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

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

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

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

2. Fentanyl is Killing More and More People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Dollar Year

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

7. Pot is More Popular than Ever

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

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

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

9. Safe Injection Sites in the US Draw Ever Nearer

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

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress extended Rohrabacher-Blumenauer protections for another few weeks, the VA will now let doctors discuss -- but not recommend -- medical marijuana, a Utah poll has strong support for a medical marijuana initiative, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the VA unveiled new rules that let doctors talk about, but not recommend, medical marijuana. Under a new VA directive, doctors can "discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any veterans requesting information about marijuana." But they can't recommend it: "Providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in a state-approved marijuana program."

Last Thursday, Congress extended medical marijuana protections through January 19. With its vote for a temporary spending bill, the Congress also reauthorized the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But it's only until January 19 when the temporary funding bill expires. "Patients around the country who rely on medical marijuana for treatment -- and the businesses that serve them -- now have some measure of certainty," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "Our fight, however, continues to maintain these important protections in the next funding bill passed by Congress."

Hawaii

Last Friday, the state approved medical marijuana for ALS patients. State Department of Health officials announced that they have added Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Hawaii now joins 18 of the 29 medical marijuana states that recognize ALS as a qualifying condition.

Michigan

On Tuesday, nearly 50 Lansing dispensaries were told they would have to close. City Attorney Jim Smiertka said that his office has identified 48 businesses that may be dispensaries operating in violation of city ordinances and state law. He sent each a cease and desist order last Friday, warning them they faced a $1,000 a day fine if they don't close their doors. December 15 was the last day the city accepted applications for dispensary licenses and also the last day the state offered license applications for those businesses. Under an executive order issued by Mayor Virg Bernero, dispensaries that didn't apply for licenses by that date must shut down.

Utah

Last Thursday, a new poll showed strong support for a medical marijuana initiative. A new UtahPolicy poll finds nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents support a proposed medical marijuana initiative. That figure includes 61% of people who describe themselves as "very active" Mormons. The church opposes the initiative. The initiative will go on the November 2018 ballot if petitioners can come up with 113,000 valid voter signatures by the spring.

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

Chronicle AM: Kampia Out at MPP, Labor Unions Eye CA Pot Workers, More... (12/26/17)

Rob Kampia is no longer employed by the Marijuana Policy Project, labor unions are eyeing California's cannabis workforce as a recruiting bonanza, and more.

Marijuana Policy Project cofounder Rob Kampia and MPP go their separate ways. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rob Kampia Out at Marijuana Policy Project. Longtime MPP leader Rob Kampia is no longer employed by the organization he founded. The move comes just weeks after Kampia stepped down as executive director just before Thanksgiving but continued on staff. Marijuana Moment reports that "several sources" say a major newspaper is working on a story about previously unreported allegations of sexual misconduct against Kampia, who initially drew media scrutiny over an incident in 2010, causing him to take a temporary hiatus from running the group. In a memo shared with Marijuana Moment, and an accompanying interview with the site, Kampia said he was starting a new group called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign and that he had left MPP after a unanimous decision by the group's board of directors on December 20.

Labor Unions See Gold in California's Marijuana Workforce. At least three national labor unions -- the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- are eying the state's 100,000+ plus workers in the marijuana industry  in a bid to boost organized labor's membership. The UFCW has already unionized some pot workers in the state and has announced plans to organize them across the country, but UFW says it is well suited to organize agricultural workers, and the Teamsters say there is room for all three unions.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Approves Medical Marijuana for ALS Patients. State Department of Health officials announced last Friday that they have added Amyothropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Hawaii now joins 18 of the 29 medical marijuana states that recognize ALS as a qualifying condition.

Nearly 50 Lansing, Michigan, Dispensaries Could Have to Close. City Attorney Jim Smiertka said Tuesday that his office has identified 48 businesses that may be dispensaries operating in violation of city ordinances and state law. He sent each a cease and desist order last Friday, warning them they faced a $1,000 a day fine if they don't close their doors. December 15 was the last day the city accepted applications for dispensary licenses and also the last day the state offered license applications for those businesses. Under an executive order issued by Mayor Virg Bernero, dispensaries that didn't apply for licenses by that date must shut down.

Chronicle AM: Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Reauthorized For Now, More... (12/22/17)

Congress reauthorizes the federal ban on funding to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it is legal, Massachusetts regulators approve draft rules for the legal pot industy, and more.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), cosponsor of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment protecting medical marijuana. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Activist Dana Beal Arrested With Pounds of Pot (Again), This Time in California. Long-time marijuana legalization advocate Dana Beal was arrested last Saturday in Northern California as he carried 22 pounds of marijuana. It's not the first time for Beal: He has been arrested for transporting pot from California on separate occasions in Nebraska and Wisconsin, and also had a large amount of cash seized in Pennsylvania on one of his trips west.

Massachusetts Regulators Approve Draft Regulations for Legal Marijuana Industry. The state's Cannabis Control Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve draft regulations for the industry. Now the rules will be open for public review and comment, with the final rules set to be approved by March 15. As it now stands, the regulations provide for "craft cooperatives" of growers banding together under a single license, licenses for "microbusinesses" with less than 5,000 square feet of growing space, licenses for on-site consumption (no alcohol and no pot smoking), licenses for research facilities, and a "diversity plan" to increase minority participation.

New York Lawmakers to Hold Joint Session on Legalization Early Next Year. The chairs of the Assembly Committees on Codes, Health and Alcoholism and Drug Abuse announced Thursday that they will hold a joint session on legalization early next year. "This hearing will examine the potential for allowing regulated sale and adult possession of marijuana in New York and how it would affect public health and the criminal justice systems," the announcement said.  The hearing will take place January 11.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Extends Medical Marijuana Protections Through January 19. With its vote for a temporary spending bill Thursday, the Congress also reauthorized the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But it's only until January 19 when the temporary funding bill expires. "Patients around the country who rely on medical marijuana for treatment -- and the businesses that serve them -- now have some measure of certainty," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "Our fight, however, continues to maintain these important protections in the next funding bill passed by Congress."

Medical Marijuana Update

A leading Senate Republican calls for removing obstacles to medical marijuana research, a Florida judge decides to take up a case over the state's ban on smoking medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Friday, Orrin Hatch decried obstacles to medical marijuana research. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told the Deseret News he supports research into medical marijuana and condemns the federal "regulatory acrobatics" required of researchers who want to study the plant. "Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies… The longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer," Hatch said through his spokesman. Hatch is the sponsor of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study (MEDS) Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1803), which aims to reduce research barriers.

Florida

Last Friday, a state judge announced she will hear a medical marijuana smoking case. State Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers announced that she will hear arguments over a lawsuit that challenges a new rule barring the smoking of medical marijuana. The hearing is set for January 25. As the USA Herald drily noted, "The conservative legislature is often caught between what is, clearly, the will of their constituents and the presumed traditionalism of their constituents."

Guam

On Monday, the territory's medical marijuana program proposed rules got a hearing. Guamanian lawmakers held a public hearing on the updated rules and regulations for the US territory's medical marijuana program Monday. The hearing covered markups to Bill 210, which is set to adopt rules written by the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

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

Chronicle AM: ND MJ Initiative Can Seek Signatures, Sen. Hatch Decries MedMJ Obstacles, More... (12/18/17)

A Republican grandee complains about obstacles to medical marijuana research, a Florida judge will take up the state's ban on smoking medical marijuana, a North Dakota marijuana legalization initiative is approved for signature gathering, and more.

Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Al Jaeger said last Friday that a marijuana legalization initiative has been approved for signature gathering. Now, activists will have until July 9 to gather a minimum of 13,452 qualified voter signatures. If that happens, the measure will appear on the November 2018.

Medical Marijuana

Orrin Hatch Decries Obstacles to Medical Marijuana Research. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told the Deseret News last Friday he supports research into medical marijuana and condemns the federal "regulatory acrobatics" required of researchers who want to study the plant. "Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies… The longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer," Hatch said through his spokesman. Hatch is the sponsor of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study (MEDS) Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1803), which aims to reduce research barriers.

Florida Judge Will Hear Marijuana Smoking Case. State Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers announced last Friday that she will hear arguments over a lawsuit that challenges a new rule barring the smoking of medical marijuana. The hearing is set for January 25. As the USA Herald drily noted, "The conservative legislature is often caught between what is, clearly, the will of their constituents and the presumed traditionalism of their constituents."

Guam Medical Marijuana Program Rules Get Hearing. Guamanian lawmakers will hold a public hearing on the updated rules and regulations for the US territory's medical marijuana program Monday. The hearing will cover markups to Bill 210, which is set to adopt rules written by the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

Chronicle AM: CA Licenses First Legal Marijuana Shops, US ODs at Record High, More... (12/15/17)

California starts rolling out recreational marijuana business licenses, Maryland approves more dispensaries, Michigan starts accepting dispensary applications, the Mexican Senate approves a bill letting the military keep playing a policing role, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Issues First Recreational Marijuana Business Licenses. The state's Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 retail marijuana business licenses Thursday, paving the way for consumers to buy legal weed at pot shops as early as January 1. On the list were medical and recreational adult use distributors, retailers, and "microbusinesses." Among first day retail licenses were KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, 530 Cannabis in Shasta Lake, and Torrey Holistics in San Diego.

Denver Arrests 12, Shutters 26 Marijuana Stores in Criminal Investigation. Police in Denver shut down 26 Sweet Leaf marijuana stores Thursday and arrested 12 people in an ongoing criminal investigation related to allegations the shops were selling larger amounts of marijuana than allowed under state law. The shops involved all received orders to close the business, the first time the city has issued an open-ended suspension to a legal pot business. The DEA was not involved.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Regulators Approve a Dozen More Dispensaries. The state's Medical Cannabis Commission has given the go-ahead for another 12 dispensaries to open their doors. The state currently has 10. Another 60 dispensaries that have received preliminary licenses are still awaiting final approval. The state has more than 10,000 registered patients and existing dispensaries have had a hard time keeping up with demand.

Michigan Starts Accepting Medical Marijuana Applications. The state's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board is now accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses under the new regime approved by the legislature earlier this year. Existing dispensaries will not have to shut down while their licenses are approved, a process that could take three or four months.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise. At least 66,324 people died of drug overdoses during the 12-month period ending in May 2017, up 17 percent from the 56,488 who died between May 2015 and May 2016, according to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. Fentanyl and other synthetics overtook heroin as the leading killer, accounting for some 23,000 deaths compared to heroin's 15,525 and another 14,467 deaths from prescription opioids.

International

Mexico Senate Votes to Keep the Military in Police Role. Despite soaring violence and human rights abuses, the Mexican Senate voted early Friday to approve the "internal security law" even as protestors surrounded the Senate to decry the measure, which they say will militarize the country and harden a failed strategy of using soldiers to fight drug cartels. The bill now returns to the lower house, where passage is expected to be a formality. "We are concerned that the bill gives the armed forces a leadership and coordination role in certain circumstances, rather than limiting their role to aiding and assisting civilian authorities," said a statement issued by the UN high commissioner for human rights. "[It] does this in the absence of solid control mechanisms to ensure that operations are carried out with full respect for human rights." The proposal comes as Mexico suffers its most murderous year on record -- despite having the military involved in the fight against the cartels for the past 11 years.

Chronicle AM: Norway Moves Toward Drug Decrim, WHO Gives Thumbs Up to CBD, More... (12/14/17)

Norway moves down the path toward drug decriminalization, a New Hampshire legislative committee votes down a legalization bill, the WHO gives a thumbs up to CBD, and more.

CBD ointment. The World Health Organization has declared CBD non-addictive and non-toxic. (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois' Cook County to Vote on Non-Binding Legalization Referendum. The county commission voted Wednesday to put an advisory referendum on whether marijuana should be legalized on the March primary ballot. While the vote is only advisory, a strong "yes" vote in the state's most populous county would send a signal to state legislators in Peoria, who will be considering legalization next year.

New Hampshire House Committee Votes Down Marijuana Legalization Bill. The House Criminal Justice Committee voted 13-7 Tuesday to kill a legalization bill, House Bill 656.

International

World Health Organization Declares CBD Non-Addictive, Not-Toxic. In a recent report, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared cannabidiol (CBD) non-addictive and non-toxic. "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential," WHO concluded. The organization's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) found "no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD." The committee also found that clinical trials showed CBD could be useful for treating epilepsy and "a number of other medical conditions."

Norway Begins Move to Drug Decriminalization. A majority of the parliament has moved to begin shifting the country's drug policies toward decriminalization. "The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform," a spokesperson for the Storting told Newsweek. "It has started a political process," he said. But he cautioned that "it's just the starting point," and that there's no legislation yet. Parliamentarians will be heading to Portugal in the spring to see how the Portuguese did it.

Global Coalition Calls for International Criminal Court to Intervene in Philippines. A coalition of dozens of groups and individuals worldwide led by Help Not Handcuffs has sent an open letter to the International Criminal Court urging it to investigate the Duterte government for crimes against humanity for the wave of killings of suspected drug users and sellers that has left thousands of people dead in the last year.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment stays alive (for now) in the stopgap spending bill, Honolulu's police chief backs away from seizing patients' guns, and more.

National

Last Thursday, federal medical marijuana protections got a two-week reprieve. The passage of a stopgap spending bill means the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment ban on spending federal funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal remains in force for at least another two weeks. That's good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in a statement: "While we are pleased that these critical protections will continue, two weeks is not enough certainty for the millions of Americans who rely on medical marijuana for treatment and the businesses who serve them," Blumenauer said. "As Congress works out a long-term funding bill, it must also include these protections. And ultimately, Congress must act to put an end to the cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs -- and adult use -- from federal interference."

Hawaii

Last Wednesday,the Honolulu police chief admitted the department erred in trying to take guns from patients. Chief Susan Ballard acknowledged to the Honolulu Police Commission that the department's abortive move to make medical marijuana patients turn in their firearms "was incorrect." She said the department will return two guns to people who turned them in voluntarily, but she also said the department will continue to deny new gun permits to cardholders.

Nevada

Last Thursday, the state's highest court okayed the state's medical marijuana registry. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's medical marijuana registry does not violate constitutional provisions of due process, equal protection, and the right against self-incrimination. "We conclude Nevada's medical marijuana registry does not impinge upon a fundamental right," said the opinion written by Justice Ron Parraguirre. "We further conclude the registry is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public."

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

Chronicle AM: First Look at Ohio Legalization Initiative, HSBC Gets Off Probation, More... (12/12/17)

The folks behind Ohio's 2015 "monopoly" marijuana legalization are back with details on their proposed "free market" 2018 initiative, Denver gets its first marijuana social club application, the Justice Department ends its deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC bank over drug cartel money laundering, and more.

Marijuana Policy

First Look at Proposed Ohio Legalization Initiative. The two men behind Ohio's failed 2015 marijuana legalization "monopoly" initiative held a press conference Monday outlining their proposed 2018 initiative. Unlike the 2015 initiative, next year's version would be a "free market" approach, there would be a local option to ban pot businesses, public smoking of marijuana would not be allowed, businesses would have to stay 500 from schools and churches, and individuals would have the right to grow their own (although landlords could forbid tenants from doing so). Organizers said they plan to submit their initiative to state officials next month.

Denver Gets First Marijuana Social Club Application. A business that wants to allow on-site vaping and consumption of marijuana edibles has become the first to apply for a marijuana social club license. Denver residents voted to allow such businesses when they approved Initiative 300 last year. The Coffee Joint next faces a public hearing, but has already won the backing of its local neighborhood association.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Closes File on HSBC Drug Money Laundering. The Department of Justice will end its deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC, Europe's largest bank, after five years, marking the end of its punishment of the bank for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in Mexican drug cartel funds. DOJ hit HSBC with a $1.9 billion fine and imposed the five-year deal in 2012, demanding that HSBC strengthen its sanctions and anti-money laundering programs, which it has now apparently done. No one has faced criminal charges in the case.

International

Canada Federal Government, Provinces Reach Agreement on Marijuana Taxes. Canada's federal government and the provinces have agreed in principle on a two-year tax sharing agreement that would give provinces 75% of the eventual revenues. The federal Liberals have proposed a 10% excise tax on marijuana products and had originally proposed splitting the money 50-50, but have now retreated in the face of loudly-voiced provincial concerns that they would bear most of the burden of legalization-related costs.

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