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Medical Marijuana Update

Federal GOP lawmakers find more marijuana windmills to tilt at, North Carolina Cherokees become the first in the state to approve medical marijuana, and more.

National

GOP Lawmakers File Bill to Block Even Medical Marijuana Marijuana Purchases by People Getting Federal Assistance. In the latest iteration of a continuing Republican push in recent legislative sessions to block people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF -- the food stamp program) funds from using them to buy marijuana, Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) filed a bill July 20 that would bar TANF recipients from using their benefit cards for medical marijuana purchases. Similar measures already bar the use of such cards casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores. But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas. "Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,"said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis' medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people." It is woth noting that other Republican congressmembers have supported marijuana reform bills.

Senate Committee Approves Expanded Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee in late July approved an amendment designed to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) passed on a voice vote. "We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said. "I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors." The measure must still pass the Senate, and the amendment will have to survive a conference committee if it does pass the Senate.

Mississippi

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana in August. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said July 15 that the legislature could be ready as early as next month to go into a special session to pass a medical marijuana bill. The legislature is acting after the state Supreme Court threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of a technical issue the legislature has failed to address for 20 years, essentially invalidating the state's initiative process. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has said he would call a special session only after lawmakers have reached an agreement on a bill in advance. White said both the House and the Senate have been working on the issue, and he believes they would have an agreement by mid-August.

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

Nebraska

Nebraska Advocates Planning Multiple Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Medical marijuana advocates organized as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana are planning several medical marijuana initiatives aimed at the 2020 ballot in a bid to avoid the fate of their 2020 initiative, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court because it encompassed more than one subject. The group has already drafted a constitutional amendment that says simply: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes." State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), a member of the group, said the group is considering two more initiatives that would "work in unison" to get medical marijuana legalized. One would require legislators to pass bills protecting physicians who recommend medical marijuana and their patients from criminal liability. The other would require lawmakers to pass bills protecting private companies that produce and supply medical marijuana. Once the proposed initiatives are okayed for signature gathering, activists would need 122,274 valid voter signatures for the constitutional amendment and 85,592 for the statutory initiatives. There is no deadline specified, but signatures have to be handed in at least four months before election day to qualify for the ballot that year.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on July 20 approved Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, on a voice vote. Under the bill, patients with specified medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, would be allowed to use medical marijuana. The bill also sets up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana production and distribution. The bill now heads to the Senate Health Care Committee before moving toward a floor vote if successful there.

North Carolina Cherokees Become First in State to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who maintain a sovereign nation in western North Carolina known as the Qualla Boundary, have approved the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana on their reservation lands, becoming the first entity in the state to do so. It is not clear when the tribal medical marijuana program will actually get going, but the tribe envisions a Cannabis Control Board to handle licensing and the issuance of medical marijuana cards. People would be limited to buying one ounce per day, with no more than six ounces in one month.

 

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Employers for Discrimination Over Medical Marijuana. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled last Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law allows workers and job applicants to sue employers for discrimination for firing or refusing to hire them because of their medical marijuana use. Although the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act does not explicitly create a private right to sue, the court held that because that law did not grant any state agency the power to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, it implicitly created such a right. The ruling came in the case of Pamela Palmiter, who sought to sue Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton for refusing to hire her after she failed a drug test for marijuana. The Pennsylvania decision is in line with a federal court decision in the state last December, and state and federal courts in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island have also ruled that those state laws allow workers to sue for discrimination.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Governor Signs into Law Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Employment Discrimination. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has signed into law a bill that protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination in the workplace. The bill amends the territory's existing medical marijuana law to make registered patients members of a protected class under its employment protection laws. Under the expanded law, employers may not discriminate against authorized patients of medical cannabis in the recruitment, hiring, designation, or termination process or when imposing disciplinary actions. There are exceptions, such as when "the use of medical cannabis represents a real threat of harm or danger to others or property" or when "the use of medical cannabis interferes with the employee’s performance and functions."

AR Legal Pot Initiative Already Has 10,000 Signatures, NC Cherokees Become First in State to Approve MedMJ, More... (8/9/21)

Medical and recreational marijuana initiative campaigns are getting underway, Puerto Rico's governor signs into law employment protections for medical marijuana patients, and more.

Nebraskans would like to be able to go to medical marijuana dispensaries like people in most other states. (Sondra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Already Has 10,000 Signatures. The group behind a marijuana legalization initiative campaign, Arkansas True Grass, says it has already gathered some 10,000 raw signatures as it pushes to get the measure on the November 2022. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for people 21 and over. People could purchase up to four ounces of smokable or vaporized marijuana per day, and there would be no limits on the number of dispensaries. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it has higher signature gathering requirements than statutory initiatives, and organizers must come up with 89,151 valid voter signatures by July 8, 2022.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Advocates Planning Multiple Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Medical marijuana advocates organized as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana are planning several medical marijuana initiatives aimed at the 2020 ballot in a bid to avoid the fate of their 2020 initiative, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court because it encompassed more than one subject. The group has already drafted a constitutional amendment that says simply: "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes." State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), a member of the group, said the group is considering two more initiatives that would "work in unison" to get medical marijuana legalized. One would require legislators to pass bills protecting physicians who recommend medical marijuana and their patients from criminal liability. The other would require lawmakers to pass bills protecting private companies that produce and supply medical marijuana. Once the proposed initiatives are okayed for signature gathering, activists would need 122,274 valid voter signatures for the constitutional amendment and 85,592 for the statutory initiatives. There is no deadline specified, but signatures have to be handed in at least four months before election day to qualify for the ballot that year.

North Carolina Cherokees Become First in State to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who maintain a sovereign nation in western North Carolina known as the Qualla Boundary, have approved the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana on their reservation lands, becoming the first entity in the state to do so. It is not clear when the tribal medical marijuana program will actually get going, but the tribe envisions a Cannabis Control Board to handle licensing and the issuance of medical marijuana cards. People would be limited to buying one ounce per day, with no more than six ounces in one month.

Puerto Rico Governor Signs into Law Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Employment Discrimination. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has signed into law a bill that protects medical marijuana patients from discrimination in the workplace. The bill amends the territory's existing medical marijuana law to make registered patients members of a protected class under its employment protection laws. Under the expanded law, employers may not discriminate against authorized patients of medical cannabis in the recruitment, hiring, designation, or termination process or when imposing disciplinary actions. There are exceptions, such as when "the use of medical cannabis represents a real threat of harm or danger to others or property" or when "the use of medical cannabis interferes with the employee’s performance and functions."

New Orleans Decriminalizes Weed, PA Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Over MedMJ Discrimination, More... (8/6/21)

Life in the Big Easy just got a little easier, Ohio marijuana legalization activists will have to try again with that ballot summary language, and more.

The Mississippi River at New Orleans, where marijuana has just been decriminalized. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Ballot Language for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A campaign to legalize marijuana in the state will have to begin again after Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected the first batch of signatures handed in, saying the initiative petition improperly summarized how the state's law would change. In a letter to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Yost said the summary failed to make the standard of a "fair and truthful statement" of what the initiative would do. Among other things, he said the text failed to explain in detail that employers did not have to employ marijuana users and that the six-plant limit does not clearly explain that it applies to both cultivating and possessing the plant. Now, the Coalition will have to redraft and resubmit summary language and then gather initial signatures again. The campaign aims to prod the legislature to pass or reject marijuana legalization, and if the legislature rejects it, the issue could then go before voters after a second round of signature gathering.

New Orleans Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Pardons Old Convictions. The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and to pardon some 10,000 past convictions and pending cases. Councilmembers said the move would help the community gain trust with the police and it would allow police to focus on violent crime. Pot smoking in public is still prohibited, but will be ticketed as a smoke-free air act violation instead of a drug charge.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Employers for Discrimination Over Medical Marijuana. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law allows workers and job applicants to sue employers for discrimination for firing or refusing to hire them because of their medical marijuana use. Although the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act does not explicitly create a private right to sue, the court held that because that law did not grant any state agency the power to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, it implicitly created such a right. The ruling came in the case of Pamela Palmiter, who sought to sue Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton for refusing to hire her after she failed a drug test for marijuana. The Pennsylvania decision is in line with a federal court decision in the state last December, and state and federal courts in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island have also ruled that those state laws allow workers to sue for discrimination.

House Approves Marijuana Measures, Three More Towns Move Toward Psychedelic Decrim, More... (8/5/21)

Activists in Ohio and Wyoming are gearing up for marijuana legalization pushes, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is being sued over bad drug tests, and more.

Marijuana policy is getting some attention on Capitol Hill these days. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana Banking, Employment, and DC Sales Provisions in Major Spending Bill. The House last week included spending bills for  the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development that include several marijuana reform provisions. One measure would provide protection for financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana companies, another would allow for the legalization of marijuana sales in Washington, DC, while a third would direct the federal government to reconsider policies that fire federal works for using state-legal marijuana. The spending bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate version before becoming law.

Ohio Activists Launch Legalization Campaign, Will Push Initiative That Legislature Must Address. A local activist group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), has launched an effort to persuade lawmakers to legalize marijuana by submitting a thousand signatures to the state attorney general's office for a marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Unlike a failed 2015 effort, this is a statutory initiative—not a constitutional one—and if organizers meet signature-gathering requirements of 132,887 valid voter signatures, the legislature would then have four months to approve, amend, or reject it. If lawmakers do not pass the initiative, organizers would have to then collect an additional 132,887 valid voter signatures to take it directly to voters in November 2022.

Wyoming Secretary of State Approves Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Ed Buchanan (R) has conditionally certified two separate ballot initiatives, one to legalize medical marijuana and one to legalize recreational marijuana. That means signature gathering should get underway shortly. Organizers will need to gather 41,776 valid voter signatures for each initiative to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. They have 18 months to gather signatures, although will have to do so in less than that to make the November 2022 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Approves Expanded Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved an amendment designed to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) passed on a voice vote. "We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said. "I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors." The measure must still pass the Senate, and the amendment will have to survive a conference committee if it does pass the Senate.

Psychedelics

Three More Communities Move Toward Psychedelic Decriminalization. A trio of small communities—all bordering jurisdictions that have already enacted psychedelic reforms—are moving toward decriminalizing psychedelics. Easthampton, Massachusetts; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Arcata, California, are all entertaining ways of reducing criminal penalties for the possession or use of some psychedelics. Such measures have already been approved in Denver, three Boston suburbs, and Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. 18.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Prison System Sued Over Unreliable Drug Tests That Put Inmates in Solitary. A class action lawsuitfiled by Justice Catalyst Law and Boston law firm accuses the state Department of Corrections of using a "notoriously unreliable" field drug test to detect contraband drugs that has led to public defenders of being falsely accused of sending drug-tainted mail to their clients and punishing falsely accused prisoners with solitary confinement. The lawsuit says the drug test, from the company Sirchie, which is designed to detect synthetic cannabinoids, is so prone to false positives that using it is akin to "witchcraft, phrenology or simply picking a number out of a hat." "We brought this lawsuit to protect disempowered people incarcerated by the DOC from the unconscionable decision to use these tests in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inaccuracy," Ellen Leonida, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden, said. "We also intend to hold the drug companies liable for knowingly profiting from the misuse of these tests and the misery they are causing."

ME Pioneers Texts Alert to Warn of Overdose Spikes, AR Pot Legalization Initiative Underway, More... (7/26/21)

Yet another study takes aim at the discredited "gateway theory," the Filipino president remains unrepentant and defiant over his record of drug war killings, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. Unrepentant to the bitter end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

(Another) Study Finds Marijuana Not a Gateway Drug. Once again, a peer-reviewed academic study has found that marijuana is not a gateway to harder drug use. The study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh was published in the journal Health Economics and found that hospital admissions due to opioid use declined after marijuana was legalized at the state level, at least in the short term. "This isn’t trivial – a decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, even if only for six months, is a welcome public health development," said study lead author Coleman Drake, an assistant professor in the university’s department of health policy and management. The "gateway theory" that exposure to marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs has repeatedly been debunked, but still occasionally makes an appearance in the rhetoric of prohibitionists.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A group of activists calling itself Arkansas True Grass is now gathering signatures aimed at putting a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2022 ballot. The initiative would legalize recreational marijuana and place its regulation under the authority of the state Agriculture Department. It would also expunge all prior marijuana convictions and allow for the cultivation of up to 12 plants at home. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which raises its signature-gathering requirement from 71,321 for statutory initiatives to 89,151 for constitutional amendments. The group has until July 2022 to come up with signatures.

Harm Reduction

Maine Becomes First State to Roll Out Text Alerts When Overdoses Spike. The state has begun a pilot program that lets anyone with a cellphone receive free text messages alerting them to spikes in overdoses in their area and the possibility that a lethal batch of drugs is on the market. The Spike text program was rolled out last month and was first activated last week in Portland, when three people suffered overdoses in a 24-hour period. The program is a joint project of the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Partnership to End Addiction, a national nonprofit. Maine is the first state in the nation to roll out such a program. The move comes after the state saw 502 people die of drug-related causes last year, the most ever in the state.

International

Colombia Removes Ban on Exports of Marijuana Buds. In a bid to boost its nascent legal marijuana industry, Colombia last Friday lifted a ban on exporting dried marijuana flowers, opened the way to expand medical marijuana sales, and streamlined regulatory procedures. "This means Colombia can enter to play a big role in the international market," President Ivan Duque said after signing the decree loosening the rules, adding the new rules would allow Colombia's cannabis industry to expand into food and drinks, cosmetics and other sectors.

Philippines President Taunts International Criminal Court During Last State of the Nation Address. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who proudly and publicly launched a murderous war on drug users and sellers when he took office in 2016, used the occasion of his last State of the Nation address to lash out at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has completed a preliminary investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war and has now requested an authorization to do a formal investigation, with Duterte clearly in the headlights. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied – and the ICC can record it – those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." Duterte said. He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years" and again told police to kill drug users and dealers. The Un High Commissioner for Human Rights has tallied at least 8,663 drug killings since the start of the anti-drug campaign, but human rights groups say the number could be as high as 30,000 if killings by shadowy vigilante groups are included.

US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

Drug distributors agree to pay out big-time for their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Two different efforts to get an initiative before the voters last year were quashed by the state Supreme Court, and the Republican-led state legislature this year passed a bill making it more difficult to finance initiatives, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. Translating public support into marijuana reform is going to be more difficult than ever now.

Opioids

Major Drug Distributors Reach Agreement on $26 Billion Opioid Settlement. The three largest US pharmaceutical drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have reached an agreement with a group of state attorneys general to pay out $26 billion to settle lawsuits related to their roles in the widespread prescribing of prescription opioids and the subsequent wave of addiction and overdose deaths. "The numerous companies that manufactured and distributed opioids across the nation did so without regard to life or even the national crisis they were helping to fuel," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys general from 15 states involved in the deal. "Today, we are holding these companies accountable and infusing tens of billions of dollars into communities across the nation." Responding to that wave of addiction and overdoses, the states and the federal government have moved to restrict opioid prescribing, even though chronic pain patients have found their access to their medications more difficult.

Sentencing

US Correctional Population Drops for 12th Straight Year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2019, the number of people in the US in jail or prison or on probation or parole was 6,344,000, down 65,200, or 1%, over the previous year and marking the 12th year in a row that that figure has declined. At the end of 2019, 4,357,700 people were under community supervision (probation or parole), while there were 2,086,000 people behind bars in jails or prisons. The BJS report did not discuss the types of offenses for which people were under correctional supervision, but a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative report found 190,000 doing time for drug offenses in state prisons, 157,000 in local jails, and 78,000 in the federal prison system, meaning drug prisoners account for about one-fifth of the US incarcerated population.

Justice Department Drops Appeal of First Step Act Releases. The Justice Department has dropped an effort to re-imprison four New Jersey men who were released from prison under the First Step Act's retroactive crack cocaine sentencing provision. The men had been released in November 2019 after serving more than 20 years on crack charges, but the Trump Justice Department then sought to send them back to prison. The Biden Justice Department had been under pressure from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which applauded the decision, saying: "We raised this case among others with the Biden transition team as an appeal that should be dropped right away. It would have been cruel and unjust it would be to send these guys back."

DEA Agent Arrested for Role in US Capitol Riot, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (7/21/21)

A new Republican bill would bar food stamp recipients from using their cards for any marijuana purchases -- even medical, a Mississippi city reaches a settlement in the death of a man hog-tied by police while under the influence of LSD, and more.

Then DEA-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim was packing heat as he unlawfully entered the Capitol during the January 6 uprising. (DOJ)
Marijuana Policy

DC Delegate Files Amendment to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing, Protect Legal Medical Marijuana States. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) on Tuesday filed an amendment to the House appropriations bill dealing with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would prohibit the department from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. A second amendment would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) are cosponsors of both amendments.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development should not be allowed to remove people from their homes or otherwise punish them for following the marijuana laws of their jurisdictions," Norton said. "More and more states are moving toward legalization of marijuana, especially of medical marijuana. It is time for HUD to follow the rest of the country and allow marijuana use in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where it is legal. This should especially be the case for individuals living in jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana. Nobody should be evicted for following the law and the advice of their doctors."

Medical Marijuana

GOP Lawmakers File Bill to Block Even Medical Marijuana Marijuana Purchases by People Getting Federal Assistance. In the latest iteration of a continuing Republican push in recent legislative sessions to block people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF -- the food stamp program) funds from using them to buy marijuana, Reps. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) filed a bill Monday that would bar TANF recipients from using their benefit cards for medical marijuana purchases. Similar measures already bar the use of such cards casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores. But activists say the bill unfairly targets the most vulnerable people and perpetuates marijuana stigmas. "Millions of Americans living with chronic, debilitating conditions rely on cannabis to manage their symptoms and significantly increase their quality of life. For millions of patients, cannabis IS a need,"said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "Instead of introducing a bill to ensure that under-resourced individuals, including veterans, have access to cannabis' medical benefits, Representative Tom Rice chooses to exemplify how far reaching the drug war apparatus goes in surveilling and policing under-resourced people." It is woth noting that other Republican congressmembers have supported marijuana reform bills.

North Carolina Compassionate Care Act Wins Another Committee Vote. The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Care Act, on a voice vote. Under the bill, patients with specified medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, would be allowed to use medical marijuana. The bill also sets up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana production and distribution. The bill now heads to the Senate Health Care Committee before moving toward a floor vote if successful there.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agent Arrested for Participating in Capitol Riot. A man who on January 6 was a probationary DEA agent (on the job for less than a year) has been arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. Then-Agent Mark Sami Ibrahim faces federal charges of unlawfully entering the capitol building, and the Department of Justice provided photos that show him flashing his DEA badge and DEA-issued handgun during the riot. Ibrahim had submitted his resignation notice from the DEA weeks before the riot but was still an employee. The DEA clarified that he was off-duty at the time. One of Ibrahim's friends told FBI agents he went to the protest "to promote himself" as he considered launching a podcast and a cigar brand. [Editor's Note: No comment.]

Mississippi City Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Case of Man Who Died After Being Restrained by Police While Under Influence of LSD. The city of Southaven announced Tuesday it had reached a settlement with the family of Troy Goode, 30, who died in police custody six years ago after flipping out on LSD after attending a Widespread Panic concert. Goode died after police hog-tied him and placed him face down on a stretcher while being transported to a hospital. A preliminary autopsy report attempted to argue that he died from a heart related issue, possibly related to LSD, but LSD has no known links to heart failure. The details of the settlement were not released.

International

 

 

Belize Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Kareem Musa, the Minister of New Growth Industries, has filed a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana production and sales. The bill also has the support of the leader of the opposition party, the Honorable Shyne Barrow. Belize decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams in 2017, but there is no place to legally purchase it. This bill would change that. Belize borders Mexico, which is poised to enact marijuana legalization itself, and that could be propelling advances in the much smaller neighbor.

 

CO Releases Annual Report on Marijuana Legalization, SC Governor Candidate Says Legalize It, More... (7/20/21)

A bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of state-legal marijuana users languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Democratic guberatorial candidate Joe Cunningham unveils a plan to legalize marijuana, and more.

The sky still hasn't fallen since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the latest state report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Protect State-Legal Marijuana Users' 2nd Amendment Rights. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has this session filed a bill, HR 2830, aimed at protecting the gun rights of marijuana users in states where it is legal. The bill, also known as the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act, takes on the question on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) firearms transaction record that asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" The question also includes a warning which states "the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." The bill would amend US code by adding "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" is not to include a person who uses state-legal marijuana. The bill was filed in late April and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has not moved.

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Publishes Report on Impacts of Marijuana Legalization. The state Division of Criminal Justice's Office of Research and Statistics has published its latest legislatively-mandated "Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado" report, which presents data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations, ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more. Among other findings: Marijuana arrests have dropped by 68% since legalization, but Blacks remain twice as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Also, there have been increases in the prevalence of marijuana or marijuana in combination with other substances among drivers accused of DUI (but marijuana alone accounted for only 8.7% of all DUIs in 2020). There is a lot more in the report; click the link above to dive in.

South Carolina Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Democratic Party gubernatorial contender Joe Cunningham has unveiled a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his campaign to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster (R). The plan would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over, raise revenues through taxation and regulation, and expunge records of prior marijuana offenses. "This will be a game changer in South Carolina," Cunningham said. "There are many reasons why you need to do this, but now is the time. This is what people want. If our politicians do not reflect the will of the people, we need to start with Governor McMaster and change politicians." The state has had Republican governors for decades and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. On marijuana policy, it is a laggard, having approved only one marijuana reform bill to allow for the use of low-THC CBD oils.

Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, House Spending Bill Includes Needle Exchange Funding, More...7/16/21)

Maryland legislative leaders are lining up to support a voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year, the House Appropriations Committee is passing spending bills that include marijuana and other drug provisions, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms could be legalized under a California initiative now getting underway. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Bills with Marijuana, Other Drug Provisions. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed spending bills and related reports that include several marijuana and other drug policy provisions. The bill would extend a provision that blocks the Justice Department from intervening in state-legal medical marijuana programs, and advocates hope to broaden that to include state recreational marijuana programs later in the process. The bill also includes language to protect universities conducting marijuana research from being penalized and to encourage research on Schedule I drugs, as well as reports noting the pain-relieving qualities of kratom, the life-saving potential of safe injection sites (see below), and urging further work on developing THC impairment testing.

Key Maryland Politician Supports Marijuana Legalization Voter Referendum Next Year. State House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-District 10) has announced she will support a proposed voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year. In a statement, she said voters should decide on whether to legalize it. And she announced the formation of bipartisan working group to hash out details: "The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now," she said. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) has also expressed interest in legalization and previously chaired a joint House-Senate committee to explore the nitty-gritty of legalization.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway. Activists with the group Decriminalize California submitted a petition to state authorities Monday to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use" for adults 21 and older. The California Psilocybin Initiative would set no limits on personal possession -- an issue that has bedeviled the psychedelic decriminalization bill currently before the Assembly -- and would allow no sales or excise taxes except for mushrooms sold for dietary purposes. The initiative would also allow for full-fledged commerce in psilocybin mushrooms, including on-site consumption sites and would mandate that magic mushrooms be regulated as much as possible like other mushrooms, except for specialized labeling, and not subject to fees or licensing requirements beyond other mushrooms.

The state Attorney General's Office now has 30 days to review the initial petition. If and when it is accepted and assigned a ballot title and summary, the campaign will have 180 days to gather 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2002 ballot.

Harm Reduction

House Appropriations Committee for First Time Approves Funding for Needle Exchanges. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to allocate $69.5 million for needle exchange programs under the CDC[s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, marking the first time it has explicitly funded such programs. The funding for the CDC program has also been boosted four-fold over the $13 million it was allocated last year. The move comes as the CDC announced this week that drug overdose deaths in the past year reached a record high of 93,000. Syringe services and harm reduction programs effectively help prevent drug overdoses. They have the knowledge, contacts, and ability to reach people who use drugs and provide naloxone and other overdose prevention resources. They also connect people to medical care and support, including substance use disorder treatment. This funding would assist these programs in preventing and reducing overdose deaths nationwide.

Here is what the committee said in an accompanying report:> "Overdose Prevention Centers. -- The Committee recognizes that overdose prevention centers, or supervised consumption sites, are part of a larger effort of harm reduction interventions intended to reduce the risk of drug overdose death and reduce the spread of infectious disease. The Committee directs NIH, in consultation with CDC, to provide a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act that provides an updated literature review and evaluation on the potential public health impact of overdose prevention centers in the US."

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