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Chronicle AM: Prospects Dim for First Step Act, UT MedMJ Advocates File Suit, More.... (12/7/18)

The surgeon general suggests it's time to revise federal drug schedules, the First Step Act is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, Utah patient advocates sue to block a legislative gutting of the voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

A prison and sentencing reform bill is running out of time on Capitol Hill. Blame Mitch McConnell. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) has pre-filed House Bill 157, which would allow adults to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants, with three plants flowering at one time. The bill does not create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Advocacy Groups Sue to Block Compromise Agreement on Medical Marijuana. A pair of patient advocacy groups filed suit Thursday to block a legislative agreement that supersedes the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative passed in November. The groups accuse the Mormon Church of unconstitutional interference in a process that led to the gutting of the measure approved by voters. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to set aside the revised medical marijuana law approved by the legislature and to keep the original version in the initiative.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lame Duck GOP Legislature Pushes Through Food Stamp Drug Testing. As part of the GOP-dominated legislature's effort to weaken the incoming Democratic governor and other state officials, the legislature passed a sweeping measure imposing restrictions on welfare recipients, including a requirement for drug screening and testing of people apply for food stamps. If outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs the bill, Wisconsin will be the first and only state that requires drug testing for many non-felon food stamp applicants.

Law Enforcement

Surgeon General Says Federal Drug Classification Scheme Needs Changes. The country's drug classification needs an overhaul, but that doesn't mean drugs should simply be decriminalized, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday. "Our scheduling system is functioning, but not as ideally as it could," he said of the federal schedule for controlled substances maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. "Things aren't static. We have to continue to evolve. Just as we need to look at our criminal justice laws, we need to look at our health laws and regulations, and that includes the scheduling system," Adams said.

Sentencing Reform

The Door is Closing on the Federal Prison and Sentencing Reform Bill. Prospects for passage of the First Step Act (S. 3649) grow dimmer as the clock ticks down on the end of the congressional session later this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't made it official, but he has told Republicans there is almost no time left to take up the bill, and Senate Republicans left town Thursday afternoon without taking up the topic at two party lunches this week. "Each passing day they get less," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the bill's chances. "We're still lobbying Sen. McConnell. He has all the power to allow it or not allow it."

Chronicle AM: Feds Warn on Denver Safe Injection Site, It's J-Day in Michigan, More... (12/6/18)

Michigan became the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest today, the feds send a shot across the bow of an effort to get a safe injection site up and running in Denver, cartel violence challenges Mexico's new president, and more.

[Errata: This article initially reported incorrectly that driving under the influence of marijuana under MIchigan's legalization law would result in a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

Today Michigan becomes the first legal marijuana state in the Midwest.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect. As of today, it is legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in Michigan. There is no public smoking allowed and driving under the influence remains a crime. The state's system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, however, is not expected to be up and running until 2020. [This article initially reported incorrectly that marijuana DUIs would result in getting a ticket. DUI remains a felony in Michigan.]

New Yorkers Want to Legalize Marijuana to Fix the Subway. Lawmakers are eyeing legal marijuana tax revenues as a means of helping to modernize New York City's subway system. Subway officials say they'll need $40 billion to upgrade, and legal weed could help. "The biggest issue we hear about as elected officials is the state of the subway system," said Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker. "To be able to tie these things together is something that could be highly impactful and potentially transformative."

Harm Reduction

Denver DEA, US Attorney Warn City on Safe Injection Sites. As city and county officials move toward establishing a safe injection site for drug users, representatives of the federal government are warning that they are illegal and anyone involved could be looking at years in federal prison. In a joint statement, the feds were blunt: "Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well." The feds also argued that safe injection sites don't actually produce claimed harm reduction benefits and that "these facilities will actually increase public safety risks" by "attracting drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals." Those claims are, at best, debatable.

International

Mexican Cartel Gunmen Kill Six Cops in Deadliest Attack of the AMLO Era. In the deadliest attack since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office last Saturday, gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel attacked police transporting a prisoner in Jalisco state, leaving six police officers dead. The attackers came in three vehicles and escaped, setting up roadblocks of burning vehicles they had commandeered. AMLO came into office pledging to quell widespread cartel violence.

Medical Marijuana Update

Dispensaries come to Iowa, Utah's voter-approved medical marijuana law gets modified in the legislature, and more. 

Iowa

Iowa Sees First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. The Hawkeye State's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened over the weekend. Five were authorized under a law passed last year and licenses were awarded earlier this year. The state's law only allows for the use of CBD products.

Minnesota

Minnesota Adds Alzheimer's to List of Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding the degenerative neurological disorder to the medical marijuana program, despite concerns about the effectiveness of treatment with marijuana. "Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease." Minnesota will become the 13th state to okay medical marijuana for Alzheimer's.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania to Consider Adding Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has approved a new process for expanding the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and in coming weeks will begin accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions to be added to the list. Patient advocates are expected to petition for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

Utah

Utah's Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law Amended. Lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping changes to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) immediately signed them into effect. The changes ban many marijuana edibles, prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary, and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking medical marijuana wasn't allowed under the original ballot measure and still isn't. Opponents of the meddling with measure said the changes will create major obstacles for patients and are planning to sue to block the changes. "It's an almost complete disregard for the will of the people," attorney Rocky Anderson said.

 

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

Chronicle AM: Denver to Expunge Pot Convictions, Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin, More... (12/5/18)

 A Washington Post columnist calls for prescription heroin, the federal hemp bill will apparently ban the participation of people with drug felonies, Denver joins the movement to expunge old pot convictions, and more.

Prescription heroin--Washington Post columnist suggests it could save lives in the face of fentanyl. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Becomes Latest City to Expunge Low-Level Marijuana Offenses. Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday that his administration will "move to vacate low-level marijuana convictions for Denver residents." The move comes after months of preliminary work by the Office of Marijuana Policy and the City Attorney's Office. "For too long, the lives of low-income residents and those living in our communities of color have been negatively affected by low-level marijuana convictions," Hancock said in a press release. "This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people."

Industrial Hemp

Federal Bill to Legalize Hemp Bans Drug Felons from Participating. Congressional negotiators have agreed on compromise language for the hemp provision of the farm bill that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban was inserted into the Senate version of the bill late in the process and over the objections of drug policy reformers. It's not quite a done deal—the language could be changed in conference committee—but at this point, it looks like the ban is in.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington Post Columnist Calls for Prescription Heroin. In a piece published Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle has called for access to prescription heroin in a bid to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In the column titled An Incredibly Unpopular Idea That Could Stem Heroin Deaths, McArdle notes that "most people don't want addiction made safer or easier; they want it stopped, cold…but you don’t free slaves by killing them, and as long as fentanyl suffuses the illicit drug markets, that’s what a 'tough love' policy amounts to." Harm reduction measures and increased access to treatment would help, McArdle writes, but "lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates. Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved."

Asset Forfeiture

Nashville Bends to Police Pressure, Extends Federal "Equitable Sharing" Program. Under pressure from local law enforcement and seeking to avoid raising taxes, the Nashville Metro Council voted 25-5 to renew its participation in the federal asset forfeiture equitable sharing program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to divert drug-related cash seizures to the federal government, which in turn returns 80% of the booty back to the seizing agency. 

Chronicle AM: Trump's Chinese Fentanyl Flub, UT MedMJ Law Amended, More... (12/4/18)

There's a bunch of medical marijuana news today, and President Trump misstates a Chinese position on fentanyl.

The president was unclear on just what China promised regarding fentanyl and synthetic opioids. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Adds Alzheimer's to List of Qualifying Conditions. The state Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding the degenerative neurological disorder to the medical marijuana program, despite concerns about the effectiveness of treatment with marijuana. "Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease." Minnesota will become the 13th state to okay medical marijuana for Alzheimer's.

Pennsylvania to Consider Adding Qualifying Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has approved a new process for expanding the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana and in coming weeks will begin accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions to be added to the list. Patient advocates are expected to petition for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

Utah's Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law Amended. Lawmakers on Monday passed sweeping changes to the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) immediately signed them into effect. The changes ban many marijuana edibles, prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary, and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking medical marijuana wasn't allowed under the original ballot measure and still isn't. Opponents of the meddling with measure said the changes will create major obstacles for patients and are planning to sue to block the changes. "It's an almost complete disregard for the will of the people," attorney Rocky Anderson said.

Foreign Policy

Trump Misstated Changes in China's Fentanyl Policy. This past weekend, President Trump claimed he had persuaded the Chinese to make fentanyl a controlled substance, but he was mistaken. Fentanyl is already a controlled substance in China. What the Chinese announced was that they would shift the way it regulates synthetic opioids. Now, "China has decided to list all the fentanyl-like substances as controlled substances and start working to adjust related regulations," China's foreign ministry clarified.

Chronicle AM: Dark Web Dealers Banning Fentanyl, Luxembourg Moves to Legalize Weed, More... (12/3/18)

China agrees to make fentanyl a controlled substance, Dark Web dealers begin banning fentanyl sales, Luxembourg could become the first European country to legalize marijuana, and more.

Fentanyl--too dangerous for the Dark Web? (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Bill Would Free Prisoners Doing Time for Marijuana Crimes. Democratic lawmakers have filed a bill, House Bill 6508, that would allow prisoners convicted of certain marijuana offenses to get out of prison. The release would apply to people imprisoned for use, possession, or distribution of marijuana if they meet certain conditions. It would also reduce sentences for other marijuana crimes.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Sees First Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. The Hawkeye State's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened over the weekend. Five were authorized under a law passed last year and licenses were awarded earlier this year. The state's law only allows for the use of CBD products.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Dark Web Drug Dealers Voluntarily Ban Fentanyl Sales. The British National Crime Agency reports that major dark web drug sellers have begun voluntarily banning the sale of fentanyl because it is both too dangerous and too likely to provoke police crackdowns. That would put the powerful opioid in the company of mass casualty firearms and explosives as commodities too dangerous to trade on the dark web.

Foreign Policy

China Agrees to Make Fentanyl a Controlled Substance After Talks With US. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had "decided to schedule the entire category of fentanyl-type substances as controlled substances, and start the process of revising relevant laws and regulations" after the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires on Saturday. The two countries have "agreed to take active measures to strengthen cooperation on law enforcement and narcotics control," including the control of fentanyl-type substances, the statement said. The White House called the move "a wonderful humanitarian effort."

International

Luxembourg Moves Toward Legalizing Marijuana. In a joint press conference, the three political parties that constitute the country's governing coalition announced plans to legalize marijuana, including legal marijuana sales. The announcement came after an online petition calling for legalization generated enough support to be discussed in parliament. The petitioners asked for marijuana to be regulated, pointing to Canada as an example. A final agreement on the exact structure of legalization is expected to be finalized this week. 

Chronicle AM: Harborside Loses Pot Tax Case, Hemp in Final Version of Farm Bill, More... (11/30/18)

The US Tax Court has ruled against Harborside being able to deduct standard business expenses, a hemp provision is in the final version of the farm bill, Mexico and the US disagree over Mexican heroin production levels, and more.

Pot shops can't deduct standard business expenses, the US Tax Court ruled in a case Thursday. (Sonya Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

California Dispensary Loses in US Tax Court. In a decision Thursday, the US Tax Court rejected a bid from Harborside Health Center to be able to declare normal business expenses on its taxes. The court held that Harborside was "engaged in only one trade or business, which was trafficking in a controlled substance" and since Section 280E of the internal revenue code bars criminal enterprises from taking the expense deduction, "Section 280E prevents [Harborside] from deducting ordinary and necessary business expenses."

Michigan Republican Lawmaker Files Bill to Ban Home Growing. Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) on Thursday filed a measure, SB 1243, which would ban the home grows included in the marijuana legalization initiative approved by voters earlier this month. Under the initiative, adults can grow up to 12 plants for personal use in their homes, but that's got Meekhof worried: "People don’t get to make alcohol and serve it in unregulated bars to anyone they want to. Homegrown marijuana is basically unregulated," he said. "It should be in some regulated form, so we have consistency and safety. It’s a mind-altering substance like alcohol. It should be somehow controlled." Meekhof seems to have forgotten that Michigan allows the unregulated home production of up to 200 gallons of beer a year.

Industrial Hemp

Hemp Legalization Included in Final Farm Bill. A provision to legalize industrial hemp will be included in the 2018 farm bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and top figures in the House Agriculture Committee confirmed Thursday. Legislators in the House and Senate agricultural committees said they had reached an agreement on principle on the bill and are now finalizing the language.

Law Enforcement

Houston Drug Sting Leaves Two Dead, Seven Arrested. A drug sting operation involving a multi-jurisdictional task force including the DEA, Houston Police, and a SWAT team left two men dead and seven under arrest. Task force agents met with several known drug dealers, one of whom allegedly fired on SWAT officers moving in to make arrests. He was shot and killed by a SWAT officer. A second man fled the scene, but was found by a police dog and brought back to the scene, where he complained of problems breathing and then died despite efforts by tactical medics to revive him. The seven men arrested face federal drug charges.

International

Mexico Disputes US Heroin Production Estimates. The Mexican government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Thursday that opium poppy production in the country last year encompassed some 75,000 acres, far less than the 110,000 acres estimated by the US earlier this month. The Mexicans also said they had eradicated more than 90% of the crop, which would leave only enough for about 900 kilograms of heroin. The US estimated that Mexico produces 111 tons of heroin last year. 

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Hears IN Seizure Case, Filipino Cops Jailed for Drug War Crimes, More... (11/29/18)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an Indiana asset forfeiture case, outgoing marijuana reform roadblock Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has done it again, a North Carolina "decrim" bill gets filed, and more.

Three Philippine police are jailed for murder, marking a first in Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pete Sessions Blocks Another Federal Pot Bill. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has consistently used his position as chair of the House Rules Committee to block marijuana reform measures, and he did it again Wednesday. This time he blocked an amendment from Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that aimed at providing tax relief for legal marijuana businesses. But Sessions' career as reform roadblock is coming to an end; he was defeated in the November midterms. Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has already promised to allow marijuana amendments to move when he takes over in January.

North Carolina Legislators File Bill to Decriminalize Up to Four Ounces. Four legislators have co-sponsored a bill, S 791, which would essentially decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. Possession would remain a misdemeanor, but with no possible jail sentence, and the bill includes language that would allow people convicted of possessing less than four ounces to petition for expungement, which would be automatic if the amount actually was under four ounces.

Asset Forfeiture

Supreme Court Oral Arguments Suggest Indiana Will Be Slapped Down in Asset Forfeiture Case. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case of an Indiana man whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized after he pleaded guilty to small-scale heroin sales, and the justices' questioning strongly suggested they would rule against the state. The legal argument is whether the 8th Amendment's provisions against "excessive fines" applies to civil asset forfeiture at the state level. The case is Timbs v. Indiana.

Harm Reduction

San Diego Judge Orders Preliminary Injunction Closing Orange County Needle Exchange Program. A San Diego judge has issued a temporary injunction to shut down a mobile syringe exchange program run by the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), which is being sued by Orange County. A ruling issued in California Superior Court on Tuesday bars the mobile program from operating until a trial is held sometime in January 2019.

International

Brazilian Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical reasons was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday. Patients with doctors' prescriptions would be able to grow, possess, and consume the drug. The Senate Social Affairs Committee advanced the bill, but it now has to be approved by the Commission on Constitution and Justice before going to a Senate floor vote. If it passes the Senate, it must then be approved by the Chamber of Deputies and signed by incoming President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes legalization and has espoused a harsh approach to drugs.

Philippine Court Sentences Three Cops for Drug War Murder of Teen. The Caloocan City regional trial court on Thursday sentenced three police officers found guilty of murdering a 17-year-old high school student to 40 years in prison. They were the first police to be convicted in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. "A shoot first, think later attitude can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life," said the ruling by Judge Roldolfo Azucena.

Watch: Undercover Detroit Narc Squads Brawl As They Try to Arrest Each Other

In a caper right out of the Keystone Cops, two different squads of armed undercover Detroit narcotics officers clashed earlier this month in a buy-bust operation gone badly awry. No one was hurt or seriously injured, so the primary damage is that done to the already tattered reputation of the Detroit police.

Just since the turn of the century, the department labored under a Justice Department consent decree from 2003 to 2016 because of its reputation for excessive force and brutality, thousands of untested rape kits were found in a police warehouse in 2009, two consecutive police chiefs were forced to resign over sex scandals in 2011 and 2012, and six Detroit cops including an assistant police chief were charged last year with extortion and bribery in a scandal around steering towed car business to repair shops.

Still, even Detroit Police Chief James Craig was shaking his head over this latest incident. "This is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen in this department," Craig said at a news conference called after the clash.

Things went south on the night of November 9, when two officers from the 12th Precinct were posing as drug dealers in order to arrest would-be buyers. Two potential customers showed up, but they turned out to be undercover officers from the 11th Precinct out to bust drug dealers.

And those 11th Precinct narcs had backup and a search warrant waiting for once the buy went down. That's "when it started to go horribly wrong," Craig said.

Body camera video shows the two groups of cops shouting, shoving, and throwing punches at each other.

"They appeared to be like Keystone cops," Craig said of his narc squads.

The department is undertaking an internal investigation into what went wrong. Two officers accused of punching each other have been placed on restrictive duty and a supervisor has been reassigned out of special operations pending the outcome of the departmental investigation. Wayne County prosecutors are also taking a look to see if criminal charges will be filed.

There is good reason to take this police screw-up seriously. It should call into question Detroit police tactics, especially aggressive drug law enforcement, as well as police procedures that allowed the mishap to occur in the first place.

But there's another reason, too: These kinds of screw-ups get cops killed. In 1986, Detroit Police Officers Giacomo Buffa and Mark Radden were killed when Buffa and his partner, both in plainclothes, were doing a drug raid at a home and Radden and his partner, also in plainclothes, responded to a report of shots fired at the home. Both officers died in a hail of friendly fire.

Here you can see Detroit's finest at less than their finest:

Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's unlicensed dispensaries get a break, New Jersey is set to expand its medical marijuana program, and more.

Michigan

Michigan Unlicensed Dispensaries Can Stay Open Until Year's End. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to continue operating until at least December 31 as they await state licenses, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Tuesday. Some 40 dispensaries have received state licenses so far; another 98 await licenses.

New Jersey

New Jersey Senate Health Committee Votes in Support of Medical Marijuana Expansion. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee voted Monday to expand the state's medical marijuana program. But advocates had concerns: "Today's vote in support of expanding New Jersey's medical marijuana program is a step in the right direction," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "However, we have concerns about the impact of this legislation on patients, as it will transfer oversight of medical marijuana from the New Jersey Department of Health, which has a long established, patient-centered program, to a new and relatively undefined commission."

Utah

Utah Medical Cannabis Act Revised Again. A bill aimed at replacing the voter-approved Prop 2 medical marijuana law has now been revised for a third time as legislators prepare to meet in special session to pass it. The newest version removes renter protections for patients, but increases the number of license for "cannabis pharmacies." Under the bill, a central pharmacy would ship marijuana to local health departments for patients to pick up, or patients could use the "cannabis pharmacies."

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

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