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Medical Marijuana Update

A June Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative is polling well, and so is a November Utah one; Florida's courts must decide whether patients can smoke their medicine, Arizona's high court strikes down a law barring medical marijuana on campus, and more.

Arizona

Arizona Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana on College Campuses. The court ruled last Wednesday that the state can't criminally charge card-carrying medical marijuana patients for possessing and using their medicine on campus. In Arizona v. Maestas, the court held that a 2012 law banning medical marijuana on campus violated the state's protections for voter-approved laws. The Supreme Court ruling upholds an appellate court ruling that also found in Maestas' favor.

Florida

Florida Judge Rules Patients Can Smoke Medical Marijuana. An Orlando circuit court judge ruled last Friday that the state legislature's ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional. State voters had approved medical marijuana in 2016 -- without any ban on smoking.

Florida Governor Immediately Appeals Ruling That Patients Can Smoke Their Medicine. The ruling that patients can smoke their medicine is on hold after Gov. Rick Scott (R) immediately appealed the Orlando judge's ruling.

Illinois

Illinois House Panel Approves Using Medical Marijuana to Fight Opioid Addiction. The House Executive Committee voted 8-3 last Thursday for a bill that would allow people who qualify for opioid prescriptions to apply for the state's medical marijuana program. The measure, Senate Bill 336, has already passed the Senate, but still needs some cleanup provision enacted in the Executive Committee before it goes to the House floor.

Ohio

Ohio Dispensary License Announcement Delayed. The state Board of Pharmacy announced Tuesday that its planned announcement of dispensary license awards Wednesday has been postponed and that provisional licenses will instead be issued in June. Legal medical marijuana sales are supposed to begin on September 8. Stay tuned.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative in Good Shape. A new Sooner Poll has the medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, cruising toward victory in next month's election. The opposition has managed to drag approval down from 61.8% in January to 57.5% now, but that's still enough support to win a month from now.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Judge Halts Medical Marijuana Research Program. A Commonwealth Court judge has granted a temporary injunction sought by numerous dispensaries and growers and processors to halt the state's medical marijuana research program. The plaintiffs worry that the regulations for the clinical research programs would give an unfair advantage to clinical research partners and growers. The Health Department is now pondering next steps.

Utah

Yet Another Utah Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Winning. A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that nearly three out of four Utah residents support the Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana initiative. The poll had 72% either "strongly" or "somewhat" in support, with 25% opposed, and only 2% undecided. While the LDS Church has come out against the measure, even 59% of self-described very active Mormons say they are for it.

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

Chronicle AM: RI Senate OKs Life Sentence for ODs Bill, Guatemala's First Coca Crop, More... (5/30/18)

A bill that would mandate life sentences for selling drugs involved in fatal overdoses is moving in Rhode Island, a California US attorney says he's too busy with the black market to go after legal marijuana, another Utah poll has a medical marijuana initiative winning, Guatemala gets its first coca crop and more.

Cocaine traffickers are beginning to move coca production from South America to Central America. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

California US Attorney Says Too Much Black Market Work to Focus on Legal Market. Sacramento-based McGregor Scott, US Attorney for the Northeastern District of California, said Tuesday there is so much marijuana being grown illegally on federal lands and trafficked to other states that he doesn't have the resources to go after state-legal marijuana operations. Scott said he would focus on interstate trafficking, organized crime, and damage to public lands.

New Jersey Legalization Advocate Wants to Tie Legalization, Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) is working on a plan to combine a marijuana legalization push with a bid to expand medical marijuana, but some lawmakers are warning the effort could blow up chances for either to pass this year. The medical marijuana expansion plan has broad support; the move to legalize marijuana is much more contentious.

Northern Marianas Legalization Bill Advances. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) has taken another step toward legalizing marijuana. The House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations has unanimously approved a bill that would allow adults to grow, possess, and consume marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales and production. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Yet Another Utah Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Winning. A new poll from Dan Jones & Associates finds that nearly three out of four Utah residents support the Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana initiative. The poll had 72% either "strongly" or "somewhat" in support, with 25% opposed, and only 2% undecided. While the LDS Church has come out against the measure, even 59% of self-described very active Mormons say they are for it.

Sentencing

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Life Sentences in Overdose Deaths. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 2279A, which allows prison sentences of up to life for those convicted of selling, delivering, or distributing an illegal drug that results in a fatal overdose. The bill passed 22-11 over the objections of treatment professionals, mental health advocates, and civil liberties organizations, which argued that tougher sentences will only make it harder to fight drug overdoses. "We know, based on decades of criminal justice based drug policy, that harsher penalties do not decrease drug using activity. So, this bill's disturbing message will not decrease drug use, nor drug trafficking -- the economics ensure this -- but it will further marginalize people who use drugs and increase their fears," a joint letter to the Senate said. "Use of a public health approach, not lengthy criminal sentences for users and small-time dealers, is essential for our state's ability to continue to make headway in this crisis." The bill now goes to the House.

International

Guatemalan Authorities Bust First Coca Farm. The National Civil Police announced over the weekend that they had found and destroyed a 2 ½ plot of coca plants sown between coffee plants, the first discovery of coca cultivation in the country. The crops were found in a remote area of Alta Verapaz department. Honduras recently saw its first and second discovery of coca plantings, too, suggesting that traffickers are attempting to cut risk and transport costs by planting the cocaine-producing crop nearer to US markets.

Chronicle AM: Bangladeshi Drug War Gets Ugly, OK MedMJ Init Polling Well, More... (5/25/18)

The bloody Filipino drug war model spreads to Bangladesh, Congress continues to undercut District of Columbia marijuana and drug policy, a new poll has the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative cruising toward victory next month, and more.

Oklahomans appear poised to approve a medical marijuana initiative a month from now. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Panel Approves Continued Meddling in DC Marijuana, Drug Laws. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Thursday approved a spending bill that would continue to bar the District of Columbia from expanding marijuana legalization to include taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The bill also adds a new bar on using funds to support opening safe injection sites.

Connecticut Democrats Endorse Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party formally endorsed marijuana legalization at its convention last weekend. Legalization now becomes part of the state party's platform, which now includes this language: "The time for legalization of Marijuana has come. Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids."

North Carolina Bill Would Legalize Up to Four Ounces. Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr. (D) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The bill would also raise the bar from felony possession of marijuana from 1.5 ounces to 16 ounces. The measure is House Bill 944.

Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Will Vote on Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The county board of supervisors voted 15-1 Thursday to place an advisory referendum on marijuana legalization on the November ballot. Voters will be asked: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?"

Medical Marijuana

Illinois House Panel Approves Using Medical Marijuana to Fight Opioid Addiction. The House Executive Committee voted 8-3 Thursday for a bill that would allow people who qualify for opioid prescriptions to apply for the state's medical marijuana program. The measure, Senate Bill 336, has already passed the Senate, but still needs some cleanup provision enacted in the Executive Committee before it goes to the House floor.

Oklahoma Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative in Good Shape. A new Sooner Poll has the medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, cruising toward victory in next month's election. The opposition has managed to drag approval down from 61.8% in January to 57.5% now, but that's still enough support to win a month from now.

International

Bangladesh's Philippines-Style Drug War Deepens. At least 50 people have been shot and killed by police in what human rights activists say is a politically motivated crackdown on drug trafficking. While the killings are part of an announced anti-drug campaign announced by the government, at least one family is telling reporters their relative was an opposition political activist who had nothing to do with drugs. That family and at least one other has reported their relatives being taken into custody by police hours before being found dead in what the government describes as nighttime shootouts with drug gangs. The campaign has only been underway for about 10 days.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Again Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid has once again called for marijuana legalization as a means to combat criminality and insecurity. In January, he called for legalization to stop violence in Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo, home of Cancun. "I think that in Mexico we should move toward a regulation at the state level," he said in an interview with Reuters. "Maintaining marijuana in illegality is giving money to drug traffickers, and with that money what these gentlemen do is that they bribe more police, buy more weapons and are more violent," he added.

Chronicle AM: NY Dems Endorse Marijuana Legalization, Surgeon General Talks Harm Reduction, More... (5/24/18)

The US Surgeon General has some surprisingly frank words about harm reduction and evidence-based drug policy, Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act picks up another sponsor, Arizona's Supreme Court throws out a state law criminalizing the use and possession of medical marijuana on campus and more.

The section on the Surgeon General's comments has an update, including a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services on the safe injection sites mention.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams talks harm reduction and evidence-based opioid treatment. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Jeff Merkley Signs on to Federal Marijuana Justice Act. And then there were five. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has become the fifth cosponsor of Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689). The other cosponsors are Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a companion measure, H.R. 4815, in the House of Representatives earlier this year that has 35 cosponsors.

New York Democratic Party Officially Endorses Marijuana Legalization. Delegates to the state Democratic convention Wednesday adopted a resolution supporting marijuana legalization: "The New York State Democratic Committee supports the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol," reads a resolution. The resolution adds that legalization is "an important social justice issue."

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana on College Campuses. The court ruled Wednesday that the state can't criminally charge card-carrying medical marijuana patients for possessing and using their medicine on campus. In Arizona v. Maestas, the court held that a 2012 law banning medical marijuana on campus violated the state's protections for voter-approved laws. The Supreme Court ruling upholds an appellate court ruling that also found in Maestas' favor.

Ohio Dispensary License Announcement Delayed. The state Board of Pharmacy announced Tuesday that its planned announcement of dispensary license awards Wednesday has been postponed and that provisional licenses will instead be issued in June. Legal medical marijuana sales are supposed to begin on September 8. Stay tuned.

Pennsylvania Judge Halts Medical Marijuana Research Program. A Commonwealth Court judge has granted a temporary injunction sought by numerous dispensaries and growers and processors to halt the state's medical marijuana research program. The plaintiffs worry that the regulations for the clinical research programs would give an unfair advantage to clinical research partners and growers. The Health Department is now pondering next steps.

Hemp

Illinois Governor Gets Bill Legalizing Industrial Hemp. With a 106-3 House vote Wednesday, the legislature has approved a bill legalizing industrial hemp, Senate Bill 2298. Now it's up to Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) to sign it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

US Surgeon General Urges ER Docs to Advocate for Evidence-Based Opioid Treatment. US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams called Wednesday on emergency room physicians to advocate more vigorously for evidence-based opioid treatment, including harm reduction measures. Adams supported such harm reduction interventions as needle exchanges and safe injection sites. [The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a statement claiming that Dr. Adams does not support safe injection sites, and contesting the evidence on them. See update below.] He urged doctors to reach out to and educate stakeholders in their communities. "We have to understand that these policy interventions look different in different parts of the country," Adams said. "We have to understand that public policy means public and that we have to be able to go there and show them that we care before we can share what we know."

Update: A Department of Health and Human Services officer contacted us on Saturday, March 26th, claiming that the report news outlets relied on, including the one we linked to, was inaccurate in stating that Dr. Adams supports safe injection sites. We do not have other reports on his speech at this time to go on. The article linked above has been updated to include a copy of the HHS statement:

"The Administration and the Surgeon General do not support so-called 'safe' injection sites as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and its consequences. In addition, there is no evidence to demonstrate that these illegal sites reduce drug use or significantly improve health outcomes for those with opioid use disorder. So-called 'safe' injection sites lack the necessary scientific support to be considered a standardized evidence-based practice in the U.S."

Another article states that Adams mentioned safe injection sites as being "part of the conversation" in some communities.

Ed: We are in a position to address the administration's characterization of the evidence on safe injection sites, and it is false to the point of absurdity. There is significant evidence that safe injection sites improve health outcomes for persons with opioid use disorders. In fact, multiple journal articles to this effect are available on the website of the National Institutes of Health, a division of Health and Human Services. Here are a few of them:

  • A 2017 study in Canadian Family Physician found that "SISs are associated with lower overdose mortality (88 fewer overdose deaths per 100 000 person-years [PYs]), 67% fewer ambulance calls for treating overdoses, and a decrease in HIV infections."
  • A 2017 article in Harm Reduction Journal notes with citations that evaluation of Vancouver's Insite program showed it was "meeting its objectives of reducing public disorder, infectious disease transmission, and overdose and was successfully referring individuals to a range of external programs, including detoxification and addiction treatment programs.". The article further states that "over 40 peer-reviewed studies have been published which speak to the many benefits and lack of negative impacts of this site."
  • A 2008 article in the American Journal of Public Health reported that the supervised injection facilities in Sydney and Vancouver were "negatively associated with needle sharing... and positively associated with less-frequent reuse of syringes... less outdoor injecting... using clean water for injection... cooking or filtering drugs prior to injecting... and injecting in a clean location," that "[b]oth... were effective gateways for addiction treatment, counseling, and other services," and that there were no "reported overdose deaths in a SIF."
  • A 2014 article in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that "[s]eventy-five relevant articles... converged to find that SISs were efficacious in attracting the most marginalized PWID, promoting safer injection conditions, enhancing access to primary health care, and reducing the overdose frequency" and that "SISs were found to be associated with reduced levels of public drug injections and dropped syringes."
  • A 2008 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found "Vancouver's supervised injection site is associated with improved health and cost savings."
  • A 2010 article in Addiction found that if Vancouver's supervised injection facility "were closed, the annual number of incident HIV infections among Vancouver IDU would be expected to increase from 179.3 to 262.8. These 83.5 preventable infections are associated with $17.6 million (Canadian) in lifetime HIV-related medical care costs, greatly exceeding Insite's operating costs, which are approximately $3 million per year."

Missouri Cops are Diverting School Funding and Making a Joke of State Law

Responding to myriad tales of abuses, like many other states, Missouri has reformed its asset forfeiture laws to require a criminal conviction before cash or property is seized and, in a bid to prevent "policing for profit," to require that money seized by state law enforcement agencies goes solely to the state's schools.

Under Missouri law, seized cash is supposed to go to the schools, but the cops have found an end-around. (Wikipedia)
Somebody needs to tell the cops. As Kansas City TV station KMBC reported, state and local law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the past three years, but only some $340,000 has actually made it to the schools. That's a measly 2% of the cash seized.

That's because police, with the help of the Trump Justice Department, are doing an end run around the state law. Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, which was suspended late in the Obama administration but reinstated last year by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, state and local law enforcement agencies can hand their cash-laden cases over to federal prosecutors instead of turning them in to local district attorneys. And when they do, the reporting agency gets to keep 80% of the seized cash, with the Justice Department getting the rest.

The scheme not only subverts state law by diverting much-needed funding for schools to police agencies, but also by allowing state and local cops to seize cash and goods under the federal law, which does not require a criminal conviction first. In this manner, Missouri's cops are not only ripping off the schools, they are also giving a big middle finger to the state's democratically elected representatives who passed the asset forfeiture reform law.

The cops like things just as they are.

"We can immediately put that back in our tool belt if you will," said Major Derek McCollum, the head of the Kansas City Police Department's Asset Forfeiture Squad. The money buys "computer type equipment, covert surveillance type equipment," McCollum told KMBC, adding that he didn't feel like law enforcement was taking money from the schools.

The Missouri School Board Association begs to differ.

"Absolutely, the constitution says it is," said association attorney Susan Goldammer of the forfeiture money. "We still have school districts that don't have air conditioning or have concerns about asbestos. We've got many, many school buildings in the state that are way more than 100 years old," she added.

Instead of turning forfeitures over to the state's school system, the state Highway Patrol spent $70,000 on new weapons. And in Phelps County, which sits astride the east-west throughway Interstate 44 and which profited the most from asset forfeiture, the sheriff spends the money on the department's buildings -- not school buildings.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) is working on a partial fix. He has authored House Bill 1501, under which only cases involving more than $50,000 could be handed over to the feds. (He had originally pegged the figure at $100,000, but has now halved it after "pushback from law enforcement.")

Dogan told KMBC that cases over $50,000 account for about 20% of asset forfeiture cases statewide and that he believes many smaller seizures are from innocent victims or involve rights violations.

"We can eliminate that incentive for them to just take money or take property," Dogan said. "The government seizes their money and says, "we think you're a suspected drug dealer. The government never produces any drugs, never charges you with a crime and then you have to spend more than they've actually seized trying to get your property back. That's unfair."

The $100,000 version of Dogan's bill is currently stalled in the legislature. Facing law enforcement opposition, the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee voted in February to postpone action on it, and the bill has no hearings scheduled and is not on the House calendar.

Perhaps he can get the $50,000 version moving. In the meantime, Missouri's cops continue to perversely profit from prohibition, while the state's schools are out of luck.

Medical Marijuana Update

An amendment protecting medical marijuana in states where it is legal has made it into the House's Justice Department appropriations bill, Illinois legislators approve medical marijuana in schools, the Utah initiative campaign is turning into a pitched battle, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a House panel approved medical marijuana protections. The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment from Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to continue to protect state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference. The amendment is now part of the House's Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The amendment, previously known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, bars the expenditure of federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana.

Illinois

Last Thursday, the legislature approved medical marijuana in schools. The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana in elementary and middle schools. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). The bill would let parents administer marijuana-infused products, but not smoked marijuana, to their child on school grounds.

Missouri

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill died. A medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1554, has died in conference committee, leaving the path open for at least one medical marijuana initiative to go before the voters in November. The bill came as an amendment to a healthcare bill and would only have allowed patients with terminal illnesses to use non-smokable marijuana.

Utah

Last Thursday, medical marijuana foes sued to block the initiative from going to the voters. Drug Safe Utah, a group formed to oppose the medical marijuana initiative, went to court to try to block it. In court filings, the group argued that the lieutenant governor, whose office oversees elections, doesn't have the authority to allow campaigners to gather signatures. Drug Safe Utah argued that state officials couldn't act on the initiative because it "conflicts with federal law."

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative supporters fought back in court. Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative showed up in court to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the initiative from going before the voters in November. The Utah Patients Coalition is seeking to block a lawsuit from Drug Safe Utah that argues state officials were not legally allowed to approve the initiative.

West Virginia

On Monday, lawmakers were working to force a special session to deal with medical marijuana financing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to force Gov. Jim Justice (D) to call a legislative special session to address financial problems with the state's medical marijuana law. A special session that ended Monday failed to address the issue. For another special session to be called, at least three-fifths of each chamber must sign on. That figure has been met in the Senate, but not yet in the House.

On Tuesday, they came up short. The legislature concluded its may interim meetings Tuesday without securing enough signatures in the House of Delegates to force a special session to address marijuana banking issues. The legislature needed three-fifths of members in both the Senate and the House to force a special session. Enough senators signed on to meet that bar, but not enough delegates did.

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

Chronicle AM: NM Marijuana Poll, House Passes Limited Prison Reform Bill, More... (5/23/18)

A solid majority of New Mexicans support marijuana legalization, the House passes a limited prison -- but not sentencing -- reform bill, an Open Society Foundations report calls for increased opportunities for legal coca sales in Colombia, and more.

Colombian coca grower. A new report says more legal markets for the crop could reduce violence. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A poll from Research & Polling Inc. conducted in March but not released until yesterday has support for marijuana legalization at 63%. Respondents were asked if they would support a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Support was up 2% over a similar poll in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia Bid for Special Session to Address Marijuana Banking Issues Fizzles. The legislature concluded its may interim meetings Tuesday without securing enough signatures in the House of Delegates to force a special session to address marijuana banking issues. The legislature needed three-fifths of members in both the Senate and the House to force a special session. Enough senators signed on to meet that bar, but not enough delegates did.

Prison Reform

House Passes Prison Reform Bill Backed By Trump. The House easily passed a bipartisan prison reform bill Tuesday, but it faces a murky future in the Senate. House Resolution 5682 aims to reduce recidivism by providing training programs for prisoners. Powerful senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), however, are holding out for a more substantive bill that includes not just prison reforms, but also sentencing reforms. "For that deal to pass the Senate, it must include sentencing reform. At least as of now, that's something Sen. Durbin and I still are sticking together on," Grassley said at a Tuesday event on criminal justice reform.

International

Open Society Report Calls for Boosting Colombia's Legal Coca Market to Reduce Violence. A new report from Open Society Foundations calls on Colombia to move away from traditional drug eradication measures that have not proven successful and instead create policies that encourage coca farmers to stay out of the black market. The report says both international and Colombian law allow coca to be grown for legal purposes, and Colombia should move to increase that prospect.

Chronicle AM: De Blasio Tells NYPD to Stop Pot Arrests, Aghan Opium Bumper Crop, More... (5/22/18)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to see an end to public pot smoking arrests, Utah medical marijuana supporters are fending off a court challenge, the "Philippine disease" appears to be spreading to Bangladesh, Afganistan sees a bumper poppy crop, and more.

Afghanistan had its largest opium poppy crop ever last year, the UNODC reports. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Opposition Marijuana Poll Has Initiative in Lead, But Under 50%. A new poll commissioned by opponents of Michigan's marijuana legalization initiative had it with 48% support, 11% undecided, and 42% opposed. After pollsters produced arguments in favor of the initiative, support stayed at 48%, but opposition dropped to 36%. After pollsters introduced arguments against the initiative, support actually jumped one point to 49%.

New York Mayor Tells Cops To Stop Arresting People for Public Marijuana Use. Over the weekend, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) told the NYPD to just issue summonses for public pot smoking instead of making arrests. The NYPD already has a working group that has begun to evaluate its marijuana enforcement policies and will present recommendations within 30 days. Now the mayor has made it clear that an end to arrests for public pot smoking is one of the changes he wants.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Supporters Fight Back in Court. Supporters of the medical marijuana initiative showed up in court Monday to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the initiative from going before the voters in November. The Utah Patients Coalition is seeking to block a lawsuit from Drug Safe Utah that argues state officials were not legally allowed to approve the initiative.

West Virginia Lawmakers Seek Special Session for Medical Marijuana Financing. Some state lawmakers are seeking to force Gov. Jim Justice (D) to call a legislative special session to address financial problems with the state's medical marijuana law. A special session that ended Monday failed to address the issue. For another special session to be called, at least three-fifths of each chamber must sign on. That figure has been met in the Senate, but not yet in the House.

International

UN Says Afghan Opium Poppy Production Increased Sharply Last Year. Opium poppy production expanded sharply in Afghanistan last year, increasing from roughly 500,000 acres in 2016 to more than 700,000 acres last year. That's an all-time high, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said. UNODC said no single factor explained the increase but cited "political instability, lack of government control, and security" as main drivers.

Bangladeshi Opposition Warns of Police Killings of Drug Suspects. The country's leading opposition party, the BNP, on Monday accused the government of "indulging in extrajudicial killings" in the pursuit of a country-wide anti-drug drive. "A fresh drive to control narcotics has begun," BNP General Secretary Mirza Fakrul Islam Almagir said. "We also want the country to be free from drug abuse and those involved in it to be brought to justice. But it does not mean people should be killed unlawfully without trial." Almagir added that the government was now killing drug suspects in just the same way it had unlawfully killed opposition leaders and activists. Almagir also suggested the ruling Awami League should clean up its own house first.

Chronicle AM: House Dems Want Action on Naloxone Pricing, German Decrim Hint, More... (5/21/18)

There's too much marijuana in Oregon, Utah medical marijuana foes try another tack to block the initiative, Africa gets its first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

Price gouging on the opioid overdose reversal drug needs to stop, Democratic House members say. (PA Health Department)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon US Attorney Warns of "Significant Overproduction" of Legal Marijuana, Will Target Diversion. US Attorney Billy Williams said last Friday that the state has a "significant overproduction" problem and that he would prioritize enforcement of overproduction, diversion to other states, and organized crime. The state currently has nearly a million pounds of marijuana buds in inventory, and it's estimated that Oregon's billion dollar a year industry includes about $300 million worth of pot to diverted to the black market.

Pennsylvania State Senator Calls on DAs to Quit Prosecuting Small-Time Pot Cases. One of the Keystone State's leading voices for marijuana law reform, state Sen. Daylin Leach (D), last Friday published an open letter to the state's district attorneys urging them to quit prosecuting pot possession and smoking cases. Leach cited the nine states that have already legalized marijuana and warned, "If people are convicted this year, and legalization occurs next year or the year thereafter, thousands of people will have a stain on their record that will be extremely difficult or impossible to remove."

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Sue to Block Initiative from Going to Voters. Drug Safe Utah, a group formed to oppose the medical marijuana initiative, went to court last Thursday to try to block it. In court filings, the group argued that the lieutenant governor, whose office oversees elections, doesn't have the authority to allow campaigners to gather signatures. Drug Safe Utah argued that state officials couldn't act on the initiative because it "conflicts with federal law."

Harm Reduction

House Democrats Call on Trump Administration to Lower Naloxone Price. A group of House Democrats led by Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Peter Welch (D-VT) have sent a letter to White House Kellyanne Conway asking for executive action to curb rising prices for naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. "Federal agencies have the authority to use patented inventions… when in the interest of the public good," the lawmakers wrote. "The current opioid crisis requires invoking this provision."

International

German Drug Official Hints at Move Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. In a report released last week, German drug commissioner Marlene Mortler appeared to call for marijuana decriminalization. "Anyone caught by the police in the future for possession of cannabis for personal consumption should be allowed to choose whether to pay a fine or voluntarily seek help from the expert," she said. German drug arrests were up more than 6% last year, while marijuana arrests were up 14%. About 80% of all marijuana cases were for simple possession.

Africa Gets First Medical Marijuana Dispensary. A medical marijuana dispensary has opened in Durban, South Africa, making it the first on the continent. The store is currently only selling products without THC. "We want to break the stigma on cannabis, to showcase that cannabis can be used effectively to treat a number of conditions and to integrate medical professionals as well as traditional healers to allow the whole of South Africa a holistic approach to health care," said dispensary spokesperson Kirithi Thaver.

The Movement to Expunge Marijuana Convictions in Legalization States Picks Up Steam [FEATURE]

special to Drug War Chronicle by Houston-based investigative journalist Clarence Walker, [email protected]

As marijuana legalization spreads into various states, some are allowing people who'd been previously been convicted of possession of a small amount of pot to clear their records.

Marijuana is now legal in nine states, but what about those old convictions? (IRIN News)
They have their convictions either wiped off their record forever under state expungement laws or, in some cases, have low-level felony marijuana convictions be reduced to misdemeanors. In another variation, a marijuana conviction can be sealed from public view pursuant to a court order under a state's nondisclosure law.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, over 574,000 American citizens were charged with simple possession in 2016.

"It really makes sense to not burden these people with a lifelong criminal record," Kate Bell, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project in Maryland, recently told the Washington Post.

Approximately 12 more states are considering marijuana legalization this year, with possibly more hopping on the express train as the continuing quest for marijuana legalization continue to roll down the tracks at full speed, making 2018 a pivotal year in the ever-growing movement to convince lawmakers to legalize pot in all 50 states.

"With over 60 percent of Americans now supporting the full legalization of marijuana for adults, the momentum behind marijuana law reform will not only continue but increase as we head into 2018," said NORML executive director Erik Altieri.

Seattle Mayor Jennie Durkan (D) has moved to clear old records.(Wikimedia)
People with prior marijuana convictions face a harsh reality when it comes to becoming a productive member of society with a criminal record. A simple marijuana conviction carries adverse consequences by diminishing a person's access to employment and higher education, military induction denial, and a person can even be denied access to fair housing, particularly apartment rentals.

Recently at least 4,900 Californians petitioned the courts to have their prior marijuana convictions expunged off their criminal record.

Washington state legalized marijuana in 2012, yet many convicted citizens have been burdened with criminal records for simple misdemeanor pot convictions while slick wealthy investors make a killing selling legal weed. Moving to redress the injustice, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced in February that the city will toss several hundred low-level misdemeanor marijuana cases.

"The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment," Durkan told a news conference at the time.

Similarly, prosecutors in San Francisco will throw out thousands of marijuana-related convictions dating back to 1975. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said earlier this year his office will dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions from before the state's legalization of marijuana went into effect, with no action necessary from those convicted.

The moves make perfect sense. What else should happen to convictions for a victimless crime when that victimless behavior is now no longer a crime? American University Law Professor Jenny Roberts has an idea.

"If you've made a legislative determination that this is no longer criminal; why would you want to continue to have people feeling the ramifications of something that people going forward will no longer have to suffer?" she asked.

And so has San Francisco DA George Gascon. (Wikimedia)
In many states that have legalized marijuana, lawmakers are moving in the same direction.

"Since this is now the law of Nevada, it's important we allow folks who have made these mistakes in the past to have their records sealed up," said Nevada Assemblyman William McCurdy, a Democrat who proposed a bill on the issue.

Oregon state law now allows people who'd been convicted of an ounce of marijuana or growing up to six marijuana plants to have their record sealed now that marijuana is legal.

But in Colorado, some lawmakers fought against the proposal. For example, the legislature considered a bill in 2014 to allow citizens to petition the courts to seal their criminal records for old convictions, but the bill died in committee after facing stiff opposition from prosecutors. The Colorado District Attorneys Council opposed the bill because, they argued, it allowed low-level drug dealers to wipe their records clean.

"There were many cases of (drug) distribution that were pleaded down to low-level (possession) felonies," said council executive director Thomas Raynes.

"The bill creates a horrible precedent by retrofitting criminal sanctions for past conduct every time a new law is changed or passed," objected Carolyn Tyler, spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General John Suthers.

This year, Colorado passed a less controversial law focused specifically on misdemeanor possession.

Nevada also suffered a mild setback. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed McCurdy's bill requiring judges to seal records and vacate judgments for marijuana offenses that are now legal.

"To the extent there are individuals suffering under criminal records for conduct now legal in Nevada, those cases are best handled on a case-by-case basis," Sandoval wrote in his veto statement. "Given other reforms to the sealing and expungement process in Nevada, a marijuana-specific law wasn't necessary," Sandoval added.

Although nearly a million people have been arrested for marijuana crimes in California during the past decade, according to Drug Policy Alliance, California courts only received 1,506 petitions from applicants requesting their marijuana conviction be sealed or expunged.

DPA further reported that more than 78,000 convictions qualify to be set aside in Oregon, yet few are seeking expungement. Oregon courts only received approximately 388 requests for set-asides in cases involving marijuana in 2015, with 453 in 2016, and 365 requests in 2017.

Courts are more likely, though, to reject petitioners with extensive criminal histories including violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, sexual assaults, money laundering and crimes involving large amount of drugs.

Marijuana is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana in 29 states. The following states are preparing marijuana offense expungement legislation:

California

Assembly Bill 1793, introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-18th District), seeks to enact legislation that would allow the "automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction for an act that is not a crime as of January 1, 2017." Under Proposition 64, residents of California are now allowed to possess and purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivate no more than six plants for personal use. The voter-approved measure, in addition to legalizing adult-use consumption, cultivation, and distribution -- allows individuals convicted of past criminal marijuana possessions to petition the courts to have those convictions expunged. An expensive and time-consuming venture for most individuals, the automatic expungement of records would be mandated by the passage AB-1793.

Massachusetts

H.2785, authored by Rep. Aaron Vega (D-5th District), and cosigned by 25 other elected officials, would allow for the expungement of "records of marijuana arrest, detention, conviction and incarceration." Marijuana use in Massachusetts was first decriminalized in 2008, with the voters approving medical marijuana just four years later in November 2012. Officially legalized for adult use on Nov. 8, 2016, residents are still waiting for their first recreational dispensary to open.

New Jersey

S.830, sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District), would not only legalize the personal possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by those over the age of 21, the bill also allows a person convicted of a prior marijuana possession to present an application for expungement to the state's Superior Court.

Vermont

H.865, sponsored by Maxine Grad (D), Tom Burditt (R), Chip Conquest (D), would allow a person to file a petition with the court requesting expungement or sealing of the criminal history related to a conviction if "the person was convicted of an underlying offense for which the underlying conduct is no longer prohibited by law or designated as a criminal offense."

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