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Chronicle AM: Trump Plans UN Meeting to Push Drug War, NJ Pot Bill Details Unveiled, More.... (9/19/18)

President Trump is headed to the UN to rally global drug warriors, New Jersey's long-awaited marijuana legalization bill is just about ready, Philadelphia settles a massive asset forfeiture lawsuit, and more.

President Trump will address a UN side meeting of hard-line drug war counties next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Bill Just About Ready, Draft Released. Legislators have sent a draft legalization bill to Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) office and legislative leaders say they aim to pass it next month. NJ Advance Media obtained a copy of the draft. Bill features include taxed and regulated marijuana commerce; set asides for minorities, women, and areas with high unemployment; social consumption spaces, delivery services, but no home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

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.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia to Roll Back Civil Forfeiture, Pay $3 Million to Victims. To settle a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, the city of Philadelphia agreed Tuesday to stop allowing law enforcement from profiting from asset forfeiture and to set up a $3 million fund to compensate people victimized by past asset forfeiture actions. The plaintiffs were Philadelphia residents who had property seized through civil asset forfeiture, including one man whose home was seized after his son made a $40 drug sale. Under the settlement, the city agreed to not seize property for minor drug crimes like possession, not forfeit cash in amounts less than $250, and not use any proceeds to pay police officers or prosecutors, to name a few conditions.

Foreign Policy

Trump Administration Plans UN Side Meeting to Ramp Up Global Drug War. The Trump administration will hold an invitation-only event at the UN next week to push for tougher global drug law enforcement. The "Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem" is limited to countries that have signed onto a US "action plan."  Among the signatories are countries with some of the world's harshest drug policies, including China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, as well as Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, India, and Costa Rica. Countries who signed on will "receive an invitation to attend this High-Level Event" with the US president. "The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says the so-called diplomatic note.

Chronicle AM: NY Gov Signs Opioid Bill, VT Dems Want Full MJ Legalization, More... (8/27/18)

An Arizona prosecutor gets challenged for trying to profit off small-time pot offenders, Oregon regulators slash the daily purchase amounts for medical marijuana patients, a Louisiana prisoner featured in the Chronicle years ago gets a break, and more.

Oregon patients will only be able to buy one ounce a day under new emergency rules. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona County Attorney Sued Over Drug Court Diversion Program for Smalltime Marijuana Offenders. The Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group, and a local law firm have sued Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery. They allege that he and the county drug court diversion program are preying on and profiting off people charged with minor pot possession offenses. Under the state's harsh laws, possession of even small amounts is a felony, but first- and second-time offenders are eligible for a diversion program. The problem is the diversion program has a $1,000 fee, and those who cannot pay the entire fee linger in the program, paying $15 to $20 fees for drug testing as often as several times a week and face being tried as felons if they fail to complete the program. "The complaint explains that the marijuana diversion program operated by TASC Inc. and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office represents a two-tiered legal system," Civil Rights Corps Attorney Dami Animashaun said in a statement. "Wealthy people buy their way off diversion quickly, while poor people risk being expelled from the program and prosecuted for a felony solely because they cannot afford to pay."

Vermont Democrats Call for Taxed, Regulated Legal Marijuana Sales. Vermont has already legalized the personal possession and home cultivation of marijuana, and now the state's Democratic Party has formally endorsed expanding legalization to include taxed and regulated legal marijuana sales. "We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity," reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party's platform convention on Sunday.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Regulators Slash Daily Purchase Limit for Patients. In a bid to reduce leakage into the black market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last Thursday dramatically reduced the amount of medical marijuana patients can purchase each day. Medical cardholders may now buy only one ounce a day, not the 24 ounces that had been the limit. The emergency change is in effect until December 27.

Illinois Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) on Saturday signed a bill legalizing industrial hemp, the Illinois Hemp Act. "Legalizing the farming of industrial hemp just makes good sense," Rauner said in a statement. "Roughly 38 states -- including our neighbors in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee -- have allowed or are considering allowing cultivation of this crop for commercial, research or pilot programs. Our farmers should have this option as well." The state Department of Agriculture will issue licenses to farmers who want to grow it, and regulators will establish rules for THC-level testing of industrial hemp crops.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Legislation To Expand Use Of Rehabilitation And Diversion Services To Combat Heroin And Opioid Epidemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) last Friday signed legislation (A.10403/S.8760) to help in the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic by diverting substance-dependent individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system. This legislation provides another form of support to prosecutors and law enforcement officers as they seek treatment and counseling for people who are addicted to opioids. These diversion models include law enforcement assisted diversion, known as LEAD, and other programs treating substance abuse and addiction. The legislation expands the allowable use of funding from seized or forfeited assets by law enforcement and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse."We must use every tool at our disposal to combat this nation's opioid epidemic and the underlying issues that lead people to commit crime, and this legislation makes available additional funding to help New Yorkers in need," Governor Cuomo said. "By helping New Yorkers turn their lives around, this program helps strengthen communities, increase public safety and break the vicious cycle of recidivism once and for all."

Sentencing

One Louisiana Man Gets a Sentence Cut. A Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana possession as a habitual offender has received a sentence reduction that will allow him to go free in a matter of weeks. Jody Butler's case was covered by the Chronicle's Clarence Walker back in 2013, but it took until now for justice to be done. New Orleans Parish District Attorney, who made a career of imposing long sentences on small-time drug offenders, raised no objection to a sentence reduction in Butler's case, the latest in which he has backpedaled away from his earlier, harsher stance.

Chronicle AM: Feds Cracking Down on Fentanyl OD Deaths, OK Revises MedMJ Rules, More... (7/30/18)

A bill to protect marijuana-using federal workers in states where it is legal is filed, federal prosecutors are going hard after dealers linked to fatal fentanyl overdoses, the Republic of Georgia ends administrative punishments for marijuana use, and more.

The feds are meting out stiff sentences to dealers of fentanyl whose product kills people. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Federal Bill Would Block Federal Government from Firing Workers for Positive Pot Test Results in States Where It Is Legal. US Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Drew Ferguson (R-GA) filed the "Fairness in Drug Testing Under State Law Act" last Thursday. The bill would protect federal workers from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they reside "in a state where that individual's private use of marijuana is not prohibited." The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Campaign in Final Days of Signature-Gathering. Green the Vote announced Sunday that it now has more than 132,000 raw signatures aimed at earning a place on the ballot for its legalization initiative, State Question 797. The group needs about 124,000 valid voter signatures and has until August 8 to hand in more signatures. The rule of thumb is that 20% to 30% of raw signatures may be found invalid, meaning Green the Vote can't really rest easy until it has around 180,000 raw signatures. Even if the group comes up with enough valid signatures, it would still face timeline to being approved for the November ballot because it is bumping up against deadlines for getting the measure approved by the governor and the state supreme court.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Officials Revise Proposed Medical Marijuana Rules. The Department of Health last Friday released new proposed medical marijuana rules that remove some of the most criticized provisions of its first swing at the issue. The rules no longer ban the sale of smokable marijuana or require female patients to get a pregnancy test (!). The department also ditched a rule that limited the amount of THC in marijuana products.

Asset Forfeiture

Coalition of Public Policy Groups Calls on House to Limit Civil Asset Forfeiture. A broad coalition of public policy organizations last Thursday submitted a letter to the US House of Representatives, urging members of Congress to limit civil asset forfeiture through amendments to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Industries (CJS) appropriations bill. "Current law allows law enforcement to confiscate property from innocent Americans without charging anyone with a crime," the letter says. "When citizens object, they encounter a system that is stacked against them procedurally and that treats them as presumptively guilty. This unpopular practice, known as civil forfeiture, is an affront to property rights and civil liberties and must be banned or reformed as soon as possible, but the immediate priority should be to amend the CJS appropriations bill when it is considered in the House of Representatives in order to roll back the Department of Justice's unjustified expansion of this practice. Click on the link to a see a list of the signatory groups.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

The Feds Are Prosecuting Fentanyl Overdose Deaths as Homicides in Crackdown on Opioid Dealers. Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides as they crack down by punishing opioid dealers with ever more severe prison sentences. They are using charges that carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. In one case, a dealer charged with distributing fentanyl that resulted in the overdose of a New Hampshire man got a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. Federal fentanyl prosecutions have nearly tripled, with 51 cases in FY 2016 to 181 in FY 2017. Last year, 95 people nationwide received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury, nearly double the number in 2014, according to the US Sentencing Commission.

International

Georgia Constitutional Court Outlaws All Punishment for Marijuana Consumption. The Constitutional Court ruled Monday that people can no longer be hit with administrative punishments, such as fines, for using marijuana. The decision goes into effect immediately and comes eight months after the same court abolished criminal penalties for marijuana use. Using marijuana is "an action protected by the right to a person's free development," the court held. Cultivation and distribution of marijuana remain criminal offenses.

Chronicle AM: Senate Votes for Legal Hemp, State Department Pushes Aerial Coca Eradication, More... (6/29/18)

The US Senate votes to legalize hemp, the State Department gets behind Colombia's plan to reintroduce aerial fumigation of coca crops, an Arizona court rules that hash isn't medical marijuana, and more.

The Trump administration is down with dumping herbicides on the heads of these Colombian coca farmers. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Patients Face Can Be Arrest For Hashish. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that medical marijuana patients can still be arrested for possessing hashish because it wasn't included by name in the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative in 2010. The ruling came in the case of card-carrying patient Rodney Jones, who was caught with 0.05 ounces of hash. After spending more than a year in jail, he waived his right to a jury trial, but not his right to appeal. "If the drafters wanted to immunize the possession of hashish they should have said so," the ruling said. "We cannot conclude that Arizona voters intended to do so." Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which is supporting Jones, said the ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Oklahoma Sees First Medical Marijuana Clinic. That didn't take long. Just hours after the polls closed Tuesday and voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the Tulsa Higher Care Clinic opened for business. The clinic provides doctors who will write medical marijuana recommendations, but it isn't selling any product… yet.

Hemp

US Senate Votes to Legalize Hemp. The Senate passed the omnibus Farm Bill Thursday, and that bill includes an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that legalizes the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp. For years, the DEA has refused to recognize hemp as distinct from marijuana, but that distinction will be enshrined in law if the bill is signed into law. "Consumers across America buy hundreds of millions in retail products every year that contain hemp," McConnell said in a floor speech on Thursday. "But due to outdated federal regulations that do not sufficiently distinguish this industrial crop from its illicit cousin, American farmers have been mostly unable to meet that demand themselves. It's left consumers with little choice but to buy imported hemp products from foreign-produced hemp."

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reforms Go into Effect on Sunday. Reforms passed by the legislature and signed into law earlier this year go into effect on Sunday. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture but does ban the seizure of vehicles for simple drug possession, requires that a connection is shown between seized property and a crime, and states that simple possession of a large amount of cash isn't grounds for it to be seized. The bill also requires for the first time statewide reporting of civil forfeitures and includes a provision allowing people accused of crimes to retain their property until found guilty.>

Foreign Policy

State Department Supports Resumption of Aerial Coca Eradication in Colombia. The US State Department Thursday expressed its support for resuming aerial coca spraying in Colombia. "The United States believes that all tools must be used to reverse the sharp increase in cocaine production," a department spokesperson said. Aerial fumigation was banned in 2015 because of environmental damage and health concerns for residents of areas being sprayed. Colombia produced a record amount of cocaine last year.

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalizes Marijuana! (6/20/18)

Canada has become the second country to legalize marijuana after final votes in parliament Tuesday, the Supreme Court agrees to hear an Indiana asset forfeiture case, Eleanor Holmes Norton files a bill to allow marijuana in public housing in states where it's legal, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Bill to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing Where It's Legal. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed a bill that would allow residents of public housing in states and localities where marijuana is legal to use it at home without fear of being evicted. Under Norton's bill, a person may not be denied federally-assisted housing for the use of marijuana in jurisdictions where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized. Under Norton's bill, smoking marijuana would be treated the same as smoking tobacco in federally-assisted housing. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Case. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an Indiana man who used the proceeds of his father's life insurance policy to buy a $42,000 Land Rover only to have the vehicle seized after he was caught selling heroin with it. When authorities moved to forfeit the vehicle, Tyson Timbs challenged the action and won in the Grant Superior Court, with the judge finding the vehicle was purchased legally and that its forfeiture would be "grossly disproportionate" to Timb's offense. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the maximum fine for Timbs' offenses was only $10,000 and suggested the seizure amounted to an "excessive fine." The state Supreme Court then reversed, Timbs appealed, and here we are.

Reproductive Rights

Federal Appeals Court Panel Rejects Wisconsin Woman's "Cocaine Mom" Lawsuit. A three-judge panel on the US 7th Circuit of Appeals on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's "cocaine mom" law, which permits the detention of pregnant women who are suspected of abusing drugs. The panel dismissed the case because the woman, Tammy Loetscher, had moved out of the state. A US district court judge last year found the law unconstitutional and issued an injunction barring it from being enforced, but the law has remained in force while the state appealed. The appeals court panel's ruling leaves the law in force for now. "Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," said Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which represented Loertscher.

International

Canada Legalizes Marijuana. With final votes in the House of Commons and Senate on Tuesday, the Canadian parliament has approved the marijuana legalization bill, C-45. The bill legalizes the possession of up to 30 grams in public and allows the cultivation of up to four plants per household. It will also allow for regulated and taxed marijuana businesses, with regulations of sales left to the provinces. Provincial and territorial governments need s few weeks to prepare for retail sales, so the actual rollout of legalization is expected to happen in mid-September.

Australia Festival Pill Testing a Success, Should Be Emulated, Report Finds. A study released Wednesday by the Safety and Testing Advisory Service at Festivals and Events finds that pill testing at the Groovin the Moo festival in Canberra in April was "an overwhelming success" and the federal government should take a leadership role in introducing a plan for broader pill testing. "The pilot demonstrated that such an intervention is possible and that people are willing to use the service, despite the limitations arising from the tight timelines, inauspicious physical infrastructure and the lack of dissemination strategies on-site during the festival," the report said. Less than half the drugs tested at the festival were relatively pure.

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.

Chronicle AM: New York Pot Politics, MO Cops Diverting School Funds, UK Pill Testing, More... (5/15/18)

Marijuana policy is front and center in New York, Missouri cops are doing an end run around a state law requiring seized cash go the the state's schools, Britain sees its first permanent pill testing center for recreational drug users, and more.

Missouri cops hand seized cash off to the feds rather than let the state's schools get their hands on it. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New York Democratic Party About to Endorse Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party is expected to pass a resolution in support of marijuana legalization at its convention next week, a party document says. The move comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) faces a primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, who has embraced legalization.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Report Coming Any Day Now. A long-awaited report on the impact of marijuana legalization in other states and how New York might be effected will be released "within days," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday. "That report should be done shortly," Cuomo said. "How do you define shortly? It is supposed to be done by calendar, it should be done within days." Cuomo had opposed legalization, but has lately been shifting his ground. "To say well, it won't be in New York I think is to avoid reality at that point," Cuomo added. "The facts changed on this issue and the facts changed quickly."

New York City Mayor Says NYPD Will Change How It Enforces Marijuana Laws. Two days after the New York Times reported on continuing vast racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that the NYPD will be changing how it enforces the pot laws. "The NYPD will overhaul and reform its policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next 30 days," de Blasio said. "We must and we will end unnecessary arrests and end disparity in enforcement. It's time for those to be a thing of the past in New York City and all over this country.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Governor Okays University Research on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has given the go-ahead for eight universities in the state to start studying medical marijuana. It would be the commonwealth's "first step towards clinical research" on the drug. He formally declared them to be "Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers."

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Cops Steal Money From School Kids. Under state law, money seized as asset forfeitures by police is supposed to go to the state's schools, but that's not what's happening. Missouri law enforcement agencies seized more than $19 million in the last three years, but only $340,000, or about 2%, actually made it to schools. That's because law enforcement agencies instead turn asset forfeiture cases to the federal government under an arrangement that allows 80% of the seizure to go back to the seizing law enforcement agency. A bill to limit the practice was defeated last year, but is back again this year.

International

Britain Sees First Pill Testing Center. The first pill testing center for recreational drug users in Britain has opened in Bristol. Pill testing has gone on at a number of British music festivals, but the new pop-up lab is the first permanent installation. It will be run by a charity, which will also provide drug counseling sessions.

Georgian Government Promises New Drug Policy by June. In the wake of a weekend of drug busts and mass demonstrations against them, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said Monday the government will adopt a new, more liberal drug policy by the end of June. He said the ruling Georgian Dream Party was split on the issue, but added that he thought an agreement could be reached. "Even though there are different positions in the ruling party, we also have the resources to achieve an agreement. We want to draft a bill and submit it in the next two weeks, which will be a precondition for adopting a law by the end of June," he said, adding the main aim of the draft is to reduce drug consumption in the country and adoption of a more humane policy.

(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 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.)

Chronicle AM:Mitch McConnell Files Hemp Bill, Mexico Minister Says Legalize It, More... (4/13/18)

A pair of senators demand that Jeff Sessions quit blocking marijuana research, Mitch McConnell files a federal hemp bill, Mexico's tourism minister says his country should allow states to legalize weed, and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell files a bill to allow for domestic hemp cultivation. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Pair of Senators Call on Sessions to Stop Blocking Marijuana Research. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) sent a letter Thursday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to demand that he stop blocking efforts to ramp up research on marijuana's medical benefits. "The benefits of research are unquestionable," Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote, taking Sessions to task for blocking applications for new research grows. "Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research," they noted, demanding that Sessions respond by May 15 about the status of the research application reviews.

Louisiana House Approves Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 579, which expands the list of qualifying conditions to include Parkinson's Disease, chronic pain, severe muscle spasms, and PTSD. That means the number of qualifying conditions would rise from 10 to 14. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Files Federal Hemp Bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has filed Senate Bill 2667, which aims to allow for domestic hemp production by removing non-psychoactive marijuana varieties known as hemp from the Controlled Substance Act. Cosponsoring the bill are Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Companion legislation in the House was filed by McConnell's home state homeboy Rep. Jim Comer (R-KY).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Making Opioids Tougher to Abuse Led to Spike in Heroin Deaths, Study Finds. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that a 2010 effort to deter opioid abuse led to a jump in heroin overdoses. The paper studied what happened after OxyContin was reformulated to be more abuse-resistant and found that "each prevented opioid death was replaced with a heroin death."

Law Enforcement

DEA Gouged Taxpayers, Benefited Ex-Employees, Audit Finds. A report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has found that the DEA's Asset Forfeiture Program farmed out contracts to recently retired former employees, paying them more than half a million dollars more than they would have been paid if they had remained at the agency. The former employees worked for a private contractor called Maximus Inc., which was paid $85 million between 2013 and 2017 to handle asset forfeiture cases. Many of the ex-employees went to the same offices they had worked at as DEA employees, and former DEA employees accounted for 40% of Maximus's asset forfeiture workforce.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Says Country Should Let States Begin to Legalize Weed. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Wednesday that Mexico should allow states to begin legalizing marijuana, in part to address record cartel violence. "I think in Mexico we should move towards regulating it at state level," he said, calling it "illogical" to divert funds from fighting kidnapping, rape and murder to arrest people using marijuana.

Chronicle AM: DEA Seized $3.2 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime, More... (4/11/18)

Maine moves a step closer to implementing legal pot sales, the Mormon Church takes a stand against a medical marijuana initiative, the DEA has seized tons of money from people it never charged with a crime, and more.

Seized money from a drug investigation. The DEA has seized $4 billion in the past decade, most of it with no criminal charges.
Marijuana Policy

Maine House Approves New Compromise on Legal Pot Sales. The House voted Tuesday to approve a measure designed to get the state's legal pot sales system up and running, and it did so with a veto-proof majority. Under the compromise legislation, the number of plants that individuals could grow at home would drop from six to three, there would be a 10% sales tax on legal weed, and there would be a $335 per pound tax imposed on growing facilities. The bill is expected to be on the Senate calendar today. An earlier effort to legislate implementation of the voter-approved 2016 law was vetoed by Gov. Paul Le Page.

Tennessee Poll Has Surprising Support for Marijuana. More than eight out of 10 Tennesseans believe marijuana should be legal in some form, a new Middle Tennessee State University poll finds. Some 44% said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use only, while another 37% said it should be legal for personal use. A medical marijuana bill was withdrawn earlier this month after its sponsor said it lacked the support to pass in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Officially Opposed by Mormon Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' First Presidency issued a statement Tuesday opposing the medical marijuana initiative, which is still in the signature gathering phase: "We commend the Utah Medical Association for its statement of March 30, 2018, cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities. We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah," the statement reads. "The public interest is best served when all new drugs designed to relieve suffering and illness, and the procedures by which they are made available to the public, undergo the scrutiny of medical scientists and official approval bodies."

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Has Taken More Than $3 Billion from People Never Charged With a Crime. A March report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that the DEA has seized more than $4 billion from drug suspects since 2007 --but that four out of five of the seizures were done administratively and did not lead to either civil or criminal charges. That means the DEA seized about $3.2 billion from people never charged with a crime. The report also scolded DEA, noting that it "does not collect or evaluate the data necessary to know whether its seizures and forfeitures are effective, or the extent to which seizures present potential risks to civil liberties." Also, the report warned: "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution."

International

Colombia Arrests FARC Peace Negotiator on Drug Charges. Colombian federal police agents arrested one of the former rebel group's peace negotiators on Monday, sparking an angry reaction from the FARC. Seuxis Paucis Hernández Solarte, alias "Jesús Santrich," and three others face extradition to the U.S. on charges they conspired to import cocaine. The FARC, which has now transformed itself into a political party -- the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC, in its Spanish acronym) -- called the arrest "the worst moment" of the peace process. "This is a very delicate and dangerous situation. This, yet again, underscores what we have been complaining about in relation to the legal insecurity and lack of guarantees that we have as members of the FARC political party," former FARC commander Victoria Sandino said in a statement. "This is sabotage and an obstacle for those that have committed wholeheartedly to this process, starting with one of the main negotiators and signatory of the peace accord."

Hondurans Seize Second Coca Plantation, Raising Fears Cocaine Production is Shifting North. Last weekend, Honduran police seized a 70 acre coca plantation, the second one found in the country. Honduran authorities speculated that drug trafficking groups are experimenting with growing there in order to save on smuggling costs from South America. The country has long been a key transit point for cocaine headed north; now it could become a producer, too.

Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Bill Passes, Israeli MedMJ Sales to Begin on 4/20, More... (4/10/18)

New Mexico's largest city ends civil asset forfeiture, a Maryland medical marijuana expansion bill has passed the legislature, select Israeli pharmacies will soon begin selling medical marijuana products, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislature Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would increase the number of licenses for medical marijuana growers from 15 to 20 and the number of licenses for processors from 15 to 25 -- largely in a bid to increase minority business ownership in the industry. None of the companies licensed so far has a black owner. House Bill 0002 has already passed the House and goes now to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Albuquerque to End the City's Civil Asset Forfeiture Program. New Mexico's largest city will quit seizing people's property unless there is a criminal conviction first. This decision brings the City in compliance with New Mexico state law and comes on the heels of a decision by a US District Court Judge James Browning that said that "the city's ordinance violated federal due process protections and the 2015 state law which said governments can't seize a person's property unless there is a criminal conviction in the case." The state passed asset forfeiture reform in 2015, but the city of Albuquerque refused to obey the state law -- until now.

International

Canadian Conservative Senators Want to Kill Home Cultivation. As a vote looms in the Senate on the Liberals' marijuana legalization bill, some Conservative senators are talking about filing an amendment to ban home cultivation, as well as other nibbling at the edges of the bill. "Senate Conservative Caucus will be looking at making recommendations on various legislative voids, including: driving under the influence; public consumption; home grow; outdoor grow; detection of high concentration of marijuana; border crossing …," wrote Sen. Larry Smith. Any amendments from the Tories would need support from independent counterparts to pass any amendments. The Senate currently has 12 Liberals, 43 independents, 33 Conservatives and five nonaffiliated members. The vote on the legalization bill is set for June 7.

Israeli Pharmacies to Begin Selling Medical Marijuana Products on 4/20. Surely it's just a coincidence, but select Israeli pharmacies will begin selling prescription medical marijuana products beginning April 20. Some 20 pharmacies will participate in the pilot program for regulated medical marijuana sales. The move is the result of marijuana reforms led by the Ministry of Health and approved by the government in 2016.

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