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Chronicle AM: MO MMJ Inits Hand in Beaucoup Signatures, OH Racial Profiling Drug Dogs, More... (5/7/18)

Two separate Missouri medical marijuana initiatives appear set to qualify for the November ballot, the Utah medical marijuana initiative is generating organized opposition -- including the DEA -- Canada's prime minister says it's full steam ahead for marijuana legalization, and more.

Black drivers in Ohio are more likely to get drug dogs sicced on them than white ones, official data shows. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Missouri Initiative Campaigns Hand in Many Signatures. New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure, the folks behind a pair of medical marijuana initiatives (they differ only on how regulations would work and where tax dollars would go), announced last Friday that they had handed in roughly double the number of signatures they need to come up with 160,000 valid voter signatures. Find the Cure said it had handed in more than 300,000 signatures, while New Approach Missouri said it had handed in more than 370,000. Although initiative petitions occasionally see half of their signatures get disqualified, it's far more typical for them to lose a third. If both initiatives make the ballot, the one with the most votes on election day wins.

Michigan Regulators Recommend Approving 10 New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marihuana Review Panel has recommended the approval of 10 new conditions that could qualify people to use medical marijuana. That's out of a list of 22 conditions people had asked the panel to review. The conditions include obsessive compulsive disorder, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Parkinson's, Tourettes, spinal cord injury, autism, and chronic pain. The recommendations now go to Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, who has until July 10 to make a final decision.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Organized Opposition, Including the DEA. Organized opposition to the Utah Patients Coalition's medical marijuana initiative has emerged, and it includes a local DEA task force, raising questions about a federal agency interfering in a state-level ballot question. Drug Safe Utah is recruiting paid canvassers to try to get voters who signed initiative campaigns to retract their signatures. Its members include the Utah Medical Association and the DEA's Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Three Democratic Senators Urge FDA to Pull High-Dose Opioids from Market. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove ultra-high dose opioids from the market because of concerns about "accidental ingestion, borrowed medication, and recreational use." The senators said patients who need high dose opioids could just take more pills, patches, or other formulations. "We believe these ultra-high dose opioids can be removed from the market without imposing hardship on those with legitimate pain needs," the senators wrote. But the Academy of Integrative Pain Management disagreed, saying the pulling the high dose opioids would "in some situations, create a greater danger because patients would be required to have several times more pills available to meet their needs. The burden of this would fall on the sickest patients, including those with cancer and/or receiving palliative/hospice/end-of-life care, whose quality of life would be diminished."

Racial Profiling

Ohio Highway Patrol More Likely to Use Drug Dogs on Black Drivers. The Associated Press has examined records on highway stops that show the state Highway Patrol uses drug-sniffing dogs on black drivers at a disproportionate rate. Blacks account for about 13% of the state population and 14% of drivers stopped by troopers, but 28% of stops where drug dogs were used. The AP made the records request after a federal appeals court criticized the arrest of a black driver on the Ohio Turnpike in 2014 and threw out the evidence used to convict him.

International

Canadian PM Says Marijuana Legalization Plan Will Proceed Without Delay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Thursday that his plan to legalize marijuana this summer will proceed without delay, despite misgivings being voiced in the Senate. "We're going to continue to move forward. We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule," Trudeau said.

Nigeria Bans Codeine. Responding to the rising recreational use of codeine-based cough syrups, the Nigerian federal government last week banned further imports of codeine into the country. The move comes as the country attempts to rewrite its drug and mental health policies.

Chronicle AM: Workplace Drug Testing for Marijuana Begins to Fade, NYC Safer Injection Site Rally, More... (5/3/18)

Pre-employment workplace drug testing for marijuana appears to be going out of style, a federal appeals court disappoints on scheduling cannabinoids, a Vermont saliva drug testing bill is killed, and more.

NYC protesters demand Mayor De Blasio move on a long-delayed safe injection site report. (Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Clock Ticking on Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Study Bill. With the state's legislative session set to end next Wednesday, time is running out for House Bill 5394, which directs state agencies to develop a plan to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. The bill has passed out of the Appropriations Committee and awaits a House floor vote. Activists are urging state residents to contact their legislators this week to prod them.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Upholds DEA Rule on Marijuana Extracts. A three-judge panel on the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a DEA rule stating that marijuana extracts, including non-psychoactive CBD, are Schedule I substances. The Hemp Industries Association and others had challenged the rule, arguing that DEA overstepped its bounds by scheduling substances, such as cannabinoids, that were not classified as illicit under the Controlled Substances Act.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Advances. A bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana for children with severe autism has passed the House and, now, a vote in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. House Bill 627 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Iowa Legislature Approves Prescription Monitoring Bill. The House on Wednesday gave final approval to the legislature's policy response to the opioid crisis, passing a bill that will require doctors to register prescriptions with the state's drug monitoring program within 24 hours. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

Drug Testing

Employment Drug Testing for Marijuana Going Out of Favor. The Associated Press is reporting that numerous employers are "dropping marijuana from the drug tests they require of prospective employees." Testing for pot excludes too many potential workers, employers told the AP. Companies in labor-intensive industries -- hoteliers and home health care providers and employers with many warehouse and assembly jobs -- are most likely to drop marijuana testing. By contrast, businesses that contract with the government or that are in regulated industries, like air travel, or that have safety concerns involving machinery, are continuing marijuana tests, employment lawyers said.

Vermont Saliva Drug Testing Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed police to obtain saliva for testing from motorists suspected of drugged driving is dead for the year. House Bill 237 had passed the House with law enforcement support, but was killed on a 4-1 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Both the Vermont ACLU and the state's Defender General Office had threatened legal action if it became law.

Harm Reduction

NYC Council Member Arrested in Protest Calling for Action on Safer Injection Sites. Dozens of community activists, social advocates, and elected political figures rallied outside New York City's City Hall Wednesday to demand the long-delayed release of a feasibility study on safe injection sites in the city. As many as a dozen people were arrested for obstructing traffic, including NYC Council Member Stephen Levine.

Chronicle AM: Feinstein Comes Around on Legalization, Synthetic Opioids Fuel ODs, More... (5/2/18)

Maine's legislature overrides a veto to pass a bill implementing legal marijuana sales, California's senior senator finally comes on board with legalization, Canada's legalization push faces some hiccups, and more.

Dianne Feinstein. California's senior senator finally hops on the marijuana train. (Wikimedia Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Dianne Feinstein Drops Opposition to Legal Marijuana. California's senior US senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a longtime foe of marijuana legalization, has seen the light. In an interview Tuesday with McClatchy, she said she was now open to considering federal protection for state-legal marijuana. "Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law," said Feinstein, who is facing a primary challenge from Kevin de Leon, who supports marijuana legalization.

Maine Legislature Overrides Governor's Veto of Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. Both the House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of LD 1719, the bill designed to allow the state's legal marijuana industry to get up and running. The bill would establish a system of licensed retail marijuana outlets to sell marijuana to adults. Recreational marijuana sales would be taxed at 20%, while medical marijuana patients would continue to pay a 5.5% tax.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Synthetic Opioids Fueling Rise in Overdose Deaths. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are now the most common drug involved in fatal drug overdoses, researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Tuesday. Fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids accounted for 14% of all overdose death in 2010, but 46% in 2016. Of more than 42,000 opioid-related overdose deaths, synthetics were implicated in more than 19,000, prescription opioids in more than 17,000, and heroin in more than 15,000. The numbers add up to more than 42,000 because many ODs involve multiple drugs.

Drug Testing

Trucking Industry Wants Hair Testing for Drivers. The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, also known as the Trucking Alliance, has announced it will push for a new federal drug testing law to undergo drug testing to prove they have been free of opioids or other illegal drugs for at least 30 days. That means testing hair follicles, which allows drug use dating back weeks or months to be spotted. The industry complains that urinalysis drug testing isn't catching enough opioid addicts or "lifestyle" drug users.

International

Canada Prime Minister Leaves Door Open for Possible Legalization Delay. Faced with calls from two Senate committees to delay the marijuana legalization bill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left the door open for a possible slowdown in enacting the government's marijuana legalization bill. The Senate aboriginal peoples committee has called for a one-year delay for broader consultations with indigenous communities, and a separate committee has called for a delay to clarify what will happen to Canadians trying to enter the US. Trudeau didn't reply directly when asked about a possible delay, but said, "We'll continue to consult a broad range of Canadians, and as our parliamentary secretary Bill Blair says regularly, legalization is not an event, it's a process. And that process will continue," he said.

Colombia Coca Eradication Falls Far Short of Goal. The government will successfully eradicate only about 60% of the coca plantings it pledged to eradicate last year, President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday. And it will take longer than the government first announced. Colombia had vowed to eradicate 125,000 acres of coca planting by the end of last year, but Santos said it would only eradicate about 75,000 acres, and that would be by the of this month.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants to Execute Drug Dealers Again, USSC Pick is Hardliner, More.... (3/2/18)

The president goes public with previously only privately uttered remarks about wanting to execute drug dealers, one of his picks for the Sentencing Commission is horrid, and more.

Trump talks tough on drug dealers, but his Sentencing Commission pick may be a more serious threat. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Commission Delays Report. A commission of lawmakers, medical marijuana patients, health providers, and law enforcement that was supposed to release its findings on March 1 didn't do so—and it won't do so this year. Instead, lawmakers are proposing a bill, House Joint Resolution 7529, to extend the commission's work for another year, with a report due out next February. While legalization at the state house was unlikely this year, now it's even more unlikely, although not impossible.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved House Bill 4345, which will increase the number of growers, processors, and dispensaries that can operate in the state. The bill also allows businesses to operate in all three sectors and allows patients to preregister before the anticipated July 2019 rollout. The bill does not include allowing the use of raw marijuana, but that could be added as an amendment in the Senate.

Drug Testing

Vermont House Approves Saliva Drug Testing for Drivers. The House on Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 237, which would allow police to drug test saliva during traffic stops. Approval came after an amendment to require that the accuracy of the devices be verified by at least two peer-reviewed studies. Under the bill, test results alone would not lead to arrest or conviction, but impairment would be determined by police. Some lawmakers said that because the saliva tests can detect metabolites for up to 30 days, unimpaired drivers could find themselves charged with drugged driving.

Law Enforcement

President Trump Comes Out and Almost Says It: Drug Dealers Should Be Executed. Reports earlier this week had the president privately calling for the execution of drug dealers, but he went on the record at the White House meeting on opioid policy Thursday. "Some countries have a very, very tough penalty. The ultimate penalty," he said. "And by the way they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties. We have pushers and we have drug dealers that kill hundreds and hundreds of people and most of them don't even go to jail," he said. "If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These people [who sell drugs] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them."

Sentencing

One Trump Sentencing Commission Nominee Really Likes Imprisoning People. President Trump nominated five people to the US Sentencing Commission Thursday, and one of them is an absolute sentencing hardliner. Nominee Bill Otis, "a prominent pro-prosecution crusader" who "passionately defends the same law-and-order policies that created our current crisis of mass incarceration," according to Slate, which provides a comprehensive listing of his anti-reform positions and activities. "It’s easy to see why the Trump administration settled on Otis for the Sentencing Commission: He will be able to advocate for the draconian punishments that Trump and Sessions have championed." 

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Bills Popping Up, HRW Calls on Philippines to Support UN Inquiry, More... (2/1/18)

With the legislative season gearing up in the states, marijuana bills are everywhere. And Human Rights Watch has a message for the Philippine government.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Seal Public Records of Past Marijuana Convictions. Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage) has filed House Bill 316, which would seal public records for past marijuana possession convictions. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Georgia Bills Would Amend State Constitution, Codes to Legalize Marijuana. Lawmakers in Atlanta have not one, but two, marijuana legalization measures to deal with this year. Senate Resolution 614 proposes amending the state constitution to legalize it, while Senate Bill 344 would amend the state code to allow for the legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses. Since the measures are in the form of amendments to the constitution, they must first pass the General Assembly and then they would go to the voters on the November 2018 ballot.

Maine House Fails To Pass Short-Term Moratorium on Retail Marijuana Sales. The House has failed to extend a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that expired today. Supporters had said that extending the moratorium would send a strong signal to would-be entrepreneurs that legal sales are still on hold, but failure to pass it will have little effect, since retail operations can't happen until there is a regulatory framework in place. It's now been more than 13 months since voters approved legalization.

New Mexico Bill to Legalize Marijuana Introduced. State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) on Wednesday filed House Bill 312, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Advocates don't expect the bill to pass this year, but said it would advance the conversation.

New Jersey Assembly Sees Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, Assembly Bill 1348, that would allow a single household to grow up to 12 plants. The bill would also set a limit of 80 retail marijuana outlets in the state. If it passes the Assembly, it would need to be reconciled with a legalization bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 380, that doesn't allow home grows and does not cap the number of shops.

San Francisco to Wipe Out Thousands of Old Marijuana Convictions. City District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that the city will retroactively apply the state's marijuana legalization to past marijuana cases going back to 1975. He said more than 3,000 misdemeanor cases dating back decades will be dismissed and sealed.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Agrees to Delay New, More Restrictive Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has agreed to delay the implementation of new, more restrictive rules that were set to go into effect Thursday. They would have allowed surprise inspections of caregivers and shut down markets for infused edibles, tinctures, and lotions. Now, the governor is giving the legislature another three months to draft a new law. "While I believe strongly that the medical marijuana program needs improved and increased regulation, waiting until May to ensure we do not create unnecessary confusion and complication is a reasonable approach," LePage said in a letter Wednesday.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bills Advance. Two bills taking the state down the path toward allowing medical marijuana advanced in the legislature Wednesday. House Bill 197 would allow marijuana cultivation for research purposes, while House Bill 195 would establish a "right to try" for terminally ill patients. Both bills were filed by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem). They passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and now head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, an initiative for a full-blown medical marijuana program is now in the signature gathering phase.

Industrial Hemp

Indiana House Unanimously Passes Industrial Hemp Legalization Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 1137 on a vote of 90-0. The bill would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp crops -- if the federal government issues the necessary permits and waivers. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employee Drug Testing Bill Filed. Sen. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) has filed a bill that would usher in a sweeping overhaul of the state's employee drug testing laws, giving employers new powers to test and discipline workers for drug or alcohol use. The bill is backed by GOP lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would remove probable cause requirements for drug tests and eliminate provisions mandating that employers provide access to drug treatment.

South Dakota Senate Panel Approves Bill Requiring Drug Tests for Legislators. Two days after a committee in the House voted to kill the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to approve House Bill 1133, which would require legislators to submit to drug testing. The full Senate will now take up the bill.

Vermont Legislature Considers Saliva Test Ahead of Marijuana Legalization. The House Committee on Transportation is pondering whether to look into a saliva test for drivers as the state faces looming legalization. Legislators are also proposing a per se THC blood limit of .05 nanograms per milliliter. But as the Vermont ACLU noted, the presence of THC does not necessarily indicate impairment.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls on Philippines Government to Support UN Inquiry into Drug War Killings. The Philippine government should urgently support the creation of a United Nations-led investigation into the thousands of killings linked to its "war on drugs," Human Rights Watch said Thursday. A UN-led probe would both help clarify the disparity in official and independent estimates of killings in the anti-drug campaign and facilitate accountability for unlawful deaths. "The glaring disparity between the Philippine government's official death toll and those of credible independent observers underscores the urgent need for a UN-led independent investigation into killings since the drug war began in June 2016," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. "The government should welcome a UN effort to establish an impartial and verifiable death toll as a crucial first step in accountability for wrongful deaths."

Eight Things That Do (or Don't) Happen When We Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

The great social experiment that is marijuana legalization is now five years old, with six states already allowing legal marijuana sales, two more where legal sales will begin within months, and yet another that, along with the District of Columbia, has legalized personal possession and cultivation of the herb.

As a number of state legislatures -- including Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York -- seriously contemplate joining the parade this year, it's more important than ever to be able to assess just what impact marijuana legalization has had on those states that have led the way.

The prophets of doom warned of all manner of social ills that would arise if marijuana were legalized. From hordes of dope-addled youths aimlessly wandering the streets to red-eyed carnage on the highway, the divinations were dire.

So far at least, they were wrong. And while things will doubtless continue to evolve over the long term, as the industry matures, prices possibly drop, regulations change, and familiarity with legal marijuana grows, so far things are looking pretty encouraging. A report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, takes a long look at what has happened in the states have legalized it:

1. Marijuana arrests plummeted.

Well, of course. If there's one thing you could predict about legalizing marijuana, this is it. The decline in the number of pot arrests is dramatic: 98% in Washington, 96% in Oregon, 93% in Alaska, 81% in Colorado, 76% in DC. That means tens of thousands of people not being cuffed, hauled away, and branded with lifelong criminal records, with all the consequences those bring.

The savings in human dignity, liberty and potential are inestimable, but the savings to state criminal justice and correctional systems are not: The report puts them at hundreds of millions of dollars.

2. …But the racial disparities in marijuana arrests have not ended.

While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. The vast disparities in marijuana arrests remain, even in legal states. Black and Latino people remain far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of use and sales across racial groups. There is work to be done here.

3. A tide of teenage weed heads is not unleashed upon the nation.

High school kids in the earliest legalization states smoke pot at rates similar to kids in states that haven't legalized it, and those rates have remained stable. In the later legalization states, rates of teen use vary widely, but have mostly stabilized or declined in the years leading up to legalization. And in those latest states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, California -- regulatory programs are either not yet in place or so new they're unlikely to have effected youth use rates.

4. The highways remain safe.

In the earliest legalization states, Colorado and Washington, the total number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs is down, and the crash rates in both states are statistically similar to states that haven't legalized it. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between legalization and crash rates.

5. States with legal marijuana have lower rates of opioid-related harms.

In Colorado, an upward trend in overdoses began to decline after 2014, the first year of retail pot sales in the state. Other positive indicia come from medical marijuana states, which report a nearly 25% drop in overdose death rates, a 23% reduction in opioid addiction-related hospitalizations and a 15% reduction in opioid treatment admissions.

6. Marijuana tax revenues are big -- and bigger than predicted.

Legalization states have collected more than a billion dollars in pot tax revenues -- and that's not counting the monster market in California, where recreational sales just began this month. Likewise, slow rollouts of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce in Maine and Massachusetts, mean no tax dollars have yet been generated there. In the states that do have legal pot sales, overall sales and tax revenues quickly exceeded initial estimates.

7. Marijuana tax dollars are going for good things.

Like $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education in two years to fund school construction, early literacy, school health, and bullying prevention programs. Likewise, schools in Oregon get 40% of the pot taxes and schools in Nevada will get $56 million in wholesale pot tax revenues. Oregon also allocates 20% of pot taxes for alcohol and drug treatment, while Washington kicks in 25%. In Washington state, 55% of pot tax revenues fund basic health plans.

8. Legal marijuana is a job creation engine.

The legal marijuana industry has already created an estimated 200,000 full- and part-time jobs, and that's before California, Maine, and Massachusetts come online. As marijuana moves from the black market to legal markets, weed looks like a growth industry and job generator for years to come.

"Marijuana criminalization has been a massive waste of money and has unequally harmed black and Latino communities," said Jolene Forrman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance and author of the report. "This report shows that marijuana legalization is working. States are effectively protecting public health and safety through comprehensive regulations. Now more states should build on the successes of marijuana legalization and advance policies to repair the racially disparate harms of the war on drugs."

In addition to reforming police practices to reduce racial disparities, the report also says there is more work to be done on fostering equity within the marijuana industry and points to models for doing so, such as the California provision that having a prior drug conviction can't be the sole basis for denying a marijuana license.

Having places where people can actually smoke legal marijuana also remains an issue, the report noted. Public consumption is not allowed in any of the legal states. It's a ticketable offense in some and a misdemeanor in others. Public use violations are also disproportionately enforced against people of color, and the imposition of fines could lead to jail time for poor people unable to pay for the crime of using a legal substance.

And what about the kids? The report notes that while legalization has generally resulted in reducing historically high numbers of young people being stopped and arrested for pot offenses, these reductions are inconsistent, and in some circumstances, young people now comprise a growing percentage of marijuana arrests. A model could be California, where kids under 18 can only be charged with civil infractions.

Legalizing marijuana may be necessary for achieving social justice goals, but it's not sufficient for achieving them. As this report makes clear, how we legalize marijuana matters, and that's still a work in progress. But so far, it's looking pretty good.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill to Protect State-Legal MJ, PA Protects MedMJ Gun Rights, More... (12/15/18)

Members of Congress moved in two different ways to protect state-legal marijuana, a leading Illinois gubernatorial candidate doubles down on support for legalization, Pennsylvania moves to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients, and more.

Efforts to protect state-legal marijuana heat up on Capitol Hill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nearly 70 Congress Members Sign Letter Supporting Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. A letter sent last Friday to the House leadership asking it to include an amendment blocking the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal marijuana came with the signatures of 69 US representatives. They want the McClintock-Polis Amendment included in "any forthcoming appropriations or funding bill."

Oakland Congresswoman Files Bill to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018 (HR 4779) last Friday. It would bar federal agencies from spending money to "detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business or property, that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis" when those actions comply with state law or local regulations.

Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Will Make Marijuana Legalization Centerpiece of Campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker signaled last Friday that he intends to make marijuana legalization central to his campaign. At a press conference, the businessman said he would "intentionally include black and brown entrepreneurs" in the state's legal marijuana business as a way of addressing "historically systemic racism." Embracing legalization helps draw a distinction between Pritzker and both one of his main Democratic competitor, Chris Kennedy, who more cautiously embraces decriminalization, and incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Federal Judge Okays Medical Marijuana at School for 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.

Pennsylvania Moves to Protect Patients' Gun Rights. The state Health Department announced last Friday 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 benforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

Drug Policy

Pennsylvania Sued Over Taking Drivers' Licenses for Drug Offenses. Two men convicted only of minor drug offenses filed suit last Wednesday in Philadelphia against the state for its law mandating drivers' license suspensions for non-driving-related offenses. "Drug convictions are the only crimes for which the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's licenses of adults over 21," the complaint says. The state "thus punish[es] people found in possession of a small amount of marijuana (unrelated to driving) as harshly as those who have been convicted of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter, or any other dangerous activity that results in the loss of one's ability to drive." Such laws were once the norm, but have now been abolished in 38 states.

International

Greece Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A Greek government official said Sunday that the parliament is expected to approve a medical marijuana bill in coming weeks. "In a few weeks' time, an amendment will be brought to parliament to define the legislative framework for the cultivation and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products based on medical cannabis, which will open the way for Greek and foreign investments," deputy agricultural development minister Yannis Tsironis told AFP. Last year, the government authorized the import of several medical marijuana products; now it appears ready to take the next step.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Drug Testing

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

Chronicle AM: 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.

How Bigoted Pennsylvania Drug Warriors Turned This New York Man's Life into a Living Hell [FEATURE]

In June, 2014, Wilfredo Ramos was driving back to his Brooklyn home after visiting his mother in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when two Pennsylvania State Police troopers detoured him into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which he emerged only five months later.

The traffic stop from hell happened to Wilfredo Ramos -- and happened, and happened. (Sonoma County Sheriff's Office)
In the meantime, Ramos rotted in jail on bogus charges, losing his job, his car, and his apartment. Now, in a small gesture of redress, the State Police have agreed to pay Ramos $150,000 for his travails in a taxpayer-funded settlement, but the cops still admit no fault or liability.

According to the lawsuit that ended in the settlement, Ramos' nightmare began when he was pulled over by Troopers Justin Summa and Kevin Vanfleet on June 6, 2014. Neither trooper said why they stopped Ramos, and the suit alleged they were engaged in racial profiling because Ramos is Hispanic and was driving a car with New York plates.

Summa claimed he smelled alcohol, and Ramos replied that he had not been drinking. Summa then challenged Ramos, citing his ethnicity and place of residence. "We know you have drugs," Summa told him, "just tell us where they are." Ramos denied possessing any drugs.

Summa then administered a Breathalyzer test, which came back negative for alcohol, and ordered Ramos to perform field sobriety tests, which he completed without any problem. The encounter should have ended at that point, with Ramos being thanked for his cooperation and sent on his way, since there was no evidence he had committed any crime.

But that's not what happened. Instead, although Ramos had cleared all the tests and although they lacked probable cause, Troopers Summa and Vanfleet arrested Ramos for driving under the influence, giving them a pretext to search his vehicle in their quest to make a drug bust. Their search turned up nothing.

The troopers then took Ramos to state police headquarters where they administered yet another Breathalyzer test, which they described as "inconclusive." The next stop was the Lehigh County DUI center, where Ramos consented to have his blood drawn to be tested.

According to the lawsuit, typical practice in Lehigh County is that people arrested under suspicion of drunk driving who have no prior drunk driving arrests and where there was no accident or injuries are released pending blood test results. That didn't happen with Ramos. Instead, he was held under $10,000 cash bail -- an amount he could not raise.

As Ramos rotted in jail, his blood sample was tested twice by the Lehigh Valley Health Network Laboratory, which found on June 18, 2014, that it contained no drugs or alcohol. Trooper Summa then ordered a third test of the sample, this time for a broader spectrum of substances, but again the results were negative.

On the same day the test results came in, Summa testified in a preliminary hearing on Ramos' case that the results were not yet in. He did not tell the court about the negative test results. Ramos remained in jail for 158 days until he was found not guilty in Lehigh County Court after blood tests showed no illegal substances or alcohol in his system.

While Ramos was jailed, he was fired from his job and lost his home. He lost his car, too: The tow truck operator notified Ramos by mail about a deadline to retrieve his vehicle, but because Ramos was in jail, no one was at his residence to receive the letter.

Ramos' lawsuit charged that Troopers Summa and Vanfleet conspired to falsely arrest him despite finding no evidence that he was impaired or had drugs in his car. The lawsuit also named five state police supervisors, from the troop commander to former state police Commissioner Francis Noonan, as liable for racially motivated misconduct, unlawful seizure, violations of due process of law, denial of equal rights, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and other Civil Rights Act violations.

While the State Police admitted no fault or liability, their willingness to settle the case speaks for itself.

Attorney Joshua Karoly, who represented Ramos in the lawsuit, was magnanimous after the settlement was announced. "It was a mistake that this happened, and this resolution is going to go a long way toward getting his life back on track to where it was before this happened," Karoly told the Lancaster Morning Call. "It makes mistakes like that much less likely when they're brought to the public's attention."

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