Marijuana Policy

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Free Drugs Handed Out in Vancouver, NJ Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases with More to Come, More... (7/15/21)

Ohio sees its first full-fledged marijuana legalization bill, Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to address medical marijuana, legalization in Israel gets stalled, and more.

Welcome to the land of expungement. Nearly 88,000 old pot cases dismissed so far, with more to come. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases. In accordance with the state's marijuana legalization law approved by voters last November, the New Jersey Courts announced Monday that they have vacated or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases, and that is only the first batch. Superior and municipal courts have identified another 270,000 cases eligible to be vacated, dismissed, and expunged.

Ohio Sees First Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Bill Filed. For the first time, the state legislature has a marijuana legalization bill before it after Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) have filed a bill that would allow for both personal and commercial cultivation, regulate marijuana commerce, and expunge the records of people previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. It's been five years since the Republican-dominated legislature passed a medical marijuana law to head off a proposed legalization initiative. Another bill filed this year, House Bill 210, would have allowed personal cultivation of marijuana plants and expungement of certain marijuana offenses, but not taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. That bill has not moved. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) remains opposed to legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana Next Month. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said Wednesday 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.

International

Vancouver City Councilwoman, Activists Hand Out Free Drugs to Highlight Problem of "Safe Supply." Vancouver Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), joined forces Wednesday to hand out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the city's Downtown Eastside. The drugs had been pre-tested to ensure they did not contain contaminants such as fentanyl. The move was undertaken to highlight the problem of the city's toxic illicit drug supply. Between January and May of this year, 851 people died of drug overdoses in the city, the highest number ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year. The city and the province of British Columbia are moving toward drug decriminalization and providing a "safe supply" of drugs to users, but activists accuse them of not doing enough. In a statement handed out at the event, the groups said the free drug handout was to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

Israel Marijuana Legalization Bill Vote Postponed as Arab Coalition Party Says It is Not Yet Ready to Support It. Israel's fractious and narrowly divided politics is having an impact on marijuana legalization legislation, as the ruling coalition has had to put off a Wednesday vote on a marijuana legalization bill after the Islamist Ra'am Party, which for the first time is part of a governing coalition, has said it needed more time to study the bill. Ra'am head Mansour Abbas asked bill sponsor New Hope Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel for a two-week delay while his party studies the bill. It has been approved Sunday by Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but now faces at least the two-week delay and, if Ra'am cannot be convinced to support it, dying in the Knesset.

Senate Democrats Roll Out Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his colleagues Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) rolled out an initial draft of their legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Similar legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is pending in the House, but prospects for the Senate bill are hazy. It would need 60 votes to pass, no Republicans have spoken in favor of it, and it is not even clear that all Democrats would vote for it.

And even if it were to pass, moments after a Wednesday press conference announcing the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters had opposed marijuana legalization in the past and "nothing has changed."

Still, the Senate Majority Leader putting his name on a marijuana legalization bill is a big deal, a sign of how far the issue has come.

According to a summary of the 163-page draft bill, the measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and shift regulatory authority over it from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration. Each state would determine its own marijuana policies, and federal criminal penalties would remain for growing, possessing, or distributing more than 10 pounds in violation of state or federal law.

The bill would set the legal age for purchase at 21 and limit purchases to 10 ounces "to prevent illegal actors from purchasing large quantities of cannabis at retail in a cannabis-legal state and illegally trafficking that cannabis into other states with the purpose of circumventing state-level laws relating to the sale, production, or taxation of cannabis."

The measure addresses social equity concerns by creating three grant programs -- one in the Justice Department and two in the Small Business Administration (SBA) -- to channel resources to people and communities adversely impacted by marijuana prohibition. The SBA grants to states and localities will be conditioned on the passage of state laws that expunge previous marijuana convictions.

The bill also calls for the automatic expungement of non-violent federal marijuana convictions and would give people currently serving federal sentences for marijuana convictions a sentencing review hearing that would essentially set them free: "After the sentencing hearing, courts shall expunge each arrest, conviction, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency for a non-violent federal cannabis offense, vacate the existing sentence or disposition of juvenile delinquency, and seal all records relating to a conviction or adjudication that has been expunged."

The act would see marijuana commerce federally taxed and regulated, with federal taxes beginning at 10% in year one and increasing to 25% by year five. In a boost to small producers, the first $20 million in sales would be eligible for a 50% rebate.

"I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way," said Majority Leader Schumer in a statement announcing the bill. "The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations."

"Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Wyden. "It's as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity."

"For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color," said Senator Booker. "While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs."

Marijuana and drug reform activists were generally pleased, although there were some quibbles. And since this is a first draft, now is the time for those quibbles to be heard.

"The days of federal prohibition are numbered," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement, adding that "the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition."

"For justice reform, for equity, for individual liberty, and countless other reasons, it is time to respect the will of the American people and legalize cannabis. I am heartened by the Booker, Schumer, Wyden bill draft, which is a promising first step towards Senate passage, and hopeful that it will lead to negotiations and bipartisan support for an inclusive and equitable legal cannabis industry," said Steven Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement.

But the Drug Policy Alliance, while pronouncing itself "grateful" for the bill emphasizing social equity, reparative justice and reinvestment, said in a statement more work needed to be done.

"[W]ork remains to ensure justice does not fall short, said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for DPA. "To our dismay, the Senate draft contains exclusionary language that ended up getting added to the House-passed MORE Act last year that would continue to subject federal employees to drug testing and deny certain individuals -- who have already paid the highest price -- the opportunity to expunge their records. In order for this bill to truly end marijuana prohibition in a comprehensive way and begin to repair the egregious harms of the past, we cannot continue to make room for some to be left out because of laws that were unjust and racist to begin with. We call on the House to remove exclusionary language from the MORE Act and swiftly pass the bill and implore the Senate to also remove this language ahead of bill introduction."

The wall of federal marijuana prohibition may or not fall this year, but its foundations are rapidly decaying, and the issue is squarely before the Congress.

Medical Marijuana Update

Stay tuned to find out if a South Dakota tribe's medical marijuana cards are valid for non-members, and more.

Missouri

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General's Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol's framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

Fatal Drug ODs Hit Record Last Year, Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (7/14/21)

There is now a marijuana legalization bill from the Senate majority leader, New York prisons face a second lawsuit over their crackdown on pain pill prescribing for inmates, and more.

CDC preliminary data has drug overdose deaths at more than 90,000 last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) held a press conference Wednesday to unveil their first draft of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. The bill would federally legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, let states set their own marijuana policies, expunge prior convictions and allow people to apply for resentencing, and end collateral consequences, such as people being deported for marijuana possession offenses. The bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, faces uncertain prospects in the narrowly divided Senate, and just minutes after the Wednesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the President Biden remains opposed to marijuana legalization. If the bill were to pass, it would have to be reconciled with the marijuana legalization bill passed by the House in December, the MORE Act (HR 3884). Look for out feature article on the rollout coming shortly.

Missouri Activists Take Initial Steps for 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself Fair Access Missouri filed a petition Tuesday for a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2022 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the possession of up to eight ounces for people 21 and over and allow residents to cultivate up to 25 square feet of flowering marijuana. It would also set up a system of licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and sales. Previous marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state have failed to meet signature-gathering requirements. This one is at the very beginning of the process, with the state now having 65 days to review the initial petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Former New York Prison Doctor Sues Over Restrictive Painkiller Policy. A doctor who formerly worked in the state prison system and says he faced harassment and was forced to quit for seeking appropriate pain relief for his inmate patients has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, saying its policies leave patients suffering unnecessary agony. Four years ago, the department tightened its opioid prescribing policies amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, requiring prison doctors to get permission from medical administrators for prescribing certain medications, including not just opioids, but all gabapentine, Claritin-D, Robitussin DM, and the diarrhea drug Imodium. Dr. Michael Salvana charges in the lawsuit that the department violated his right to speak out against the policy and said his superiors' "inhumane” interference in his patients' care caused him to leave his role as facility director in central New York at Walsh Regional Medical Unit in Rome, New York, that has 125 beds for prisoners with complicated medical needs." The policy led to the "abrupt" cut off of "effective treatments for hundreds of inmates." Inmates in the state prison system have also failed a lawsuit charging they are being forced to live with untreated chronic pain because medications are now so difficult to obtain.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) psychedelic decriminalization bill, SB 519, has won a second committee vote in the Assembly after successfully passing out of the Senate. The Assembly Public Health Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing psychedelics including psilocybin. But the committee amended the bill to set specific personal possession limits, leading the pro-psychedelic group Decriminalize Nature to call for it to be tabled, arguing that it is 'just a creative way to say when can law enforcement arrest you." The bill now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Jumped to More Than 90,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary statistics Wednesday showing that drug overdose deaths totaled more than 90,000 last year, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Drug overdoses increased in every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, with big jumps in the South and the West. The year also saw the most fatal opioid overdoses in a year, the most fatal methamphetamine overdoses in a year, and the most deaths from fatal fentanyl overdose deaths in a year. "It’s huge, it’s historic, it’s unheard of, unprecedented, and a real shame," said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies heroin markets. "It’s a complete shame." Social isolation, disrupted drug markets, and hampered access to drug treatment during the pandemic are getting some of the blame, but the pre-pandemic increase in fentanyl availability is also playing a role, as is the country's refusal to embrace harm reduction measures, such as safe injection sites and safe drug supplies.

British Columbia Set to Begin "Safe Supply" of Drugs for Street Users, Biden Nominates New Drug Czar, More... (7/13/21)

Marijuana protections are advancing in congressional appropriations bills, former Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelman starts a provocative new podcast on drugs, and more.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, nominated by President Biden to serve as drug czar. (March of Dimes)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committees Advance Marijuana Protections for Medical Programs and Universities in New Spending Bills. The House Appropriations Committee will take up a spending bill Thursday that includes riders that provide protections for states with medical marijuana programs and universities that conduct marijuana research after they were approved in subcommittee on Monday. The rider protecting has been approved in each Congress since 2014. The House in 2019 and 2020 also approved a rider protecting state recreational marijuana programs, but it is not clear yet whether that will be the case this year. Meanwhile, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill now includes a longstanding provision barring the DEA from interfering in hemp programs and a new provision that bars certain law enforcement grants to states and localities if they allow no-knock searches in drug cases.

Drug Policy

Biden Nominates Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta as Drug Czar. Ending months of speculation, President Biden has nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to lead the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office). Currently the top health official at March of Dimes, Gupta is a primary care physician who previously served as West Virginia health commissioner. Drug reformers applauded his role in implementing and overseeing that state's medical marijuana program as head of the state Bureau for Public Health, but some harm reductionists have criticized him for overseeing the decertification of a needle exchange program that aimed to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis C and AIDS. Others, though, do not hold him responsible for the circumstances that led to the shutdown. He has not taken a public position on marijuana legalization.

Ethan Nadelman's New Podcast on Drugs Set to Begin. Ethan Nadelman, the founder and former longtime executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance before stepping down in 2017, is rolling out a new podcast series on drug policy, Psychoactive. The aim of the podcast is to open a deep national conversation about drugs, drug policy, and the human experience. The podcast, on IHeartRadio, launches on Thursday.

International

British Columbia Will Provide "Safe Supply" of Illicit Drugs to Street Users. A provincial policy directive in British Columbia will require all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. But which drugs are offered and who gets them will be at the discretion of local programs and doctors, which could be a barrier to expanding access. And they can only be provided in clinical or programmatic settings—no takeaway drugs. There are also signs some health care providers are reluctant to participate. 'Some key partners, including some prescribers, have expressed reservations about the approach outlined in this document, and others have noted that an approach that begins with programmatic settings will not provide broad access for people who use substances," the directive says. "We recognize that we have been unable to address all concerns, but we also recognize that we must start somewhere." The drugs will be covered by the province's prescription drug plan and will not be forced to enter into drug treatment. Safe supply is the idea that health care providers can lower or eliminate a person's dependence on illicit black market drugs and thus reduce overdose deaths and other harms.

US Seeks Meeting with WADA on Athletes' Marijuana Bans, Ukraine to Vote on MedMJ, More... (7/12/21)

South Dakota's attorney general flip-flops on the validity of tribal medical marijuana cards, a Tennessee lawmaker files a bill to put marijuana ballot questions before voters next year, and more.

Marijuana Policy

White House to Seek Meeting with WADA on Restrictions on Athletes' Marijuana Use. In the wake of the huge blow-up over US track sensation Sha'Carri Richardson being banned from Olympic competition because of a positive drug test for marijuana, the Biden administration is reportedly seeking a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) about easing the bar against marijuana use for athletes. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), which has a seat on WADA's board, is taking the lead. WADA, for its part, has made it clear that the US has long supported, indeed, even demanded, that marijuana be included on its list of prohibited drugs: "At no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from US stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List. On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the US has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List," a letter from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. "The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the US over nearly two decades, in particular from [the US Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List."

Tennessee Lawmaker Files Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization on 2022 Ballot. State Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-District 75) has filed legislation, House Bill 1634, that would put three non-binding questions regarding marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. One question asks about legalizing medical marijuana, a second asks about decriminalizing marijuana, and the third asks about legalizing and regulating marijuana. If the bill were to pass, the results of the ballot questions would be transmitted to the legislature, which could use them as a guide for future legislation but would not be bound by them. The bill comes after the legislature for years has refused to enact marijuana law reforms, with the only exception being a limited low-THC medical marijuana program approved in 2018 and slightly expanded this year..

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General’s Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol’s framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

International

Ukraine Ruling Party to Support Medical Marijuana Legalization. The ruling Servant of the People Party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Ukrainian parliament, is set to debate a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. "It seems that colleagues from other factions support it. Our faction will support, not unanimously, it is obvious: there are those who are against it," First Deputy Head of the Servant of the People faction Oleksandr Korniyenko said. "But I think we will give 200 votes," said. The parliament has 348 members. The members are meeting in a special session called by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Chicago to Take Drug Diversion Program Citywide, ACLU Sues AZ County over Coercing Drug Defendants, More... (7/9/21)

A group of US senators is seeking some help for state-legal marijuana businesses, Chicago moves to expand a program that diverts drug arrestees into treatment citywide, and more.

Chicago police are expanding a drug diversion program so they can devote resources to fighting violent crime. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Ask That Marijuana Businesses Get Access to Federal SBA Loans. A group of 10 senators led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that language allowing marijuana businesses to access loans and other aid through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) be included in an upcoming spending bill report. Allowing such loans to marijuana businesses "would fill gaps left by the private sector and help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." They are asking that Senate Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) issue a report that specifically includes such language and stop the Small Business Administration (SBA) to stop "denying loan applications for the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and 504/Certified Development Company Loan Program to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis sale and use."

Law Enforcement

Chicago to Expand Drug Diversion Program. The Chicago Police Department and Public Health Department have announced they will expand the city's Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program to include the entire city by the end of the year. Under the program, people arrested on drug possession charges who meet certain qualifying criteria can be diverted from the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation programs instead. The program began in one district in 2018 and has expanded to 11 of the city's 22 districts already. More than 700 people have been diverted from the arrest track so far, and city officials say the move helps police focus on issues such as violent crime instead.

The program appears to be similar to Law Enforcement Diversion Programs (LEAD), which began in Seattle in 2014 and has now expanded to at least 42 cities nationwide. LEAD uses a harm reduction and community-based model; the Chicago program includes social service programs among its alternatives, not just drug treatment, according to reports. The Chicago program offers walk-in access to drug treatment; one doesn't have to face arrest or its prospect first. The LEAD Bureau web site says that they have added purely voluntary access to its programs as well, in response to recent movement in the issue.

While drug reformers generally see diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system as an important step, the devil is in the details -- not every program presented as diversion does a convincing job of it, and how for example treatment programs respond to relapses or continued drug use by some clients determines how many people ultimately will be helped.

Prosecution

ACLU Sues Arizona County over Threats of Harsher Sentences for Drug Defendants to Force Guilty Pleas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney's Office routinely threatens people arrested for drug possession with "substantially harsher" punishments in order to coerce them into pleading guilty before prosecutors even have to turn over evidence. The threat is typically issued in writing, the lawsuit alleges, and explicitly warns that defendants who reject initial plea deals will face substantially worse plea offers in the future. The ACLU argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it punishes people for exercising their rights to a preliminary hearing and a jury trial and that it illustrates the '"vast racial and economic discrepancies in plea bargaining techniques used across the county."

RI Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites, Federal Pot Prosecutions Plummet, More... (7/8/21)

The Congressional Black Caucus wants some justice for marijuana deportees, South Dakota's state governmnt is at war with itself over medical marijuana cards from a reservation dispensary, and more.

You can now become an FBI agent if it has been at least a year since you last toked up. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Black Caucus Members Ask Biden to Reverse Marijuana Deportation Cases. In a Wednesday letter to President Biden authored by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and signed by 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the federal representatives urged him to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving marijuana. "We are grateful for President Biden's commitment to redressing racial injustice, particularly after the last four years of the Trump Administration's racist and xenophobic immigration agenda," the lettert says. "One critical step toward honoring that commitment is ensuring that people who were unjustly deported can be fairly and efficiently considered for return to their families and communities in the United States." The letter cited the cases of two military veterans who served honorably but were deported over years-old marijuana convictions. But it's not just veterans: "Untold numbers of others have been similarly wronged, from US veterans who served their country to longstanding neighbors who found themselves deported because of contact with the US criminal legal system -- a system acknowledged to unfairly and disproportionately target and discriminate against Black and Brown people," they wrote.

FBI Loosens Marijuana Employment Policy for Agents. In a sign of changing attitudes toward marijuana, the FBI has quietly loosened its employment restrictions for new agents who have used marijuana in the past. Under previous agency rules, marijuana use within the past three years was disqualifying; under the new rules, only marijuana use within the past one year is disqualifying. Neither will past underage use be automatically disqualifying, but "adjudicative personnel will evaluate the candidate by using the 'whole-person concept.'" For other drugs, the FBI's rule that use within the past 10 years is disqualifying remains unchanged.

Federal Marijuana Trafficking Convictions Have Fallen Dramatically Following Enactment of Statewide Legalization Laws. A new fact-sheet from the US Sentencing Commission shows a dramatic drop in federal marijuana trafficking convictions since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the herb. Just over 1,000 people were sentenced on federal marijuana trafficking, down 67% since 2016 and down more than 80% since 2012. "These trends illustrate the fact that state-legal domestic cannabis production has supplanted the foreign market and that marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal," NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano said."

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) has signed into law 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 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.

International

Scotland to Provide Heroin Addiction Drug in Prisons Countrywide after Successful Pilot Program. A once-monthly injectable form of buprenorphine marketed a Buvidal will be available for heroin-addicted prisoners across the country after a pilot program using the drug proved overwhelmingly successful. The shot will replace daily doses of methadone. The Scottish Health and Social Care Analysis Hub reported positive results from the pilot program, which began as a response to the pandemic, and now the government is allocating $5.5 million to expand it.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year, Drug Czar's Office Seeks Input on Harms of Drug Policies, More... (7/7/21)

The punishment of Olypmic athlete Sha'carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana draws intense interest and criticism, New Mexico drug dogs are getting laid off in the wake of legal pot, and more.

New Mexico drug dogs are being forced into retirement by marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Drug Dogs Face Retirement in Wake of Marijuana Legalization. Drug-sniffing police dogs in the state are being forced into retirement because they have been trained to alert on any drug, including marijuana, and cannot be retrained. As the Tucumcari Police Department noted as it announced the retirement of its drug dog, Aries: "With the legalization of recreational marijuana, K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog." Other cities and towns are doing the same thing, and so is the State Police, which will be retiring all nine of its current drug dogs. "Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize marijuana," the State Police said.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar's Office Seeks Comment on How Drug Policies Create Systemic Barriers for Underserved Communities. In a notice published in the Federal Register Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it is seeking comment on whether existing federal drug control policies create "systemic barriers to opportunities for underserved communities" and to better promote equity in future programs. Although the agency has embraced some progressive drug policy positions, such as pushing for broader access to buprenorpine, this level of acknowledgment of harms caused by drug policy marks a change of direction.

The agency didn't take the action independently. Rather, it is part of a broader executive order requiring agencies to seek feedback and "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all," ONDCP explained. Comments on how ONDCP can better achieve equity are being accepted at [email protected] through August 6.

Drug Testing

Sha'Carri Richardson Out of Olympics After Positive Marijuana Test. Star athlete Sha'Carri Richardson was disqualified last week from the Tokyo Olympics' women's 100 meter race after testing positive for marijuana after the qualifying run, and now will completely miss the games after being left off the team chose for the women's relay race. Her disqualification has caused howls of outrage, with some commentators calling it racist, and even President Biden, who initially responded with "the rules are the rules," suggesting the rules need to change. Richardson said she smoked marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother and did so in Oregon, where it is legal, but she took responsibility for her actions: "I know what I did," Richardson said. "I know what I'm supposed to do... and I still made that decision."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year. The Assembly Health Committee has informed Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that his bill to allow a safe injection site pilot program, Senate Bill 57, which is billed as an "overdose prevention program," will not get a hearing until January. The state is in the first year of its two-year legislative session, so the bill is not dead, just delayed. "While I'm extremely disappointed that we are experiencing another delay in passing this life-saving legislation -- which has passed both the Senate and Assembly twice in different forms over the past five years -- I continue to be optimistic that we'll pass SB 57 and get it signed into law," said Weiner. "San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing record overdose deaths, and safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery. I am deeply committed to this legislation -- as is our broad coalition -- and I look forward to moving SB 57 forward in January." The bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana Update

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.

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