed them a piece of the action. But another black farmer, who was not a member of the group, sued, and now the judge has ruled that the arrangement violates the state's ban on laws that grant special privileges to private corporations.

Indiana CBD for All Bill Filed. Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) filed Senate Bill 214 on Wednesday. The bill would legalize the sale and possession of CBD oil in the state. The bill accomplishes this by removing CBD from the state's list of controlled substances. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Kratom

Lawmakers Ask FDA to Lift Public Health Warning on Kratom. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and 17 other lawmakers have asked the Food & Drug Administration to lift its public health warning on kratom, which he called "a natural alternative to opioids." The letter says: "The beneficial potential, safety, and efficacy of kratom has been discussed, studied, clinically researched and found to be as safe as coffee. We have heard from many constituents who have used kratom to successfully end their dependence on dangerous opioids, and maintaining legal access to kratom is important for many Americans to maintain sobriety."

Chronicle AM: Underground Safe Injection Site Study, ME Legal Marijuana Fight, More... (12/28/17)

Maine lawmakers seek agreement on legal marijuana policy with the governor, a new study of an underground safe injection site finds benefits, Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient numbers now exceed 10,000, and more.

injecting at a safe injection site (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers to Meet With Governor Friday on Marijuana Issues. Key legislators will meet tomorrow with Gov. Paul LePage (R) in a bid to reach agreement on a bill that would regulate the state's legal marijuana markets. LePage and Republicans are wary of having a portion of marijuana sales tax revenues earmarked for localities that host retail marijuana stores, saying that could encourage communities to allow such stores. There are also disagreements over how taxes should be structured. The bill under discussion is L.D. 1719.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Sees More Than 10,000 Register as Medical Marijuana Patients. Some 10,135 people have registered to participate in the state's emerging medical marijuana program, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday. Twelve grower/processors have been approved to supply the patients; eight of them have already begun operations.

Harm Reduction

Study of Undergound Safe Injection Site Finds Benefits. A study of an underground safe injection site operating somewhere in the US has found that word spread rapidly among injection drug users about the site, about 80% of people using the facility were homeless, and 90% said if not for the site, they would have been shooting up in a public space. Users of the unauthorized site also said they felt safer, less rushed and less stigmatized, and reported better health outcomes and better hygiene and disposal practices. The study was led by San Francisco-based epidemiologist Alex Kral and will appear in the March issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Indonesian Cops Killed 79 Drug Suspects This Year, Arrested More Than Half a Million. The National Drug Agency reported Wednesday that police shot and killed 79 suspected drug dealers in 2017. The agency also reported more than 500,000 drug arrests and more than 58,000 arrests for drug dealing. "We shot 79 even though we arrested 58,000. We have enough ammunition for 58,000, it's just that they still have some good luck," BNN chief Budi Waseso told reporters. "We actually hoped that they would resist, so we could shoot them," he joked. "But most of them immediately surrendered when we conducted the raids."

From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: Ten Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017 [FEATURE]

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a drug war that has killed thousands. (Wikimedia)
1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people -- almost all poor -- have been killed since Duterte unleashed the killers in June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that a 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession. It voted to pursue such a path, directing the government to begin making changes in the laws to reflect that vote. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes 5th US State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight US states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out -- a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018, too.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate -- or is it hate to love?

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

Breaking Bad: Kim Jung Un (Flickr)
8. US Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect US or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt US Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between the FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to it again. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Top Ten US Drug Policy Stories of 2017 [FEATURE]

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands die of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands get arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights:

Drug overdoses killed record numbers of Americans in 2017. (Wikimedia)
1.The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century. Policy efforts to curtail the problem have sometimes included regressive moves to up drug sentences, and have generally given only limited consideration to the needs many patients have to access these substances. But public health measures like naloxone distribution and "Good Samaritan" non-prosecution policies have also advanced.

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne is In Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, in part, perhaps, because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor, and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids -- even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

So far, Attorney General Sessions' bark is worse than his bite when it comes to marijuana policy. (senate.gov)
4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. …But Fails to Implement a War on Weed, So Far

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened yet. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, although the future of that law after January 22nd remains in doubt. But there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, so all is not safe, but today legal marijuana is still standing.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (pop. 36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by 2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- losing only in Arizona, closely -- anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation though the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting though in the US. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities -- although not without staunch opposition -- and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

Chronicle AM: New CA Pot and Driving Laws, IL Black Heroin Problem, More... (12/27/17)

Getting caught using marijuana while driving will soon net you a $70 ticket in California, the Urban League charges that black heroin and opioid problems in Illinois don't get enough attention, pilots will soon face DOT testing for prescription opioids, and more.

people lining up to buy heroin in Chicago, 2016 (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New California Pot and Driving Laws Go into Effect Next Week. As the state enters the legal marijuana commerce era on January 1, residents and visitors should be aware of two bills related to marijuana and driving that go into effect on that date. Senate Bill 65, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in September, makes consuming marijuana while driving an infraction punishable by a $70 ticket. Another measure, Senate Bill 94, makes it illegal to possess an open container of cannabis or a cannabis product in an operating motor vehicle.

New Mexico Lawmaker to Try Again on Legalization Initiative Bill. State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) has been trying to legalize marijuana for several years now and is vowing to get back to work on it when the legislature convenes next month. Ortiz y Pino has pre-filed a bill, Senate Joint Resolution 4, that would allow legalization to be put to a popular vote if approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. This year, a similar bill died in committee, but Ortiz y Pino is undaunted.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Urban League Charges Black Addiction and Deaths Get Short Shrift. In a new paper, Whitewashed: The African-American Opioid Epidemic, the Urban League finds that blacks make up a disproportionate amount of opioid overdose deaths in the state, but are less likely to get help because Cook County, where two thirds of the state's black population resides, has a relative scarcity of clinics offering buprenorphine. The report notes that such facts are too often missing in the debate over heroin, which is focused primarily on white users in rural and suburban areas. It also finds that while suburban areas have reacted by trying to guide users into treatment instead of jail, a hard-nosed drug war approach remains the rule in Chicago's poor neighborhoods.

Drug Testing

DOT to Begin Screening for Four Powerful Opioids in Pilot Drug Tests. Beginning January 1, the Department of Transportation will begin screening for four powerful prescription opioids in random drug tests of pilots, both private and commercial. They are hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone. That includes pharmaceuticals such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan, Vicodin, Lortab, Nelco, and Dilaudid.

Chronicle AM: Kampia Out at MPP, Labor Unions Eye CA Pot Workers, More... (12/26/17)

Rob Kampia is no longer employed by the Marijuana Policy Project, labor unions are eyeing California's cannabis workforce as a recruiting bonanza, and more.

Marijuana Policy Project cofounder Rob Kampia and MPP go their separate ways. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rob Kampia Out at Marijuana Policy Project. Longtime MPP leader Rob Kampia is no longer employed by the organization he founded. The move comes just weeks after Kampia stepped down as executive director just before Thanksgiving but continued on staff. Marijuana Moment reports that "several sources" say a major newspaper is working on a story about previously unreported allegations of sexual misconduct against Kampia, who initially drew media scrutiny over an incident in 2010, causing him to take a temporary hiatus from running the group. In a memo shared with Marijuana Moment, and an accompanying interview with the site, Kampia said he was starting a new group called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign and that he had left MPP after a unanimous decision by the group's board of directors on December 20.

Labor Unions See Gold in California's Marijuana Workforce. At least three national labor unions -- the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- are eying the state's 100,000+ plus workers in the marijuana industry  in a bid to boost organized labor's membership. The UFCW has already unionized some pot workers in the state and has announced plans to organize them across the country, but UFW says it is well suited to organize agricultural workers, and the Teamsters say there is room for all three unions.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Approves Medical Marijuana for ALS Patients. State Department of Health officials announced last Friday that they have added Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Hawaii now joins 18 of the 29 medical marijuana states that recognize ALS as a qualifying condition.

Nearly 50 Lansing, Michigan, Dispensaries Could Have to Close. City Attorney Jim Smiertka said Tuesday that his office has identified 48 businesses that may be dispensaries operating in violation of city ordinances and state law. He sent each a cease and desist order last Friday, warning them they faced a $1,000 a day fine if they don't close their doors. December 15 was the last day the city accepted applications for dispensary licenses and also the last day the state offered license applications for those businesses. Under an executive order issued by Mayor Virg Bernero, dispensaries that didn't apply for licenses by that date must shut down.

Chronicle AM: Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Reauthorized For Now, More... (12/22/17)

Congress reauthorizes the federal ban on funding to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it is legal, Massachusetts regulators approve draft rules for the legal pot industy, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), cosponsor of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment protecting medical marijuana. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Activist Dana Beal Arrested With Pounds of Pot (Again), This Time in California. Long-time marijuana legalization advocate Dana Beal was arrested last Saturday in Northern California as he carried 22 pounds of marijuana. It's not the first time for Beal: He has been arrested for transporting pot from California on separate occasions in Nebraska and Wisconsin, and also had a large amount of cash seized in Pennsylvania on one of his trips west.

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Draft Regulations for Legal Marijuana Industry. The state's Cannabis Control Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve draft regulations for the industry. Now the rules will be open for public review and comment, with the final rules set to be approved by March 15. As it now stands, the regulations provide for "craft cooperatives" of growers banding together under a single license, licenses for "microbusinesses" with less than 5,000 square feet of growing space, licenses for on-site consumption (no alcohol and no pot smoking), licenses for research facilities, and a "diversity plan" to increase minority participation.

New York Lawmakers to Hold Joint Session on Legalization Early Next Year. The chairs of the Assembly Committees on Codes, Health and Alcoholism and Drug Abuse announced Thursday that they will hold a joint session on legalization early next year. "This hearing will examine the potential for allowing regulated sale and adult possession of marijuana in New York and how it would affect public health and the criminal justice systems," the announcement said.  The hearing will take place January 11.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Extends Medical Marijuana Protections Through January 19. With its vote for a temporary spending bill Thursday, the Congress also reauthorized the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But it's only until January 19 when the temporary funding bill expires. "Patients around the country who rely on medical marijuana for treatment -- and the businesses that serve them -- now have some measure of certainty," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "Our fight, however, continues to maintain these important protections in the next funding bill passed by Congress."

Reforming Global Drug Policy

While drug policy is primarily a national issue, there are needs and opportunities at the international level, and in US foreign policy, and global drug policy has an impact abroad and at home.

 
 
WashingtonPost.com story on our
UNGASS coalition statement

StoptheDrugWar.org plays a leading role in US-based global drug policy reform. We advocated at the United Nations and to the Obama administration during the lead-up to the second-ever "UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem" (UNGASS) in April 2016, the first session at that level since 1998.

Our work has advanced the dialogue on the UN drug control treaties vs. legalization of marijuana or other drugs, and promoted the idea that human rights takes precedence over drug control objectives when the two are in conflict. We have argued for a range of reforms in the areas of public health, development, and access to medicine, all in turn based on human rights principles. Since 2017 we have also done high-profile work on the extrajudicial drug war killings situation in the Philippines.

Our 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation Inc., has been an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since July 2016. This enables us to deliver interventions (short speeches) at UN meetings, to organize side events at longer UN sessions, and to help other advocates get admitted to UN meetings.

Drug policy is implicated in global criminal justice and human rights issues such as sentencing and the death penalty. It affects public health issues like AIDS and Hepatitis C. Development is affected by drug policy, as are crime and security. The international system has made opioid pain medications largely unavailable in most countries. UN drug scheduling is a discouragement to governments wishing to legalize medical marijuana.

With respect to legalization, the big UN issue is treaties that have language proscribing it. The US position has been that marijuana is federally legal, and that tolerating state legalization is a mere prioritization of resources. This argument, however, is not well respected and has at best short-term value. While some jurisdictions have moved forward with legalization despite adverse treaty language, this comes at a diplomatic cost, and the current state of the treaties and other UN drug policies is a discouragement for many countries. (The end notes in our sign-on documents, all linked below, are a good source for reading on all these issues.)

Some of our work in this area, in reverse-chronological order:

Organized a global sign-on statement on the Philippines extrajudicial drug war killings situation, released during the November 2017 ASEAN Summit. The statement calls for a UN-led investigation into the Philippine extrajudicial drug war killings and for international aid donor governments to pressure the Duterte administration on the issue. Press coverage of the statement included articles in major Philippine news outlets, including the Daily Inquirer, Rappler, Interaksyon and the Philippine Star.

Submitted a statement for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2017 Integration Segment (April 2017). The statement makes the case that adjustments are needed to drug policy in order to make the eradication of poverty a truly integral objective of UN programs, and noted several ways in which prohibitionist drug policies work against achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

 

In March 2017 we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side event at the annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting, dealing with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war mass murder campaign. Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, a critic of the killings, sent us a video for the event, which we also released online, initially through an exclusive on the TIME web site which was followed up by an interview.


Robredo's video drew massive attention in the Philippines and some internationally. Unfortunately, opponents of the vice president used the video to attack her politically, leading to a campaign for her impeachment, a threat which is currently being considered by the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives. We regret that political leaders of the Philippines misrepresented our event to attack the vice president, instead of facing the grim reality of widespread human rights abuses.

More information on our Philippines-related work, including full video footage and transcripts of our side event, as well as press coverage, is available here.

Also at the 2017 CND, we organized an NGO sign-on statement (initial submission on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime web site, updated version with more signatories on our web site). A major signatory on this statement, new to our global drug policy efforts, is the National Organization for Women (NOW).


We served as the ECOSOC sponsor
enabling this photo exhibit on Supervised
Injection Facilities to be presented at the
2017 UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs
meeting in Vienna.

 

We also served as ECOSOC sponsor for a side event on marijuana regulation and a photo exhibit on safe injection sites organized by European partners. David Borden presented on the panel, discussing the "path toward consensus" on marijuana legalization in the US. Since 2016 we have also provided UN accreditation for these and other partners in advocacy efforts on marijuana's status in the UN drug scheduling system, enabling them to serve as representatives to the UN facilities in Geneva and Vienna; and have served as the charitable sponsor nonprofit for donations to the project.

 

David Borden delivered an invited intervention on the relationship between drug policy and the Sustainable Development Goals, for the January 2017 Intersessional CND meeting (transcript on UNODC web site). The remarks noted tensions between drug prohibition and SDG goals #1 (poverty), #3 (health), #8 (work), #10 (inequality), and #16 (peace, justice and strong institutions. The remarks also noted the decline in global AIDS funding, particularly for programs responding to injection drug use.
 

 

David Borden delivered an intervention at the June 2016 High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS at the UN in New York, panel discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals. The remarks discussed ways that prohibition and the drug war contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS, and called for the UN to take on these issues during the upcoming 2019 High Level Review of UN drug policy.


 

 

David Borden delivered an intervention during the April 2016 UNGASS, Roundtable on Cross-Cutting Issues. The remarks criticized the rationale countries had offered for avoiding any discussion of possible modifications to the treaties, noting that it's the norm for treaties to be updated at times. Borden also called for regulatory approaches to be considered for New Psychoactive Substances, one of several major issue areas in drug policy that the UN has identified, not solely prohibitionist ones.

Organized a teleconference for media on prospects for marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, featuring Mexican Senator Laura Rojas and Canadian Member of Parliament, as well as representatives of leading NGOs in both countries:

media coverage of the teleconference:

  • Extract (Sun-Times) (4/6/16)
  • High Times (4/7/16)
  • Leafly(4/7/16)
  • Cannabis Wire (4/9/16)
  • Civilized (4/10/16)
  • Drug Truth Network (here and here) (4/10/16)
  • Seattle Times editorial (4/17/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information
  • New York Times (4/18/16) – we're not mentioned, but provided information. The article was the first in a major media outlet to note the US opposed taking up treaty reform at the UN, despite US movement toward legalization.

Our signature effort for the UNGASS was a major sign-on statement with nearly 350 organizational signatories, released to media and at the UN in May 2015 and again in April 2016. The statement was endorsed by such leading NGOs as ACLU, Human Rights Watch and AIDS United.

The statement argues that in cases of irreconcilable conflict, nations' obligations under the human rights treaties, which are enshrined as fundamental in the United Nations Charter, take precedence over provisions of the drug control treaties.

The statement also calls for a range of improvements to policies in areas such as development, public health and security; for the UN to appoint a "Committee of Experts" to study the topic of drug treaty reform; and calls on the Obama administration to harmonize its foreign policy on drugs with its domestic policies by providing leadership at the UN to make that happen.

media coverage of the statement:

We also organized a sign-on letter to President Obama in advance of the March 2016 Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting that preceded UNGASS. It noted positive aspects to the administration's approach to UNGASS, but argued that "in key respects... the... US position for UNGASS [took] a short-term approach, stopping short of the crucial reforms called for by UN agencies and US allies, while failing to address new realities." The letter generated a great deal of excitement in the NGO community, and was signed by over 250 organizations in a short period of time, many of them representing mainstream issues affected by drug policy.

media coverage of the sign-on letter:

 

David Borden presented at a February 2016 preparatory event for UNGASS, at the UN in New York.

In April 2015 we organized a sign-on letter protesting the resumption of executions for drug offenses by the government of Indonesia. The link is to a copy of the letter published as part of an article in Huffington Post, linked from their home page for 24 hours.



 

What happened at UNGASS?

April's UNGASS was called at the request of the governments of Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala, nations for which the illicit drug trade creates security issues. Their hope was the UNGASS would be a platform for discussing fundamental issues and beginning a new course.

Reform met with resistance. Hard-line countries led by Russia and China opposed or diluted most reform-oriented proposals. European governments downplayed the importance of this NYC-based session, wishing to keep the center of gravity in UN drug policy in the smaller Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), based in Vienna, Austria. The UN works mainly by consensus, which meant there were limits on what any country or faction could accomplish.

The US, while advocating some good stances, opposed treaty reform, despite (or perhaps because of) the treaty issues that marijuana legalization presents. Reportedly the US lobbied other countries to oppose treaty reform as well. As a result, perhaps, many countries' position statements for UNGASS called for "commitment to the three UN drug conventions" or to "the integrity of the conventions" – code language for not changing them.

There were some victories. As part of the process, UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. All that discussion is on the record. Civil society engagement brought more groups into drug policy reform, more fully, and NGOs gained more involvement.

And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. It calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability.

A detailed UNGASS report by the International Drug Policy Consortium is online here.

 

 

 

Chronicle AM: NJ, PA Move to Increase Opioid Sentences, Canada Legal Pot Delayed?, More... (12/20/17)

Mid-Atlantic state politicos are moving toward harsher sentences for some opioid offenses, Canada's July 1 marijuana legalization date may get bumped back, California's Humboldt County rejects safe injection sites, and more.

Make way! Moves are afoot in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to toughen opioid sentences. (supremecourt.gov)
Harm Reduction

California's Humboldt County Rejects Safe Injection Sites. At its meeting Tuesday, the county board of supervisors voted to send a letter to the sponsor of a state bill that would allow for safe injection sites telling her they weren't interested. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, filed by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), would allow certain cities and counties, including Humboldt, to authorize such programs. Some supervisors had moral objections, while others raised cost concerns. Most public commenters at the meeting also opposed the plan.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania DAs Want Tougher Fentanyl Laws. The state District Attorneys Association is getting behind a push by Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) for harsher sentences for fentanyl-related crimes. "Stiffer penalties for fentanyl would go a long way in helping us," Shapiro said during a recent roundtable discussion on drugs. The DAs backed him up a few days later, tweeting that "An increase in sentencing guidelines for #fentanyl will help prevent deaths. PA Sentencing Commission is considering changes."

New Jersey Bill Could Quadruple Prison Sentences for Opioid-Related Offenses. Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill, Assembly Bill 5264, that would dramatically increase sentences for some opioid offenses. Under the bill, the sentence for possessing five grams of heroin would double from a maximum of five years to a maximum of 10 years. People caught possessing 10 grams would see their maximum sentences quadrupled, from five years to 20.

Drug Policy

Acting Chief of Staff at Drug Czar's Office Fired. Lawrence "Chip" Muir, the acting chief of staff and general counsel for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), was suddenly fired Tuesday afternoon. ONDCP has been without a new drug czar since the Trump administration took office, and now it lacks a chief of staff, too. It's not clear why Muir got canned.

International

Canada Not Wedded to July 1 Deadline for Marijuana Legalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to back away from the long-anticipated July 1 rollout date for legal marijuana in an interview Tuesday night. "It won't be July 1," he said, but will happen "next summer." The House of Commons approved legalization legislation last month, but the bill is now being studied by the Senate, which could modify it and possibly delay final adoption.

Indian Government to Craft New Drug Rehab Policy for Addicts. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot told congress Tuesday that the country's 2001 law on rehabilitating drug addicts is under review and that a survey of drug addicts nationwide was underway. An action plan to rehabilitate addicts is now being prepared he said.

Indonesia Officials Threatens "Shoot to Kill" Policy for Drug Dealers Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno has threatened to kill drug dealers who resist arrest. "We are serious [in fighting drugs], we will '810' drug dealers who try to avoid authorities' pursuit," he said, referencing the police code for shooting and killing suspects who try to flee arrest. According to Amnesty International, Indonesian police have killed 80 suspected drug dealers this year, five times the number killed in 2016.

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