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Why Does the New York State Department of Health Want to Legalize Marijuana?

Acknowledging that his previous opposition to marijuana legalization was being undercut by popular opinion and the spread of legalization in nearby states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January called for an assessment of the possible impact of legalizing the herb in the state. The state Health Department was charged with the task.

It reviewed the possible health, public health, public safety, criminal justice, economic, and educational impacts of shifting from pot prohibition to a system allowing for the legal, regulated production, distribution, and use of marijuana. To do so, the department examined the experience of legalization in other states as well as conducted an extensive analysis of peer-reviewed literature on the subject. It also consulted with other state agencies and experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use disorders, public safety, transportation, and economics to help come up with a comprehensive review.

Last week, the Health Department released itsreport. Here is its bottom line:

"The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation."

In other words: Just legalize it.

So, how did the Health Department support this conclusion? The report's executive summary lays out its findings in the realms of health, the criminal justice system, economic impact, and the impact of legalization in nearby states. (Click on the summary for a full explanation of the logic behind the bullet points below.)

Health

  • Regulating marijuana reduces risk and improves quality control and consumer protection.

  • Marijuana may reduce opioid deaths and opioid prescribing.

  • Marijuana has intrinsic health benefits and risks.

  • Marijuana can have effects on mental health.

  • Regulation leads to little or no increase in adult use, and there is little evidence that regulation leads to an increase in use by youth.

  • Regulating marijuana may lead to a reduction in the use of synthetic cannabinoids/novel psychoactive substances.

Criminal Justice

  • Marijuana prohibition results in disproportionate criminalization of racial and ethnic minority groups.

  • Incarceration has a negative impact on families and communities.

  • Research is varied on the impact of regulated marijuana on motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Economics

  • Regulating marijuana will create jobs.

  • Market size and potential State revenues. The department estimated annual state marijuana sales revenues at between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion, with estimated state and local tax revenues at somewhere between $248 million and $677 million, depending on sales and tax rates.

  • Marijuana regulation could generate long-term cost savings.

Impact of Legalization in Surrounding Jurisdictions

  • Consumers are likely to cross borders to obtain marijuana, committing a federal felony in the process.

  • Legalization of marijuana causes a sharp increase in marijuana possession arrests in border counties of neighboring states.

  • Legalization in neighboring jurisdictions raises the likelihood of revenue flowing from New York into those jurisdictions.

In its conclusion, the report called for harm reduction principles to be an integral part of legalization and pointed out that legalization would allow regulation (which prohibition prevents) for "quality control and consumer protection." It also emphasized that tax revenues could "support community reinvestment" and that legalization would "reduce disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of racial and ethnic minority communities."

That last point is a fundamental justice issue. As the report notes, in the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people have been arrested just for pot possession in the state, the vast majority of them young people of color.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been advocating for marijuana legalization in the state (and elsewhere) for years, pronounced itself pleased with the report's conclusions and urged Albany to get moving. A legalization bill, theMarihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.3040), is currently under consideration by the legislature and should be acted on, the group said.

"We are pleased that the governor and the State Department of Health have fully studied the existing evidence and accurately concluded that legalizing marijuana for adult use is the right choice for New York. Marijuana prohibition has devastated our communities, saddled hundreds of thousands with criminal records, acted as an easily accessible tool for racially biased policing, and stunted the opportunities for entire generations of mostly New Yorkers of color," said DPA policy coordinator Chris Alexander.

"Now that the report has been released and its conclusions presented, we are hopeful that the Governor and the Legislature can fully shift to examining the 'how' and move on from the 'if.' Any movement to legalize marijuana must also include broad record clearing provisions, must create a diverse and inclusive industry, and guarantee significant community reinvestment to repair the harm that has been done. We look forward to engaging with the governor's office and the legislature on the ways to best move New York forward."

Will Albany act to make New York the next state to free the weed? It wouldn't take an act of political courage: Some 62 percent of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal for adults over 21, and more than 60 percent support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state's looming budget deficit.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's Court of Appeals issues a strange ruling and the fight over what Oklahoma's medical marijuana program will look like continues.

Michigan

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Health Board to Reconsider Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health said last Wednesday it will meet "as soon as possible" to reconsider restrictive rules it imposed on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. The move comes after a storm of opposition arose in response to its rules requiring pharmacists to be present at dispensaries and banning the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. "The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible," board president Jim Starkey said in a news release. "The Oklahoma State Health Department staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program."

Oklahoma Legislature Forms Bipartisan Group to Work on Medical Marijuana Implementation. Senate Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced last Thursday they would form the committee after the State Board of Health added two controversial amendments to the rules regulating marijuana. "Oklahoma voters made their choice, and the Senate will work to ensure State Question 788 is implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the voters' choice." Treat said.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally Against Emergency Rules. Medical marijuana supporters rallied Saturday at the state capitol amid frustration over emergency rules promulgated by the state Board of Health and said they would be back again Tuesday. The board on July 10 approved emergency rules that would, among other things, ban the sale of smokable marijuana products and require a pharmacist to be on site at dispensaries. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) said the board overstepped its authority, and the board now says it will meet again soon to reevaluate the proposed rules.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ AG Suspends Pot Prosecutions, Denver Magic Mushroom Init Stalled, More... (7/25/18)

In a surprise move, New Jersey's attorney general suspends marijuana prosecutions, an Oklahoma industry trade group releases proposed draft medical marijuana regulations, a Denver initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms is delayed, and more.

No magic mushroom initiative for Denver this year. Maybe next year. (Flickr/Greenoid)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions Until September. State Attorney General Gurbur Gerwal announced Monday night that he had ordered county and municipal prosecutors to suspend marijuana-related cases at least until September. The surprise move came after Grewal met with Jersey City officials over that city's effort to decriminalize small-time possession. Grewal last week initially told the city it couldn't do that, but after the Monday meeting he announced that he was forming a working group to create a statewide policy for prosecutors and: "In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court. This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

Washington State Felony Marijuana Busts Plummet After Legalization. Felony pot busts have fallen by 90% since the state legalized marijuana in 2012, according to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council. More than 1,300 felony sentences were handed out in an 18-month period in 2008 and 2009, but only 147 such cases in an 18-month period following the opening of retail marijuana shops in 2014. "It's really heartening," said Alison Holcomb, the director of strategy for the ACLU of Washington who authored and sponsored the legalization initiative. "These are strong signs that this was the right policy choice for Washington state voters to make and we're really grateful that they had the courage to do it."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Won't Be on 2018 Ballot. A proposed initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms will not be on the ballot this year. Advocates were thwarted by the Denver elections division, which has yet to approve ballot language. That means the group has almost no time to gather signatures before the city's mid-August deadline for the November election. They will now aim for the city's May 2019 ballot.

Chronicle AM: Federal State-Legal Pot Reporting Bill Filed, Mexico Killings Still Rising, More... (7/24/18)

Prospects look iffy for a pair of Oklahoma marijuana initiatives, a federal bill requiring reporting on the impact of state-level legalization is filed, Canada's pot arrests shrink, Mexico's murders increase, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Require Report on State-Level Legalization Filed. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a bipartisan group of representatives on Tuesday filed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to work with other agencies to study "the effects of state legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment." The measure has not yet been assigned a bill number.

Oklahoma Marijuana Initiatives Unlikely to Qualify in Time for November Ballot. Proponents of a pair of initiatives, State Question 796 to legalize medical marijuana via a constitutional amendment, and State Question 797 to do the same for recreational marijuana are up against a ticking clock and will likely not be able to get the measures on the ballot this year. Secretary of State James Williamson said Monday. Circulators have until August 8 to hand in signatures, but under state law, the initiatives must be approved no fewer than 70 days before the November election. It normally takes the state about 60 days to verify signatures, and that August 8 deadline means there are only 69 days before the election. Also, any challenges to the initiatives could delay them even further. If they don't make the November ballot, a special election is unlikely and they would then appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokeable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

International

Canada Pot Arrests Drop to Record Low. The number of people charged with marijuana offenses has dropped to the lowest level this century. The 13,800 arrests in 2017 were less than half the 28,000 people arrested in 2011. Police said the reason was twofold: Police have been concentrating on the opioid crisis, and, as legalization nears, they have been exercising their discretion and not bothering to arrest people for pot anymore.

Mexico Murders Increased 16% in First Half of This Year. There were some 15,973 murders in Mexico in the first half of 2018, up from 13,751 during the same period last year. The number is the highest since comprehensive records began being kept in 1997. Still, the curve may be flattening out, analysts said, noting that the first half of 2018 saw only a 4% increase over the last half of 2017. But still&hellip<>

Chronicle AM: No Marijuana "Gifting" for Vermont Businesses, Duterte Vows More Drug War, More... (7/23/18)

Attorneys General in New Jersey and Vermont lay down the law on pot, Oklahomans rally against restrictive medical marijuana rules, Filipino President Duterte vows more drug war, and more.

The bloody-handed Philippines president vows even more carnage in his war on drug users and sellers. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Says Jersey City Can't Decriminalize. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said last Friday that Jersey City doesn't have the power to decriminalize marijuana. The move came a day after the city decriminalized possession by decree. Grewal wrote that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, "rather, I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal writes. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

Vermont Attorney General Rules That Businesses Can't "Give" Marijuana in Connection with Other Purchases. State Attorney General T.J. Donovan provided guidance Monday to clarify that trying to get around the state's no marijuana sales legalization law by providing pot as a "gift" when purchasing some other item remains illegal. The move came after some Burlington businesses began a delivery service that "gifted" marijuana with the purchase of a courier service. They had argued that they were operating under a loophole in the law, but Donovan disagreed.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally Against Emergency Rules. Medical marijuana supporters rallied Saturday at the state capitol amid frustration over emergency rules promulgated by the state Board of Health and said they would be back again Tuesday. The board on July 10 approved emergency rules that would, among other things, ban the sale of smokable marijuana products and require a pharmacist to be on site at dispensaries. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) said the board overstepped its authority, and the board now says it will meet again soon to reevaluate the proposed rules.

International

British Poll Finds First Majority for Marijuana Legalization. For the first time, a public opinion in the United Kingdom shows a majority in favor of marijuana legalization. A new BMG Research poll had 22% strongly supporting legalization and another 29% somewhat supporting legalization, bringing total support to 51%. Some 35% were opposed, and 14% had no opinion. A second question regarding decriminalization yielded a similar 52% approval.

Mexican Opium Growers Ask AMLO to Legalize Cultivation. A group of community leaders from the poppy-producing region of Guerrero state has appealed to president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) to legalize the cultivation of opium poppies for use in the manufacture of legal pharmaceutical drugs. "As a priority, we are seeking the legalization of the cultivation of poppies for medicinal purposes so that farmers in the Sierra are no longer criminalized," Arturo López Torres, a member of a local union that advocates for economic and social development, told the newspaper El Universal. The growers also want AMLO to clarify whether poppy farmers who have been jailed for growing the crop would qualify under the government's proposed amnesty law.

Philippines' Duterte Vows to Continue "Relentless and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday vowed to continue his bloody war on drugs, telling a joint session of Congress the fight would be as "relentless and chilling" as it has been during his first two years in power, which have seen thousands of people killed. He also took a swipe at critics, saying "your concern is human rights, mine is human lives." But not, apparently, the lives of accused drug users or sellers.

Chronicle AM: OK Health Board Retreats on MedMJ, UK ACMD Supports MedMJ, More... (7/20/18)

The battle over Oklahoma's new medical marijuana law continues, the British Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs calls for medical marijuana legalization, the Pennsylvania auditor calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

Medical marijuana is at issue in Oklahoma and Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Auditor, Pittsburgh Mayor Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday released a report saying marijuana could be a $1.7 billion industry in the state, generating more than $500 million in tax revenues. Joining DePasquale was Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "This issue not only has a revenue side to it, but it also has a personal side to it -- people whose lives are thrown out of balance because of the penalization of cannabis not being legal, people who are not able to have access to housing or access to jobs or access to an opportunity in life," Peduto said.

Jersey City Decriminalizes Possession. The city becomes the first in the state to decriminalize small-time pot possession. A decriminalization ordinance went into effect Thursday. Under the ordinance, the city's assistant prosecutors will have discretion in which cases to pursue.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Board to Reconsider Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health said Wednesday it will meet "as soon as possible" to reconsider restrictive rules it imposed on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. The move comes after a storm of opposition arose in response to its rules requiring pharmacists to be present at dispensaries and banning the sale of smokeable marijuana at dispensaries. "The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible," board president Jim Starkey said in a news release. "The Oklahoma State Health Department staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program."

Oklahoma Legislature Forms Bipartisan Group to Work on Medical Marijuana Implementation. Senate Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced Thursday they would form the committee after the State Board of Health added two controversial amendments to the rules regulating marijuana."Oklahoma voters made their choice, and the Senate will work to ensure State Question 788 is implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the voters' choice." Treat said.

International

British Drug Advisory Committee Calls for Legal Medical Marijuana. The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has called for the legalization of medical marijuana. In a "short-term advice," the group said the plant had medicinal benefits and doctors should be able to prescribe it. The ACMD also called for marijuana to be down-scheduled in the country's drug classification scheme.

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana battle royale is raging in Oklahoma, New York will allow medical marijuana as an opioid replacement, and more.

Hawaii

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana for Opioid Addiction. Gov. David Ige (D) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana treatment for opioid and substance abuse disorders. Senate Bill 2407 passed the legislature with large majorities in May, but Gov. Ige announced in June he planned to veto it. Now he has.

New York

New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana as Opioid Replacement. State regulators have moved to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids to use medical marijuana instead. "Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard said. "Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state."

Ohio

Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Delayed. The patient registry has been put on hold as regulators try to figure out when medical marijuana when actually be available to patients. The registry was supposed to go online last week. The state Department of Commerce has yet to set a date when it expects medical marijuana to be available.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Governor Signs Strict Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed rules regulating medical marijuana that include banning the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries and requiring a pharmacist at dispensaries. "These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans. They are also the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people. I expect modifications could occur in the future. I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions," Fallon said in a statement.

DEA Says Oklahoma Pharmacists Dispensing Marijuana Would Violate Federal Law. Although Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Wednesday signed into law regulations requiring that a pharmacist be present at medical marijuana dispensaries, the DEA's Special Agent in Charge in Oklahoma, Rich Salter, warned that the medical marijuana program as a whole violates federal law. Any pharmacist who dispensed an illegal drug would be at risk of losing his or her license, he added.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Groups Vow To Take Action In Last-Minute Regulation Changes. The Oklahoma Cannabis Trade Association and the Oklahomans for Health, the group that spearheaded the successful medical marijuana initiative, held a news conference Wednesday to decry regulations imposed by the state Board of Health and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R). "Those are not reasonable," said medical marijuana advocate Nora Sapp. "We the people spoke on July 26th. We didn't ask permission. We told them what we are going to do." The two groups said they would fight the regulations.

Oklahoma Advocates File Lawsuits Over Medical Marijuana Rules. Green the Vote, the people behind the successful June medical marijuana initiative, filed two lawsuits Friday against the state over its restrictive rules and regulations. "The lawsuit filed today is our endeavor to undo the wrongful acts of the Oklahoma Department of Health in adopting amendments to the regulations implementing State Initiative 788. It is our hope that this lawsuit will quickly resolve the improper regulations and allow Oklahoma citizens to exercise their rights to manage their own health care," the group announced in a news release.

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Oklahoma Attorney General Advises Health Board to Change Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The office of the state attorney general is advising the Board of Health to revisit its restrictive rules for the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. On Monday, Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office would review legal challenges to the rules, and on Wednesday, the office announced it was calling on the board to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed last week. "The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them," Attorney General Hunter said. "Although I didn't support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate. My advice today is made pursuant to that responsibility as attorney general. Moving forward, I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the legislative working group looking at medical marijuana to ensure they have their concerns and recommendations heard and addressed by the legislature."

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

Chronicle AM: MX Minister Talks Legalizing Drugs, BC Nurses in Canada Decrim Call, More... (7/18/18)

BC nurses talk drug decriminalization, a Mexican minister talks drug legalization, House Republicans on a key committee once again block House votes on marijuana amendments, and more.

Mexico's incoming government is talking about legalizing drugs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Rules Committee Once Again Blocks Marijuana Reform Votes. The Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), has once again blocked marijuana reform amendments from being voted on by the full House. On Monday night, the committee blocked votes on two amendments, bringing the total of amendments it has blocked to 36 in this session.

Arizona Federal Prosecutors Now Charging Marijuana Smugglers With Illegal Entry, Too. Federal prosecutors in Arizona have announced a policy shift in which they will now charge the hundreds of people caught each year smuggling marijuana across the border with immigration violations as well as drug charges. Under the new policy, prosecutors will now seek six-month sentences for misdemeanor illegal entry as well as six-month sentences for marijuana violations. While the sentences would run concurrently, a conviction for crossing the border illegally could be used as a sentencing enhancement in future convictions.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Patient Registry Delayed. The patient registry has been put on hold as regulators try to figure out when medical marijuana when actually be available to patients. The registry was supposed to go online last week. The state Department of Commerce has yet to set a date when it expects medical marijuana to be available.

Oklahoma Attorney General Advises Health Board to Change Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The office of the state attorney general is advising the Board of Health to revisit its restrictive rules for the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. On Monday, Attorney General Mike Hunter said his office would review legal challenges to the rules, and on Wednesday, the office announced it was calling on the board to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed last week. "The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them," Attorney General Hunter said. "Although I didn't support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate. My advice today is made pursuant to that responsibility as attorney general. Moving forward, I encourage all stakeholders to engage with the legislative working group looking at medical marijuana to ensure they have their concerns and recommendations heard and addressed by the legislature."

International

British Columbia Nurses Join Call for Canada Drug Decriminalization. The BC Nurses Union said in a press release Tuesday that the federal government should declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency and that the possession of personal amounts of opioids should be decriminalized. The move comes just days after the Toronto board of health made a similar call.

Mexico Will Consider Drug Legalization, Interior Minister Says. Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said Tuesday that that incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) had given her "carte blanche" to consider legalizing drugs. "On the subject of decriminalizing drugs, Andres Manuel told me, and I quote: 'Carte blanche. Whatever is necessary to restore peace in this country. Let's open up the debate,'" Sanchez Cordero said. She pointed to the bloody violence of the past decade: "What no one can deny with hard data is that, at least in the past ten years, the Mexican government has been incapable of stopping violence and responding to it with institutional mechanisms," she said.

Chronicle AM: OK Medical Marijuana Muddle, Toronto Health Board Says Decriminalize, More... (7/17/18)

The uproar in Oklahoma grows louder after the state health board messes with the medical marijuana initiative, Toronto's health board endorses drug decriminalization, and more.

A battle is brewing in Oklahoma after the state health board messes with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (DPA)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Pressure Mounts for Special Session on Medical Marijuana. Amid growing outrage over the Board of Health's imposition of restrictive and controversial changes to State Question 788, approved last month by voters, legislators and others are demanding Gov. Mary Fallin (R) call a special session of the legislature to ensure the will of the voters is upheld. Among other changes, the Board banned the sale of smokable marijuana and required pharmacists to be present at dispensaries. "This is not what the voters voted for," said state Rep. Jason Lowe (D-Oklahoma City). "We must adhere to the will of the people. The governor's signing of the emergency rules adopted by the Oklahoma State Health Department is an affront to democracy, an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Holds Judges Can Require Drug Users to Remain Drug-Free. The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that a judge can require a drug user to stay drug-free as a condition of probation. The case involved Julie Eldred, who was on probation for a larceny charge when she was jailed for failing a drug test. Her attorney argued that her relapse was a symptom of her disease of addiction and that it was unconstitutional to punish someone for a medical condition. But the court disagreed: "In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug-free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

International

Toronto Public Health Board Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The health board in Canada's largest city has called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs. The board voted unanimously Monday to endorse the recommendation from the city's top health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa. "The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally, so that's what we're trying to address," de Villa said, with a call for a "public health approach" focused on treatment and harm minimization rather police, courts and jail. Officials in Vancouver have also called for drug decriminalization, but the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't shown any appetite for it.

Chronicle AM: CA Legal Pot Draft Rules Unveiled, Opioid Crackdown Hurts Pain Patients, More... (7/16/18)

California regulators issue proposed draft regulations for the legal marijuana market, British police are "in effect" decriminalizing marijuana, the opioid crackdown is impacting chronic pain patients, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Legal Marijuana Draft Regulations Unveiled. State regulators last Friday unveiled their much-anticipated draft of permanent regulations for the state's legal marijuana industry. Under the proposed regulations, pot shops would be able to deliver marijuana anywhere in the state, medical marijuana patients will likely be able to buy edibles more potent than currently permitted, but rules for advertising products could become more strict. The public now has 45 days to weigh in on the draft rules, either in writing or at one of 10 hearings to be held throughout the state.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Crackdown on Opioid Prescriptions Risks Leaving Pain Patients Out of Luck. With the country in the midst of a battle against opioid addiction and overdoses, policies to curtail the use of opioids are impacting chronic pain patients and making their lives more difficult. New prescribing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, new state laws, state medical board sanctions, and policy changes by managed-care and prescription plans have all contributed to what pain patients call "changes have ignored the treatment of their pain and have made it harder for many to find care."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Appeals Court Rules That People With Drug Convictions Can't Be Subjected to Drug Tests Forever to Receive Welfare Benefits. The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that people with previous drug convictions cannot be permanently required to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. The ruling came in the case of a woman convicted of drug possession in 1997 who refused to take a drug test in 2016 and lost her benefits. Under a 1997 state law, people convicted of drug offenses are ineligible for benefits for five years after their sentences are over (unless they've completed drug treatment) and are subject to random drug tests in perpetuity. "Granting effect to the [Department of Human Services'] current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence," Judge Roger Klaphake wrote on his opinion overturning a denial of benefits to the woman. "Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not ''[p]ersons subject to the limitations of this subdivision' and are not required to undergo chemical testing for receipt of benefits under chapter 256D," he wrote on behalf of a divided three-judge panel.

International

Brazil Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. The opposition Workers' /Party has filed a bill that would legalize marijuana in South America's largest and most populous country. The move comes a year after Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso called on lawmakers to legalize marijuana as a means of reducing gang violence. But given that the Workers' Party is the minority, this bill is unlikely to move this year.

British Police "In Effect" Decriminalizing Marijuana. British police are effectively decriminalizing marijuana by not bothering to arrest pot smokers, British arrest statistics show. Marijuana arrests have dropped 19% since 2015 and so have warnings, which declined 34% in the same period. "The fall in prosecutions and cautions for cannabis possession is a welcome trend and a victory for common sense," said Liberal Democrat MP David Lamb. "The 'war on cannabis' unfairly stigmatizes and criminalizes young people who are doing no harm to others, while tying up police resources which should be better used tackling harmful crimes. However, this issue should not be left to individual police forces. We cannot tolerate a postcode lottery where cannabis users may or may not be prosecuted depending on where they live. The government must bring forward proposals for a regulated cannabis market in the interests of public health, with strict controls on price and potency, and give parliament a free vote."

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