Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM: VT Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill, IL MedMJ at School Lawsuit, AZ Syringe Access Bill, More... (1/12/18)

Vermont is set to become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, New York gets a hearing on legalization, Arizona's legislature gets a Republican-sponsored syringe access bill, the parents of an Illinois child sue over access to medical marijuana at school, and more.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will sign a marijuana legalization bill. (vermont.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly Health Committee took up the topic of marijuana legalization at a hearing Thursday. Committee Chair Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said he called the hearing because the state needed to take a serious look at its antiquated drug laws. The committee heard from medical professionals, nonprofit groups, and individuals, most of whom said the state would benefit from legalization. A representative of the State Sheriff's Association, though, worried about drugged driving and voiced concern that legal marijuana could add to the state's opioid epidemic, although he didn't say precisely how. [Ed: Multiple studies, including this recent one, have found that legal marijuana availability reduces opioid overdose deaths.]

Vermont Governor Says He Will Sign Legalization Bill. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) said he plans to sign House Bill 511, which legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sales. Scott said once he receives the bill from the legislature, his staff will review it to make sure it is "technically" correct. "Then I'll sign the bill," he said. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana via the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Parents Sue Over Medical Marijuana Access at School. The parents of an 11-year-old suffering from leukemia have sued the state and a suburban Chicago school district over a state law that bars her from taking her medicine at school. The medical marijuana law the state passed in 2014 prohibits the possession or use of marijuana on public school property. The family argues that provision of the law denies their child due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school district involved is School District 54 in Schaumburg.

Indiana Sees Bevy of CBD Bills, But Only a Restrictive One Gets a Hearing. Responding to an attorney general's opinion last November that restricted the use of CBD to epileptics on a state registry, lawmakers have filed a number of bills to ease access to the substance, but the only one yet set for a hearing, Senate Bill 294, would actually make access even more restrictive. That bill, filed by Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), would mandate bar-coded cards for people on the registry and limit sales to card holders.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Needle Exchange Bill Filed. Rep. Tony Rivero (D-Peoria) has filed a needle exchange bill, House Bill 2389. The bill would allow a city, town, or nonprofit organization to establish and operate "a needle and hypodermic syringe access program." The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

International

Portugal Moves Toward Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Portugal is on the cutting edge when it comes to drug reform, having decriminalized the possession of any drug in 2001, but it lags behind other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. Perhaps for not much longer, though: The parliament has now begun considering a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, and it is debating a draft bill that allows for personal cultivation. But that provision could be excised from the final bill, as the bill's sponsor, the Left Bloc, ponders concessions to make it more palatable to other parties.

Chronicle AM: Major Iran Drug Death Penalty Reform, NJ Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/11/18)

Iran moves to put the brakes on drug executions, another national poll has strong support for marijuana legalization, a legalization bill gets filed in New Jersey, a medical marijuana bill gets filed in Kentucky, and more.

Iran drug executions. We will see many fewer after the Islamic Republic approved reforms. (Hands Off Cain)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization, Opposition to Sessions Move. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday had support for marijuana legalization at 58% nationwide, roughly in line with recent polls from the Pew Trust (61%) and Gallup (64%). The only demographic groups not embracing legalization were Republicans (33%) and people over 65 (41%). Hispanics were evenly divided with 48% opposed and 48% in favor. But every group said they opposed the push to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with 70% opposing such a move. Marijuana "is here to stay, either for fun or to provide medical comfort," said pollster Tim Malloy in a statement. "And the message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hands off."

Study: Legal Marijuana Could Create a Million Jobs, More Than $100 Billion in Federal Taxes. A study from New Frontier Data, an analytics firm focused on the marijuana industry, estimates that if marijuana were legal nationwide, it would generate federal tax revenues of nearly $132 billion over the next eight years. The study also calculated that nationwide legalization would create nearly 800,000 jobs, with that number rising to more than 1.1. million by 2025.

Sessions, Gardner Meet Over DOJ's War on Weed: No Progress. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) met Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding their conflict over marijuana policy, but Gardner reported no progress. "Nobody changed their mind in today's meeting," he said. Gardner, who represents a legal marijuana state, has vowed to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions backs away from his order last week rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that law-abiding pot operations in legal marijuana states should be largely left alone.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex) filed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The bill would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of weed, 16 ounces of infused pot products, and 72 ounces of liquid infused products, but would not allow for home cultivation. It would also allow for the licensing of commercial grows and pot shops within a year of the bill's passage. Incoming Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports legalization. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Norfolk, Virginia, Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council in Virginia's second largest city passed a resolution Tuesday calling on state lawmakers to decriminalize pot possession. The resolution also called on the legislature to expand the list of medical conditions for which doctors can recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil Incoming Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made decriminalization a centerpiece of his compaign, often describing the issue in racial justice terms.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Secretary of State Allison Grimes announced Tuesday that a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, House Bill 166, has been filed. The bill would allow people suffering from a qualifying list of conditions to use medical marijuana. It would also allow patients to grow up to 12 plants in a locked and closed facility.

North Dakota Sets Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regions. The state Department of Health has established eight regions for where dispensaries can be located. State law allows for up to eight dispensaries, with more to be added if necessary. As of now, the eight regions include the state's largest cities and a 50-mile radius around them. The state is no yet taking applications for dispensaries or grow operations.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania Governor Declares Opioid Epidemic a Statewide Disaster. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed a statewide disaster declaration Tuesday regarding the state's opioid and heroin crisis. "While we have made progress in combating the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania's response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians," Wolf said in a statement. "I am taking this step to protect Pennsylvanians from this looming public health crisis, and I am using every tool at my disposal to get those suffering from substance use disorders into treatment, save more lives, and improve response coordination." The disaster declaration includes 13 initial initiatives in three broad areas: enhancing coordination and data collection to bolster state and local response, improving tools for families and first responders to save lives, and speeding up and expanding access to treatment.

International

Iran Reforms Death Penalty for Drug Offenses; Could Spare 5,000 Death Row Prisoners. The head of the Iranian judiciary on Tuesday made it official: Iran has reformed its death penalty statutes and will radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses. It does so by raising the weight threshold for a death sentence. Under the earlier law, possession of 5 kilograms of opium of 30 grams of heroin merited the death sentence; under the new law, it will take 50 kilos of opium or 2 kilos of heroin. The new thresholds are to be applied retroactively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row.

Paraguay Legalizes Medical Marijuana. Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes signed into law a medical marijuana bill on Wednesday. The measure legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana and cannabis oils, allows for local production of medical marijuana, and allows for the import of cannabis oil. Paraguay now joins Mexico and the South American countries of Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in allowing medical marijuana. Uruguay has legalized marijuana for all uses.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization, US Prisoner Numbers Drop Again, More... (1/10/18)

Vermont is just a governor's signature away from becoming the first state to legalize marijuana at the statehouse, Maine stakeholders reach agreement on a legalization implementation bill, the US prisoner population declines for the third straight year, and more.

Montpelier says yes to marijuana (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Ease Expungement of Old Convictions. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed a bill, Assembly Bill 1793, to make the expungement of past marijuana misdemeanors and the reduction of past marijuana felonies to misdemeanors automatic. The expungements and downgradings are part of the 2016 legalization initiative, Prop 64, but the initiative language required people to initiate proceedings themselves.

Maine Stakeholders Reach Agreement on Legalization Implementation Bill. The legislature's Marijuana Implementation Committee said Tuesday it has come up with a framework for regulating legal marijuana in the state. This marks the second effort to put the will of the voters into effect: Last year, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the original effort. Under the agreement, legal sales will be taxed at 17.5% and localities will have to opt-in to participate. Now the committee needs to actually draft the bill and get it to the governor.

Vermont Legislature Approves Noncommercial Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Wednesday took a final vote on a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not taxed and regulated sales. Gov. Phil Scott has said he will sign the bill into law. The bill, House Bill 511, legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of two mature and four immature plants by persons 21 or over. It does not allow for legal commerce, instead "retaining criminal penalties for the possession, dispensing, or sale of larger amounts of marijuana." For now, anyway -- the bill also calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawsuit Challenges "Racial Quota" in Medical Marijuana Program. A company that failed to win a slot in the state's medical marijuana program has filed a lawsuit claiming it lost out because of "an unconstitutional racial quota." PharmaCann Ohio Inc. said it finished 12th out of more than a hundred applicants for 12 cultivation licenses on the state's application ranking system, but that it lost out because a state quota system requires 15% of those licenses to go to minority-owned groups. That requirement gave an unfair boost to companies that scored lower in the rankings, the company argued, saying the racial requirement violates the Constitution's 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

Harm Reduction

Florida 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Bill Advances. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted Tuesday to advance a 911 Good Samaritan overdose bill, Senate Bill 970. The measure would grant immunity to drug possession charges to people who seek medical help for a drug overdose. Florida is one of only a handful of states that have yet to pass such a law. The measure still faces a vote in the Judiciary Committee before moving to a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

State and Federal Prison Populations Declined for Third Straight Year in 2016. The number of state and federal prisoners declined for the third straight year in 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Wednesday. At year's end 2016, the number of people in state and federal prison was 1,505,400, a 1% decrease from 2015. Federal prisons accounted for more than a third (34%) of the decrease, with the federal prison population dropping from 196,500 in 2015 to 189,200 in 2016. Nearly half (47%) of all federal prisoners are doing time for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Marijuana Legalization, CO Safe Injection Site Sought, More... (1/9/18)

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week of a possible renewed war on marijuana continues to reverberate, the New Hampshire House passes a bill to legalize possession and cultivation, but not sales; Colorado lawmakers want a safe injection site as part of their response to the opioid crisis, and more.

New Hampshire, live free and high
Marijuana Policy

Colorado GOP Senator, Sessions to Meet This Week. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who took to the Senate floor last week to denounce Attorney General Sessions' move to end the Obama administration's laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana, will meet with Sessions later this week. Neither Gardner's office nor the Justice Department would supply any more details, although it's safe to speculate that marijuana policy will be on the agenda.

Massachusetts US Attorney Will Not Rule Out Going After Marijuana Businesses. US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling has said he will not rule out prosecuting businesses involved with marijuana. Lelling suggested supporters of legal marijuana should just get it legalized: "Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do,"  Lelling said in a statement. "The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process."

New Hampshire House Votes to Legalize Possession and Cultivation But Not Sales. The House voted 183-162 Tuesday morning to approve House Bill 656, which would legalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and allow individuals to grow up to three plants. The vote came after the House amended the bill to remove provisions allowing for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana sales. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Colorado Lawmakers Have Package of Bills to Fight Opioid Crisis, Including Safe Injection Site. A bipartisan committee of lawmakers has crafted a package of six bills aimed at curbing the opioid crisis in the state. One bill would limit initial prescriptions of opioids to just seven days; another would make naloxone available at public schools; another would take $3 million from marijuana tax revenues to fund education for doctors on pain management; but the most controversial would allow for a safe injection site to operate in Denver.

International

Canada's Saskatchewan Will Have Privately Owned Marijuana Stores. The provincial government announced Monday that legal marijuana will be sold by private operators issued marijuana retail licenses by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority. Retail stores will initially be allocated in areas of the province with more than 2,500 people, with some 40 municipalities and Indian reservations on the list. Saskatoon, the province's largest city, will eventually receive more licenses.

Colombia Sends 2,000 Troops to Restive Coca Port Town. More than 2,000 soldiers flew into the Pacific port town of Tumaco Monday to try to tamp down rising violence that has left more than 240 people dead in the past year. Tumaco is the municipality with the most coca cultivation of any in the country and has seen conflict between rival armed groups involved in the coca and cocaine trade, as well as attacks by traffickers on farmers who have participated in the government's coca crop substitution program.

Chronicle AM: Trump Touts "Very Harsh" Drug Policies, CA Marijuana "Sanctuary State" Bill, More... (1/8/17)

A California lawmaker revives his marijuana sanctuary state bill, President Trump lauds "very harsh" drug policies, Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues, and more.

President Trump seems to have a soft spot for "very harsh" drug policies and those who implement them. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

San Francisco Begins Legal Adult Marijuana Sales. The city by the bay joined the legal recreational marijuana sales era last Saturday, as the Apothecarium on Market Street opened its doors to a line around the block. Sales in the state began on January 1 in locations where permits and licenses had been issued, but San Francisco wasn't quite ready on day one. Now it is.

California Bill Would Make State a Marijuana Sanctuary State. In the wake of US Attorney Jeff Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) is renewing efforts to pass a bill he filed last year, Assembly Bill 1578. Modeled on the state's law making it a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the measure would prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from helping the DEA target the state's marijuana industry without a federal court order. The bill passed the Assembly last year before being stalled in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Okays First Dispensary. State regulators announced last Thursday that they had approved the state's first dispensary to begin selling medical marijuana once it becomes available from a licensed grow. The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem was the first out of the gate. The dispensary will open later this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but doesn't expect to have product on hand until mid-February. Regulators said they expected more dispensaries to open in coming weeks.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Lawmaker Wants to Automatically Jail Parolees, Probationers Who Fail Drug Tests for Illicit Opioids. State Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miami Valley) has proposed a bill that would automatically jail probationers or parolees who test positive for heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. The bill would also allow an option for treatment, but Antani said there are not enough treatment facilities and "until that time, jail is simply the safest place for someone to detox and to be safely placed if they are using heroin and fentanyl." The bill is not yet available on the legislative website, but some of Antani's other bills are, including one that says police body camera footage is not a public record and another that would toughen the requirements for getting initiatives on the ballot and for passing them.

Collateral Consequences

Indiana Bill Would End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons. State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) has filed Senate Bill 11, which would lift a ban on residents with drug felony convictions from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The ban derives from a federal law, but that law allows states to exempt themselves from using it, and a majority of states have done so. Under Bohacek's bill, drug felons who had completed probation or parole would be eligible.

Drug Policy

Trump Says Countries That Are "Very Harsh" on Drug Policy Do Better. Speaking at a Camp David press conference last Saturday, President Trump appeared to give a big thumbs up to drug war criminals such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte by saying countries that are "very harsh" on drug policy have fewer difficulties curbing the problem. His remarks came as he addressed the opioid crisis in the US. "We are going to do everything we can," said Trump. "It's a very difficult situation, difficult for many countries. Not so difficult for some, believe it or not, they take it very seriously, they're very harsh, those are the ones that have much less difficulty. But we are going to be working on that very, very hard this year, and I think we're going to make a big dent into the drug problem."

Harm Reduction

Maine's Tea Party Governor Blocks Easy Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) continues to block new rules that would allow state residents to obtain the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) without a prescription. The state Board of Pharmacy unanimously approved letting pharmacists dispense the lifesaving drug without a prescription in August, but ever since, the plan has been stalled, with the rules still at the governor's office pending review. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz confirmed as much last Friday, but declined to offer any timeline or explanation regarding the delay. LePage vetoed a naloxone bill in 2016, only to be overridden by the legislature.

International

More Than 30 Killed in Mexico Drug Clashes. At least 32 people were killed in less than 24 hours late last week in the northern state of Chihuahua as rival drug gangs battled each other. The killings appear related to a dispute between La Linea, enforcers for the Juarez Cartel, and La Gente Neva, enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel. At least seven were reported killing in Chihuahua City, with most of the others being killed in Ciudad Juarez. Among the dead were at least five women and children.

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."

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: BC Pilot Program Will Provide Free Opioids to Entrenched Users, More... (12/21/17)

Austin mellows out on pot policy, the VA lets doctors talk about -- but not recommend -- medical marijuana to patients, British Columbia is set to begin a pilot project of giving medical-grade opioids to chronic users, and more.

BC health officials are going to start giving hydromorphone (Dilaudid) to chronic opioid users. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Austin, Texas, to Allow Small-Time Marijuana Possessors to Take Class, Avoid Charges. People caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be able to avoid criminal charges if they take a four-hour class on drug abuse and the effects of marijuana on the body under a policy unanimously adopted by Travis County commissioners Wednesday. Houston is already doing something similar. About 2,000 people get arrested for pot each year in Travis County, a disproportionate number of whom are black or Hispanic.

Medical Marijuana

New Veterans Administration Rules Let Docs Talk About -- But Not Recommend -- Medical Marijuana. Under a new VA directive, doctors can "discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any veterans requesting information about marijuana." But they can't recommend it: "Providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in a state-approved marijuana program."

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new UtahPolicy poll finds that nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents support a proposed medical marijuana initiative. That figure includes 61% of people who describe themselves as "very active" Mormons. The church opposes the initiative. The initiative will go on the November 2018 ballot if petitioners can come up with 113,000 valid voter signatures by the spring.

International

British Columbia Pilot Project to Hand Out Free Opioids to Users. The BC Center for Disease Control has won permission to begin a pilot project where medical-grade opioids will be provided at no cost to at-risk users. The move is aimed at reducing fatal drug overdoses, as well as reducing costs associated with drug use and addiction. Under the program, chronic opioid users registered with the agency will be given three free doses of hydromorphone (Dilaudid) daily. The annual cost for the drug for each user will be under $700, less than the cost of a single emergency call to medical first-responders. The program is set to begin in April.

Mexico to Legalize Marijuana-Based Products Next Year. The country's health regulatory agency, Cofepris, announced Wednesday that Mexico will legalize the sales of marijuana-based foods, drinks, cosmetics, and other products early next year. Mexico has legalized the use of marijuana for medical and scientific, but not recreational purposes.

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.

Chronicle AM: Wyden Signs On to Booker Pot Bill, Ithaca Safe Injection Site Talks, More... (12/19/17)

Cory Booker's federal marijuana bill finally finds another sponsor, Kentucky's ag commissioner pronounces himself "dumbfounded" at the DEA's recalcitrant position on industrial hemp, and more.

Cory Booker is feeling just a little less lonely after picking up Ron Wyden as a cosponsor for his marijuana bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Wyden Signs On to Booker's Federal Marijuana Bill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced Monday that he is cosponsoring Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, Senate Bill 1689. The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize it without fear of federal interference. The bill would also withhold funds from states that continue to criminalize marijuana and disproportionately arrest and imprison minorities for marijuana offenses, as well as allowing people sentenced under racially biased marijuana law enforcement to file civil lawsuits against their states. Wyden is the only cosponsor of the bill so far.

Hemp

Kentucky Ag Commissioner "Dumbfounded" at DEA Position on Hemp. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has written a letter to the DEA requesting a meeting about hemp policy. "I was dumbfounded" to read about the DEA's position that hemp-derived CBD oils are illegal, even if they contain no THC," Quarles wrote. "Consumable hemp products are legal to buy," Quarles noted. But the DEA maintains that hemp is the same thing as marijuana, and DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson responded that Quarles is "knocking on the wrong door." Patterson said the DEA was simply enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, and if people want to change hemp policy, they need to talk to Congress.

Drug Testing

Illinois Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Coming Soon. Police in the northwestern town of Carol Stream will begin a pilot roadside drug testing program in February. Officers will use mouth swabs to screen for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and opiates. Testing will begin on a voluntary basis, with drivers asked if they will consent to giving a saliva sample. The test results could be used to help police build drugged driving cases, but since Illinois does not have a zero tolerance drugged driving policy, test results alone would not be sufficient to prove guilt.

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Continues Discussions on Safe Injection Site. County officials on Monday continued discussing a proposal from Mayor Svante Myrick to open a safe injection site for heroin users in the city. The county legislature's Health and Human Services Committee heard from proponents of the harm reduction measure in what is the second hearing on the topic in two months.

Drug War Issues

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