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Chronicle AM: NJ Gov Still Ready to Legalize It, Court Rejects OH MedMJ "Racial Quota," More... (11/16/18)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is still committed to marijuana legalization, the Albany DA announces an end to low-level pot prosecutions, an Ohio court throws out a racial justice requirement in the state's medical marijuana licensing plan, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Reiterates Support for Legalization. In remarks to the state League of Municipalities Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he remains in favor of marijuana legalization. "I remain equally committed to sensible legislation to legalize adult use of marijuana, and to continue to expand our medical marijuana program, which can also be an important tool for fighting our opioid epidemic…."Legalization is the right thing to do, for safer communities, for protecting our kids, for erasing the stain that is keeping so many of our fellow New Jerseyans from a better future. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans agree. We should listen to them. I am ready to work alongside the Legislature, and each of you, to get this done."

Albany, New York, DA Stops Prosecuting Low-Level Pot Cases. Albany County District Attorney David Soares has announced that as of December 1, his office will no longer prosecute anyone accused of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. "We've been feeling the need to make this change for quite some time," Soares told reporters. But Soares warned that he would still prosecute low-level charges when someone is smoking in public, in a vehicle, or in front of children. 

Vermont Advisory Commission Recommends 26% Tax on Pot. A subcommittee of the governor's Marijuana Advisory Commission has recommended that if marijuana commerce is legalized, there should be a 20% excise tax on retail sales in addition to the state's 6% sales tax. The subcommittee also recommended earmarking marijuana tax revenues to the state education fund.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor-Elect Supports Medical Marijuana. Laura Kelly, the Democrat who won a surprise victory in conservative Kansas, is ready to take the state down the path toward legal medical marijuana. "I think that there is some momentum in the legislature to pass, to legalize medical marijuana," she said. "I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-regulated. With a supporter in the governor's mansion, legislators no longer have to worry about coming up with supermajorities to overcome a gubernatorial veto.

Ohio Court Rules "Racial Quota" for Grow Licenses Unconstitutional. An Ohio district court has ruled unconstitutional the state's "racial quota" for selecting medical marijuana business licenses. The state's medical marijuana law requires 15% of all licenses to be awarded to businesses owned by racial minorities, and the state awarded two of 12 available licenses to minority-owned firms even though they scored lower than other applicants. One of the applicants who did not get a license sued. The ruling could prompt the state to award a provisional license to the plaintiff in order to make the case go away.

Utah Medical Marijuana Backers Threaten to Sue Over Mormon Church Involvement in Bill to Replace Prop 2. Medical marijuana supporters said Thursday they are exploring legal action to challenge the legislatures move to replace the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative "at the best" of the Mormon Church. Even though voters approved Prop 2 this month, lawmakers plan to meet in a December special sessions to replace the measure with a proposal more acceptable to opponents, including the church. "Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the ... recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes," attorney Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City mayor, wrote.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a whipsaw week for Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries, Oklahoma sees its first legal medical marijuana sales, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Regulators Say More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

North Dakota

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ MJ Poll Shows Strong Support, IN Forfeiture Case Goes to Supreme Court, More... (10/31/18)

A new poll has support for marijuana legalization in New Jersey at 58%, Kansas gubernatorial candidates debate marijuana policy, truck drivers will face hair drug testing one of these years, and more.

Hair drug tests for truck drivers could be coming soon under an opioids bill signed into law this month. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Gubernatorial Debate Highlights Sharp Differences on Marijuana Policy. In a pre-election debate Tuesday, gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach (R) and Laura Kelly (D) differed on marijuana policy. Kobach said he opposed both medicinal and recreational marijuana while expressing some openness to using CBD. "With medical marijuana, I don't think the time is right," he said. Kelly said she supports marijuana legalization, and especially the legalization of medical marijuana. "There are many benefits for young children with severe seizure disorders and for end-of-life use," said Kelly. "It would also be incredibly helpful in helping to reduce the opioid crisis." She also called for sentencing reform for marijuana offenses. "We are destroying our families and costing the state of fortune," said Kelly. "We need treatment options, not incarceration." Independent candidate Greg Orman also said he supported legalization. The latest polls have the race between Kelly and Kobach too close to call.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Rutgers Eagleton poll has support for marijuana legalization at 58% with only 37% opposed. Nearly four out of five of those supporting legalization said they viewed it as a social justice issue. The poll comes as the legislature tries to get its act together to advance marijuana legalization legislation next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Judge Blocks Halloween Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. The same day state regulators ordered more than 200 unlicensed dispensaries to shut down by Wednesday, a Michigan judge blocked that order. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borello granted a motion Tuesday that kills the state's latest attempt to shut down any medical marijuana dispensaries operating without a license. Borello issued a temporary injunction blocking the shutdowns and barring the state from imposing any other licensing deadlines until the court rules again.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Indiana Asset Forfeiture Case Next Month. The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 28 on whether Indiana officials in effect imposed "excessive fines" on a man who pleaded guilty to selling heroin by seizing his vehicle, which was valued at more than the maximum fine for his offense. Cops seized a $42,000 Land Rover belonging to Tyson Timbs, which he bought with an inheritance after his father's death. The maximum fine for dealing heroin in Indiana is $10,000..

Drug Testing

Congressional Opioid Bill Demands Hair Drug Testing for Truck Drivers. The omnibus opioid bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump earlier this month calls for making progress on standards for hair drug testing of truck drivers. Drug testing of hair samples provides a much longer window to detect drug use than urine or blood tests. Hair testing was okayed in the 2015 FAST Act, but the Department of Homeland Security has so far failed to provide hair drug testing protocols. The new law requires DHS to provide guidelines and for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to report to Congress on progress in creating and issuing guidelines for hair drug testing.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. 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.)

How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

South Dakota women's prison in Pierre (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Trump Marijuana Plans, More Cases Thrown Out in MA Drug Lab Scandal, More... (10/12/18)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) says the president will move on marijuana policy after the election, the Supreme Court will hear an important asset forfeiture case later this year, thousands more drug defendants will see drug charges dismissed in the Massachusetts drug lab scandal, and more.

Rep. Dana Rohrabcher (R-CA) says the Trump administration will move on marijuana policy after the election. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Plans To Back Legal Medical Marijuana After Midterms, GOP Congressman Says. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said that he had been talking with people inside the White House about ending marijuana prohibition. Rohrabacher added that he's been "reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise" to protect state marijuana policies from federal interference. He didn't point to any specific legislation but said details would begin to take shape after the election. "I would expect after the election we will sit down and we'll start hammering out something that is specific and real," he said. "It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session," he said.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court to Hear Asset Forfeiture Case Later This Year. The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in an important asset forfeiture case on November 28. The case is Timbs (and a 2012 Land Rover) v. Indiana, in which Tyson Timbs appeals the seizure of his vehicle after he was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police officers. Timbs bought the vehicle with proceeds from his late father's life insurance policy -- not drug profits -- and argues that seizing the vehicle amounts to a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on excessive fines. A state appeals court had overturned the seizure, calling it "grossly disproportional," but the state Supreme Court vacated that decision on the grounds the ban on excessive fines does not apply to the states.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts High Court Orders Dismissal of Thousands of Cases in Drug Lab Chemist Scandal. The state's Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of thousands of additional drug convictions due to the misconduct of Amherst drug lab chemist Sonja Farak, some dating back as far as 2004. "We conclude that Farak's widespread evidence tampering has compromised the integrity of thousands of drug convictions apart from those the Commonwealth has agreed should be vacated and dismissed," wrote Justice Frank Gaziano in the court's 61-page unanimous decision. "Her misconduct, compounded by prosecutorial misconduct, requires that this court exercise its superintendence authority and vacate and dismiss all criminal convictions tainted by government wrongdoing." Farak has pleaded guilty to stealing drug samples to feed her addiction. State prosecutors had already agreed to dismiss some 8,000 cases. Now there will be thousands more, though an exact number is not immediately available.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers Protest Against Forced Crop Eradication. Coca-growing peasants set up roadblocks on Thursday to protest against the forced eradication of coca crops and fumigation measures. The farmers in several municipalities of Norte de Santander are demanding to be included in the program of crop substitution so they have an alternative to growing coca. Farmers in Cucuta and El Zulia blocked two main local highways. They are members of the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana and the Campesino Association of Catatumbo.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

Medical Marijuana Update

The DEA last week rescheduled the marijuana-based drug Epidiolex, California's governor vetoes a compassionate access bill, Michigan dispensaries must have licenses by Halloween or be shut down, and more.

National

DEA Reschedules Marijuana-Derived Drug Epidiolex. The DEA has rescheduled Epidiolex, a marijuana-derived drug manufactured by GW Pharmaceutical. The move comes after the FDA approved the drug in June and clears the way for GW to begin selling the drug. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug derived from marijuana.

Congresspersons Want to Know Why DEA is Importing Research Marijuana. Fifteen members of Congress led by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sent a letter Monday to the DEA and Attorney General Sessions expressing "deep concern" over delays in approving domestic marijuana cultivation for research purposes even as the DEA has approved the importation of marijuana from Canada for research purposes.

Protestors Target Rep. Andy Harris Over Opposition to Using Medical Marijuana as Opioid Treatment. Red-capped protestors affiliated with the marijuana reform group DCMJ protested outside the office doors of Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) Tuesday. DCMJ said the protestors were there to protest his opposition to using medical marijuana as a treatment for the opioid crisis. After Harris refused to meet with them, as fellow protestors waved signs accusing Harris of working for "Big Pharma," two women laid down in the hallway to represent friends who had fatally overdosed. One of the women was temporarily handcuffed. The smell of marijuana wafted through the air. Harris later complained that: "Today's aggression by protesters who disagree with my position on the legalization of recreational marijuana demonstrates the problem with political discourse today. We all must agree to have a civilized debate when disagreement occurs. My parents fled communist Eastern Europe where people with different political opinions were harassed and punished, and it has no place in America."

California

California Governor Vetoes Compassionate Access Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Senate Bill 829, which would have allowed licensed marijuana retailers to "offer free cannabis or cannabis goods" to low-income medical marijuana payments. In his veto statement, Brown said the bill would violate the state's recreational marijuana law, but that logic left advocates confounded. "Nowhere does Prop. 64 say that it is intended to impede free donations of medicine to needy patients," commented CA NORML head Dale Gieringer. "The purposes and intents section of the initiative is clear that it pertains only to adult-use marijuana, and does not override Prop 215 [California's original medical marijuana law, passed in 1996]."

Florida

Florida Moves to Block Licensing Lawsuit. The state Department of Health is asking an appeals court to block a district judge from moving forward with a lawsuit where a nursery operator who was denied a cultivation license. The appeals court on Friday put the case on hold temporarily, with the nursery operator given until the end of the month to respond to the state's arguments that the lawsuit should be thrown out.

Michigan

Michigan Dispensaries Must Have Licenses by Halloween, Regulators Say. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has issued new emergency rules for dispensaries saying that if they haven't received a license by Halloween they could be forced to shut their doors. Also, any product not received in compliance with the Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act will have to be destroyed.

Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Opponents Pony Up Cash. Opponents of the Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative are ponying up big bucks in a bid to defeat the measure. As of last weekend, wealthy Utahns have contributed $230,000 to the opposition group Drug Safe Utah in recent months and $65,000 to another anti group, the Truth About Proposition 2, while initiative sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition has raised only $68,000, with $50,000 of that coming from the Marijuana Policy Project.

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

Chronicle AM: Jerry Brown Vetoes Marijuana Samples for Poor Patients, NJ Gov Says Legalization Soon, More... (10/2/18)

Some members of Congress want to know why the DEA approves research marijuana imports but not research marijuana here, New Jersey's governor says legal pot is coming, California's governor vetoes a bill that would have let dispensaries give free samples to poor medical marijuana patients, and more.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says marijuana legalization is coming "sooner than later." (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Says Legal Marijuana Coming Soon. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said Monday that legalization is coming "sooner than later," with a vote possible within weeks. Last week, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said the Senate could vote by October 29, even though a new legalization bill hasn't been formally introduced yet. But the Assembly would have to vote to approve it, too, and there's no word on when that might happen.

Medical Marijuana

Congresspersons Want to Know Why DEA is Importing Research Marijuana. Fifteen members of Congress led by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) have sent a letter to the DEA and Attorney General Sessions expressing "deep concern" over delays in approving domestic marijuana cultivation for research purposes even as the DEA has approved the importation of marijuana from Canada for research purposes.

California Governor Vetoes Compassionate Access Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Senate Bill 829, which would have allowed licensed marijuana retailers to "offer free cannabis or cannabis goods" to low-income medical marijuana payments. In his veto statement, Brown said the bill would violate the state's recreational marijuana law, but that logic left advocates confounded. "Nowhere does Prop. 64 say that it is intended to impede free donations of medicine to needy patients," commented CA NORML head Dale Gieringer. "The purposes and intents section of the initiative is clear that it pertains only to adult-use marijuana, and does not override Prop 215 [California's original medical marijuana law, passed in 1996]."

Florida Moves to Block Licensing Lawsuit. The state Department of Health is asking an appeals court to block a district judge from moving forward with a lawsuit where a nursery operator who was denied a cultivation license. The appeals court on Friday put the case on hold temporarily, with the nursery operator given until the end of the month to respond to the state's arguments that the lawsuit should be thrown out.

Michigan Dispensaries Must Have Licenses by Halloween, Regulators Say. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has issued new emergency rules for dispensaries saying that if they haven't received a license by Halloween they could be forced to shut their doors. Also, any product not received in compliance with the Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act will have to be destroyed.

Chronicle AM: Bad Drug Bill Dropped From Fed Opioid Package, Acapulco Cops Disarmed, More... (9/26/18)

A bad provision gets stripped out of the congressional opioid package, a Pennsylvania legislator files a legalization bill, Mexican Marines disarm Acapulco cops, and more.

The Mexican military disarms all the cops in Acapulco amidst allegations of drug gang links. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania State Rep Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people convicted of past pot-related crimes. "My bill would immediately release people jailed for crimes associated with cannabis," Wheatley said in a news release. "Those who have criminal histories related to cannabis would be expunged, and professional and driver's licenses that were revoked or suspended due to cannabis-related crimes would be reinstated. For far too long, the criminal justice system has unfairly punished Pennsylvanians, especially minorities, who are caught with cannabis." The bill also would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It's not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Damaging Drug War Provision Excluded From Congressional Opioid Package. Late last night, the final text for the Congressional opioid package was released. SITSA, a sweeping bill expanding penalties on synthetic drugs and the broader war on drugs -- passed the House in July, and was expected to be included in the final bill. But a coalition of drug policy and criminal justice reform groups managed to push back against its inclusion, successfully keeping it out of the bill. "This is a huge win for public health over outdated drug war approaches," said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "The bill would have expanded mass incarceration, while worsening the overdose crisis. It would have given Jeff Sessions unprecedented powers to schedule drugs and set draconian new criminal penalties. To pull this back from the brink after it easily passed the House only two months ago is a tremendous victory."

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Decide Whether Maternal Drug Use Equals Child Abuse. The state's highest court on Tuesday began weighing whether women who abuse drugs during their pregnancies can be punished under state law as child abusers. The court has never addressed the matter, which is again igniting debate as the opioid crisis spawns a new generation of babies born dependent on their mothers' drugs. The justices heard oral arguments in the case of a woman who gave birth in January 2017 to a child who spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug withdrawal. The woman had tested positive for marijuana, opioids, and anxiety drugs. The child was taken into custody by Children and Youth Services, and the mother was charged with child abuse.

New Psychoactive Substances

DC Mayor Backs Bill Penalizing Dealers of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed emergency legislation to go after dealers in synthetic cannabinoids as the District suffers from a spike in "fake weed" overdoses. "This is not marijuana," Bowser said at a Tuesday news conference. "The effects are very different, and they can be deadly." The city already prohibits the sale of synthetic drugs, but this bill would expand that ban.

International

Mexican Marines Disarm Entire Acapulco Police Force Over Links to Drug Gangs. Authorities in the state of Guerrero disarmed and placed under investigation the entire police force of Acapulco, the state's largest city, claiming the local police were infiltrated by drug gangs. Two top Acapulco police commanders were also charged with homicide. Last year, Acapulco had a murder rate of 103 per 100,000 residents, one of the highest in the world.

Venezuela Calls on Colombia to Take Action on Drug Trafficking. The Foreign Ministry called Tuesday for its eastern neighbor to "assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry." Caracas wants Bogota to redouble its anti-trafficking efforts in light of the "alarming increase" in coca cultivation in Colombia reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last week. "For the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is even more worrisome that, according to said report, one of the most affected departments is precisely the north of Santander, bordering Venezuela, from where groups of drug trafficking and paramilitary violence are constantly attacking the population, the economy, and Venezuelan institutions. Venezuela urges the Colombian authorities to make sincere and effective efforts to assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry to neighboring countries and the world," the ministry said.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Medical Marijuana Update

The House Judiciary Committee approved a medical marijuana research bill, but with an obnoxious provision; a hundred Michigan dispensaries get a reprieve, Louisiana docs get the right to recommend medical marijuana to as many patients as they wish, and more.

National

Marijuana Bill Approved by Congressional Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Research Bill, Leaves in Provision Barring People with Drug-Related Misdemeanors. The House Judiciary Committee voted last Thursday to approve the Medical Cannabis Research Act, HR 5634. The bill would require the Justice Department to begin issuing more licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes but was controversial with drug reformers because of a provision barring anyone with a "conviction for a felony or a drug-related misdemeanor" from any affiliation with research cultivation operations. "There is no legitimate health or public safety justification for the inclusion of this language and we urge you to strike this unnecessary, punitive ban on individuals with previous drug law violations," reads a letter sent to the committee's leaders on Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, #cut50, the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups. "To help lower recidivism rates and improve public safety, we should be making it easier for people with records to obtain jobs, not more difficult." An effort to amend the bill in committee to remove the provision was halted after Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said he would not be opposed to changing the language before it goes to a House floor vote.

Florida

Florida Fight Over Medical Marijuana Doses. A "negotiated rulemaking" panel of the Department of Health spent hours Monday arguing about how much medical marijuana doctors should be able to recommend for patients. The state currently has no caps on how much pot patients can consume or their doctors prescribe. Some physicians are arguing for controls, saying they underestimated the dangers of opioid prescribing and didn't want to repeat that mistake. But other physicians argued that equating marijuana with opioids is "problematic" for a number of reasons. In the end, the panel agreed to set daily limits at a total of 1,550 milligrams for THC and 2,250 for CBD, or about five to six times the average recommended dosages for medical marijuana patients.

Louisiana

Louisiana Lifts Limits on Number of Patients for Whom Each Doctor Can Recommend Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Medical Examiners on Monday got rid of a rule that limited the number of patients to whom doctors can recommend medical marijuana. The board also agreed to remove a restriction that would have required patients to see their doctor every 90 days in order to renew their order for medical cannabis.

Michigan

Michigan Judge Issues Injunction to Keep A Hundred Dispensaries Open. Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello last Thursday granted an injunction that blocks the state from shutting down some 98 dispensaries until they are approved for state licenses. These are dispensaries that are in the midst of applying for licenses. They will now get to stay open until December 15.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Democrats Call For Special Session For Medical Marijuana. Democratic members of a working group crafting recommendations for medical marijuana distribution say the governor should call a special session in order to get rules implemented safely. A sticking point is the issue of product testing. "The only way to do that is to have a special session and give the health department the authority to issue licenses to entities that can do that testing, said Representative Steve Kouplen (D) House Democratic Leader. But legislative Republicans are balking, saying the Health Department already has sufficient authority to do product testing. And Gov. Mary Fallin (R) says a special session isn't necessary and would be an "expensive burden."

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

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