Marijuana Policy

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NJ Governor Signs MedMJ Telehealth Bill, SD Activists Prepare 2022 Legalization Initiatives, More... (7/6/21)

A Rhode Island marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing but appears doomed this year, a South Dakota Native American reservation opens the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, and more.

South Dakota's Badlands. The state saw its first medical marijuana dispensary last week, and the fight for legali pot continues.
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets House Committee Hearing. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 6370, sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence). While the Senate has already passed a legalization bill, Senate Bill 568, Slater's bill includes some features the Senate bill does not, including automatic expungement for past marijuana offenses and oversight and impact fees to be paid to municipalities where retail stores open. It would legalize possession of up to an ounce and includes a home cultivation provision allowing for up to 12 plants. No committee vote was taken, and House Speaker Joseph Sjekarchi (D-Warwick) has said the House would not consider the bill until the next legislative session.

South Dakota Activists Move to Put Marijuana Measures on 2022 Ballot. South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative with 54% of the vote last November, but now, after the administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) challenged the constitutionality of the initiative in court, with a decision pending at the state Supreme Court, backers of the original initiative are back with a new package of legalization initiatives in case the high court rules against them. Last Friday, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws filed paperwork for four ballot measures dealing with marijuana policy and one that would repeal a single-subject amendment that voters approved in 2018. The court challenge to last November's initiative argues that it violates the single-subject requirement. That argument was upheld by a circuit court judge earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

ME Senate Defeats Drug Decrim Bill, House Approves Marijuana Research Language, More... (7/1/21)

Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota, Austin activists roll out a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative, and more.

You can expect to see these continue in Maine after the Senate defeated drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Let Researchers Access Marijuana from State-Legal Dispensaries. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus transportation bill that also includes language allowing researchers to get marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to study impaired driving. The measure would mandate a federal report with recommendations for creating a national clearinghouse with different marijuana samples for researchers from non-legal states. A transportation bill with similar marijuana research language is also moving in the Senate. The passage of the bill would be especially significant given the federal government's long history of stymying medical research through its historic monopoly on marijuana for research purposes, which puts medical marijuana in the Catch-22 of not winning FDA approvals becuase there has not been enough research.

Texas Activists Unveil Austin Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative. A new progressive group, Ground Game Texas, on Wednesday rolled out a campaign to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on the ballot in the state capital, Austin. The city currently handles small-time pot busts by issuing tickets, but the proposed initiative would end both arrests and citations, as well as barring citations for paraphernalia or residues. "Marijuana reform is a winning issue and local efforts will drive voter engagement. State lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- failed us during the legislative session," said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "Maybe this level of political pressure will get their attention and bring them on board with meaningful reform statewide." To get on the November ballot, advocates will need 20,000 valid voter signatures by July 20.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

Drug Policy

Maine Senate Votes Down Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Senate on Wednesday voted to kill a drug decriminalization bill, LD 967. The bill was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) and by both some Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who argued that arresting and prosecuting drug users can help them get into treatment and stay straight. The bill had already passed the House amidst a drug overdose epidemic that saw deaths at a record rate in 2020 and early this year. "The Senate had an opportunity to provide people with desperately needed relief, and it failed," said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. "We need to change our drug laws if we want to save lives. LD 967 would have saved the state money and reinvested resources from the criminal system into access to recovery services. People need treatment and support to enter sustained recovery, not arrest and a criminal record."

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, Marijuana Gets Legalized in Three States This Week, More... (6/30/21)

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

Clarence Thomas Questions Federal Marijuana Prohibition, ONDCP Reports on Colombia Coca, More... (6/28/21)

A major pharmaceutical company settles with the state of New York over opioid distribution, Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing policing reforms, and more.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questions the viability of federal marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Clarence Thomas Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition May No Longer Make Sense. One the Supreme Court's most conservative justices said Monday that because marijuana is already legalized either medically or recreationally in a growing number of states, federal pot prohibition may no longer make sense. "A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas as the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks. "Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning," he said. "The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Johnson & Johnson Settles With New York for $230 Million, Agrees to Stop Selling Opioids. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $230 million settlement with the state of New York over its role in the country's opioid crisis, which has led to nearly half a million dead of overdoses in the past two decades. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to not promote opioids and confirmed it has quit distributing them in the US. Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have faced a barrage of lawsuits over opioids, with governments arguing that the companies pushed the drugs and caused people to become addicted and then turn to illegal opioids as states and the federal government cracked down. The companies argued that they were distributing medically necessary opioids for people who need them. The crackdowns on opioid prescribing have left one group of people in particular in the lurch: chronic pain patients, who must seek opioids and doctors willing to prescribe them in large quantities in the midst of the retrenchment.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach "General Agreement" on Policing Reforms. Legislative leaders of both the Democratic Farm Labor Party and the Republicans have reached "general agreement" on a broad-ranging police reform bill, leaders of both parties said late Saturday. Among other things, the bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms (but not an outright ban), reforms of fines and fee structures, restrict the use of confidential informants to better protect them, and make modifications to state police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad cops off the street. The legislature is working under a deadline: If the broader public safety bill that includes the policing reforms is not passed by Wednesday, key government public safety functions, such as running state prisons and the State Patrol, would theoretically face shutdowns. But Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) said he will keep those operations functioning, even if that is legally questionable.

International

US Drug Czar's Office Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Expanded Last Year. Colombian coca cultivation increased 15% last year and potential cocaine production rose 7.9% to around a thousand metric tons, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday. The report from ONDCP differed from a report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on June 9, which had a lower figure for crop cultivation but a higher figure -- 1,228 metric tons -- for potential cocaine production. In either case, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, ahead of second place Peru and third place Bolivia.

Cuba Reiterates Zero Tolerance Drug Policies. Cuba used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday to make clear that its zero tolerance policy toward drug use, production, and trafficking remains unchanged. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez vowed that the island nations will never be a place to use, store, or traffic illicit drugs.

RI Marijuana Legalization Push Hits Bump, UN Warns Pandemic Could Propel Drug Use, Cultivation, More... (6/25/21)

There's progress on medical marijuana this week in the South, a key Rhode Island lawmaker slams the brakes on a marijuana legalization push, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic could propel new cultivation of illegal drug crops, the UNODC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Key Lawmakers Slams Brakes on Legalization Effort. On the day after the state Senate passed a marijuana legalization bill, an amended version of Senate Bill 568, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Warwick) signaled he was in no hurry to finish the job. He said the state could afford to wait to legalize it while authorities consider diverging proposals, that a proper regulatory structure needed to be created, and that he wanted to ensure that the state gets adequate revenues from legalization. "If we're going to legalize recreational use of marijuana, we want to make sure that the state gets its fair share," he said. He said he had seen "six or seven legitimate proposals" for marijuana legalization that are "very divergent." But the Senate has only passed the one.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill into Law. Governor Kay Ivey (R) has signed into law a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 46. The new law allows people suffering from a specified list of medical conditions to use medical marijuana with a physician's recommendations. The state had enacted a law allowing for the use of CBD in 2014 and broadened that law in 2016, but now has enacted a full-fledged medical marijuana law. But patients will not be allowed to use smokable marijuana nor grow their own. Instead, 12 commercial growers and 12 dispensaries will be authorized to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana. The system is expected to be up and running by the fall of 2022.

Louisiana Governor Signs Bill Allowing Smokable Medical Marijuana. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law House Bill 391, which will allow patients to use smokable medical marijuana. The bill passed non-controversially, and its sponsor, Rep. Tanner Magee (D-Houma) said its purposes was to drive down costs and respond to popular demand. "Having the raw form of it, which the public has shown they really want, will allow them to drive down their costs so they can pass on to the consumer and have a real alternative to opioids," Magee said. Smokable medical marijuana will not be available for purchase until January because of time lags with the two state universities who are currently the only institutions authorized to produce medical marijuana.

International

UNODC Releases Annual Report, Warns That Fallout from Pandemic Could Last for Years. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the 2021 World Drug Report Thursday and warned that the coronavirus pandemic is propelling more people into drug use, has caused drug trafficking groups to adapt to changed conditions, and sowed economic hardship that could lead to increased cultivation of illicit drug crops. "[D]rug markets have swiftly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the pandemic; a burst that has triggered or accelerated certain pre-existing trafficking dynamics across the global drug market," UNODC said. "Among these are: increasingly larger shipments of illicit drugs, a rise in the frequency of overland and water-way routes used for trafficking, greater use of private planes for the purpose of drug trafficking, and an upsurge in the use of contactless methods to deliver drugs to end-consumers. The resilience of drug markets during the pandemic has demonstrated once again traffickers' ability to adapt quickly to changed environments and circumstances." On the potential increase in drug crops, UNODC said: "While the impact of COVID-19 on drug challenges is not yet fully known, the analysis suggests that the pandemic has brought increasing economic hardship that is likely to make illicit drug cultivation more appealing to fragile rural communities. The social impact of the pandemic -- driving a rise in inequality, poverty, and mental health conditions particularly among already vulnerable populations -- represent factors that could push more people into drug use."

UN For First Time Engages with Marijuana Regulations. In the 2021 World Drug Report released Thursday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for a global ban on marijuana advertising, saying "a comprehensive ban on advertising, promoting and sponsoring cannabis would ensure that public health interests prevail over business interests." While the call is in line with the UN's long-standing opposition to marijuana legalization, it also marks the first time the anti-drug agency has engaged with the notion of regulating -- not merely prohibiting -- marijuana use and production.

House Democrats Advance Marijuana Banking, DC Pot Sales Bill, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/24/21)

The Veterans Administration comes out against a medical marijuana research bill for veterans, House Democrats move a bill that would provide protection to banks doing business with marijuana firms and allow pot sales in DC, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Democrats Advance Funding Bill with Marijuana Banking Protection and DC Marijuana Sales. The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee voted Thursday to advance a massive funding bill that includes language protecting financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana firms and allowing Washington, DC, to go ahead with legal marijuana sales. The move puts the subcommittee at odds with the Biden administration, which in its budget proposal supported continuing a 2014 congressional rider to the DC appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation on Tuesday.

Medical Marijuana

Veterans Administration Does Not Want to Conduct Medical Marijuana Research9. During a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, VA Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Health for Community Care Mark Upton made it plain the administration opposes a bill that would require the VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of marijuana for vets with chronic pain and PTSD. The agency "does not support this bill," Upton told the committee. He said the legislation was unnecessary because the VA is "already dedicating resources and research expertise to study the effects of cannabis on conditions affecting veterans."

North Carolina Senate Committee Moves on Medical Marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday adopted and passed a substitute version of a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 711. The bill would allow medical marijuana use for a list of specified debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Under the substitute adopted by the committee, a 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Board would be empowered to add new conditions to the list. The bill must now also get through the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees being getting a floor vote.

CT Becomes Latest State to Legalize Marijuana, DEA Denies FL Church's Ayahuasca Exemption, More... (6/23/21)

House Democrats look to end the ban on legal marijuana sales in the nation's capital, the Rhode Island Senate approves a marijuana legalization bill, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. The Los Angeles city council supports a similar effort in California. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End DC Marijuana Sales Ban. House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley (D-IL) filed a wide-ranging bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on legal marijuana sales in the District of Columbia, as well as providing protection to financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana firms. The ban, in the form of a rider to the annual DC appropriations bill in Congress, was imposed in 2014, with the effort led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), before city residents even voted for marijuana legalization later that year. It has remained in place ever since.The move comes even though President Biden specifically did not remove the congressional rider banning sales in his budget proposal last month. The bill is set to be voted on in the subcommittee Thursday, with the full Appropriations Committee taking it up next Tuesday, setting up a potential conflict with the Biden administration.

Connecticut Legalizes Marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Tuesday signed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 1201, making the state the 19th to end marijuana prohibition and the fourth to do this year, after New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. The bill legalizes the possession of up to one and a half ounces by people 21 and over, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with strong social equity provisions. The law takes effect on July 1, when using recreational marijuana becomes legal, but marijuana business licenses are not expected to be issued until the end of next year.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate voted Tuesday night to approve an amended version of Senate Bill 568, which would legalize the possession, purchase, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use for adults 21 and older.The bill would also create a Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the legal marijuana market, tax marijuana sales at 20%, and create a social equity program to aid communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. A House marijuana legalization bill filed at the end of May remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. The clock is ticking: The session ends in one week on June 30.

Ayahuasca

DEA Denies Religious Use Exemption to Florida Ayahuasca Church. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has officially denied the Soul Quest Church's request for a religious exemption allowing it to continue to legally provide ayahuasca, a substance containing the Schedule I drug DMT, for religious purposes. The church has been distributing ayahuasca and other substances to paying customers and gained unwanted scrutiny after a man died during an ayahuasca retreat in 2018. After that death, the DEA ordered the church to shut down its ayahuasca distribution, but the church has refused, instead fighting the order in the courts. Now, after the DEA decision, a federal judge is expected to rule soon on that decision, which could end the church's run. The church is relying on a generous interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which both peyote use by the Native American Church and ayahuasca use by the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable has been allowed. 

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Harm Reduction

Los Angeles City Council Endorses Statewide Safe Injection Site Bill. The city council on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting a bill that would legalize pilot safe injection sites in a number of California cities, Senate Bill 57. The support comes as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, especially among the homeless, for whom the overdose rate jumped 33% in the first six months of last year. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety and Health committees. Even if the bill were to become law, it faces possible federal obstacles. When harm reductionists in Philadelphia sought to open a safe injection site, the Trump administration successfully blocked them in federal district court. The Biden administration has not made clear what its stance on the issue is.

White House Supports Bill Ending Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Mexico Marijuana Mess, More... (6/22/21)

A New York City DA drops thousands of pending marijuana cases, an Ohio's judge's courtroom temper tantrum will get him off the bench for a year, and more.

There's a move underway in Congress to finally do away with the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Sees More Than 3,000 Marijuana Cases Dismissed by Queens DA. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz moved to dismiss some 3,255 pending marijuana cases, citing the "disproportionate impact" of marijuana enforcement on people of color, and a judge immediately granted the motion. The move comes after the state legalized marijuana earlier this year and is in line with similar decisions in district attorney's office across the state. Since legalization, New Yorkers have been able to possess up to three ounces. All of the cases dismissed were for possession of less than three ounces.

Drug Testing

Ohio Judge Faces Justice for Jailing Courtroom Attendee for Refusing to Take Drug Test. Seneca County District Court Judge Mark Repp is facing a year-long suspension from the bench after Repp called the girlfriend of a defendant who was observing his case "a drug addict," ordered her to take a drug test, and then jailed her when she refused. Repp ordered the woman, who had no criminal record, jailed for 10 days, but she was released the following day when prosecutors declined to file any charge against her. She and her attorney complained to the state Board of Professional Conduct, which recommended the one-year suspension. Repp has now waived his objections to the findings and is set to be suspended. A possible civil lawsuit is pending, but the US Supreme Court has ruled in the past that judges are immune from lawsuits if they are acting in an official capacity within the courtroom.

Sentencing

Biden Administration Endorses Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), said the Biden administration supported passage of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act, or Equal Act, S, 79. Sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill would end the disparity between sentences in federal crack and powder cocaine cases. Biden helped create that disparity decades ago, has been ready to end it since at least 2008, when he sponsored the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Act of 2008 (S.1711). "The current disparity is not based on evidence, yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families and communities of color," LaBelle testified. "The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end. Therefore, the administration urges the swift passage of the ‘Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act.’" Biden championed a 100:1 disparity in a 1986 anti-drug bill, but that disparity was reduced to 18:1 in 2010. 

International

Mexico Supreme Court Moves to End Marijuana Prohibition After Lawmakers Fail to Act. After the Mexican congress has missed repeated Supreme Court-imposed deadlines to end marijuana prohibition, the high court is moving toward ending it on its own. Court member Norma Lucia Pina Hernandez has filed a general declaration of unconstitutionality on the country's marijuana laws, and the whole court is expected to take up the issue this week. The court deemed marijuana prohibition unconstitutional in 2018 and ordered the congress to legalize marijuana, but the congress has been slowed by political infighting and the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, if the politicians continue to fail to get it done, the court is hinting it will just nullify the law.

FL Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Pot Initiative, ME Legislature Passes Drug Trafficking Reform Bill, More... (6/21/21)

Possession of more than two grams of heroin or fentanyl would no longer be considered prima facie evidence of drug trafficking in Maine after the legislature passes a reform bill, the Decriminalize Nature movement gets a Vermont chapter, and more.

Maine lawmakers move to rein in the state's harsh drug trafficking law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative; Only One Remains Alive. The state Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Sensible Florida, the second time it has blocked a proposed 2022 initiative. The court held the initiative's ballot language was misleading because it said recreational use would be limited, but the actual language would allow for state and local governments to remove those restrictions. The state's Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, petitioned the court to block the initiative. An earlier initiative was struck own because it failed to mention marijuana would remain illegal under federal law. A third initiative, from Floridians for Freedom, remains alive. It includes language about marijuana remaining federally illegal and it is very short, leaving less room for the Supreme Court to rule it deceives voters. It needs a million valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Drug Policy

Maine Bill to Restrict Drug Trafficking Law Passes Legislature. A bill that would amend the state's harsh drug trafficking law to require that the state actually prove drug trafficking instead of charging a person with trafficking for merely possessing an amount of drugs above a certain limit, LD 1675, won final floor votes in the House and Senate last Friday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D) . Current law makes possession of more than two grams or 90 wraps of heroin or fentanyl evidence of drug trafficking. The bill would also end the 3.5-to-1 state sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Psychedelics

Vermont Decriminalize Nature Chapter Forms Amid Push to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. As the state legislature ponders a bill to decriminalize natural entheogens, House Bill 309, psychedelics advocates have formed a state chapter of the nationwide group Decriminalize Nature to help prod lawmakers to act. And they need the prodding: The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee since it was filed in February. "People are all about nature in Vermont and healing with beautiful nature," Decriminalize Vermont leader Carly Nix said. "And also, I already believe that people should be able to grow their own cannabis and heal with cannabis so this seems like a pretty natural next step."

International

Mexican Border Town of Reynosa Sees 14—Or is it 18?—People Killed by Presumed Cartel Gunmen. Gunmen in SUVs ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead. The likely perpetrators were warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, which has long dominated drug trafficking in Reynosa but has recently been riven by splits. The last two years have been the bloodiest yet in Mexico's drug war, with more than 34,000 people being killed in both 2019 and 2020, and the toll this year shows no signs of slowing. By contrast, when Mexico's prohibition-related violence earned sustained international attention during the 2012 presidential election year in the US and Mexico, the death toll was around 15,000. It has steadily increased ever since.

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