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Chronicle AM: Federal MJ Banking Bill Filed, More Workers Test Positive for Drugs, More... (5/18/17)

Marijuana policy continues to motivate members of Congress, a leading drug testing firm reports that positive worker drug tests are on the rise, Maryland's first medical marijuana cultivator gets final approval to grow, and more.

Racially charged cartoon from Philippines newspaper attacking Dr. Carl Hart, who criticized the Philippines drug war.
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Senate Bill to End Federal Marijuana Banking Ban Filed. Eight US senators running the gamut from Rand Paul (R-KY) on the right to Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the left filed a bill to block federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for doing business with state-legal marijuana-related businesses. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Lawmakers Push Federal Legalization Bill. US Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA) and allies held a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to try to gain some momentum for Garrett's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (Senate Bill 1227), which was introduced in February but has gone nowhere so far. Garrett said that he had enthusiastically prosecuted marijuana offenders, but grew tired of "creating criminals out of people who otherwise follow the law." Joining Garrett was another of the bill's 11 cosponsors, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who said "the question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Grant First Medical Marijuana Grow License. More than four years after the state approved medical marijuana, the state Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant final approval to the first firm licensed to grow medical marijuana, ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County. "A new industry in Maryland has been launched," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. "They can start to grow immediately." Fifteen companies were granted preliminary licenses last year, but none of the others have been granted final approval yet.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Firm Reports Workers' Positive Tests at 12-Year High. Drug testing firm Quest Diagnostics reported Wednesday that 4.2% of drug tests among the US workforce came back positive, the highest rate since 2004, when it hit 4.5%. The firm reported increases in positive results for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but heroin remained unchanged. "This year's findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations," said Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostic Employer Solutions.

International

DPA's Dr. Carl Hart Gets Death Threats, Insults for Speaking Out Against Duterte's Drug War.Neuroscientist and Drug Policy Alliance board member Dr. Carl Hart cut short a visit to the Philippines last week after his remarks challenging Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, his assertion that methamphetamine use "shrinks the brains," and his openness about his own drug use resulted in hostile ridicule from the president, a racist cartoon in a Manila-based newspaper, and death threats on social media.

Chronicle AM: RI House Punts on Legalization, Leading Mexican Journo Gunned Down, More... (5/17/17)

The Rhode Island House voted to study marijuana legalization instead of actually do it, Vermont newspapers pressure the governor to sign their legalization bill, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act gets refiled, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas is gunned down, and more.

RIP. Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, gunned down by presumed cartel hit men in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Monday. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Bill to Restrict Edibles Packaging. The Assembly on Monday approved Assembly Bill 350, which would bar labels on edibles that "contain any content that is designed to be attractive to individuals under the age of 21," including cartoons, images that resemble those used to advertise to children, or have candy-like packaging. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

California Senate Passes Edibles Packaging Bill. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 794, which would require all baked items and candies containing marijuana to be marked with a universal symbol (to be designed by the Bureau of Marijuana) and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island House Punts on Legalization, Votes for More Study. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to put off marijuana legalization for at least another year, instead approving a bill to set up a joint House-Senate commission to study the issue. The vote came as more than 200 people gathered on the state house steps to demand a vote on legalization. Legalization backers in the legislature say they have not given up on this year yet, though. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) said he has "about three alternatives in my back pocket to get this done one way or another" and "I won't give up on this until the last night of session."

Four Vermont Newspapers Call on Governor to Sign Legalization Bill. The Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, the Addison County Independent, and the Rutland Herald have all published editorials urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign into law Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana and set up a commission to study taxing and regulating marijuana commerce. The bill has not yet officially arrived on Scott's desk. Once it does, he will have five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Washington Governor Signs "Omnibus" Marijuana Bill. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 5131, the "omnibus bill" of more than a dozen legal changes to the state's marijuana laws. The bill creates an organic certification program for weed, allows people to share pot with friends without fear of violating the law, bars marijuana businesses from depicting plants on any billboards, allows medical patients to buy seeds and plants from producers, and instructs regulators to study the feasibility of allowing people to grow their own. Washington is the only legal state that doesn't allow for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that would have expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana stalled in the Senate Tuesday as lawmakers complained that a promised amendment to address concerns of the medical profession was never added. But sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said Senate Bill 24 would be reintroduced at a later date. The bill would have added debilitating anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions and removed a requirement that a psychiatrist sign recommendations for people seeking medical marijuana for PTSD.

Drug Policy

Sen. Kamala Harris Slams Trump/Sessions Drug Policy. California's junior senator, Kamala Harris (D) on Tuesday took Attorney General Sessions to task over his call for tough crackdown on drug offenders last week. "I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure," Harris said. "It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet." She also called for federal marijuana rescheduling and decriminalization.

Sentencing

Bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act" Filed in Both Houses. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Tuesday reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, Senate Bill 1127, while Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed companion legislation, House Bill 2435, in the lower chamber. The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based on mitigating factors. "Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws," said Sen. Paul.

International

Leading Mexican Journalist Gunned Down in Sinaloa. Gunmen in the state capital of Culiacan on Monday assassinated journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, as he drove to work in his car. Valdez, a veteran journalist who chronicled the bloody conflicts between drug cartels in his home state, co-founded the newspaper Riodoce in 2003, and had won prizes from Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists for his reporting. Valdez is only the latest of at least 104 journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2000; another 25 have disappeared. The killing is raising pressure on the Mexican government, which has failed to solve all but a handful of the slaying. Your reporter met Valdez in his office in Culiacan in 2008. He will be missed.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, NH Decrim Bill Passes, More... (5/11/17)

A legalization bill in Vermont awaits the governor's signature, and so does a decrim bill in New Hampshire, Trump names an anti-reform drug commission, Senate Democrats signal their concerns over Trump drug policies, and more.

New England is happening! A Vermont legalization bill is on the governor's desk, so is a New Hampshire decrim bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 110, which would allow people 21 and over to possess marijuana and buy it from marijuana shops, which would be limited to 75. There is no provision for people to grow their own. The bill now goes to the House floor.

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. With approval by the Senate on Thursday, a decriminalization bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). House Bill 640 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction. It is currently a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania Poll for First Time Has Majority for Legalization. For the first time, the Franklin and Marshall College Poll is reporting a majority of Keystone Staters favoring marijuana legalization. The poll had support at 56%, a whopping 16-point increase over the last time Franklin and Marshall asked the question in June 2015. But only 44% of Republicans supported it, and the GOP has huge majorities in the state legislature.

Vermont Legalization Bill Awaits Governor's Action. In a historic move, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana possession and allow for limited cultivation by people 21 and over, as well las creating a commission to study the best ways to tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the future. Now the question is whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He has expressed concerns about drugged driving, but also said he thinks legalization is "inevitable." He says he will "review" the bill and did not commit to vetoing it.

Medical Marijuana

Calls Grow for Florida Special Session to Deal With Medical Marijuana. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has joined a growing number of people calling for a special legislative session to come up with rules for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Joe Negron has also said the legislature should be responsible for crafting the rules. The session ended earlier this week without the legislature reaching agreement on how to regulate medical marijuana. If the legislature doesn't come back into session to deal with the issue, it will be left up to the state Health Department.

Drug Policy

Trump Names Members of Commission to Combat Drug Addiction. President Trump has named the members of his new commission to combat drug addiction, and the list of names is heavy with opponents of marijuana legalization. The members are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Project SAM co-founder and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Bertha Madras.

Senate Dems Send Letter Raising Concerns on Trump's Opioids, Marijuana Policy. Six Senate Democrats this week sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) saying they were concerned with the administration's "open hostility" to legal marijuana states and possible budget cuts they said could aggravate the opioid crisis. "We appreciate any sincere efforts to combat substance use disorders. We are concerned that this administration may revert to a policy that focuses on the criminal justice system over public health efforts," the letter reads. The senators referenced Trump's threat to radically defund ONDCP, as well as the repeal of other Obama-era policies responding to the opioid epidemic. "A meaningful effort to combat substance use disorders must focus on the full implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, adequate funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and improving the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services and health insurance," the letter says. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would be "a major step backwards in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction," they wrote. "We are very concerned that this administration will exacerbate the opioid epidemic rather than alleviate it," the letter said. And then, there's pot: "We are also concerned by the administration's open hostility to state policies legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of medical or recreational marijuana," the senators wrote. "Particularly given the severity of the ongoing opioid use epidemic, federal resources should be targeted at providing comprehensive substance use disorder programs and cutting off the flow of deadly drugs rather than interfering with state regulatory regimes for marijuana," the letter said.

International

Medical Marijuana Now Available in Chilean Pharmacies. Pharmacies in Santiago will begin selling medical marijuana this week, a first for Latin America. Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2015, but until now, patients could only obtain it by importing it or from a small number of dedicated farms set up by a charity. The Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow people to grow their own.

Chronicle AM: Trump May Ignore Congress's Ban on MedMJ Enforcement Funding, More... (5/8/17)

Marijuana activists march worldwide, the Trump administration hints it may ignore a congressional ban on funding for medical marijuana enforcement, the Vermont legalization effort still lives, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Global Marijuana Marchers Hit the Streets. From London to Lubbock, New York City to Buenos Aires, marijuana activists took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities around the world in what is being described as the19th annual Global Marijuana March. Hundreds came out in New York, thousands in Buenos Aires, in what was probably the largest single gathering. While Dana Beal and New York City activists have been holding marches since the 1970s, the first "global" march was in 1999.

Arizona Activists Gear Up for Another Initiative Effort in 2018. After being narrowly defeated at the polls last year, activists with Safer Arizona have filed paperwork with the secretary of state's office to allow them to begin signature gathering to place a legalization measure on the November 2018 ballot. The group needs 156,042 valid voter signatures by July 5, 2018 to qualify for the ballot.

Nevada Lawmakers Advance Bill to Eliminate Urine Drug Tests for DUID. Last Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Assembly Bill 135, which would eliminate the use of urine samples as a measure for testing impaired driving. Police would be limited to using blood tests under the bill. The bill is advancing based on medical testimony that urine testing cannot accurately measure cognitive impairment and maintains the state's existing law that sets a de facto impairment level of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The bill has already passed the Assembly and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Vermont Legalization Effort Not Dead Yet. Last Friday, one day before the legislature was set to adjourn, the Senate approved a compromise marijuana legalization bill. The bill is nearly identical to a measure already passed by the House and would implement the legalization of small-time possession and cultivation beginning in July, but would defer marijuana commerce to a nine-member commission, which would present legislation next year. It's unclear, though, when the House will take up the legislation or what it will do when it does address the bill. The House could vote to approve it or it could send it to conference committee. House leaders have said that instead of ending Saturday, the session will adjourn until Wednesday and then resume.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Threatens to Ignore Congressional Protections for Medical Marijuana. Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stop-gap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter. Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed. "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Florida Legislature Adjourns With No Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators were unable to agree on how to regulate the state's nascent medical marijuana industry, with the Senate refusing to hear a new proposal from the House on the last day of the legislative sessions, effectively killing the bill. That means it will now be up to the state Department of Health to craft rules and regulations for the industry. It also means that any rules -- such as a proposed ban on smoking medical marijuana -- will be easier to challenge in court than if they had been passed by the legislature.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Bills allowing for medical marijuana are dead this session. Identical bills filed in the House and Senate went basically nowhere, with the House version stuck in the Medical Committee and the Senate version still stuck in a subcommittee.

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Last Friday, the House Committee on Public Health approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 2107. The bill expands a 2015 law by increasing the number of medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. The bill now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will decide whether to take it to a House floor vote. Bills must pass the House by this Thursday or they're dead.

Drug Policy

Ohio GOP, Democratic Senators Blast Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Both Ohio senators, Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) blasted the Trump administration over reports that it plans a 95% cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Portman said the office was critical for fighting the opioid epidemic, while Brown echoed those comments.

Schumer Blasts Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted the Trump administration proposal to cut the drug czar's office, too. "The president goes out and talks about how important it is to fight drugs," he said Sunday. "I'm glad he's doing that, and then his budget is going to propose 95% of a cut in one of the most effective and cost effective ways we can fight the drug scourge."

International

Bipartisan Federal Bill Aims at Philippines Drug War. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have filed the "Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," Senate Bill 1055, which places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Filipino human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use. The bill comes as the number of extrajudicial killings passes an estimated 7,000 in around nine months, as a result of the drug war led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump Threatens to Defy Congress to Go After Medical Marijuana

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter.

The president wants to ignore the will of Congress when it comes to funding for medical marijuana enforcement. (Gage Skidmore)
Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.

Despite those state laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize "medical marijuana."

The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The language suggests that Trump could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions his go ahead when it comes to enforcing marijuana policy. Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has scoffed at arguments for its medical use as "desperate."

"I reject the idea that we're going to be better placed if we have more marijuana," Sessions told law enforcement officials in an April speech. "It's not a healthy substance, particularly for young people."

But the language also sets up a potential power struggle with Congress, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to appropriate funds for federal government operations.

As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington told Bloomberg News, the signing statement signals a desire to usurp power from Congress.

"It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending," said Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. "This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a primary sponsor of the rider who is also a Trump supporter, threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary to protect medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal thought they had some protection, thanks to the congressional budget action, but in typical Trumpian fashion, the president's signing statement has once again introduced doubt and uncertainty, leaving at risk not only patients and providers, but also traditional limits on executive authority.

Chronicle AM: Trump Budget Slashes ONDCP, ACHA Leaves Millions Without Treatment, More... (5/5/17)

The Trump administration wants to slash funding for the drug czar's office by 95%, the American Health Care Act approved in the House Thursday would leave millions without access to drug treatment, and more.

ONDCP faces massive cuts under the Trump budget. But it's early.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan 2018 Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Backers of a proposed initiative to legalize pot next year launched their campaign on Friday. The initiative is backed by in-state activists and the Marijuana Policy Project, and needs 252, 000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. A similar effort in 2016 came up short after state officials moved to tighten timelines for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Amended House Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday gave its okay to a heavily-amended House Bill 1397, sending the measure back to the House for final approval. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) offered and the Senate approved a "delete all" amendment basically replacing the House text. Among the changes: limiting growers to five retail facilities, allowing the Health Department to grant 10 new licenses this year, and a provision to add five more licenses for every 75,000 patients. The legislative session ends on Monday, so the House must act quickly.

Drug Policy

White House Proposes Massive Cut in Drug Czar's Office Funding. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget has released a document that calls for a 95% cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Under the proposal, funding would be slashed from $388 million to $24 million, with up to 33 employees laid off. The budget would also eliminate grants for programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program. The OMB says the budget document is preliminary, not final.

Drug Treatment

House Passes Health Care Reform Bill That Would End Access to Treatment for Millions. The House passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA) on Thursday, placing addiction treatment opportunities for millions at risk. As the Drug Policy Alliance noted, "millions of people would lose treatment coverage under this bill and efforts to end the opioid crisis will be put in grave jeopardy." As a result, the advocacy group warned, "people struggling with problematic substance use could relapse to riskier opioid and other drug use behaviors that increase risk for developing costly medical conditions, contracting and transmitting blood-borne disease, and experiencing life-threating overdose." The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

UN Investigator on Executions Rebukes Philippines Over Drug War Killings. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions rebuked the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, saying world leaders have recognized that a bloody-handed approach doesn't work, can compound social problems, and "can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law." Some 7,000 to 9,000 people have been killed in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year.

Congress Will Give the DOJ Exactly Zero Dollars to Go After Medical Marijuana

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The bipartisan congressional budget agreement to keep the federal government operating through September contains exactly no money for the Justice Department to wage war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The agreement reached Sunday instead explicitly bars the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana.

You're safe -- sort of -- at least until September. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
And it sends a strong message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana and loosening marijuana laws, who told reporters in a February Justice Department briefing that while states "can pass the laws they choose," it remains "a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The budget agreement eliminated funding for medical marijuana enforcement by adopting the language of an amendment that has been successfully used since 2014 to keep the feds out of medical marijuana states. Known originally as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and now as the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, the measure bars the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from "implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The budget language lists the states that have medical marijuana laws, but curiously enough, does not include Indiana and North Dakota, both of which recently adopted medical marijuana laws. At this point, the omission is considered an error, not evidence of malign intent toward those two states.

It should be noted that the budget move does not necessarily mean medical marijuana operators are now free and clear of potential federal attention. Federal prosecutors could attempt to go after such operations by arguing that they are somehow not in compliance with state laws.

Still, the move was greeted with studied approval by medical marijuana supporters, who are now calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty," said Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use."

It is time to "amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America's rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape," agreed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The best way to do that, Strekal said, is "removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit."

Adding restrictive amendments to the Justice Department budget bill has served in recent years to block the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states, but is only a stopgap measure. The amendments have to be renewed each fiscal year, and there is always a chance they could fail. That's why activists and the industry want the certainty that would be provided by either changing the federal marijuana laws or by making the funding ban permanent.

"Medical cannabis patients in the US can rest easy knowing they won't have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine," said Jeffrey Zucker of the marijuana business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. "Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn't for naught and their employees' jobs are safe."

But only until September -- and that's why it's not quite time to get comfortable, he said.

"While this is great as a continuing step, it's important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant," Zucker said.

In the meantime, medical marijuana is protected in the 29 states where it is legal. But adult-use legal marijuana, legal in eight states, is not under the purview of the budget agreement and is still theoretically at risk from a Sessions Justice Department.

But even Sessions, a fire-breathing foe of the weed, increasingly seems disinclined to make good on earlier vows to go after legal pot. Like Donald Trump discovering that health care reform is "complicated," Jeff Sessions is apparently coming to understand, as he reportedly told Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff last week, that the Obama administration's toleration of state-legal marijuana legalization under specified conditions is "not too far from good policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress refuses to fund anti-marijuana federal enforcement efforts in medical marijuana states, Arkansas and Florida continue grappling with establishing regulations for their new programs, California rolls out its medical marijuana regulations, and more.

National

On Sunday, Congress rolled out an interim budget with no funding for medical marijuana enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

On Monday, a federal CBD bill was filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, Arkansas regulators gave final approval for proposed medical marijuana rules. The state's Board of Health gave final approval for rules governing who gets to grow and sell medical marijuana. But the rules must still survive a review by lawmakers, which will study them in a special session that began on Monday. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment requires the rules to be in place by May 8, or the state will be violating the state constitution.

California

Last Friday, the state issued medical marijuana regulation draft rules. A trio of state agencies released 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida

Last Friday, Florida legislators edged closer toward agreement on medical marijuana regulations. The House modified its medical marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 1397, to make it more palatable to patients and the state Senate. The bill was amended to do away with a 90-day waiting requirement for and to allow the use of vaporizing and edibles. The House also backed away from requiring doctors to recertify patients every three months. But the House and Senate remain divided on how many operations should be added to the state's seven "dispensing organization," with Senate Bill 406 added five licenses, while the House bill only adds one. Legislators have only until Friday to get it done; the session ends then.

On Tuesday, the House passed the medical marijuana regulation bill. The House approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Vermont

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana expansion bill won a committee vote. The House Human Services Committee approved a medical marijuana expansion bill, Senate Bill 16, which adds Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, and PTSD to the list of qualifying condition. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote, but differences between what the Senate approved and what the House approved mean a conference committee is likely necessary to reconcile the two measures.

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

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

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