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Chronicle AM: MA Drug Lab Scandal Redux, PA MJ Support Strong and Rising, More... (9/22/17)

Pennsylvania support for marijuana legalization is strong and rising, Attorney General Sessions mixes drug and immigration policy, another federal court rules against Stingray, a second Massachusetts drug lab scandal could see thousands more cases dismissed, and more.

Massachusetts state drug testing labs continue to generate serious problems -- and thousands of case dismissals. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Issue Temporary Business Licenses. Regulators will introduce a temporary marijuana business licensing system to ensure a smooth start to regulated marijuana sales beginning on January 1, the state's top marijuana official announced Thursday. Businesses would only need to provide some "pretty basic information" for the temporary licenses, said Lori Ajax. The application will be available in early December, after temporary rulemaking is completed. "We don't have time to do regular rulemaking," she explained, adding that would come next year.

Pennsylvania Poll Shows Strong, Rising Support for Legalization. A Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 59%, with only 31% opposed and 9% undecided. The pro-legalization numbers are the highest ever in the poll, up three points since May and a whopping 19 points since June2015.

Immigration

Sessions Blames Lax Immigration Policies for Drug Gangs, Cartels. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used concerns over drug gangs and cartels to attack "loose" immigration policy in remarks in Boston Thursday. He specifically singled out MS-13 as an example, while failing to note the gang's origins among Salvadoran refugees fleeing a US-sponsored civil war there in the 1980s. He also attacked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers protections to undocumented residents who were brought to the country as children. "The gangs use this program as a means to recruit members," Sessions said. "We cannot allow young people to be brought into this life of crime." Sessions did not mention that DACA participants are carefully vetted and must have no serious criminal records or that 90% of them are working or in college.

Law Enforcement

DC Court Latest to Rule Against Warrantless Stingray Searches. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the warrantless use of a Stingray cell-site stimulator to monitor phone calls was unconstitutional. The ruling was only the latest in a string of recent federal appeals court judgments that ruled using the Stingray amounts to a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In the DC case, the court found the violation so egregious that it excluded all evidence derived from it, overturning the conviction of Prince Jones on drug charges.

ACLU Calls for Thousands More Massachusetts Drug Cases to Be Thrown Out in Drug Lab Scandals. Bay State judges have already dismissed more than 20,000 drug cases tainted by the misbehavior of state lab chemist Annie Dookhan, but now the ACLU is calling for judges and prosecutors to dismiss thousands more in a second case of lab tech misbehavior. Amherst state lab chemist Sonja Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the lab and admitted she was high nearly every day from 2004 to 2013 on cocaine, meth, and other stimulant drugs she pilfered from her job. The ACLU charges that prosecutors have sought to minimize Farak's misbehavior in a bid to preserve drug cases and convictions and failed to notify defendants that the evidence in their cases had been tainted. "Far worse than the Hinton scandal, the Amherst scandal combines a lab crisis with prosecutorial misconduct of unparalleled scope and irremediable consequence," the ACLU argued. "This latest systemic lapse in the justice system demands a most emphatic response." And that response would be mass dismissals.

International

Iceland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Members of the Reform Party and the Pirate Party have banded together to file a bill that would legalize marijuana in the North Atlantic island nation. The bill would allow anyone 20 and over to possess and cultivate pot for personal use -- with a government permit. The bill would also allow retail sales and consumption lounges, but not at the same business.

Australia to See First Music Festival With On-Site Pill Testing. The Spilt Milk Festival in Canberra will provide on-site pill testing for attendees in a harm reduction move aimed at reducing overdoses and other bad drug interactions. The Australian Capital Territory government has given the okay for the project, which will be operated by the Safety Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events. That consortium consists of Harm Reduction Australia, the Australian Drug Observatory, the Noffs Foundation, DanceWize, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Chronicle AM: CVS to Limit Opioid 'Scrips, Sessions Slams Legal Pot (Again), More... (9/21/17)

The attorney general makes clear yet again that he doesn't like legal weed, a Kentucky court throws out a medical marijuana lawsuit, one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains is moving to tighten up on opioid prescriptions, Rodrigo Duterte is ready to kill his own kid for the sake of the drug war, and more.

Attorney General Sessions reprises a favorite theme even as his underlings ponder what to do about legal cannabis. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Attacks Marijuana Legalization Again. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," Sessions said Wednesday in San Diego in remarks reported by Reuters. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold at every street corner," he added, noting that it remains prohibited under federal law. But despite the attorney general's repeated anti-legalization comments, the Justice Department has yet to move seriously against states where it is legal. Last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Cole memo, which set the Obama administration's largely laissez-faire policy toward legal pot states, is now under review.

Maine Legislators Propose Online and Drive-Through Pot Sales. Proposed regulations from the legislature's marijuana committee would let adults buy pot over the Internet and at drive-through windows at licensed pot shops. The rules are not yet set, however, and opponents are seeking to tighten access. Stay tuned.

Las Vegas Gets First 24-Hour Pot Shop. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow a pot shop, Oasis Cannabis, to stay open 24 hours a day. It will be the first 24/7 pot shop to be located near the Strip, but other pot shops in nearby North Las Vegas are already open around the clock. In approving the move, the council overrode its own city code, which requires pot businesses to shut down between 3:00am and 6:00am.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Court Dismisses Lawsuit Aimed at Governor, Attorney General. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out Wednesday. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CVS to Limit Opioid Prescriptions in Bid to Address Crisis. The national drug store chain announced Thursday it will take steps to limit initial prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing acute pain. It will instruct pharmacists to contact prescribing doctors if they see prescriptions with what they believe are more opioids than necessary. The chain will also cap daily dosages and require new patients to get medications that offer short-period pain relief instead of longer duration ones. CVS did not address how the moves would impact patients suffering from chronic pain.

Nevada Governor Sets Opioid Task Force Meeting. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has announced that the state's task force on opioid abuse is set to meet Monday. He said the task force will hear updates from state and federal agencies on their progress in fighting opioid abuse. The task force has already made the overdose reversal drug naloxone available to first responders, Sandoval noted.

Asset Forfeiture

lIllinois Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed House Bill 303 into law on Tuesday. The new law does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the bar for seizures, mandates the collection and reporting of seizure data, and imposes new sanctions for abuse or violations of asset forfeiture rules. Under the new law, the government's burden of proof standard rises from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence. The law also provides that possession of small amounts of drugs will no longer be a legal basis for forfeiture.

International

Duterte Tells Cops to Kill His Own Son if Drug Smuggling Rumors Are True. In a not very reassuring effort to demonstrate that his own family is not above the law, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that police could kill his children if they prove to be involved in drugs. The remarks came amid reports that his 42-year-old son Paolo was involved in drug smuggling. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Duterte said he warned his son: "My orders are to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who kill you." That way, people wouldn't think the first family was getting special treatment. "That's better ... so I can say to the people: "There, you keep talking. That's my son's corpse,' he said.

Chronicle AM: Bill to End Federal Man Mins Filed, CA Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (9/18/17)

Bostonians celebrate marijuana legalization, California calls for its rescheduling, state attorneys general urge health insurers to reduce opioid prescriptions, Maxine Waters files a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Officially Calls for Marijuana Rescheduling. The Assembly last Thursday passed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana. The Senate had approved the resolution earlier. "The Legislature urges the Congress of the United States to pass a law to reschedule marijuana or cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use," reads the joint resolution.

Boston Freedom Rally Draws Thousands to Celebrate Legalization. For the first time since voters legalized marijuana last November, the annual event demanding legalization was held this past weekend. Thousands flocked to Boston Common for the 28th Annual Boston Freedom Rally for live music, speeches, educational panels, and -- of course -- plentiful pot-smoking. Even though public marijuana use is illegal, police reported no arrests.

Nevada Supreme Court Throws a Wrench in Marijuana Distribution Licensing. The state's highest court issued a temporary injunction last Friday barring the Department of Taxation from granting any more pot distribution licenses. This means supply chain issues will continue to plague pot shops in the near term. The initiative that legalized pot in the state reserved such licenses for liquor distributors for the first 18 months, but the Tax Commission had voted to allow other distributors to get in on the action after determining that the booze distributors couldn't keep up with demand. The liquor distributors took legal action to block the new licenses, and here we are. Oral arguments in the case are set for October 3.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

State Attorneys General Urge Insurers to Seek Alternatives for Opioids. Attorneys general from 35 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico announced a bipartisan coalition to fight opioid addiction on Monday and rolled out their effort by jointly calling on health insurers to review pain management treatment policies in a bid to promote more use of alternatives to prescription opioids. The AGs said they didn't want health insurers to unintentionally contribute to the crisis. News articles didn't indicate whether the AGs noted the need to ensure that patients who do need opioids receive them.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia DA Candidates Are Open to Safe Injection Sites. Larry Krasner, the Democratic frontrunner to be the next district attorney, has come out in support of city-sanctioned safe injection sites for drug users. His Republican foe, Beth Grossman, wouldn't go that far, but said she is open to discussion on the issue. Safe injection sites were mentioned in Mayor Jim Kenney's opioid task force report in May, but they were the most controversial of the report's 18 recommendations. Although efforts are underway in several cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, no officially-sanctioned safe injection sites operate in the US, although one unsanctioned one is reportedly operating in an unnamed US city.

Sentencing

Maxine Waters Files Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed House Resolution 3800 "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

International

Toronto Pot Lounges Want Right to Exist Under Legalization. Faced with a provincial plan to impose a government monopoly on retail marijuana sales, Toronto's existing pot consumption lounges, some of which have been around since before the turn of the century, are asking the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee to regulate them instead of shutting them down. They argue that the shops are needed in the city, which bans public pot smoking and where many renters and apartment dwellers have no legal place to indulge.

(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.)

While Trump Moves Backward on Drug Sentencing, California Heads for More Reforms

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

The Trump Justice Department under prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviving some of the drug war's worst sentencing practices -- mandatory minimum sentences, charging low-level defendants with the harshest statutes -- but that doesn't mean the states have to follow suit.

Harsh drug sentences are overcrowding California jails. (supremecourt.gov)
And, as has been the case with climate change, environmental protection, trade, and the protection of undocumented residents, California is charting its own progressive path in the face of the reactionaries in Washington.

The latest evidence comes from Sacramento, where the state Assembly passed a bill to stop sentencing drug offenders to extra time because they have previous drug convictions. The measure, Senate Bill 180, also known as the Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, passed the state Senate in June and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

The bill would end a three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, including petty drug sales and possession of drugs for sales. Under current law, sale of even the tiniest amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine can earn up to five years in prison, and each previous conviction for sales or possession with intent add three more.

State sheriffs complain that the drug sentencing enhancement is the leading cause of 10-year-plus sentences being served in their county jails, which now shoulder more of the burden of housing drug war prisoners after earlier reforms aimed at reducing prison overcrowding shifted them to local lock-ups. As of 2014, there were more than 1,500 people in California jails sentenced to more than five years and the leading cause of these long sentences was non-violent drug sales offenses.

"People are realizing that it is time to reform the criminal justice system so that there's more emphasis on justice and rehabilitation," Mitchell said after the final vote on SB 180, which is supported by nearly 200 business, community, legal and public-service groups. "By repealing sentencing enhancements for people who have already served their time, California can instead make greater investments in our communities. Let's focus on putting 'justice' in our criminal-justice system."

"This sentencing enhancement has been on the books for 35 years and failed to reduce the availability or sales of drugs within our communities," said Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supported the bill. "These extreme and punitive polices of the war on drugs break up families and don't make our communities any safer."

The bill is part of a set of bills known as the #EquityAndJustice package aimed at reducing inequities in the system. Authored by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), the package also includes Senate Bill 190, which would end unreasonable fees on the families of incarcerated children and also sits on the governor's desk, as well as Senate Bill 355, which will end the requirement that innocent defendants reimburse the counties for the cost of appointed counsel. Brown has already signed that into law. "Harsh sentencing laws have condemned a generation of men of color, and with SB 180 and other bills in the Equity and Justice package we are on our way to restoring the values of rehabilitation to the criminal justice system," Lara said.

When Washington is in the hands of authoritarian, law-and-order politicians like Trump, Sessions, and the Republican Congress, it's time for the states to step up. California is showing how it's done.

Chronicle AM: Orrin Hatch Punningly Files MedMJ Bill, DOJ #2 Speaks Out on Pot, More... (9/14/17)

What got into Orrin Hatch? Plus, Nevada could be the first state to allow pot lounges, the US Deputy AG says DOJ is still pondering marijuana policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Deputy Attorney General Says DOJ Still Reviewing Marijuana Policy. In an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation Thursday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the department was still looking at its options on marijuana policy. "We are reviewing that policy. We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," he said in remarks reported by Tom Angell for Forbes. "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Maine Draft Legalization Bill Would Let Dispensaries, Caregivers Sell to Recreational Market. The bill legislators have drafted to rewrite the state's voter-approved pot legalization law includes a provision that would let the state's eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries apply for a license to sell in the recreational market. But they would have to have separate entrances and sales counters for medical and recreational customers. State-certified caregivers could also apply for recreational sales licenses.

Nevada Regulators Clear Way for Pot Clubs and Lounges. The state Legislative Counsel Bureau said on Monday that state law does not prohibit counties or municipalities from allowing clubs or lounges where patrons can use marijuana. It's up to the localities, the bureau said. Doing so would allow tourists and visitors to have a place to indulge. While pot is legal in the state, it cannot be consumed in public, in casinos, or in hotel rooms, leaving visitors with no place to take advantage of the pot law.

Medical Marijuana

Orrin Hatch Files Medical Marijuana Research Bill, Makes Bad Weed Puns. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, or MEDS Act, to improve the process for conducting scientific research on marijuana as a safe and effective medical treatment. In introducing this legislation, Senator Hatch was joined by Senator Schatz (D-HI) and cosponsors Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). "It's high time to address research into medical marijuana," Hatch said. "Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I've decided to roll out the MEDS Act. I urge my colleagues to join Senator Schatz and me in our joint effort to help thousands of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders. In a Washington at war with itself, I have high hopes that this bipartisan initiative can be a kumbaya moment for both parties." [Bolding done by Drug War Chronicle.]

Arizona Supreme Court Won't Let State Officials Use Federal Law to Get Around State Law. The high court on Tuesday declined to review a Court of Appeals ruling that federal law does not trump the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The lower court had ruled that even though marijuana remains illegal federally, federal law does not preempt the state from allowing patients to use it. The case had been filed by recalcitrant Maricopa County Bill Montgomery (R), who didn't want to heed the will of the voters.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is getting some attention in Congress, Arizona PTSD patients are still out of luck, Michigan dispensaries have three months to shut their doors and get licensed, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764). The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Last Thursday, the House GOP leadership blocked a vote to protect medical marijuana states. House GOP leaders won't allow a vote on an amendment to a spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to go after state-compliant medical marijuana programs, several lawmakers said. The Farr-Rohrabacher amendment has protected those state programs for the past four years, but House leaders said "it splits the conference too much so we're not going to have a vote on it," The Hill reported. The move came despite pleas from Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) to allow the vote.

Last Friday, the budget deal Trump agreed to preserved medical marijuana protections -- for now. The budget deal agreed to between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Arizona

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to lift restrictions on medical marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Iowa

Last Friday, the attorney general cited fed fears to block CBD from out of state dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Michigan

On Monday, dispensaries were given three months to shut their doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, a lawsuit put the roll-out of the medical marijuana program in peril. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Texas

Last Thursday, the sttate issued its first CBD medical marijuana license. The state has issued a license to Cansortium Texas to grow, process, and sell CBD medical marijuana products to patients. Two other companies have applications in the pipeline. The move comes two years after the legislature approved a bill allowing for CBD use for epilepsy.

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

Chronicle AM: House Blocks Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Move, More... (9/13/17)

The House votes to defund Attorney General Sessions' newly revived Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, Maine lawmakers want a 20% sales tax on weed, Duterte allies in the Philippines vote to defund the country's human rights commission over its critique of the drug war, and more.

The attorney general isn't smiling over the House's asset forfeiture vote. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Lawmakers Want to Double Pot Sales Tax. In a draft bill released Tuesday, the legislature's marijuana legalization committee is recommending a 20% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Earlier, the committee had supported a 10% excise tax and a 10% sales tax, but now it's going all sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Refuses to Lift Restrictions on Medical Marijuana for PTSD. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected without comment an argument from the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association that the former state health director had illegally imposed restrictions on when doctors can recommend the drug for PTSD. The high court's decision leaves intact an earlier Court of Appeals ruling upholding the restrictions. Attorneys for the association say they may take the case to federal court on equal protection grounds.

Asset Forfeiture

House Slaps Down Sessions' Move to Reinstate Equitable Sharing Program. In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency. The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Foreign Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Fret Over Colombian Cocaine. The two senior senators, chair and co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Affairs, expressed worries Tuesday that a peace deal between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC had led to a surge of cocaine being imported into the US. Feinstein also used the Senate hearing to express concern that the Trump administration will not adequately fund interdiction law enforcement efforts.

International

Philippine Congress Budgets Measly $20 to Fund Human Rights Commission. No, that's not a typo, and no, we didn't forget some zeroes. Lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte voted Tuesday to allocate just 1,000 pesos (USD $20) for the Commission on Human Rights, which has repeatedly criticized Duterte's bloody drug war, which has left thousands dead at the hands of police and vigilantes. The funding move was explicit retaliation for the commission's criticism of the human rights disaster. In a Facebook post responding to the move, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard said Filipinos deserved an independent organization that could hold the government accountable for its misdeeds. "Instead they are getting a 'war on drugs' which, by the president's own account, has failed to curtail addiction rates, while creating a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country," she wrote. "If the Philippines Congress is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines society, this is it."

Surprise! House Votes to Curb Sessions' Asset Forfeiture Revival

In a surprise move, the House voted virtually unanimously Tuesday to curb federal asset forfeitures, a slap in the face to Attorney General and former Senator Jeff Sessions. Sessions had reinstated a federal civil asset forfeiture program that allowed state and local law enforcement to evade state forfeiture restrictions by handing their cases over to the feds, with the feds then returning 80% of the money to the seizing agency.

In response to a rising clamor over civil forfeiture reform abuses, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder had reined in the program, known as Equitable Sharing. Now, Sessions' attempt to bring it back has been blocked by a congressional coalition of progressives and the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The move came in a voice vote on an amendment to the Justice Department appropriations bill, which was sponsored by strange bedfellows Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA).

The amendment aims directly at "adoptive forfeiture," the process by which the federal government agrees to take cases brought to it by local law enforcement agencies attempting to skirt state-level restrictions, which can include an outright ban on civil asset forfeiture (seizure without a criminal conviction) or designating that seized funds are to go the general fund or other designated fund -- not the cops.

Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that the search for lucre distorts policing priorities, creates perverse incentives, and amounts to policing for profit. Numerous states have moved to end civil asset forfeiture outright, while others have imposed various restrictions on the practice.

While Sessions claims the program is needed so that criminals "are not allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime," a whopping 87% of federal asset forfeiture cases take place in cases where there has been no criminal conviction.

The House has acted. Now, it's up to the Senate to act. If the Senate fails to pass a similar measure, the amendment could still become law if it gets adopted by the conference committee that will attempt to sort out differences between the two bills. In the meantime, Sessions has been put on notice that his gift to profit-hungry state and local cops has serious opposition.

Chronicle AM: Democratic Senators Call Out Trump on Opioid Inaction, More... (9/12/17)

Democratic senators want Trump to do more than say pretty words about the opioid epidemic, California's second largest city gets on board with marijuana legalization, Canadian cops seek a delay in rolling out legalization north of the border, and more.

Last month, President Trump said the opioid epidemic was a national emergency. Since then...nothing. (Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

San Diego City Council Votes to Legalize Marijuana Cultivation, Manufacturing. California's second most populous city has gotten on board with legalization. The city council voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a regulatory framework for the looming legal recreational pot industry instead of trying to ban it.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Dispensaries Given Three Months to Shut Doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Monday. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program Roll-Out Imperiled by Lawsuit. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Demand Trump Take Action on Opioid Epidemic. On Monday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and nine Democratic senatorial colleagues sent a letter to President Trump asking the administration what it is doing about the recommendation that it declare an emergency around the opioid epidemic. Trump called it a national emergency more than a month ago, but nothing has happened since. "Regardless of whether you choose to declare a state of emergency, continued inaction on this issue is deeply concerning," the senators wrote. "Your lack of action -- coupled with your support of policies that would make access to substance use disorder care more difficult for millions of Americans -- causes us to question your commitment to ending the opioid use disorder and overdose crisis," the letter said.

International

Canadian Cops Want Delay in Marijuana Legalization Rollout. Representatives of various Canadian police forces testifying before the House of Commons said they would not be ready for the roll-out of marijuana legalization next summer and urged a delay. They also urged lawmakers to think again about allowing personal home cultivation, because it would be hard to police.

Colombia Clashes Leave One Coca Grower Dead, Two Wounded. The casualties occurred as coca growers in Morales, Cauca, clashed with soldiers taking part in forced eradication of coca crops. Farmers began throwing rocks at the soldiers, who apparently opened fire on the protestors. This is the second clash between angry coca growers and government forces in the past month, and reflects growing tensions over forced eradication.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Slams Philippines Drug War. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called out President Rodrigo Duterte for his "lack of respect for due process rights for all Filipinos" and his "open support for a shoot-to-kill policy." Al Hussein added that he was "gravely concerned" not only about the killings, but also about the lack of credible investigations into them.

Chronicle AM: Ontario Goes With State-Owned Pot Shops, DEA Agent's Sordid Affair, More... (9/11/17)

Canada's most populous province is going with a state monopoly on legal marijuana sales, the CARERS Act is back, last week's surprise budget deal preserves protections for legal medical marijuana states for a few more months, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Preserves Medical Marijuana Protections -- For Now. The budget deal agreed to last week between President Trump and congressional leaders extends federal protections to state-legal medical marijuana programs through December 8. This provides an opportunity for House GOP leaders to rectify their decision last week not to allow a vote on the amendment that for the past four years has blocked the Justice Department from spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce CARERS Act. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) refiled the CARERS Act (Senate Bill 1764) last Wednesday. The bill aims to "extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana."

Iowa Attorney General Cites Fed Fears to Block CBD from Out of State Dispensaries. The attorney general's office has advised the Department of Public Health not to implement a part of the state's CBD medical marijuana law that would have licensed two dispensaries from bordering states to supply CBD to Iowa patients. "It is possible that state's program may come under increased scrutiny from the federal government," a spokesman told the Des Moines Register, adding that the halt would remain "until the federal government provides further guidance regarding state medical marijuana programs."

Drug Policy

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Joins Trump's Drug Task Force. A Republican and Trump supporter, Bondi has been appointed to the Presidential Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, her office announced last Friday. The other commission members are chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), North Carolina Roy Cooper (D), former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), and Harvard professor Dr. Bertha Madras. The commission is supposed to issue a final report by October 1.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Congressman Files Bill to Broaden Medication Assisted Treatment. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 3692 to "amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide additional flexibility with respect to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders."

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent's Scandalous Affair Unveiled. A Justice Department inspector general's report released last Thursday revealed one bit of juicy scandal: A DEA agent carried on a wild affair with a convicted drug criminal for five years, and let her listen to active wiretaps, roam the evidence room unattended, and had sex with her in his office and official vehicle. The whole thing unraveled when she got pregnant, he reacted unfavorably, and she ratted him out to superiors. The unnamed agent was originally only suspended for 45 days, but was eventually fired.

International

Ontario Will Only Allow Legal Pot Sales in Government Monopoly Shops. Canada's most populous province announced last Friday that it will open 150 standalone pot shops operated by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), as well as eventually allowing an online order service. Dispensaries that have sprouted up in the province are out of luck: "Illicit cannabis dispensaries are not and will not be legal retailers," the province explained in a news release. "The province will pursue a coordinated and proactive enforcement strategy, working with municipalities, local police services, the OPP and the federal government to help shut down these illegal operations."

Canadian Prime Minister Just Says No to Drug Decriminalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected calls from British Columbia public health and political figures to embrace drug decriminalization as part of a solution to the country's opioid crisis. "We are making headway on this and indeed the crisis continues and indeed spreads across the country but we are not looking at legalizing any other drugs than marijuana for the time being," Trudeau told a news conference in BC last Thursday.

German Poll Finds Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Mafo Market Research Institute poll has found signs of a rapid shift in support for freeing the weed in Germany. Polls going back to 2001 have had support hovering around 19%, but things began to change around 2014. That year, a poll had 30% supporting legalization. In November 2015, another poll had support at 42%. The new Mafo poll has support at 57.5%.

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