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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Collateral Consequences

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

Drug Policy

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

Chronicle AM: AG's Pot Move Sparks Outrage, VT House Votes to Legalize, More... (1/5/18)

The attorney general's war on marijuana proves unpopular, legalization proves popular (again), Vermont moves forward on a legalization bill, and more.

the Pew Poll over time
Marijuana Policy

Sessions' Marijuana Shift Generates Bipartisan Opposition. Attorney General Sessions' announcement that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave state law-abiding marijuana operations alone, has ignited a firestorm of opposition, including high-ranking Republican elected officials. Among them are Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), both representing legal pot states, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), representing a medical marijuana state. Less surprisingly, Democratic senators and representatives, as well as state government officials, have also denounced the move.

New Pew Poll Finds Six in 10 Americans Support Legalization. A Pew poll released Friday has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, nearly double the 32% who supported it only seven years ago in 2010. All demographic groups reported in the poll had majority support for legalization, except for two: Republicans at 43% and white evangelical Christians at 38%.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill (With No Sales). Ignoring the hubbub emanating from the nation's capital, the House on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but would not allow taxed and regulated sales. Instead, a task force appointed by the governor would study the issue and report back by December 15. The measure, House Bill 511, now goes back to the Senate, which already approved it last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R), has said he is comfortable with the bill and has signaled he will sign it. That would make Vermont the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Three Kettle Falls Five Members See Convictions Vacated, Charges Dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

Oklahoma Will Vote on Medical Marijuana Initiative in June. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced Thursday that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

International

Turkish Interior Minister Says Police Should Break Drug Dealers' Legs. In the latest iteration of 21st Century drug war thuggery, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has called for the imposition of physical violence on some drug sellers. "If a dealer is near a school, the police have a duty to break his leg," he said. "Do it and blame me. Even if it costs five, 10, 20 years in jail -- we'll pay." Well, hey, at least he isn't calling for them to be killed, as in Malaysia, or actually killing them, as in Indonesia, and to a much greater extent, the Philippines.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana, More... (1/4/18)

It took him a year, but Attorney General Sessions has now torn up the Cole memo, opening the way for a renewed federal war on marijuana. Vermont legislators are advancing a legalization bill anyway, New York's governor calls for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Is this what we have to look forward to? (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Opens Door to Renewed Federal War on Marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he had rescinded the Obama-era Cole memo, opening the way for federal prosecutors to go after marijuana in states where it is legal. The Cole memo, which directed prosecutors to take a laissez faire approach to state-legal marijuana except for specified circumstances (violence, diversion, use by children, etc.) undermines "the rule of law," Sessions said in a statement. "Today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all US attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country," he said.

New Hampshire Legislature Postpones Vote on Legalization Bill. The House voted Wednesday to postpone until the next calendar session a vote on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 656, because one of its chief proponents was out of the country. The bill would allow for personal possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as setting up a system of regulated and taxed sales.

Vermont Legalization Bill Moving Forward Fast. The House Judiciary Committee approved the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, and the House on Thursday rejected two attempts to slow passage. One Republican-led effort sought to delay a vote until mid-month, while the other sought to delay legalization until 2019. The House may well have passed the bill by the time you read these words; if so, it would then go back to the Senate for a final vote. The measure would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not retail sales.

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Attorney General Seeks Stiffer Sentences for Meth Sales. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) said Tuesday he intends to ask the legislature to impose tougher sentences for meth distribution, and he had a unique reason for doing so: He argued that it would lead to fewer people in prison because it would scare meth dealers away. He is proposing raising the maximum sentence for distribution from 10 to 15 years, among other enhanced penalties. Jackley is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Criminal Justice

New York Governor Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed sweeping changes in the state's criminal justice system Thursday. Among them are: Eliminating cash bail for defendants facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges, speeding up trials by forcing prosecutors to share evidence before the trial date, and asset forfeiture reforms.

International

Mexico City Mayoral Candidate Calls for Personal Marijuana Cultivation. Mexico City residents should be able to grow their own marijuana, mayoral candidate Salomon Cherorivski said Wednesday. "My proposal is the legalization of private cultivation for personal consumption, not for sale, in homes in Mexico City," the center-left Chertorivski  told Reuters. Chertoriviski is seeking the nomination of a left-right coalition for the mayoral candidacy. That coalition is currently polling second to a left-wing party in the Mesoamerican megalopolis.

Australian Government Will Allow Medical Marijuana Exports. The federal government announced Thursday that it will allow the export of medical marijuana in a bid to boost opportunities for Australian producers. The proposal needs approval by the federal parliament, but the government is behind it, and the main opposition party has already signaled its support. Australian marijuana stocks surged on the news.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is on the agenda in the Indiana legislature, the Florida fight over producer licenses continues, and more.

Florida

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

Indiana

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

On Wednesday, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1106, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the state reported more than 10,000 people have registered as patients. Some 10,135 people have registered to participate in the state's emerging medical marijuana program, the state Department of Health reported. Twelve grower/processors have been approved to supply the patients; eight of them have already begun operations.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Administration Wants Expanded Unemployment Drug Testing, More... (1/3/18)

The Trump Labor Department is moving to expand drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, Bangladeshi officials calls for drug addicts to be shot on sight, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill to Be Rewritten to Gain Passage, Sponsor Says. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-South Wilmington), a lead sponsor of the legalization bill, House Bill 110, said Wednesday that the bill is being rewritten in a bid to ensure passage. Her comments came after the final meeting of Adult Use Cannabis Task Force, which has been studying how to tax and regulate marijuana in the state. The task force's final report, which could bolster Keeley's efforts, is due out at the end of February.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1106, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Drug Testing

Trump Administration Looks to Expand Unemployment Drug Testing. The Labor Department has indicated it wants to widen the number of occupations that can drug test for unemployment. A 2016 Obama era rule limited testing to certain types of occupations, such as public transit drivers, pilots, and professions that require the use of firearms, but the Labor Department wants to redefine and expand the range of occupations for testing.

International

Bangladesh Minister Says Drug Addicts Should Be Shot on Sight. Bangladeshi Primary and Mass Education Minister Mostafizur Rahman has taken a page from the book of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and called for the killing of drug users. He also compared drug use to terrorism and claimed it was worse: "Some people say that drug abuse may be far worse a problem than militancy. They are right -- drug abuse is more menacing than militancy, because militancy can be eradicated one day. If I were the home minister, I would have eliminated drug addiction, and the only way to do it is to adopt the 'shoot at sight' policy against drug addicts," he said while addressing the 28th founding anniversary program of the Department of Narcotics Control at Tejgaon area in Dhaka on Tuesday. He added that such a policy would only be necessary in a handful of localities, which would serve as an example.

Chronicle AM: CA Now a Land of Legal Marijuana Sales, VT to Take Up Legalization Again, More... (1/2/18)

California begins the era of legal adult marijuana sales, Maine lawmakers work to get a legalization implementation bill passed, Vermont lawmakers prepare to move on a pending legalization bill, and more.

marijuana purchased on California's first day of legal adult sales, Sebastopol, CA, January 1, 2018 (Phil Smith)
Marijuana Policy

California Legal Adult Marijuana Sales Begin. The nation's most populous state ushered in the era of legal, non-medicinal marijuana sales on Monday, with some 88 stores scattered across the state licensed, permitted, and open for business on day one. At Harborside in Oakland, hundreds of people lined up to be the first to buy legal weed. At Solful in Sebastopol, long lines of customers waited patiently for their chance to make a historic purchase. Similar scenes were reported around the state in localities where shops were open.

Maine Public Hearing on Marijuana Legalization Set for Friday. The legislature's Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee will hold a hearing Friday to seek public input, committee chair Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth) announced Tuesday. The hearing comes as legislators attempt to craft a legalization implementation bill that Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) will not veto, as he did with the bill last year.

Vermont Lawmakers Will Resume Marijuana Legalization Effort This Week. Legislators are expected to take up the revised marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, passed by the Senate last year, but not taken up by the House during the one-day veto session last year. Gov. Phil Scott (R) had vetoed the bill earlier, but lawmakers made changes designed to assuage him, and now it's only a House vote away from passage. The bill would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot, but not allow retail sales.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Georgia Prescription Drug Monitoring Law Goes into Effect. Under a measure passed last year, House Bill 249, anyone writing prescriptions in the state must now participate in the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Before the law went into effect Monday, only about 10% of the state's doctors were participating. Doctors who fail to sign up to the program or fail to maintain records could be subject to penalties up to losing their medical licenses.

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Asset Forfeiture Reform Delayed By Lack of Audit of Police Seizures. In 2016, the legislature passed a bill that lead to an audit of police seizures as a preamble to reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws. That audit was supposed to be done before last year's legislative session, but that didn't happen. But a shakeup in the State Auditor's Office combined with turnover and other internal policy changes have delayed the release of the asset forfeiture analysis, which could cause delays in passing significant reform. Rep. Joy Buenaventura (D-Honolulu), who authored the original bill, said she plans to refile the bill in hopes of lighting a fire under the auditor's office.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Kratom

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

Chronicle AM: Underground Safe Injection Site Study, ME Legal Marijuana Fight, More... (12/28/17)

Maine lawmakers seek agreement on legal marijuana policy with the governor, a new study of an underground safe injection site finds benefits, Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient numbers now exceed 10,000, and more.

injecting at a safe injection site (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers to Meet With Governor Friday on Marijuana Issues. Key legislators will meet tomorrow with Gov. Paul LePage (R) in a bid to reach agreement on a bill that would regulate the state's legal marijuana markets. LePage and Republicans are wary of having a portion of marijuana sales tax revenues earmarked for localities that host retail marijuana stores, saying that could encourage communities to allow such stores. There are also disagreements over how taxes should be structured. The bill under discussion is L.D. 1719.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Sees More Than 10,000 Register as Medical Marijuana Patients. Some 10,135 people have registered to participate in the state's emerging medical marijuana program, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday. Twelve grower/processors have been approved to supply the patients; eight of them have already begun operations.

Harm Reduction

Study of Undergound Safe Injection Site Finds Benefits. A study of an underground safe injection site operating somewhere in the US has found that word spread rapidly among injection drug users about the site, about 80% of people using the facility were homeless, and 90% said if not for the site, they would have been shooting up in a public space. Users of the unauthorized site also said they felt safer, less rushed and less stigmatized, and reported better health outcomes and better hygiene and disposal practices. The study was led by San Francisco-based epidemiologist Alex Kral and will appear in the March issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Indonesian Cops Killed 79 Drug Suspects This Year, Arrested More Than Half a Million. The National Drug Agency reported Wednesday that police shot and killed 79 suspected drug dealers in 2017. The agency also reported more than 500,000 drug arrests and more than 58,000 arrests for drug dealing. "We shot 79 even though we arrested 58,000. We have enough ammunition for 58,000, it's just that they still have some good luck," BNN chief Budi Waseso told reporters. "We actually hoped that they would resist, so we could shoot them," he joked. "But most of them immediately surrendered when we conducted the raids."

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Top Ten US Drug Policy Stories of 2017 [FEATURE]

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands die of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands get arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights:

Drug overdoses killed record numbers of Americans in 2017. (Wikimedia)
1.The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century. Policy efforts to curtail the problem have sometimes included regressive moves to up drug sentences, and have generally given only limited consideration to the needs many patients have to access these substances. But public health measures like naloxone distribution and "Good Samaritan" non-prosecution policies have also advanced.

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne is In Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, in part, perhaps, because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor, and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids -- even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

So far, Attorney General Sessions' bark is worse than his bite when it comes to marijuana policy. (senate.gov)
4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. …But Fails to Implement a War on Weed, So Far

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth, and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened yet. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, although the future of that law after January 22nd remains in doubt. But there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, so all is not safe, but today legal marijuana is still standing.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (pop. 36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by 2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- losing only in Arizona, closely -- anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation though the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting though in the US. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities -- although not without staunch opposition -- and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007 -- just ahead of the peak in prison population -- and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.

Chronicle AM: 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.

Drug War Issues

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