Marijuana Legalization

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Chronicle AM: Joint-Smoking IL US House Candidate, DEA Link to Mexico Murders, More... (2/28/18)

An Illinois Democratic congressional candidate goes bold on weed, New Jersey legalization efforts face an uphill battle in the Senate, congressional Democrats call for investigations into DEA-linked drug war deaths in Mexico, and more.

Illinois Democratic congressional contender Benjamin Thomas Wolf lights up in new ad. (wolfforcongress.com)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidate Smokes Joint in Ad. Former FBI national security official and current Logan Park restaurateur Benjamin Thomas Wolfe is running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 5th congressional district -- and he's putting marijuana legalization front and center. A photograph Wolf released Monday features him sitting in front of an American flag painting. Above him, smoke rises from the joint he presumably just puffed on. "As a cannabis user, I think it's important we get out front and talk about it," Wolf said. "We realize that cannabis can bring billions of dollars to the state, it's medicine for millions of people around the country, it changes criminal justice reform and personally I think it's a wonderful recreational substance as well."

New Hampshire Poll Finds Strong Support for Legalization -- Without Sales. A new Granite State poll has across the board support for a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sale or taxation of it. The poll had support at 56% overall, with 61% of Democrats, 56% of independents, and 49% of Republicans behind it.

New Jersey Senate Survey Suggests Hard Road Ahead for Legalization. A survey of all 40 state Senate members by NJ Cannabis Insider finds there is some work to be done before the body is prepared to pass a legalization bill. The survey found only five senators said they would vote yes, 20 would vote no, and 15 were either undecided or did not reply. A legalization bill, Senate Bill 830, awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee narrowly approved a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. The committee voted 4-3 in favor of House Bill 1749, with the key vote provided by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Harm Reduction

New York Advocates Call on Mayor de Blasio to Release Study on Safe Injection Sites. Advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Works, and Camelot gathered at city hall Tuesday to demand that Mayor Bill de Blasio release a $100,000 study on the feasibility of safe injection sites. De Blasio said last month he would release the results "relatively soon." On Tuesday, the Health Department again said "soon." The city council authorized safe injection sites two years ago.

Law Enforcement

Congressional Democrats Want Investigation into Mexico Murders Linked to DEA Activities. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have sent a letter to the Justice and State departments asking that their inspectors general investigate DEA-led operations in Mexico that triggered violent retaliation from drug cartels, leading to the death or disappearance of dozens or even hundreds of people. The Democrats cited a 2010 cartel attack in Monterrey and a 2011 massacre by Zetas in the state of Coahuila. In both cases, the killings were linked to DEA surveillance activities, and in both cases, the DEA downplayed its involvement and didn't help investigate the killings.

(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.)

Rick Steves Has Three Must-Sees for a Jeff Sessions European Drug Policy Trip

PBS star and prolific travel guidebook author Rick Steves is a prominent advocate of marijuana legalization and drug reform. For years, he has advocated for freeing the weed and adopting a more moderate, European-style approach to drug policy.

Rick Steves dishes out some travel tips for the attorney general. (Wikimedia)
He has enjoyed successes, playing a leading role in bringing the public around in Washington state, which legalized weed in 2012, and continuing to make his high-profile calls for more enlightened drug policies. But now, the Trump administration, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in particular, is trying to put the brakes on, and that got Steves thinking.

In response, as Rolling Stone reports, Steves has now combined his travel savvy and his drug reform advocacy in proposing an eye-opening, pot-centric European travel itinerary tailor-made for Sessions in the hope that some of the Old World tolerance would rub off on him.

Here are the three must-sees on Steves' Sessions European drug policy itinerary:

1. Switzerland. "I would take him to Switzerland and we'd go to a heroin maintenance clinic," Steves said, referring to the country's pioneering and non-criminal approach to opioid addiction.

2. Barcelona. Cannabis clubs are allowed there. "In Spain they can't sell marijuana but they can grow it. In practice, they don't want to grow it so they join a club that grows it collectively, and they can enjoy the harvest."

3. The Netherlands. Steves said he would take the attorney general to one of those famous Dutch "coffee shops" where adults can legally purchase small amounts of weed. "After the coffee shop, we'd visit a mayor and a policeman and have [Sessions] listen to the mayor and policeman explain why they'd rather have coffee shops than have marijuana sold on the street," Steves says.

Although he didn't mention it, there is one other European destination that could be an eye-opener for Sessions:

4. Portugal.The Iberian nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. And not only is it still standing, it has drug use levels similar to other European countries, but without all the arrests.

Of course, Sessions is unlikely to take Steves up on his offer and even more unlikely to be convinced by saner European approaches, but Steves' point is still made: There are better ways of dealing with drug use and abuse. We just have to acknowledge them.

California's Marijuana Farmers Are Slow to Join the Legal, Regulated System

The vast majority of California's marijuana growers have yet to try to move into the state's new legal regulatory framework, leaving big questions looming around whether they can survive in the brave new world of legal weed, whether a substantial illicit market will remain, and whether that anticipated tax revenue windfall will actually materialize.

According to a report released Monday by the California Growers Association, representing mainly small-scale growers across the state, fewer than 1% of growers have been licensed so far. That's a measly 534 licensed growers out of an estimated 68,000 in the state.

The report, "An Emerging Crisis: Barriers To Entry In California Cannabis," identifies a number of obstacles for small producers and warns that those issues must be addressed if participation is to increase and a post-legalization law enforcement crackdown is to be avoided.

"Without broad participation, legalization will look a lot like prohibition," with many illicit growers, the report concludes. "The current system will not achieve its goals without fundamental and structural changes that allow small and independent businesses to enter into compliance."

Obstacles to participation include lack of access to the financial sector. the high costs of complying with regulatory and tax burdens, state regulations that seem perversely designed to weed out small competitors, slow-moving or sometimes hostile local governments, and a saturated market.

As one Sonoma County cultivator put it in the report:

The unintended consequence of making it so difficult at the local and state level to enter the regulated market is that 80-90% of those who were working with dispensaries prior to 1/1/2018 are being pushed to the black market. This is not only bad for the regulated market because so much high quality product is now flooding into the black market, but crime is increasing as a result as well.

I am truly heartbroken to see what the regulatory system has done to the artisan cultivators and manufacturers who were creating diverse, boutique products. These people who built this industry are not allowed to participate. I hope we can course correct this year.

State and local governments need to make course corrections now "or else a staggering number of businesses will fail, while staggeringly few enjoy significant growth," the report warned. "Many of the best growers -- the most dedicated and passionate artisans who can add tremendous value to the state marketplace -- are the ones being left behind."

It's unlikely all those pot farms are just going to dry up and blow away, though. The report notes that the state currently produces about 15 million pounds of marijuana each year, but that only 3 million pounds are consumed in-state. That means the vast majority of California-grown marijuana is already heading for out-state markets in prohibitionist states. Quick action to make California's legal markets more friendly to small producers may eventually entice more to fight their way into the regulated economy, but it's going to take the end of prohibition in the rest of the country to end California's black market marijuana exports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

Incarceration

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

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

Chronicle AM: Call to End New Medicaid Work Requirement, Israeli Pot Decrim Advance, More... (2/20/18)

Public health, mental health, and drug reform groups call for an end to a new policy requiring Medicaid recipients to work, a key congressional Democrat calls for a progress report from Trump's opioid commission, Israeli marijuana decriminalization crosses a major hurdle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Bar Pot Shops From Selling Customer Data to Third Parties. Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) has filed Assembly Bill 2402, which would ban retail marijuana shops from selling customer data to third-party vendors without the customer's consent. "The focus of this piece of legislation is around privacy," Low said. "So, while now cannabis is legal in California, there are many individuals who want to make sure that cannabis and their use of cannabis is not made public for many reasons. If you shop at retail stores, you magically start to get emails and snail mail from other similarly focused retail stores," Low added. "And so we wanted to make sure that we don't do that with cannabis without consent."

Maryland Legalization Constitutional Amendment Gets Hearing Today. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing today on House Bill 1264, which, if approved, would set up a statewide referendum on marijuana legalization. The House bill was filed by Delegate David Moon (D-Takoma Park); the Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Bob Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who heads the Senate committee hearing the bill.

Massachusetts Lawmaker Blasts Some Draft Regs. State Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), who helped write the state's legalization implementation law, has criticized the Cannabis Control Commission and some of its proposed draft regulations. He wrote to the commission saying he has "grave concerns" over draft regulations around social consumption, local control, and licensing for delivery services and micro-businesses. The local control regulations ignore state law requiring localities to first seek voter approval, he said. He also lambasted proposals for on-site consumption, saying a new referendum would have to be passed. Voters legalized marijuana in the state nearly 15 months ago now.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Strikes Down Detroit Medical Marijuana Initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge last Friday overturned a voter-approved initiative that would have relaxed restrictive local controls on medical marijuana businesses in the city. Proposal B would have allowed pot shops and processing businesses in all business and industrial districts, including downtown and Midtown. The judge cited state court precedent that zoning questions could not be decided by voter initiatives.

Industrial Hemp

Alaska House Passes Hemp Bill. The House on Monday approved Senate Bill 6, which legalizes industrial hemp and establishes a pilot program for its growth and production. The Senate has already approved the bill, but since the House amended the bill, it now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Lab Forfeits $1 Million for Unnecessary Drug Tests. State Attorney General Martha Healey (D) announced last Friday that Precision Testing Laboratories, Inc. will forfeit more than a million dollars to settle claims it billed for medically unnecessary drug tests. It paid $400,000 to Massachusetts and will pay more than $650,000 to Connecticut. The lab will also be barred from participating in the two states' Medicaid programs for the next 10 years. The company had promoted itself as providing urine drug testing services to people in recovery, but that it used very expensive drug tests and "aggressively marketed an expensive and unnecessarily complex drug testing package to sober houses, despite the fact that they knew that the tests were for residential sobriety monitoring, a violation of MassHealth regulations."

Missouri Bill Would Criminalize Synthetic Urine. State Rep. Nate Tate (R-St. Clair) has filed a bill that would make the sale of synthetic human urine a criminal offense. Under House Bill 1810, all drug test-cheating products would be banned, and anyone who provides them with the intent to defraud a drug test would be subject to a Class B misdemeanor. Prosecutors like the bill.

Drug Treatment

Public Health, Drug Reform Groups Protest Federal Policy Imposing Work Requirements on Medicaid Recipients. More than 160 organizations in the public health, mental health, addiction treatment, and drug reform fields have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aszar decrying the new federal policy. They argue the policy would hinder access to Medicaid by people with chronic health problems, especially those fighting substance abuse and mental health disorders. "This is deeply troubling given the devastating and escalating opioid overdose crisis that President Trump has designated as a national public health emergency," the letter said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Leading Congressional Democrat Wants Hearing on Trump's Opioid Panel's Progress. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-NC) last Friday urging him to request that presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway brief the committee on the work done by the president's opioid commission. "I understand that President Trump has designated Kellyanne Conway as his point person on this issue, so her input would help the Committee with its ongoing efforts to evaluate the status of the Commission's recommendations," Cummings wrote.

International

Israeli Marijuana Decriminalization Advances. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with pot would pay a $282 fine and would not be subject to arrest until a fourth offense. Legalizatin advocate MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who heads the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, was pleased: "When we started our struggle, people disrespected us, but the Ministerial Committee's decision today is proof that a real, persistent struggle succeeds in the end," said Zandberg. "This bill is far from being perfect, but it is a foot in the door on the way to full legalization."

Chronicle AM: Canada Legal Marijuana Delayed, Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Advances, More... (2/16/18)

Conservative senators slow down Canada's move to marijuana legalization, the Senate Judiciary Committee passes the sentencing reform bill, an Arizona bill would make felons of doctors who are lax about medical marijuana rules and laws, and more.

We'll have to put that flag back in the closet for a few more weeks. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Ends Hold on DOJ Nominees Over Sessions Policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced Thursday he had ended a two-month hold on some Justice Department appointments he began to protest Attorney General Jeff Sessions' move to rescind Obama-era policies largely leaving state-legal marijuana alone. The announcement came after Gardner received unspecified assurances from DOJ officials about the enforcement of federal drug law. When asked what he got for lifting the holds, Gardner told the Denver Post: "We've had very good, positive conversations about protecting states' rights and protecting the voters of Colorado's wishes."

Philadelphia DA Enacts No Prosecution Policy for Small-Time Possession. District Attorney Larry Krasner has dropped about 50 outstanding marijuana possession cases and announced that he will no longer charge people caught with small amounts. Krasner cited racial disparities in making the move: "Because we all know that these laws are not getting enforced at the Wawa in Chestnut Hill. These laws are getting enforced in neighborhoods that are poor and predominately black and brown," said Krasner.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Make Felons of Lax Pot Docs. The House Health Committee voted 6-3 Thursday on party lines to approve a bill that would make doctors who sidestep rules for medical marijuana recommendations guilty of a felony. Under the bill, doctors who violate any rule or law could get up to a year in prison. Under current law, they face only discipline from county medical boards. The measure, backed by arch-foe of medical marijuana Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, is House Bill 2067.

Sentencing Reform

Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. In a rebuff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who on Wednesday urged the bill's defeat, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the federal sentencing reform bill, S. 1917. The question now is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will allow a floor vote.

International

Canada Postpones Marijuana Legalization a Few Weeks. The Pierre Trudeau government's plan to have legal marijuana up and running by July 1 has hit a bump, and the anticipated date for legal commerce to begin has been pushed back by a matter of a few weeks. The bump occurred in the Senate, which set a schedule to consider the legalization bill that would not allow the government to hit the July 1 date.

Chronicle AM: Senate Sentencing Reform Bill Under Attack, DEA Threatens SIJs, More... (2/15/18)

The Marijuana Justice Act gets a third cosponsor, the DEA threatens to go after safe injection sites, the attorney general and leading law enforcement groups target the Senate sentencing reform bill, and much, much more.

Jeff Sessions and major law enforcement groups are trying to kill the Senate sentencing reform bill. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Judge Suggests He Will Defer to DEA, Congress on Rescheduling Lawsuit. At a hearing Wednesday over a lawsuit seeking to have marijuana de- or rescheduled from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein suggested he would rule in the government's favor. He dismissed plaintiffs' claims that marijuana prohibition was motivated by racism and political concerns when it was passed 80 years ago and he said he didn't think he had the authority to reschedule the drug. "The law is the law," the judge said. "I'm sworn to enforce the law."

Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act Gets Third Sponsor. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced Wednesday that she had signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's (D-NJ) Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689). The bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Federal Bill Filed to Protect Legal Marijuana States and Businesses. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) has filed the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act (no bill number yet), which would essentially codify the protections for state-legal marijuana embodied in the now-rescinded Cole memo. "To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis," Correa said. "Attorney General Sessions' decision to rescind the 'Cole Memo' created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws."

Connecticut Legalization Bills Filed. Twenty-two lawmakers filed a marijuana legalization bill Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 5112, would authorize the retail sale and taxation of the herb. Separately, House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) filed another legalization bill, House Bill 5111. Similar bills last year failed to get a floor vote in either chamber. Both bills were referred to the Joint Committee on General Law.

Massachusetts Legalization Advocates Protest "Intimidation Campaign" Aimed at Forcing Restrictive Regulations. Legalization advocates are criticizing Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and other officials, saying they have conducted a "coordinated intimidation campaign" against the state body charged with crafting rules and regulations, the Cannabis Control Commission. In a series of letters to the commission, officials from the governor's office have raised public health and safety concerns and recommended it scale back its framework of rules. Advocates took their concerns to the State House Thursday, where they held a press conference.

New Jersey Lawmakers, Wary of Legalization, File Decriminalization Bill Instead. A bipartisan group of legislators urging caution on pot legalization has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 472 would make the possession of up to 15 grams a civil offense. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalizing marijuana, and legalization bills have already been filed in the Assembly and Senate.

Jackson, Mississippi, City Council Votes to Decriminalize Weed. The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. Violators would face no more than a $100 fine. Under current Mississippi state law, marijuana possession is illegal, so effective implementation will depend on local law enforcement discretion. The possession of any amount of marijuana can result in up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $250, and a litany of collateral consequences that impacts employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Senate Committee Votes to End Civil Forfeiture by Police. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Senate Bill 213 would require a criminal conviction before cash or property could be seized. Senators said they expected the bill to face additional negotiations before it goes to a Senate floor vote.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill to Block Employers from Testing for Marijuana to Be Filed. Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said he plans to introduce a bill that would block employers from drug testing for THC or disqualifying people from jobs because of a drug test with positive results for marijuana. The bill would apply to both public and private sector workers, but not those operating heavy equipment. "Consuming THC weeks or months out from a job interview should not disqualify someone from finding employment any more than someone who drank a few beers on another date should be kept out of work" Bowen told the Isthmus in an email. "While I am in favor of the safe legalization and regulation of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use, until that happens, people should not be stigmatized for using a substance whose effect on society is less negative than society's reaction to it."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congressional Republicans Try to Blame Sanctuary Cities for Opioid Crisis. GOP lawmakers used a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security to try to scapegoat sanctuary cities for the country's opioid crisis. "We have heard countless stories of sanctuary practices and the havoc they wreck on public safety, national security, and the sanctity of the rule of law," said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), the committee chair. "Our public safety and our public health are tied to eradicating opioids, which can never be accomplished when the force multiplier that is ICE is sidelined." But committee Democrats and analysts rejected the link. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said There was no "factual basis in connecting so called sanctuary city policies with the opioid crisis," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). "It would be laughable if it weren't so serious," she said. "If it weren't so hurtful to the characterization of immigrants across this country." Last month, Republicans tried to blame Obama's expansion of Medicaid for worsening the epidemic.

Harm Reduction

Trump Administration Threatens to Go After Safe Injection Sites. Several US cities are moving forward with plans to open safe injection sites, but the DEA has just fired a shot across the bow. In an interview with Buzzfeed, DEA spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the agency may take action against the facilities because they are federally prohibited. "Supervised injection facilities, or so-called safe injection sites, violate federal law," Pfaff said. "Any facilitation of illicit drug use is considered in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, subject to legal action." She cited a 1980s crack house law that could be used. But in Seattle, at least, local prosecutors say they welcome a legal challenge and think they can convince the courts that public health powers are superior to criminal laws against drug dens run for profit.

New Mexico Passes Legislation to Examine Administering Pharmaceutical-grade Heroin or Other Opioids by Medical Practitioners to People Struggling with Long-term Addiction. The state House Tuesday approved House Memorial 56, which charges the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to take testimony on supervised injectable opioid treatment as a feasible, effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users who have not been responsive to other types of treatment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. This memorial does not need to pass the Senate or be signed by the governor.

Sentencing Reform

Attorney General Sessions Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against a painstakingly cobbled-together Senate sentencing reform bill Wednesday, sparking a public food fight with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the very face of dour Corn Belt conservatism.In a letter reported by Reuters, Sessions warned the committee not to approve the sentencing reform bill, S. 1917, claiming it would reduce sentences for "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals." Passage of the bill would be "a grave error," Sessions said. The measure is actually a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, mainly aimed at nonviolent drug offenders, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

Police Groups Slam Senate Sentencing Reform Bill. The National Sheriffs' Association and the Fraternal Order of Police have both come out against the Senate sentencing reform bill, calling on President Trump to reject the bill and saying it will put violent drug dealers back out on the street. "Sheriffs will have to arrest most of them again at the county level and that will shift the cost and responsibility to us without fixing the underlying problems of violent crime and drug and human trafficking in the country," said a letter to Trump from the National Sheriffs' Association. "At a time when our nation is being ravaged by an epidemic of overdoses from the use of heroin and opioids, it seems at variance with common sense and sound policy to drastically reduce sentences for drug traffickers and then apply these reduced sentences retroactively," said the National Fraternal Order of Police.

Chronicle AM: MJ Rescheduling Lawsuit Hearing, IA Bill Seeks Medicaid Drug Screens, More... (2/14/18)

A legal challenge to marijuana's Schedule I status gets a hearing, some 18 senators call for protections for state-legal marijuana, Berkeley becomes a marijuana sanctuary city, and more.

Marijuana Policy

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Looking for Medicaid? You'd have to pass a drug screen first under an Iowa bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Rescheduling Suit Gets Hearing Today. A lawsuit challenging the placement of marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act was being heard in federal court in New York City Wednesday. The suit names Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DEA as defendants. Legal efforts to force the de- or rescheduling of marijuana have been underway since the 1970s; none have worked so far.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Call for Protections for State-Legal Marijuana. A bipartisan group of 18 senators sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Vice Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calling for protections for state-legal marijuana to be inserted into federal budget bills. "Doing so will provide the opportunity to pursue federal legislation that both protects the legitimate federal interests at stake and respects the will of the states -- both those that have liberalized their marijuana laws and those that have not," the letter said. The senators want language similar to the House's Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment inserted into Justice Department funding bills.

Berkeley Declares Itself a Marijuana Sanctuary City. The city council voted Tuesday to designate Berkeley as a "sanctuary city" for marijuana users. With that vote, city agencies and employees are now barred from providing information about legal marijuana use by adults or from helping to enforce federal marijuana laws. "I believe we can balance public safety and resisting the Trump administration," Mayor Jesse Arreguin (D) said at the council meeting Tuesday. "We're keeping with the strong position Berkeley is a sanctuary for people in our community."

St. Louis Aldermen Debate Lessening Pot Penalties. The city's governing body held a hearing on Alderwoman Megan Green's proposal to bar the city from expending resources to enforce marijuana laws. Public comment was overwhelmingly in favor, but some of Green's colleagues were less than enthused. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill Would Provide Employment Protections for Medical Marijuana Patients. Assemblymen Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) have filed Assembly Bill 2069, which would "prohibit an employer from engaging in employment discrimination against a person on the basis of his or her status as, or positive drug test for cannabis by, a qualified patient or person with an identification card." The bill could get a hearing next month.

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Study Bill 3106, which would grant the state Medical Cannabidiol Board the authority to broaden the definition of medicinal CBD and to expand the list of qualifying conditions to use it. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Pennsylvania's First Dispensary Sales Begin Thursday. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced Tuesday that the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, in Butler County, will begin sales tomorrow. Five other dispensaries will open their doors by weeks' end, he added.

Utah House Revives, Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. Just days after it killed House Bill 197, the House brought it back and passed it Tuesday. The bill was part of a two-bill package aimed at creating a viable medical marijuana program in the state. The other bill in the package, House Bill 195, was approved last week.

Drug Testing

Iowa Bill Would Mandate Medicaid Drug Screens, Tests. Sen. Tom Greene (R-Burlington), who rode the Trump wave to office last year, has introduced Senate File 2158, which would impose special requirements on Medicaid recipients, including a requirement that if drug use is suspected, they "shall agree to participate in testing for illegal drugs."

In Trump and Sessions' Drug War, It's Bad Cop/Bad Cop [FEATURE]

The omens are not good. In a pair of speeches last week, the president and his attorney general made some very menacing comments about drug policy. While their last-century drug warrior rhetoric has not, for the most part, translated into regressive, repressive drug policy prescriptions -- yet -- it's probably not safe to assume that will continue to be the case.

Donald Trump, bad cop (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
At the same time, the Trump White House appears to be approaching key aspects of the country's opioid crisis, which contributed mightily to a record 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, with a mixture of indifference and incompetence.

Trump wants to drastically slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), his White House opioid response is laughably led by pollster and counselor -- not drug policy or addiction expert -- Kellyanne Conway, and his budget proposals are for spending substantially less -- not more -- money on treatment and prevention.

An Obama-era law that designated a billion dollars to help states fight opioids runs out of money this year, with no sign Trump intends to ask Congress to renew it, and Trump's 2018 budget request has a $400 million cut to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the lead federal agency for treatment.

Instead of proactive responses aimed at ameliorating the crisis, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are falling back on drug war rhetoric that would have been at home in Nixon's 1970s or Reagan's 1980s. (And the budget wouldn't even have flown under Nixon.)

Trump spent barely a minute talking about the opioid crisis in his State of the Union speech last week, and now he says he's focused on law enforcement, not treatment and prevention.

In a speech last week in Cincinnati, Trump said the opioid epidemic "has never been worse. People form blue ribbon committees. They do everything they can. And frankly, I have a different take on it. My take is you have to get really, really tough, really, really mean with the drug pushers and drug dealers."

Jeff Sessions, bad cop (senate.gov)
Attorney General Sessions, for his part, was on the same page this week. In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation for an event honoring Ronald Reagan's birthday, Sessions could have been channeling the Gipper himself, blaming the media, not enough drug war, and "permissive rhetoric" for problems with drug use in the US.

"We don't think illegal drug use is 'recreation,'' he said. "Lax enforcement, permissive rhetoric, and the media have undermined the essential need to say no to drug use. Don't start. That's what President Trump said to us the other day in a meeting. What did Nancy Reagan say? Just say no."

Sessions also reiterated his opposition to state-legal marijuana resorted to the discredited "gateway theory" to try to blame marijuana for the opioid epidemic.

"The DEA said that a huge percentage of heroin addictions starts with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number -- they had it as high as 80 percent -- we think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs," Sessions ventured.

"We are not going to pretend that there is not a law against marijuana. There is a federal law against marijuana," he said. "And we're not going to pretend that marijuana is good for you, either. I don't think it is."

bad cops
Drug war rhetoric is one thing; actual policy shifts is another. So far, despite the tough talk, about the only concrete action aimed at driving us back to the failed drug war policies of the past is Sessions' move last May to reverse an Obama-era policy of moving away from harsh mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases. Other than that, there's been a lot of sound and fury, but little in the way of actual policy proposals. Still, the remarks this week from the president and his chief law enforcement officer ought to be setting off alarm bells.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has a better idea. The independent Vermont senator and 2016 Democratic presidential contender on Wednesday announced a petition calling on Congress to "end the failed war on drugs." "The criminal justice system is not the answer to drug abuse. Addiction is a health problem and we should start treating it that way," Sanders wrote. "While communities all across the country lack adequate resources for treatment or prevention, we are spending approximately $50 billion a year on the war on drugs. That's absurd. We need to get our priorities right."

Here is Sessions at the Heritage Foundation:

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Budget, NH Marijuana Bill Hearing, OR Opioid Emergency, More... (2/13/18)

The proposed FY 2019 Trump budget features more drug war and cutting the drug czar's office, a legal marijuana bill gets a hearing in New Hampshire, Oregon's governor declares a public health emergency over opioids, and more.

The president's proposed budget has billions for more drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Georgia Bills to Reduce Penalties Filed. A pair of bills filed in the legislature seek to reduce the criminalization of marijuana users. House Bill 865 would make possession of up to two ounces a misdemeanor. Under current law, possession of more than one ounce is a felony. Senate Bill 105 would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce. Legalization bills were filed earlier in the session, but they are not expected to go anywhere.

New Hampshire Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing on a limited legalization bill today. House Bill 656 would legalize the possession of up to a quarter ounce of weed and grow up to six plants, but would not set up a system of legal marijuana commerce.

Virginia Senate Approves Arrest Expungement Bill. The Senate voted 38-2 on Monday to approve Senate Bill 954, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Noment (R-James City). The bill would allow people charged with first-time possession to later pay $150 to have the charge expunged. The measure must now be approved by the House.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Selzer & Company poll has 78% in favor of medical marijuana, with 19% opposed, figures that are roughly unchanged over the past couple of years. What has changed is support for recreational marijuana, now at 39%, up from 28% four years ago.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Marijuana in Fight Against Opioids. Lawmakers and supporters gathered at the state capitol in Santa Fe Monday to urge state officials to add opioid addiction to the list of disorders qualifying for medical marijuana. And advisory panel has twice considered petitions seeking to add medical marijuana as a tool against opioid abuse, the most recent last November, but the state Health Department has yet to act.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Oregon Governor Declares Addiction a Public Health Crisis. Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) on Tuesday released an executive order declaring opioid addiction to be a public health crisis in the state. She said she would soon set a deadline for the state Alcohol and Drugs Policy Commission to come up with a plan to fight the problem.

Drug Policy

Trump Budget Doubles Down on Drug War. The Trump administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget is heavy on drug war spending, with an additional $400 million for the DEA, $334 million in the law enforcement-oriented Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, $50 million for the once-discarded anti-drug media campaign, $43 million for drug courts, and a cut of $20 million in offender reentry programs. The budget includes $18 billion over two years for the Mexico border wall, which Trump justifies on both drugs and immigration grounds, which is more than the $13 billion the administration says it is allocating to fight opioid abuse.

Trump Budget Would Gut Drug Czar's Office. The Trump FY 2019 budget would also dramatically slash funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), primarily by moving two grant programs elsewhere. Under the proposal, the Drug Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program would be moved into the Health and Human Services Department and Justice Department, respectively. The move is opposed by some lawmakers and a coalition of more than 150 advocacy organizations, but more radical critics on both the left and the right would like to see the agency go away altogether.

Sentencing

New Jersey Governor Revives Sentencing Commission. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is reviving the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2009 to examine racial disparities in sentencing, but remained dormant under former Gov. Chris Christie (R). Christie never appointed any members to the commission. "We can and must do better," Murphy said in a statement. "A Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission can undertake the important review of our sentencing laws and recommend reforms necessary to ensure a stronger, fairer, and more just state." Murphy has already appointed two people to the commission's 13-member board, which must issue a report within a year of its first meeting.

Drug War Issues

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