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Medical Marijuana Update

There is no joy in Idaho, a California bill to protect patients' employment rights advances, Utah Democrats endorse medical marijuana, and more.

Arkansas

Last Friday, justices agreed to expedite the medical marijuana licensing case. The state Supreme Court has agreed to speed up its review of a ruling that has blocked the issuance of the state's first medical marijuana grow licenses. Some 220 medical marijuana dispensary applications are also on hold, and the state argued before the court that getting the licenses rolled out is a matter of significant public interest.

California

Last Wednesday, a bill to protect patients' employment rights advanced. The Assembly Labor and Employment Committee voted last Wednesday to approve Assembly Bill 2069, which aims to end employment discrimination against medical marijuana patients by treating medical marijuana the same way current law treats prescription opioids and other drugs, by granting it "reasonable accommodation" under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act. The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Idaho

On Sunday, medical marijuana petitioners gave up. There will be no medical marijuana initiative in Idaho this year. The head of the Idaho Medical Marijuana Association says she has stopped collecting signatures and dissolved the group to care for her ailing son. The group needed 36,000 signatures by Monday and wasn't close.

Missouri

Missouri House Passes Smokeless Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday approved House Bill 1554, which would allow terminal patients and patients suffering from debilitating conditions to use a smokeless form of medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Utah

On Saturday, the state Democratic Party made support for medical marijuana a platform plank. At the state party convention last weekend, the Democratic Party added medical marijuana to the party platform. A ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana is likely to be on the ballot in November.

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

Chronicle AM: Opioid Prescriptions Drop, Trump Repeats False Border Wall Claims, More... (4/20/18)

A California marijuana banking bill advances, a Colorado marijuana deliveries bill dies, opioid prescriptions are declining, Trump repeats false claims about the border wall and drug smuggling, and more.

opioid prescriptions go down, down, down (IQVIA Institute)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Create Marijuana Banks Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would license special banks to handle billions of dollars from the legal marijuana market was approved by the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee on a 7-0 vote Wednesday. The measure, Senate Bill 930, now heads to the Senate Government and Finance Committee. Companion legislation has been filed in the Assembly.

Colorado Marijuana Delivery Bill Killed. A bill that would have allowed pot shops to make deliveries got through the House only to die in a Senate committee Wednesday. House Bill 1092 was killed by a 3-2 vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Legalization Amendment Petition. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) rejected a petition for a proposed marijuana legalization amendment Thursday. DeWine wrote that he rejected the petition because its summary language did not match the actual amendment language. Campaign organizers can refile the petition if they wish.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Prescriptions Dropped In Every State Last Year. The number of opiod painkiller prescriptions dropped 10.2% in 2017, according to a new report from the ICVIA Institute, which collects data on pharmaceutical prescriptions from retail pharmacies. The number of high-potency opioid prescriptions declined even more, by 16.1% And using a measure called the morphine milligram equivalent saw a 12% decrease, the largest in a quarter century. "We're seeing declines across every state," said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute. "The states that have the highest per capita consumption are also the states with the highest decline."

Drug Testing

Massachusetts High Court Rules Against State in PrisonVisitor Drug Dog Policy Fight. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday that the Department of Corrections exceeded its authority when it started using drug dogs to search prison visitors without giving the public a chance to weigh in. The court held that the department should have followed a regulatory process that allows interested parties an opportunity to present their views. Still, the court is allowing the department to continue the drug dog searches while it follows the proper regulatory process.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Safe Injection Site Bill Filed. St. Louis state Rep. Karla May (D) has filed House Bill 2367, which "authorizes local health departments and community-based organizations to establish Safe Consumption Facilities." It is aimed at reducing overdoses and infectious diseases linked to injection drug use.

The Border

Trump Again Falsely Claims Border Wall Needed to Stop Drug Smuggling. The president is at it again: On Thursday, President Trump traveled to the Florida Keys to be briefed by the Joint Interagency Task Force South and said he received "a great education" about drugs flowing into the country, but then proceeded to make the errant claim that a border wall is needed to stop the flow of drugs. "Drugs are flowing into our country," Trump said. "We need border protection. We need the wall. We have to have the wall." But border experts, drug experts, and even the DEA all agree that the vast majority of drugs smuggled from Mexico go through ports of entry, not through the vast and barren unfenced expanses of the border.

International

Indonesia's New Anti-Drug Head Signals Softer Approach. New anti-drug chief Heru Winarko called Wednesday for an expansion of drug treatment centers in the country, signaling a new approach to the war on drugs there. Police would maintain their "stern" approach to drug traffickers and their "shoot to kill" policy toward armed suspects resisting arrest, he said, but added that Indonesia would not mimic the bloody drug policies of the neighboring Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Chronicle AM: Opioid 'Scrips Decline in Legal Weed States, Swiss Consider Legal MJ Sales Pilot Program, More... (4/2/18)

Two new studies find that opioid prescriptions and daily doses decline in legal marijuana states, the Swiss are on the verge of a legal marijuana sales pilot program, and more.

Southern California's Coachella music festival will have to allow marijuana, a state judge has ruled. (Flickr/Feverblue)
Marijuana Policy

After States Legalize Weed, Opioid Prescriptions Decline, Studies Find. Two papers published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine that analyzed more than five years of Medicare Part D and Medicaid prescription data found that the number of opioid prescription and the daily dose of opioids declined after states legalized marijuana. "In this time when we are so concerned -- rightly so -- about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that's occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies," said W. David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia and an author of one of the studies. "If you're interested in giving people options for pain management that don't bring the particular risks that opiates do, states should contemplate turning on dispensary-based cannabis policies."

Medical Marijuana

 

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate Finance Committee voted last Friday to approve a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

International

Swiss Legislature Considers Legal Marijuana Sales Pilot Program. The country is the verge of approving a trial program that could allow up to a thousand people to purchase weed legally from government approved establishments. The measure has already passed the lower house with unanimous approval and is now headed to the National Council for final approval. Switzerland decriminalized the possession of small amounts five years ago.

Italy, France in Diplomatic Spat Over Forced Drug Test of Migrant. Armed French border patrol agents used an Italian train station to force a Nigerian passenger to provide a urine sample for a drug test, provoking the Italians to summon the French ambassador for consultations. The Italians said they had launched a "firm protest" and that border cooperation between the two countries was now undermined. France claimed it had the right to use the facility at the train station under a 1990 agreement, but Italy said it had told French authorities last month that the station was now off limits because it was being used by a humanitarian aid group.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana foes in Arizona take aim at pot doctors, a Michigan judge strikes down Detroit's medical marijuana initiative, Ohio's medical marijuana rollout hits a bump, and more.

Arizona

Last Thursday, a House committee advanced a bill to make felons of lax pot docs. The House Health Committee voted 6-3 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.

Michigan

Last Friday, a state judge struck down a Detroit medical marijuana initiative. A Wayne County circuit court judge 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.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenged the grow license process. A lawsuit filed by would-be medical marijuana grow operators who weren't picked for the large grow licenses issued by the state Department of Commerce threatens to disrupt the rollout of the program. The growers are suing the department, the officials involved in grading application, and all the businesses that won licenses. They charge they weren't treated fairly in the licensing process.

West Virginia

On Tuesday, state regulators will recommend allowing smokeable medical marijuana. The state medical marijuana board announced that it plans to recommend to lawmakers that some patients be allowed to use marijuana in a smokeable form. The board will also recommend removing or increasing the cap on the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries in the state and allowing one company to take on more than one of those roles.

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

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."

Medical Marijuana Update

The VA rejects pleas to study marijuana for PTSD, Illinois gets a couple of court rulings, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill is filed in Kentucky, and more.

National

On Tuesday, news came that the VA won't study marijuana's effects on PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs will not begin a study into marijuana's effects on PTSD despite pleas from congressman, veterans, and the nation's largest veterans' service organization. The news came in a letter to House Democrats from VA Secretary David Shulkin. The letter was actually written in late December, but only released Tuesday. "VA is committed to research and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions," Shulkin wrote. "However, federal law restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects." The letter said a review of existing research found a link between marijuana use and increased risk of suicide, as well as mania and psychotic symptoms, a response Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), a signer of the letter, called "disappointing" and "unacceptable."

Illinois

Last Wednesday, the parents of a sick child sued 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.

Last Friday, a federal judge okayed medical marijuana use at school for the sick girl. Two days after her parents filed a lawsuit against a school district and the state of Illinois over her school's refusal to allow her to use her medicine on school grounds, a federal judge ruled in her favor. The quick move came after the judge heard from the school district, which had concerns its employees could be subject to legal penalties for helping the 11-year-old. Lawyers for the state and the school district will meet with the judge next week to come up with a long-term solution.

On Tuesday, a state judge ordered the state to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition. Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell has ordered the Department of Public Health to add intractable pain as qualifying condition for medical marijuana use. The decision comes after the department declined to add it, and the department says it will appeal the ruling. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended added the condition in January 2016, but the health department demurred, saying there was "a lack of high quality data" from clinical trials to establish that the benefits outweighed the risks.

Indiana

As of last Friday, the state saw a bevy of CBD bills, but only a restrictive one was set for 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.

Kentucky

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. Secretary of State Allison Grimes announced 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.

Maryland

On Monday, the General Assembly took up racial justice in the marijuana industry. The General Assembly ran into controversy Monday as it took up the contentious issue of including marijuana companies led by African-Americans in the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. Under a compromise negotiated by legislative and industry leaders since last spring, the state would create five new growing licenses but also put a moratorium on further industry expansion for up to 10 years. But lawmakers worried that regulators could move fast enough to get minority firms off the ground and competitive with current growers. Another issue of concern was whether the 10-year moratorium gave too much protection to current growers. The Senate will hold a hearing on the proposal next week.

North Dakota

Last Thursday, the state set 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.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, the state backed away from going after medical marijuana patients' guns. The state Health Department announced it will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. The move came after newspapers in the state reported that patients would not be able to buy firearms. Under state regulations, the department was required to post a database of patient names to an online portal accessed by law enforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

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

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Kratom

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

Medical Marijuana Update

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment stays alive (for now) in the stopgap spending bill, Honolulu's police chief backs away from seizing patients' guns, and more.

National

Last Thursday, federal medical marijuana protections got a two-week reprieve. The passage of a stopgap spending bill means the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment ban on spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal remains in force for at least another two weeks. That's good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in a statement: "While we are pleased that these critical protections will continue, two weeks is not enough certainty for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana for treatment and the businesses who serve them," Blumenauer said. "As Congress works out a long-term funding bill, it must also include these protections. And ultimately, Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs -- and adult use -- from federal interference."

Hawaii

Last Wednesday,the Honolulu police chief admitted the department erred in trying to take guns from patients. Chief Susan Ballard acknowledged to the Honolulu Police Commission that the department's abortive move to make medical marijuana patients turn in their firearms "was incorrect." She said the department will return two guns to people who turned them in voluntarily, but she also said the department will continue to deny new gun permits to cardholders.

Nevada

Last Thursday, the state's highest court okayed the state's medical marijuana registry. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's medical marijuana registry does not violate constitutional provisions of due process, equal protection, and the right against self-incrimination. "We conclude Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right," said the opinion written by Justice Ron Parraguirre. "We further conclude the registry is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public."

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Opioid Commission Calls for More Drug Courts, More... (11/1/17)

President Trump's opioid commission issues its recommendations, El Paso becomes the latest Texas locale to ease marijuana possession penalties, would-be Arkansas medical marijuana providers file suit over an application process that excluded them, and more.

The Trump opioid commission has called for drug courts nationwide to help ease the crisis.(virginia.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Task Force Report to Be Delayed. The legislative task force studying whether to legalize marijuana has delayed issuing its final report from the end of January to the end of February. The delay was requested by the Keep Delaware Safe and Healthy Coalition, a coalition of influential groups opposed to legalization.

New Jersey Court Rules State Must Consider Reclassifying Marijuana. An Appellate Division court ruled 2-1 Tuesday that the state must at least consider removing marijuana from its list of controlled substances. The ruling came in a case brought by two plaintiffs, a man serving a life sentence for marijuana trafficking and a young girl with epilepsy who uses marijuana for medical reasons. The court did not order the state to reclassify the herb, but said the head of the Division of Consumer Affairs should have considered reclassification instead of just flatly denying a petition to do so.

El Paso Becomes Latest Texas Locale to Not Automatically Arrest for Marijuana Offenses. El Paso county commissioners voted on Monday to approve a program under which first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces of weed can avoid arrest and criminal charges. The state passed a law allowing for the down-grading of pot possession offenses in 2014, but it has only been implemented in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Business Applicants Sue Over Rejected Bids. A group of applicants seeking to open some of the first medical marijuana businesses in the state filed lawsuits last week charging that the state Medical Marijuana Commission erred in its initial assessment of applications, where it rejected several applicants for failing to meet minimum requirements. The lawsuits seek a temporary restraining order to force the commission to include the plaintiffs' applications during a final scoring review.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Issues Recommendations. President Trump's commission on the opioid crisis called Wednesday for the nationwide expansion of drug courts and more access to alternatives to opioids for people suffering pain as part of a series of recommendations for shaping drug policy to more effectively address the crisis. The 56 recommendations also include requiring doctors to show they have training in the safe provision of such drugs before their DEA licenses are renewed, requiring health care providers to use prescription drug monitoring databases, and easing Medicaid and insurance payments for opioid drug treatment. The recommendations contain no provision for increased funding.

Chronicle AM: Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws, NFL Endorses Sentencing Reform, More... (10/17/17)

Stories pile up when you spend a week at the drug reform conference: Trump's choice for drug czar is out, the NFL endorses sentencing reform, California's governor signs a sentencing reform bill, and more.

The National Football League has formally endorsed a federal sentencing reform bill. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Marijuana Conviction of Vehicle Passenger. The state Supreme Court last Thursday threw out the marijuana possession conviction of a car passenger, saying the mere fact that he was in the vehicle didn't mean he actually possessed the drug. Marvin Carver had been charged after the car his half-brother was driving was pulled over and marijuana was found. The half-brother said the marijuana was his, and prosecutors never proved that Carver knew about or intended to possess the pot, the court noted.

New Hampshire Marijuana Study Group Holds First Meeting, No Legalizers Included. A commission charged with studying the potential impact of marijuana legalization is holding its first meeting today. Created by the legislature, the commission includes lawmakers and representatives of several state agencies, including banking, law enforcement, and the medical community. Of the legislators, several have voiced opposition to legalization and none are on record in support of it.

Maine Legalizers Reject Legislative Rewrite of Marijuana Law. Legalize Maine, the group behind last year's successful legalization initiative, has come out against the proposed legislative rewrite of the law, saying it "isn't ready for prime time." The group strongly objects to bill language requiring localities to "opt in" to the legal marijuana business instead of having to "opt out." Such a provision will only create chaos and encourage the black market, the group says.

Pennsylvania ACLU Report Finds Large Racial Disparities in Marijuana Arrests. In an analysis of 2016 arrest data, the ACLU found that black adults in the state were eight times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites. Marijuana arrests in the state have increased in recent years, and so has the racial disparity in arrests. It was less than six to one in 2011. The arrest figures don't include Philadelphia, which decriminalized in 2014 and saw arrests plummet 88%. But even in Philly, blacks were still three times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Issues First Medical Marijuana Grow License. The state Department of Health has approved Cresco Yeltrah's 40,000-plus-square-foot indoor grow operation, making it the first medical marijuana grow in the state to be approved. The planting of seeds should commence shortly, with the first crop ready in about four months.

Drug Policy

Trump Drug Czar Nominee Withdraws in Wake of Report He Pushed Bill to Hinder DEA Opioid Pill Enforcement Efforts. Pennsylvania US Rep. Tom Marino (R), who President Trump nominated last month to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), has withdrawn his nomination in the wake of reports that he shepherded through Congress legislation lobbied for by drug companies and pharmaceutical chains that decreased the DEA's ability to stop suspect shipments of prescription opioids. Marino had come under fire from Democratic lawmakers after the report went public Sunday.

McCaskill Will File Bill to Undo 2016 Law Marino Pushed. Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday she would fill a bill to repeal the 2016 law Rep. Marino shepherded through Congress at the behest of deep-pocketed drug companies and pharmaceutical chains.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Moves a Step Closer to Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients. The state Health Department announced last Friday that it has submitted its plans for the drug testing of food stamp recipients to the office of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Critics of the plan say it requires getting a waiver from the US Department of Agriculture, but the Walker administration disagrees. Look for a court challenge.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Announces First Ever Indictments Against Chinese Fentanyl Makers. The DOJ announced Tuesday that federal grand juries in Mississippi and North Dakota had returned indictments against two Chinese nationals and their US-based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to peddle large quantities of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other opioids in the United States. These are the first indictments returned against Chinese nationals for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl destined for the US.

Florida Man Wins Cash Settlement After Police Field Drug Test Mistook Sugar for Meth. In 2015, police arrested Daniel Rushing for meth possession after they mistook glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut for methamphetamine. Rushing was held in jail for 10 hours before bonding out. The charges were dropped when subsequent tests showed the substance was indeed glazed sugar. Last week, the city of Orlando agreed to pay him $37,500 to settle his wrongful arrest lawsuit.

Sentencing

In Midst of National Anthem Controversy, NFL Endorses Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. In a letter sent Monday to leading senators, the National Football League offered "full support" for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 1917). "Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all," the league noted, obliquely addressing the controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the criminal justice system, while at the same time supporting progressive sentencing reform.

California Governor Signs Major Drug Sentencing Reform. Last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 180, authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach). With his signature, Brown repealed a three-year sentence enhancement that added additional years to a sentence for prior drug convictions, such as drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. SB 180, the RISE (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) Act, was part of Mitchell and Lara's Equity and Justice Package, bills intended to address racially biased sentencing.

Massachusetts Takes Aim at Mandatory Minimums. State Senate leaders are rallying around a sentencing reform bill that would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug offenses, lower probation fees, and up the threshold for felony larceny. Supporters of the proposal from Sen. William Brownberger (D-Belmont) rallied last Thursday to champion the bill, which the Senate should be taking up in the next few weeks.

Drug War Issues

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