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Medical Marijuana

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Chronicle AM: MedMJ Icon Dennis Peron Dies, ALEC Spurns Drug-Free Zone Laws, More... (1/29/18)

A pioneer of the medical marijuana movement is dead, the conservative group ALEC calls for reform of drug-free zone laws, the Trump administration is turning to private prisons, and more.

Dennis Peron, RIP (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. "Legalize it. Tax it. Use the revenue to fix Florida's public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1." That's what Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum tweeted last week in response to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing 60% of Americans favor legalization. No other candidate supports legalization, but at least two have called for decriminalization. Although at least five Democrats are running, Gillum is one of the leading contenders.

Medical Marijuana

Dennis Peron, "The Father of Medical Marijuana," Dead at 72. A key player in California's groundbreaking embrace of medical marijuana has died. Dennis Peron, an AIDS activist whose partner, Jonathan West, died of the disease in 1990, argued for the benefits of medical marijuana for AIDS patients, opened the nation's first dispensary in San Francisco, and was a driving force behind the city's 1992 ordinance allowing medical marijuana. That was the first step toward the state's historic passage of Prop 215 four years later. Peron was 72. He died of lung cancer at a San Francisco hospital.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. The House Judiciary Committee has filed House Bill 2459, which would not eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but would create a process for people to file a claim on seized property and assets. The bill was the result of an effort by the Kansas Judicial Commission to draft reform recommendations after eight different reforms bills were offered last year. In a hearing last week, the bill won the support of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, although no vote was taken.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Bill to Allow Drug Testing of Infants Advances. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-1 last week to approve Senate Bill 105, which would allow doctors to drug test newborns for up to 28 days for evidence of prenatal drug exposure. The measure would absolve health care workers from any civil or criminal liability related to the test. Doctors would be required to report positive test results to the state. The bill now heads to a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing Reform

ALEC Calls on States to Reform "Drug-Free Zone" Laws. The conservative, pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for state legislatures, passed a resolution last Friday calling on states to reform drug-free zone laws. Such laws impose stiffer penalties for drug offenses committed within such areas, typically around schools, churches, and parks. They have been criticized as unduly harsh and having a disproportionate racial impact. "Most Drug-Free Zone laws were established decades ago," the resolution says, "but have not been reformed despite evidence that Drug-Free Zones are arbitrary and often unnecessarily broad, are ineffective at deterring drug- related crime, and create significant unintended consequences, including unwarranted disparate impacts on minority defendants."

Trump Administration Seeks to Boost Use of Private Prisons.The Bureau of Prisons now has the goal of "increasing population levels in private contract facilities," a memo sent last week by the agency's Assistant Director for Correctional Programs Division Frank Lara said. The memo follows guidance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse an Obama-era policy to reduce reliance on private prisons. DOJ is also seeking to cut federal prison guard positions.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Tax Bonanza, Mexico Legal MJ for Tourists, Corruption and Violence in Central American Drug Trade, More... (1/26/18)

California looks set to make big bucks from legalizing weed, Mexico's tourism minister suggests legalizing it at some of the country's biggest tourist beach resorts, the new Honduran national police chief has some explaining to do, and more.

Legal green will make the Golden State a bit more golden. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Reap $643 Million in Pot Taxes Next Year, Governor Estimates. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) estimated Wednesday that the state will take in $643 million in marijuana taxes in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, more than 10 times the cost of issuing licenses and enforcing new rules. The estimate comes in the governor's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. This year, with only five months remaining in the fiscal year and with sales just getting underway, the budget estimates $175 million in pot taxes. The high tax proceeds estimates are leading to calls from some consumers and the California Growers Association to lower the taxes.

Virginia House Panel Kills Decriminalization Bill. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts and Justice voted 7-1 Wednesday to kill a decriminalization bill, House Bill 1063. A bill that would lessen penalties for a first marijuana offense remains alive.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Bill Filed. Conservative Republican state Rep. Dorothy Moon has filed a bill that would allow the CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. House Bill 410 would limit cannabis oils to less than 0.3% THC. It is now before the House Health and Welfare Committee.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Calls for Legal Marijuana at Major Beach Resorts. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Thursday that Mexico should legalize marijuana at two of the country's major beach resorts, Cancun and Los Cabos, in a bid to reduce criminal violence. "It's absurd we're not taking this step as a country," he told reporters in Mexico City. "Even if there's work to be done in the whole of the country, I'd like to see that it might be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo," the states where Los Cabos and Cancun, respectively, are located.

Mexican Military on Patrol in Reynosa in Wake of Cartel Violence. The military is out in force, on the ground and in the air, in the Mexican border city of Reynosa after days of gun battles between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel left at least a dozen people dead. The military patrols will continue indefinitely, the governor of Tamaulipas state said.

Honduras National Police Chief Reportedly Helped Cartel Rescue Cocaine Load. The new chief of National Police, Jose David Aguilar Moran, promised to continue reforming an agency stained by corruption and complicity with drug cartels, but the Associated Press reports that he helped a cartel leader successfully retrieve and deliver nearly a ton of cocaine after lower-ranking police stopped the truck it which it was being transported. That report is based on confidential Honduran government security reports obtained by the AP.

Georgian Protesters Demand Drug Law Reforms. Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi Thursday to reiterate their demand that the country liberalize its drug laws. The rally was sparked by the Monday sentencing of actor Giorgi Giorganashvili to eight years in prison on drug charges. The protestors representing 20 civil society groups said the sentence "once again legitimized the inhumane and repressive drug policy in Georgia." The action comes as the parliament is considering a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of drugs.

Eight Things That Do (or Don't) Happen When We Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

The great social experiment that is marijuana legalization is now five years old, with six states already allowing legal marijuana sales, two more where legal sales will begin within months, and yet another that, along with the District of Columbia, has legalized personal possession and cultivation of the herb.

As a number of state legislatures -- including Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York -- seriously contemplate joining the parade this year, it's more important than ever to be able to assess just what impact marijuana legalization has had on those states that have led the way.

The prophets of doom warned of all manner of social ills that would arise if marijuana were legalized. From hordes of dope-addled youths aimlessly wandering the streets to red-eyed carnage on the highway, the divinations were dire.

So far at least, they were wrong. And while things will doubtless continue to evolve over the long term, as the industry matures, prices possibly drop, regulations change, and familiarity with legal marijuana grows, so far things are looking pretty encouraging. A report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, takes a long look at what has happened in the states have legalized it:

1. Marijuana arrests plummeted.

Well, of course. If there's one thing you could predict about legalizing marijuana, this is it. The decline in the number of pot arrests is dramatic: 98% in Washington, 96% in Oregon, 93% in Alaska, 81% in Colorado, 76% in DC. That means tens of thousands of people not being cuffed, hauled away, and branded with lifelong criminal records, with all the consequences those bring.

The savings in human dignity, liberty and potential are inestimable, but the savings to state criminal justice and correctional systems are not: The report puts them at hundreds of millions of dollars.

2. …But the racial disparities in marijuana arrests have not ended.

While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. The vast disparities in marijuana arrests remain, even in legal states. Black and Latino people remain far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of use and sales across racial groups. There is work to be done here.

3. A tide of teenage weed heads is not unleashed upon the nation.

High school kids in the earliest legalization states smoke pot at rates similar to kids in states that haven't legalized it, and those rates have remained stable. In the later legalization states, rates of teen use vary widely, but have mostly stabilized or declined in the years leading up to legalization. And in those latest states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, California -- regulatory programs are either not yet in place or so new they're unlikely to have effected youth use rates.

4. The highways remain safe.

In the earliest legalization states, Colorado and Washington, the total number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs is down, and the crash rates in both states are statistically similar to states that haven't legalized it. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between legalization and crash rates.

5. States with legal marijuana have lower rates of opioid-related harms.

In Colorado, an upward trend in overdoses began to decline after 2014, the first year of retail pot sales in the state. Other positive indicia come from medical marijuana states, which report a nearly 25% drop in overdose death rates, a 23% reduction in opioid addiction-related hospitalizations and a 15% reduction in opioid treatment admissions.

6. Marijuana tax revenues are big -- and bigger than predicted.

Legalization states have collected more than a billion dollars in pot tax revenues -- and that's not counting the monster market in California, where recreational sales just began this month. Likewise, slow rollouts of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce in Maine and Massachusetts, mean no tax dollars have yet been generated there. In the states that do have legal pot sales, overall sales and tax revenues quickly exceeded initial estimates.

7. Marijuana tax dollars are going for good things.

Like $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education in two years to fund school construction, early literacy, school health, and bullying prevention programs. Likewise, schools in Oregon get 40% of the pot taxes and schools in Nevada will get $56 million in wholesale pot tax revenues. Oregon also allocates 20% of pot taxes for alcohol and drug treatment, while Washington kicks in 25%. In Washington state, 55% of pot tax revenues fund basic health plans.

8. Legal marijuana is a job creation engine.

The legal marijuana industry has already created an estimated 200,000 full- and part-time jobs, and that's before California, Maine, and Massachusetts come online. As marijuana moves from the black market to legal markets, weed looks like a growth industry and job generator for years to come.

"Marijuana criminalization has been a massive waste of money and has unequally harmed black and Latino communities," said Jolene Forrman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance and author of the report. "This report shows that marijuana legalization is working. States are effectively protecting public health and safety through comprehensive regulations. Now more states should build on the successes of marijuana legalization and advance policies to repair the racially disparate harms of the war on drugs."

In addition to reforming police practices to reduce racial disparities, the report also says there is more work to be done on fostering equity within the marijuana industry and points to models for doing so, such as the California provision that having a prior drug conviction can't be the sole basis for denying a marijuana license.

Having places where people can actually smoke legal marijuana also remains an issue, the report noted. Public consumption is not allowed in any of the legal states. It's a ticketable offense in some and a misdemeanor in others. Public use violations are also disproportionately enforced against people of color, and the imposition of fines could lead to jail time for poor people unable to pay for the crime of using a legal substance.

And what about the kids? The report notes that while legalization has generally resulted in reducing historically high numbers of young people being stopped and arrested for pot offenses, these reductions are inconsistent, and in some circumstances, young people now comprise a growing percentage of marijuana arrests. A model could be California, where kids under 18 can only be charged with civil infractions.

Legalizing marijuana may be necessary for achieving social justice goals, but it's not sufficient for achieving them. As this report makes clear, how we legalize marijuana matters, and that's still a work in progress. But so far, it's looking pretty good.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is safe from the Justice Department for another few days, governors in New Jersey and Rhode Island make noises about expanding medical marijuana programs, Georgia voters are ready for a full-fledged medical marijuana law, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a House version of a bill aimed at encouraging medical marijuana research was filed. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) filed a House version of a bill aiming at encouraging medical marijuana research. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) filed the Senate version of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act, Senate Bill 1803, in the Senate in September.

On Monday, the congressional budget deal retained protections for state-legal medical marijuana. The short-term budget deal approved by Congress retains the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using its funds to go after medical marijuana patients and operations in states where it is legal. But the continuing budget resolution is only in effect until February 8.

Georgia

Last Wednesay, a poll found voters were ready for a full-fledged medical marijuana program. A new poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds that more than three-quarters of those surveyed want to see the state's limited medical marijuana program expanded. Some 77% said they want greater access to medical marijuana. The poll comes as the legislature considers a measure, House Bill 645, that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. The poll also found that support for recreational marijuana was at an all-time high in the state, with 50% saying legalize it.

Indiana

On Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a CBD bill. The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee voted 7-2 to approve Senate Bill 52, which would legalize CBD cannabis oil containing less than 0.3% THC. The state already has a CBD law, but that law is limited to epilepsy patients who are registered with the state. This bill would open up CBD use to anyone with a medical conditions.

On Thursday, the House called for a study of medical marijuana. The House voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling for a legislative committee to study medical marijuana. If the Senate concurs, a special council comprised of lawmakers from both parties would do the study over the summer.

Kentucky

On Wednesday, the House called on the feds to remove roadblocks to medical marijuana research. The House voted 73-5 to approve a resolution calling on the DEA and the FDA to "expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of the use of marijuana for certain health purposes."

New Jersey

On Tuesday, the governor ordered a review of the state's "constrained" medical marijuana program. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ordered a 60-day review of the state's medical marijuana program, which he called "constrained." He said he would consider allowing home deliveries, allowing purchases beyond the current two-ounce limit, and expanding the number of dispensaries, but he did not mention expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the state's first dispensary opened for business. Keystone Canna Remedies had its grand opening in Bethlehem -- but it doesn't actually have any product to sell. The dispensary said it will be doing educational workshops until it gets its first shipments of medical marijuana next month.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the governor proposed expanding the medical marijuana program. As part of her 2018-2019 budget plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing quadrupling the number of dispensaries in the state from three to 12, adding "acute pain" to the list of qualifying conditions, and allowing Connecticut and Massachusetts cardholders to buy medical marijuana in the state.

Tennessee

Last Friday, a CBD medical marijuana bill was filed. A pair of Republican lawmakers have filed the Medical Cannabis Only Act, which would legalize the use of cannabis oil products, but not edibles or raw marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

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

Chronicle AM: RI MedMJ Expansion Proposed, Trump's Junior Drug Czar to Step Down, More... (1/25/18)

It's the time of year for marijuana to start popping up in state legislatures, Rhode Island's governor proposes expanding the state's medical marijuana system, Trump's wet-behind-the-ears deputy drug czar is stepping down, a new poll finds support for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) wants to quadruple the number of dispensaries in the state. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

US Senators and Reps Send Trump Letter Urging Respect for State Marijuana Laws. Some 54 US senators and representatives sent a letter Thursday to President Trump expressing their "urgent concern" about threats to legal marijuana states and urging him to uphold his campaign pledge to respect state marijuana laws.

Iowa Senate Subcommittee Advances Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill. A Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee has approved Senate File 342, which would reduce possession of five grams of marijuana or less from a serious misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor. That would reduce possible jail time from a year to no more than 30 days and reduce fines from up to $1,000 to $65. The bill now goes before the committee as a whole.

New Mexico Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) has filed Senate Bill 141, which would reduce the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with less than an ounce would be subject to a fine of no more than $50 for a first offense and up to 15 days in jail. Possession would remain a misdemeanor. The Senate approved a similar bill last year, but it was never taken up in the House. Cervantes is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana House Calls for Study of Medical Marijuana. The House voted unanimously Thursday in support of a resolution calling for a legislative committee to study medical marijuana. If the Senate concurs, a special council comprised of lawmakers from both parties would do the study over the summer.

Kentucky House Calls for Feds to Remove Roadblocks to Marijuana Research. The House voted 73-5 Wednesday to approve a resolution calling on the DEA and the FDA to "expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of the use of marijuana for certain health purposes."

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. As part of her 2018-2019 budget plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing quadrupling the number of dispensaries in the state from three to 12, adding "acute pain" to the list of qualifying conditions, and allowing Connecticut and Massachusetts cardholders to buy medical marijuana in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump's 24-Year-Old Deputy Drug Czar to Step Down. Taylor Weyeneth, the 24-year-old former Trump campaigner who was given a senior post in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), will step down at the end of this month. Weyeneth's high-ranking position without any apparent qualifications for it, as well as the revelation that he had a habit of not showing up for work at a law firm where has was previously employed, aroused controversy earlier this month.

Sentencing

Poll Finds Broad Support for Reforming Criminal Justice System. A new Public Opinion Strategies poll finds that fully three-quarters of the American public believe the criminal justice system needs "significant improvements," with strong majorities in both parties in agreement on the issue. Similarly, strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans don't want to spend money locking up nonviolent offenders and that the primary goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation. Mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders are "toxic with voters across the political spectrum," the poll found, with 87% strongly supporting replacing them with a system that allows more judicial discretion.

Chronicle AM: FL Voting Init Qualifies for Ballot, NYC Sues Big Pharma Over Opioids, More... (1/24/18)

More than a million Floridians would regain their right to vote in November after an initiative qualfied for the ballot, California small pot growers sue to stop concentration in the industry, New York City sues opioid manufacturers and seeks half a billion in damages, and more.

A Florida initiative that would restore the voting rights of felons is headed for the November ballot. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Growers' Group Sues to Block Huge Grow Operations. The California Growers Association, which represents small marijuana cultivators, filed suit in Sacramento Tuesday to block state rules it fears could open the way for huge commercial marijuana operations, driving its members out of business. Although the state has put a moratorium on large marijuana grows, state regulators are allowing businesses to acquire an unlimited number of licenses for smaller grows, which could lead to monopolization of the industry and have "a devastating effect" on small growers.

Maine GOP, Governor Seek to Delay Legalization Implementation. Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) and legislative Republican leaders said Tuesday they want to extend a moratorium on the launch of legal pot businesses in the state until January 2019 and they will refuse to support a bill now before lawmakers that would extend the moratorium only until April 18. Voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2016. The proposed April 18 moratorium bill was unanimously approved by the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee last week, and is likely to come up for a vote Thursday on the Senate floor.

Massachusetts Marijuana Sanctuary State Bill Filed. Last Friday, Reps. Dave Rogers (D-Cambridge) and Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge) filed a bill that would prevent state and local authorities from cooperating with federal authorities attempting to enforce federal marijuana laws against state-legal marijuana businesses. The Refusal and Compliance Act would prevent police from handing over people in compliance with state marijuana laws unless federal authorities have a warrant.

Medical Marijuana

Another Utah Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new poll from the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah's Hinckley School of Politics has support for a proposed medical marijuana initiative at 76%. That's nearly identical to the 75% approval polled in October. The poll comes as the Utah Patients Coalition, which is sponsoring the initiative, moves toward completing its signature-gathering campaign.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York City Sues Big Pharma Over Opioid Crisis. The city filed suit against a handful of opioid manufacturers Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court. The lawsuit aimed at "corporate drug pushers" seeks $500 million from Johnson & Johnson, Cephalon, Purdue Pharma, Teva, and Janssen. The city saw more than a thousand opioid overdose deaths last year.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Arnold Moore filed a bill Tuesday to curb the widespread use of civil asset forfeiture. House Bill 287 would effectively end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before seizing someone's property.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Takes Step Toward Approving Safe Injection Sites. City officials announced Tuesday that they would allow a safe injection site as part of an effort to stem the rising tide of opioid overdose deaths. The city won't operate the site itself, but is now preparing to solicit operators interested in setting up such a site. There are no sanctioned safe injection sites in the US, although a number of other cities, including Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle are considering them.

Voting Rights

Florida Initiative to Restore Voting Rights to Felons Qualifies for Ballot. The Voting Restoration Amendment, which would restore voting rights to more than a million Floridians with felony records, has qualified for the November ballot. Campaigners led by Floridians for Fair Democracy gathered more than the 799,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, state figures showed Tuesday. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the measure will need 60% of the vote to pass.

Chronicle AM: Trump Opioid Commission Member Calls It a "Sham," Good MI Pot Poll, More... (1/23/18)

Trump renews the opioid crisis emergency even as an opioid commission member calls it "a sham," things are looking up for Michigan marijuana legalizers, the French parliament will take up drug decriminalization, and more.

Presidential opioid commission member Patrick Kennedy calls it "a sham" and "a charade." (nationalcouncil.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Detroit News-Local 4 poll finds that 56.6% of respondents support a marijuana legalization initiative that is likely to be on the November ballot. The initiative from the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already handed in signatures and is awaiting verification of signature validity by state officials.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Retains Protections for State Legal Medical Marijuana. The short-term budget deal approved by Congress Monday retains the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using its funds to go after medical marijuana patients and operations in states where it is legal. But the continuing budget resolution is only in effect until February 8.

Indiana Senate Panel Advances CBD Bill. The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee voted 7-2 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 52, which would legalize CBD cannabis oil containing less than 0.3% THC. The state already has a CBD law, but that law is limited to epilepsy patients who are registered with the state. This bill would open up CBD use to anyone with a medical conditions.

New Jersey Governor Orders Review of State's "Constrained" Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) Tuesday ordered a 60-day review of the state's medical marijuana program, which he called "constrained." He said he would consider allowing home deliveries, allowing purchases beyond the current two-ounce limit, and expanding the number of dispensaries, but he did not mention expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Administration Extends Opioid Emergency. The Trump administration has announced a 90-day extension of its declared opioid crisis emergency. The emergency was set to expire Tuesday. But the administration has done little to demonstrate it takes the crisis seriously. It has allocated no new funds, failed to launch a public awareness campaign, and has left key drug policy positions unfilled.

Trump's Opioid Commission is a "Sham," Member Says. Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy has called the commission "a sham" and "a charade" in an interview with CNN. "This and the administration's other efforts to address the epidemic are tantamount to reshuffling chairs on the Titanic," said Kennedy. "The emergency declaration has accomplished little because there's no funding behind it. You can't expect to stem the tide of a public health crisis that is claiming over 64,000 lives per year without putting your money where your mouth is."

Drug Testing

Nebraska Bill Would Require Drug Tests for Unemployment Benefits. State Sen. Joni Albrecht (R-Thurston) has filed Legislative Bill 712, which would allow some people seeking unemployment benefits to be drug tested. Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits until he or she passes the drug test. Albrecht said she filed the bill on behalf of employers who want a drug-free work force. The bill got a hearing Monday, but no action was taken.

South Dakota Bill Would Require Drug Tests for Lawmakers. State Rep. Tim Goodwin (R-Rapid City) has filed a bill, House Bill 133, that would require all legislators to undergo drug tests within two weeks of being sworn into office. A positive drug test or a refusal would be reported to the presiding officer of the lawmaker's chamber for discipline. The move comes as the legislature ponders harsher penalties for meth offenses, and Goodwin said Tuesday that if lawmakers want to send people to prison for "a long period of time, we should all be clean ourself [sic]."

International

France Parliamentary Report Recommends Decriminalizing All Drug Use. A new parliamentary report is recommending a pair of options for modernizing the country's drug laws, including the decriminalization of drug use and possession. One proposal calls for fining drug possessors and charging them with a crime if they don't pay the fine. The other proposal calls for drug use and possession to be downgraded to a civil offense ("la contravention"), with fines, but no possibility of a criminal charge. Parliament will now have to decide which approach it wants to take.

Russian Presidential Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Presidential candidate and former reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak is calling for the legalization of marijuana. She said legalizing weed could help solve "the narcotics epidemic" in the country. "I myself don't use it, but I don't drink vodka by the bottle, either," she told state-run RIA Novosti news agency. "I don't really understand why drinking vodka in enormous quantities is considered normal in our country, but using marijuana is not, though it has far fewer consequences, even from the perspective of crime statistics," she added.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalizes Without Sales, Sentencing Commission Proposes Upped Fentanyl Penalties, More... (1/22/18)

Vermont becomes the 9th legal marijuana state, Illinois lawmakers take up legalization, the US Sentencing Commission proposing increasing fentanyl penalties, and more.

Vermont just turned New England a little greener. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal has support for marijuana legalization at 60% nationwide, up from 55% the last time the media outlets asked the question, in 2014.

Illinois Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. A joint legislative committee began a hearing on marijuana legalization Monday morning. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told legislators she supported it: "Legalizing marijuana is an important step in right-sizing our criminal justice system, reducing racial disparities in prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, targeting our scarce resources on prosecuting violent crime and lessening the social dislocation we see in too many of our communities," Preckwinkle said. The only relevant bill currently before the legislator is Senate Bill 2275, which would authorize a non-binding statewide referendum on the topic of legalization.

Vermont Legalizes Marijuana; Becomes First State to Do So Via Legislative Process. With Gov. Phil Scott's (R) signature on House Bill 511 Monday, the state legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, becoming the first state to free the weed via the legislature. The new law goes into effect July 1. The new law does not legalize the taxed and regulated commercial production and sale of marijuana. Instead, the bill calls for a task force appointed by the governor to study the issue and recommend "legislation on implementing and operating a comprehensive regulatory and revenue system for an adult marijuana market" by December 31. Then lawmakers would have to go to work again to get that passed.

Buffalo Campaigners Call for Police to Deprioritize Marijuana Possession Arrests. A nonprofit group called Open Buffalo has begun a petition campaign to urge Mayor Byron Brown to tell the police department to deprioritize enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The group is close to its goal of 600 signatures; when it hits that goal, it will deliver the petition to the mayor.

Sentencing

US Sentencing Commission Proposes Stiffening Fentanyl Penalties. Last Friday, the Sentencing Commission announced it was proposing to increase penalties for fentanyl offenses by setting the offense level for fentanyl equal to the higher offense level currently assigned to fentanyl analogs. The commission is also proposing a sentencing guidelines enhancement for misrepresenting fentanyl or fentanyl analogs as another substance. The commission also proposed a class-based approach to synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids and established a single marijuana equivalency for each class. Public comment on the proposals is open until March 6, and the commission will hold public hearings in February and March. The commission is expected to vote on the proposals before May 1.

Federal Marijuana Justice Act Filed in House [FEATURE]

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave law-abiding marijuana operations alone in states where it is legal has paradoxically had the effect of energizing the movement to legalize marijuana at the federal level. The latest evidence of the reaction came Wednesday, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a legalization bill in the House.

Oakland's Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (Wikimedia)
And it's not just any legalization bill. Their Marijuana Justice Act would help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States.

"We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that," said Lee at press conference rolling out the bill. "It's a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrests and incarceration."

In addition to ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing the drug from the DEA's list of controlled substances, the bill would allow anyone currently serving a sentence for drug possession to appeal for judicial review of his or her sentence. It would also use federal spending to incentivize states to reform their marijuana laws "if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and/or people of color."

That last provision is especially striking given that nearly every state disproportionately arrests and imprisons blacks for marijuana. With this language, the federal government could become an engine for state-level marijuana legalization instead of an impediment to it.

"This would force states with records of racial bias in arrests and sentencing to clean up their acts by cutting funds to the worst offenders," said Lee.

But even that would only begin to repair the damage done by the drug war, the Oakland congresswoman explained.

"It's not enough to just expunge records and end over-incarceration," Lee said. "Restorative justice is extremely important, and these victims of our failed policies deserve our support during the reentry process, too."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
For bill cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), it's the economics, but not just in the traditional sense of increased economic activity and tax revenues. While he pointed to the potential economic gains of legalization, he also highlighted the opportunity costs of pot prohibition and underlined provisions in the bill that would spend federal funds to invest in communities ravaged by the drug war.

"The estimates are that legalization would lead to a $40 billion a year industry, with a million jobs and $7 billion tax revenues, which would more than offset the $500 million in the bill to help invest in communities of color. It's a net gain for government and for job creation," Khanna noted.

"But the economic impact is so much broader," he pointed out. "How many people of color got arrested at 19, 20, or 25? That represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential. With this bill, we're not just talking about legalization, but about giving people a second chance.

The Marijuana Justice Act is the House version of the bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senate Bill 1689. Booker was at Wednesday's press conference for the House version.

"There is a rush of enthusiasm for legalization," he said, "but it seems like hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize it but don't ty to undo the damage of the war on drugs. You can't get a Pell grant or a business or professional license for doing something three out of our last four presidents have admitted doing. The war on drugs is one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and that's why this is a very happy day for me. We're trying to make this nation live up to is promise of liberty and justice, not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed the Senate version of the bill last August.
"I think we are seeing momentum growing," Booker continued. "People who were skeptics are being converted. A lot of people are aware of how unjust this has been, and now there is more confidence from seeing early state like Colorado be so successful."

Indeed. One of the most politically striking moments since the Sessions announcement was Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner -- not a supporter of legalization -- taking to the Senate floor to excoriate Sessions over the move and vow to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses himself.

"More than 30 states have passed marijuana reforms," said Lee. "The grassroots and democracy is working. You will see members of the House and Senate move forward because the public supports this. It can't be stopped."

"We are at a tipping point, with nearly two-thirds supporting marijuana legalization and an overwhelming 91% supporting medical marijuana, said Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with Booker and Lee on the bills. "Eight states have already legalized it, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the cusp. Yet, Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten the states. It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and end federal marijuana prohibition."

While momentum is building, the bills both face an uphill battle in their respective chambers. The Booker bill, introduced last August, still has only one cosponsor, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, and there is no indication it will get even a committee hearing this session. Lee and Khanna's House version of the bill already had a dozen cosponsors on day one, but again, it is unlikely to get a hearing under the House Republican leadership.

But the legalization bills could fare better next year if the Democrats manage to take back the House and/or the Senate. And Jeff Sessions' war on weed could help them to do just that.

(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: Trump Again Proposes Slashing Drug Czar's Office, More... (1/19/18)

Trump once again proposes radically slashing the drug czar's office, senators want answers on federal drug policy appointments (and the lack thereof), Vermont's governor will sign the legal pot bill this weekend, and more.

From marijuana to the opioid crisis, drug policy is getting attention in Congress these days. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana Dies. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), coauthor of the McClintock-Polis amendment protecting state-legal marijuana programs, has pulled the amendment from the continuing budget resolution, citing lack of support from the Republican leadership. The amendment would have protected both medical marijuana and adult use marijuana by barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after them.

Trump Administration Reviewing Guidance for Banks Dealing With Legal Marijuana. A top Treasury Department official told Congress Wednesday that the administration is reviewing whether to keep Obama-era guidance providing a route for banks to serve marijuana businesses without getting in trouble with federal regulators. "We are reviewing the guidance in light of the attorney general's recent decision to revoke a Justice Department memorandum on this issue, Sigal Mandelker, the department's deputy secretary, said at a Senate hearing in remarks reported by Marijuana Moment.

Vermont Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill This Weekend. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Thursday he will sign the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 511, sometime this weekend. The bill legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not commercial activity. Scott said he will sign the bill without ceremony out of respect for those who oppose the measure. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the state legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Congressman Files Federal Medical Marijuana Research Bill. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) filed a House version of a bill aiming at encouraging medical marijuana research on Thursday. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) filed the Senate version of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act, Senate Bill 1803, in the Senate in September.

Pennsylvania's First Dispensary Opens for Business. Keystone Canna Remedies had its grand opening in Bethlehem on Wednesday -- but it doesn't actually have any product to sell. The dispensary said it will be doing educational workshops until it gets its first shipments of medical marijuana next month.

Tennessee CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A pair of Republican lawmakers have filed the Medical Cannabis Only Act, which would legalize the use of cannabis oil products, but not edibles or raw marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Again Plans Deep Cuts to Drug Czar's Office. The administration is once again planning to slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). According to a report in Politico, the plan is to shift ONDCP's two main grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grants and the Drug Free Communities grants to the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, respectively. That would shift ONDCP's budget by about $340 million, or 95%. The move comes as the nation confronts a severe opioid crisis, lending fuel to claims the Trump administration isn't doing enough on the issue.

Senators Call on Trump Administration to Explain Drug Policy Appointments. Driven by revelations that a 24-year-old former campaign worker is playing a key role in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), as well as the administration's failure to fill key drug policy positions, a group of senators sent a letter Thursday calling on the administration to provide information on all political appointees serving in drug policy positions. The letter also called on the administration to identify, nominate, and confirm qualified leaders for the drug czar's office and the DEA. "You have claimed that that the opioid epidemic is a top priority for your administration, but the personnel you have staffing these key agencies -- and the lack of nominees to head them -- is cause for deep concern," the letter said. "This crisis knows no bounds, and we are committed to working across party lines with anyone who is serious about addressing this devastating epidemic."

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