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The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (vch.ca)
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Chronicle AM: Joe Manchin Wants New Drug War, AZ&MI Appeals Courts Rule for MedMJ, More... (12/21/16)

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) calls for a new war on drugs and gets roundly ridiculed for it, appeals courts in Arizona and Michigan issue favorable medical marijuana rulings, a Missouri bill would end the asset forfeiture loophole that lets state police circumvent tough state laws by going to the feds, and more.

Medical marijuana saw court victories in Arizona and Michigan this week. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Ban Bud Billboards. Over the past year, billboards advertising marijuana products and businesses have popped up all over the state, but now, some lawmakers want to impose strict limits on marijuana advertising. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) is one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 64, which would bar ads that could be seen by minors "We have legal adult use and medical use, and we want to make sure that advertising hits the target audience as much as possible and doesn't slip beyond that," Bonta said. "We want to target adults and patients and not the broader audience that includes kids and carpools and school buses and families." The bill would require a two-thirds majority to pass because it would amend Proposition 64.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Local Officials Can't Use Fed Law to Hassle Dispensaries. In a unanimous decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that local officials can't use the federal ban on marijuana to refuse to provide zoning for dispensaries. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (R) had no legal basis to claim that federal law trumps the state's voter-approved medical marijuana, the court held.

Arkansas Regulators Set Number of Commercial Grows at Five. The state Medical Marijuana Commission voted Tuesday to allow up to five commercial cultivation centers in the state. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, approved by voters last month, specified that there could be between four and eight centers; the commission opted to start on the low end. Grows won't start, however, until rules about growing, processing, and distribution are finalized.

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Medical Marijuana Law Protects People Transporting It. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the state's medical marijuana law extends to people accused of illegally transporting it. A state law written after voters approved medical marijuana, requires that it be stored in the trunk or other inaccessible part of the vehicle, but the court held that law is invalid because it imposes additional requirements on medical marijuana users.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Democratic Senator Calls for "War on Drugs" to Fight Opioid Crisis. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Tuesday a new "war on drugs" in necessary to combat rampant opioid use, sparking immediate ridicule on Twitter and other social media. "We need to declare a war on drugs," Manchin said on CNN when asked what President-elect Donald Trump should do about the opioid situation. Manchin added that he has met addicts who started out smoking marijuana but ended up taking prescription drugs and then moving on to heroin. "It's just been unbelievable," he said. But it was Manchin's resort to last-century tropes that the Internet found unbelievable. Taking on his call for a new drug war, one Twitter user responded, "If only someone would have thought to do that, say, 30 or 40 years ago. Genius!!"

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) has pre-filed House Bill 231, which would close a loophole that allowed state and local police to circumvent tough state asset forfeiture laws by turning cases over to the feds. The bill would prohibit such behavior unless the amount involved was more than $100,000 cash.

Chronicle AM: Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Hemispheric Drug Policy Study Passes, More... (12/12/16)

A bipartisan effort to goose federal marijuana reforms is underway, a bill that would establish a hemispheric drug policy review heads for the president's desk, the Israeli anti-drug body makes a surprise move, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is a founding member of the new congressional cannabis caucus. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Cannabis Caucus Created. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have announced the formation of a congressional cannabis caucus to speed the passage of federal marijuana reform legislation. Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) will likely emerge as a spokesman for the caucus, which will begin meeting next month.

Drug Policy

Congress Passes Bill to Reassess Hemispheric Drug Policy. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act (HR1812) has passed the Congress and now heads to the president's desk. The bill sponsored by Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) was folded into the State Department appropriations bill. "Over the last few decades, we've spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on counter-narcotics programs in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Engel. "The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will force us to take a fresh look at our drug policy and make sure we have the best strategy moving forward. We need to have an honest assessment of what has worked and what has failed as we consider how to spend our counter-narcotics dollars in the future. With heroin use on the rise here at home, our children deserve no less than a fair evaluation of our drug policy."

Study Slams Virginia Drivers' License Suspensions for Drug Convictions. Under a law dubbed "a relic of the drug war," some 38,000 Virginians lose their driving privileges each year, not for traffic offenses, but for any drug conviction, including the possession of small amounts of marijuana. A new study from the Prison Policy Institute contends that the law is counterproductive, threatens public safety, and unnecessarily burdens low income offenders by limiting their ability to get or keep a job, pay fines, and cover expenses like child support.

International

Colombia President Accepts Nobel Peace Prize, Slams Drug War. President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the prize for his critical role in overseeing lengthy peace negotiations with FARC rebels that have now resulted in an accord ending the world's longest-running civil war. In his acceptance speech Saturday, he reiterated his call for a "rethink" of the war on drugs, saying "Colombia has been the country that has paid the highest costs in deaths and sacrifices. He also suggested that changing policies in the US make it unreasonable to prosecute the drug war in Colombia. "It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States," he said.

Israel's Anti-Drug Body Reverses Itself, Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In a surprise move, the Israel Anti-Drug Authority told the Knesset's Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse that it supports the "Portugal model," where drug use and possession is decriminalized and treated as a public health issue and called for the decriminalization of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Reform foe Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is expected to object strenuously.

Chronicle AM: Opioid ODs Keep Rising, More Vancouver SIJs, More DC "Smoke Sessions", More... (12/9/16)

Trump's anti-marijuana attorney general pick gets a surprise visit from DC activists, the CDC announces that opioid OD deaths went up again last year, British Columbia expands its safe injection site program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists Visit Sessions' Office, Offer Free Weed. As part of their #SmokeSessions campaign to defeat the nomination of Trump's attorney general pick, activists from the DC Cannabis Campaign, the same group that led the DC legalization campaign, visited the offices of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Thursday, carrying marijuana with them as they went. Sessions staffers listened to arguments against prohibition and stories about medical benefits and did not call Capitol Police to arrest the federal lawbreakers, leading organizer Adam Eidinger to ask: "If you're not going to arrest people in your own office who bring marijuana… why would you break down people's doors as a federal policy?"

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Filed. State Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) has pre-filed a bill that would authorize commercial hemp farming, production, and sale, and does not require growers to get federal permission to grow their crop. The measure is SB120. The legislative session starts next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Opioid Deaths Surpassed 30,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data Thursday showing the opioid overdose deaths had surpassed 30,000 for the first time in recent history last year. That's up nearly 5,000 deaths over 2014. And for the first time since the 1990s, more people died from heroin overdoses than prescription opioid overdoses. "The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen," said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. "Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems."

Asset Forfeiture

Institute of Justice Sues Border Patrol, IRS Over Asset Forfeiture FOIA Records. The libertarian-leaning Institute of Justice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Border Patrol and the IRS, saying the two agencies are violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The IRS demanded $750,000 to turn over asset forfeiture records, while the Border Patrol denied the FOIA request, first claiming it was "overbroad" and then saying to do so would reveal law enforcement techniques. "The lack of transparency surrounding forfeiture is deeply troubling, especially considering the vast power law enforcement has to take property from people without so much as charging them with a crime," The Institute for Justice's research director Lisa Knepper said in a press release announcing the suit. "The public ought to know how forfeiture is being used."

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would require the filing of criminal charges before the state could institute civil asset forfeiture proceedings won final approval in the House Friday and now head to the desk of Gov. John Kasich (R). The measure, House Bill 347, was earlier approved unanimously by the state Senate.

International

New Safe Injection Sites Open in Vancouver, with More Yet to Come. Two new safe injection sites for drug users opened in the city's Downtown Eastside Thursday, and similar facilities will open in Surrey and Victoria next week. And later this month, additional sites will open in all three locations. The move was announced by the British Columbia Ministry of Health, which did not seek permission from the federal government to do so. But they did let Health Canada and the Ministry of Public Safety know it was coming. BC Health Minister Terry Lake said the actions were necessary to combat a rising toll of opioid overdose deaths. "We can't wait for federal changes in order to save people's lives," he said. "We know people are using in alleys, they are using in their rooms, and they are not where the people who can help them are. And so in the face of this crisis, we really just wanted to do more."

Germany's Dusseldorf Wants to Legalize Weed. Following the lead of Berlin, which is moving to allow cannabis coffee shops, the city of Dusseldorf is moving to enact total marijuana legalization. The city council met Wednesday with experts in crime, economics, and psychology to discuss how best to move forward.

Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Warrior for DHS, Congress Funds Opioid Treatment, More... (12/8/16)

Another Trump nominee raising eyebrows and concerns among drug reformers, Congress passes a health care omnibus bill that includes $1 billion for opioid treatment, Montana dispensaries are cleared to reopen, and more.

Trump's Department of Homeland Security pick, Gen. John Kelly (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Anchorage Gets Its First Marijuana Shop on December 17. Alaska's largest city will have a place to buy legal marijuana in less than ten days. Alaska Fireweed in downtown Anchorage has announced that it will open at high noon on December 17.

Colorado Governor Aims to Rein In Home Pot Cultivation. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has told lawmakers he wants to reduce black market marijuana exports by imposing a 12-plant limit on grows at private homes, banning collective recreational grows, and imposing tighter restrictions on medical marijuana caregivers. It isn't going to happen without a fight, marijuana activists say.

Vermonters Can Seek Pardons for Small-Time Marijuana Possession Convictions -- This Month Only. Governor Peter Shumlin (D) will consider pardoning Vermont convictions of possession for up to an ounce of marijuana, but people have to apply before the end of this month. The state decriminalized possession of less than an ounce in 2013. Seeking a pardon doesn't necessarily mean you'll get one, though. Click on the link to see the pardon form.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Judge Clears Dispensaries to Reopen. A district court judge in Helena has ruled that a wording error in last month's successful medical marijuana initiative should not keep sick patients from having access to the plant now. The initiative undid a 2011 law that largely undid the original 2004 initiative allowing medical marijuana, but late changes to the initiative resulted in new sections being added, which in turn resulted in a change in section numbering that unintentionally pushed back the date dispensaries could open. "The folks that are maybe the most in need are the least able to provide, to grow their own," the judge said in making his ruling. "I think speed is more important than niceties."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Health Bill That Includes $1 Billion for Opioid Fight. The Senate Monday gave final approval to HR 34, an omnibus health care bill that includes $1 billion for expanded opioid treatment programs. The legislation now heads for the president's desk. Obama is expected to sign it.

Law Enforcement

Trump Nominates Another Drug War Zealot to Head Department of Homeland Security. The Trump transition team has named General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug, that interdiction could be more efficient with increased funding, and that marijuana legalization sends a confusing message to Latin American leaders, among other things."This is looking really bad," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war."

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Address Coffee Shop Supply, Campaign Against Sessions as AG, More... (11/22/16)

Nashville blows off state attorney general and will continue marijuana decriminalization, time to give your senators your two cents worth on the Sessions nomination, the Dutch ruling party belatedly comes around on coffee shop supply, and more.

Dutch coffee shops may finally get a legal source of supply. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana

Nashville Will Cite and Release Marijuana Offenders Despite State Attorney General's Opinion. The city of Nashville and surrounding Davidson County will continue to allow police to ticket and release small-time marijuana offenders, even though state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has issued an opinion contending that the local ordinance is invalid because it is preempted by state law. Metro Law Director Jon Cooper: "We have reviewed the Attorney General's opinion and understand his position. However, we believe we have a good faith legal argument that the ordinance is not preempted by state law," Cooper said in a statement Monday. "At this point, we do not believe a change in the police department's enforcement practice is warranted."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Lawmakers Eye Changes, Delays in Implementing Medical Marijuana. A week after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, some legislators are acting to delay implementation, saying they need more time for rulemaking. Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said he is preparing a bill to do that. And Sen. Bart Hester (R-Bentonville) wants to add an additional tax to medical marijuana to help pay for $105 million in tax cuts he is proposing.

Drug Policy

Write Your Senator to Oppose the Sessions Nomination for Attorney General. Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is one of the worst drug warriors in Congress. He almost single-handedly blocked mild sentencing reform bills that members of Congress from both parties supported. He opposes marijuana legalization and has even claimed that "good people don't use marijuana." Sen. Sessions was rejected for a judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate because of racism and false prosecutions he brought against civil rights activists. He is not a likely leader for continuing the much-needed work that has begun on police reform; in fact he's more likely to worsen the divisions in our country, not improve them. Click on the link to tell your senator what you think.

International

Dutch Ruling Party Gets on Board With Cannabis Law Reforms. After 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference last weekend, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

Dear reformer:

We need your help to save marijuana legalization, sentencing reform, police reform, everything.

Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is one of the worst drug warriors in Congress. He almost single-handedly blocked mild sentencing reform bills that members of Congress from both parties supported. He opposes marijuana legalization and has even claimed that "good people don't use marijuana."

Please take one minute to write your US Senators in opposition to the Sessions nomination.

Sen. Sessions was rejected for a judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate because of racism and false prosecutions he brought against civil rights activists. He is not a likely leader for continuing the much-needed work that has begun on police reform; in fact he's more likely to worsen the divisions in our country, not improve them.

Please help us stop the Sessions nomination now! Use the form below to write to your US Senators who are staying in office next year, or click here if that doesn't work. Scroll down for links to statements by some of our allies and media articles. Thank you for taking a stand.

 

Here are some links to statements our allies have issued on the Sessions nomination, and mainstream media articles as well as one of our own:

 

Against Jeff Sessions as Attorney General

URL: 
http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy/2016/nov/22/against_jeff_sessions_attorney_g
summary: 
The president-elect's nominee for Attorney General is a big-time drug warrior who could derail both sentencing reform and marijuana legalization. Please write your Senators in opposition to this nomination.

Marijuana Wins Big on Election Day, But Faces Uncertain Future Under Trump [FEATURE]

Donald Trump wasn't the only big winner on Tuesday. Marijuana law reform also had a stellar night, with medical marijuana winning in all four states it was on the ballot and marijuana legalization winning four out of five.

Pot legalization won in California (Prop 64), Maine (Question 1), Massachusetts (Question 4), and Nevada (Question 2), losing only in Arizona (Prop 205), where a deep-pocketed opposition led by a hostile sitting governor managed to blunt the reform thrust. Medical marijuana won overwhelmingly in Florida (Amendment 2), the first state in the South to embrace full-blown medical marijuana, as well as in Arkansas (Question 6), Montana (I-182), and North Dakota (Measure 5).

This week's election doubles the number of legal marijuana states from four to eight and brings the number of full-fledged medical marijuana states to 28. It also means some 50 million people just got pot-legal, more than tripling the number of people living in states that have freed the weed.

 "This is one of the most significant days in the history of marijuana prohibition and this movement," said Rob Kampia, long-time head of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which was behind the legalization initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada and which also backed the California initiative. "When four states legalize it, it's a big deal, and California is an even bigger deal. The next time we'll see a day as important as yesterday is when a president signs a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition."

A major question is whether Donald Trump might be that president. During the campaign, he suggested that he would follow President Obama's lead and not interfere with state-level marijuana legalization and regulation (roughly the same position as Hillary Clinton). But his political alliances leave some reformers less than sanguine about a Trump administration.

"Marijuana reform won big across America on Election Day - indeed it's safe to say that no other reform was approved by so many citizens on so many ballots this year," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which was involved in the California campaign. "But the prospect of Donald Trump as our next president concerns me deeply. His most likely appointees to senior law enforcement positions - Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie - are no friends of marijuana reform, nor is his vice president.

 "The momentum for ending marijuana prohibition took a great leap forward with the victories in California and elsewhere, but the federal government retains the power to hobble much of what we've accomplished," Nadelmann continued. "The progress we've made, and the values that underlie our struggle - freedom, compassion, reason and justice - will be very much at risk when Donald Trump enters the White House."

MPP's Kampia had a more optimistic take.

"The positions of Clinton and Trump were very similar," he said. "We have no reason to believe Trump would escalate the war on nonviolent marijuana users in states where it is legal. States will continue moving forward, and we will see a string of successes in the future, as well as being able to implement the laws passed yesterday."

That remains to be seen, as does the chance that a Republican Congress will move in a positive direction on marijuana. In a Wednesday tele-conference, marijuana reform stalwart Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), pointed to three areas where congressional action is needed: reforming the IRS's 280-E tax code provision that bars marijuana businesses from getting normal business tax breaks, reforming Treasury Department regulations that bar financial institutions from doing business with pot businesses, and removing barriers to research on marijuana's medical efficacy.

"I believe the next administration will follow the policy of the Obama administration," he said. "We had strong support for legalization in nine diverse states, with more support for these legalize, regulate, and tax policies than for either presidential candidate. The people have spoken, and that will make it easier for us in Congress to build bipartisan support for this legislation. There are now 28 states where there are state-legal businesses having to pay their taxes with shopping bags full of $20 bills. We have growing support in the House and Senate to stop this insanity," Blumenauer said.

"I believe we will see action within the next two years to stop this discrimination against state-legal marijuana businesses," he prophesied. "Now that the playing field has expanded dramatically, including that overwhelming vote in Florida, which will become the second largest state marijuana market in the country, there is even more incentive. Some representatives are ambivalent or even opposed to marijuana legalization, but will serve their constituents."

But, as DPA's Nadelmann noted, even if Congress is favorably disposed to move in a positive direction on marijuana, the Trump executive branch is likely to feature staunch foes of marijuana law reform. Will advisors and possible appointees such as Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Pence push Trump to try to undo the spreading marijuana legalization movement? And will Trump listen if they do? We will know the answer to these questions only in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, voters in initiative and referendum states and legislators in states without the initiative process can work to create more facts on the ground, more legalization states. National public opinion polls—and this week's elections—show that marijuana legalization is a winning issue. And the more states that legalize it, the more ridiculous, or as Obama put it this week, "untenable," federal marijuana prohibition becomes. Even a Trump victory, with all the frightening prospects that brings, may not be able to stop the marijuana juggernaut. 

Chronicle AM: Record Legalization Support, Fight to Stop Fentanyl Death Penalty, More... (10/19/16)

Two polls, one state-level and one national, augur good things for marijuana legalization, civil society mobilizes to defeat a federal fentanyl death penalty bill, Canadians consider where they're going to buy legal marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Gallup Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization Nationwide at All-Time High. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 60%, the highest level ever recorded by Gallup. Support had hit 58% in 2013 and 2015 Gallup polls, but has now climbed another two points. Nearly 80% of voters under 35 support legalization, as do two-thirds (67%) of Democrats and 70% of independents. Even among Republicans, support has doubled in the past decade and now sits at 42%. In 1969, when Gallup first asked the question, support was only 12%.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Up By 15 Points in New Poll. A new WBUR poll has support for the Question 4 initiative at 55%, with only 40% opposed. The poll measured likely voters. Support is up five points over WBUR's September poll.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Governor Candidate Calls for Medical Marijuana Legalization After Wife Pleads Guilty. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz called for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state Tuesday just hours after his wife pleaded guilty in state court to misdemeanor pot possession charges over marijuana found in their home. Donna Weinholtz used marijuana medicinally to relieve chronic pain, the couple said. "I, like many Utahns, made a deliberate and conscious decision to use cannabis knowing full well that it is against the law," she said. "I have faith the law will change."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Civil Society Mobilizes Against Fentanyl Death Penalty Bill. Nearly 100 groups working on criminal justice reform, including NAACP, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Drug Policy Alliance Wednesday sent a letter to Representative Tom Reed (D-NY), opposing H.R. 6158, the HELP Act of 2016. The letter notes that "H.R. 6158 would also exacerbate the opioid epidemic our country is currently undergoing. The bill is out of step with the times, science, data, and public opinion and doubles down on 30 years of ineffective drug policy, and we ask that it be revised." The proposal would mean that individuals caught selling certain quantities of fentanyl or fentanyl-laced heroin would receive the death penalty or life without parole, if the sale is linked to an overdose fatality.

International

Poll Finds Canadians Split on Where Pot Should Be Sold. A new Insights West poll finds 36% of Canadians want pot sold in stand-alone stores, 29% want it sold in drug stores or pharmacies, and 16% think it should be sold in liquor stores. The federal government is expected to roll out a legalization bill early next year.

India MP Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana, Opium. MP Dr. Dharamvira Ghandi has filed a bill to legalize "traditional" and "non-synthetic" intoxicants. The bill would amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985, which he says has failed: "Thirty years down the line, where do we stand? The fact of the matter is that the NDPS Act has not only failed in achieving its professed goals, but this 'War on Drugs' has delivered results directly opposite to what it aimed to achieve. There can be no better verdict and/or evaluation of such punitive drug laws than frank admission statement of the United Nations Conference on 12th March, 2009, admitting that 'the war on drugs has failed'," he said.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, 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.)

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