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Philadelphia's Maverick Prosecutor Takes Aim at the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner made waves last week by reportedly saying he is "very close" to implementing a policy that would decriminalize the possession of all drugs, but that was just the latest salvo in the former criminal defense and civil rights lawyer's war on the war on drugs.

Philadelphia's progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner (KrasnerforDA.com)
Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

Krasner's decades of experience in the defense bar -- as opposed to rising through the ranks of prosecutors -- have provided him with a unique perspective on the social and racial impacts of the drug war, one deeply at odds with the law-and-order views of most DAs. For 30 years, Krasner represented the poor, the oppressed, and the brutalized, filing civil rights and police brutality lawsuits.

He often represented protestors and activists, including 400 people arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, AIDS activists, and members of the Black Lives Matter movement. He helped hundreds of imprisoned on false charges by a notoriously corrupt drug squad. And he sued the Philadelphia police dozens of times in civil rights and police brutality cases. This is not the career path of your average DA.

In an early sign that a new era is at hand, one of Krasner's first acts was to demand the resignations of 31l ine prosecutors and supervisors he saw as obstructionist and to see them escorted from the building to ensure they didn't take anything with them other than personal effects. Krasner said he made the quick move on the advice of Houston's reformist DA, Kim Ogg, who told him that when she gave inherited personnel two weeks' notice she would be asking for resignations, recalcitrant employees deleted massive amounts of emails, wiped hard drives, and took other steps to sabotage her efforts.

Critics called his move a purge, but for Krasner, it was lessons learned: "We had some awareness from working as attorneys in this city -- and interacting with people [in the office] -- of who was really never going to get with this program," he says. "I felt we couldn't take the risk that there might be some effort at sabotage here."

Krasner got national attention the following month when he issued a revolutionary memo on prosecuting policies designed to "end mass incarceration and restore balance to sentencing." The memo said prosecutors must decline certain charges, namely marijuana possession and prostitution. The ban on pot prosecutions held regardless of weight, and included not charging for paraphernalia or for getting caught buying weed. The ban on prostitution prosecutions applied to anyone who had fewer than three previous prostitution convictions; those with three or more convictions could be charged and sent to a special problem-solving court set up to get prostitutes out of the life.

Philadelphia had already decriminalized small time marijuana possession in 2014, but police continued to arrest people for larger amounts and under a rarely used state law making it a crime to purchase the drug. Krasner's memo brought a further decline to already dramatically shrinking marijuana arrests numbers, mainly by ending the prosecutions for buying it.

Arrests for that offense haven't completely vanished, as police continue to make them despite knowing they won't be prosecuted, but 2018 saw a 30 percent decline in such busts. Still, racial disparities persist: Blacks made up 85 percent of all arrested pot buyers.

The memo more broadly called for plea bargains to have the lightest sentences possible under state guidelines and, most dramatically, mandated that prosecutors assess how much the defendant's incarceration would cost and why it was worth spending public money on it.

He has worked assiduously to ensure that city residents who unlawfully had cash or property seized under a city asset forfeiture program deemed unconstitutional by the court are made whole. His office is administering a $3 million fund for victims of the city's lawless practices, which saw thousands of people lose their homes, cars, cash, and other property to profit-driven policing and prosecutions.

"What happened was that there was a 'keep what you kill' approach," Krasner said. "And all that it did was incentivize prosecutors to always try to take grandma's house, always try to take a working person's car, and often to do it simply because someone's nephew did something illegal out of the basement. And the owner, who may have been at church, didn't know."

Most recently, a May 1 interview that Krasner did for Axios on HBO that will air next month was teased by with the headline "Scoop: Philly prosecutor may stop charging drug users as criminals" and this lede: "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country, told 'Axios on HBO' that he is 'very close' to implementing a policy that would relax the penalties for drug possession laws."

"One of the things we're looking at is essentially diverting all possession of drugs cases," he said in the interview. "Possession is different than dealing. It's different than carrying a bunch of drugs that you intend to sell or deliver later… We are talking about people who are using drugs, the vast majority of them suffering from addiction. I do not see value in convicting people like that, thereby making it harder for them to get a job."

The Axios interview garnered lots of attention, but Axios -- and many of the outlets that ran with the story -- oversold it as Krasner endorsing drug decriminalization. Even Krasner isn't quite ready to go that far, although it's an approach that has worked in Portugal for nearly 20 years.

Instead, Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said late last week that Axios got the story wrong. Krasner was talking diversion, not decriminalization, Waxman said. Diversion means people charged with drug possession could enter a treatment program and, if they successfully completed it, end up with no prison time and no criminal record. Decriminalization means they wouldn't be arrested and charged in the first place. "The Axios piece really conflated a bunch of different stuff," Waxman said. "I don't think they understood the difference between diversion and decriminalization."

Axios is sticking to its guns, though. "Axios went to extraordinary lengths to clarify the specifics of this story with Krasner's team, as well as other experts, to ensure the article's accuracy given the complexity and nuances of the topic," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "This interview was recorded on video. We stand by our reporting."

Meanwhile, drug diversion is already going on in Philadelphia -- last year almost half of the 5,458 arrests for drug possession ending up in already existing diversions programs -- so Krasner was actually talking about expanding existing programs. That's a good thing, but not nearly as sexy or sensational as drug decriminalization.Still, Larry Krasner has been a model of what a progressive prosecutor can do, and he's got time to do more. But maybe he should take a couple weeks off and visit Portugal.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Urge NC Gov to Veto Overdose Homicide Bill, Mexico Wants Out of Plan Merida, More... (5/9/19)

Congressmembers call on DEA to permit more research marijuana grows, the Denver magic mushroom initiative comes up short (or so we thought at publishing time), Mexico's president wants an end to Plan Merida and economic development help instead, and more.

Mexico wants less drug war aid, more economic development. (Borderland Beat)
Marijuana Policy

Majority of State Attorneys General Tell Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Bill. Attorneys General from 38 states and territories have called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to gain access to the financial system. "Businesses are forced to operate on a cash basis. The resulting grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation and regulatory compliance purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash-intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of billions in finances across the nation," the attorneys general wrote in a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Members Call on DEA to Approve More Marijuana Growers. Some 30 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the DEA Tuesday asking the agencies to speed the process of approving new federally authorized marijuana growers. There is currently only one authorized cultivation facility, at the University of Mississippi. Although new applications are supposed to be approved, the representatives called the process "arduous and long."

House Committee Votes on Veterans Medical Marijuana Bills Canceled. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cancelled votes on two bills concerning medical marijuana and veterans that were set for Wednesday. He said he now plans to hold a later hearing on the legislation but gave no reason for canceling the votes or the delay.

Texas House Passes Second CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday gave final approval to HB 3703, which would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. It passed a similar bill, HB 1365, on Monday. Both now head to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Releases Report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The report "outlines the progress the Trump Administration has made to curb addiction and tackle drug demand and the opioid crisis through prevention, interdiction, and treatment." It cites an ad campaign, decreases in opioid prescribing, prosecutions of fentanyl traffickers, and an increase in access to buprenorphine, among other highlights.

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Opioid Package. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out the CARE Act on Wednesday, a $100 billion plan to fight the opioid crisis. "The ongoing opioid crisis is about health care. But it's about more than that. It's about money and power in America -- who has it, and who doesn't. And it's about who faces accountability in America -- and who doesn't," Warren wrote. "If the CARE Act becomes law, every single person would get the care they need… We should pass it -- not in two years, not after the 2020 elections -- but immediately." The measure would provide $100 billion in federal funding over the next decade, with $2.7 billion annually for what Warren described as the "hardest hit" counties and cities, including those with the highest rates of overdoses. It would also give $500 million each year to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) filed a companion bill in the House.

Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang is calling for the decriminalization of opioids as part of his platform. "We need to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids," Yang says. "Other countries, such as Portugal, have done so, and have seen treatment go up and drug deaths and addiction go down. When caught with a small quantity of any opioid, our justice system should err on the side of providing treatment."

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Narrowly Defeated. [Update: Last-minute mail-in ballots put the initiatve over the top by the following morning.] An initiative that would have effectively decriminalized the possession of magic mushrooms and psilocybin was defeated at the polls Tuesday. The initiative would have made the drugs law enforcement's lowest priority. It lost by a preliminary margin of 52% to 48%.

Sentencing

North Carolina Overdose Homicide Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would make people who provide drugs to others who later overdose on them subject to murder charges has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (R). Harm reductionists are calling for the measure, HB 474, to be vetoed and urging folks to let the governor know their opposition.

International

Mexico President Wants End to Plan Merida, Economic Development Aid Instead. Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador said Tuesday he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. "We want the Merida Initiative to be completely reoriented, because it hasn't worked. We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative," Lopez Obrador told a press conference. "The proposal we're making is a development plan for southeastern Mexico and Central America. We want investment dedicated to productive activities and job creation. We don't want attack helicopters."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: IL Governor Unveils Marijuana Legalization Bill, Mexico Ponders Drug Decrim, Legal Sales, More... (5/6/19)

Reform measures are piling up on the Colorado governor's desk, the Illinois governor rolls out a marijuana legalization bill, Denver votes on decriminalizing magic mushrooms tomorrow, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador pushes forward with drug reform plans. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Governor, Legislators Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) and key legislators on Saturday announced a long-awaited marijuana legalization bill and were set Monday to introduce the measure as an amendment to an already filed Senate bill. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 30 grams for state residents (15 grams for non-residents) and allow up to five plants to be grown for personal use. Taxes would be 10% on pot with less than 35% THC, 20% on all infused products, and 25% on pot with more than 35% THC. The bill contains social equity provisions, including restrictions on ownership to prevent consolidation by a small number of businesses. It also has an expungement provision.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas's First Dispensary Approved, Will Open Shortly. The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, which regulates medical marijuana, has issued its first approval for a dispensary, Doctor's Orders RX in Hot Springs. The shop underwent final inspection last Friday and could be open for business as soon as the end of this week.

Colorado Medical Marijuana Bills Head to Governor's Desk. The legislature last week approved two medical marijuana bills and sent them to the governor. SB 19-013 would give physicians the option of recommending medical marijuana for any condition that is being treated by opioids, while SB 19-218 would allow dentists and advanced practice practitioners to recommend medical marijuana.

Hemp

Florida Legislature Approves Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize hemp production has unanimously passed both the House and Senate. SB 1020 now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Psychedelics

Denver Votes on Decriminalizing Magic Mushrooms Tomorrow. Voters in the Mile High City go to the polls Tuesday to vote on Ordinance 301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative. If approved, the measure would make adult psilocybin possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority" and bar the city from criminally penalizing adults found in possession of the drug.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Asset Forfeiture Practices Challenged in Federal Court. Attorneys in Birmingham have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court challenging the state's asset forfeiture laws and practices. The lawsuit seeks to have the laws declared unconstitutional because it allows civil courts to determine whether the law enforcement agency involved can keep the property. It also alleges that the state fails to provide notice of a hearing, fails to hold prompt hearings, allows excessive fines, and allows police to have a direct financial interest in proceedings that could profit them.

Sentencing

Colorado Drug Defelonization Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors won final approval in the legislature last Thursday and now heads for the desk of Gov. Jared Polis (D). HB 19-1263 would, if signed into law, make the state the sixth to defelonize drug possession since 2014.

International

Mexico President Proposes Drug Decriminalization, Legal Drug Supply Via Prescription. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has submitted to the Congress a plan to remove criminal penalties for drug possession and divert drug addicts into drug treatment programs. The plan also suggests providing drug users with a "supply of doses with prescription," indicating a form of legalization.

Chronicle AM: VA Governor Vetoes Overdose Homicide Bill, VT Legal MJ Sales Bill Advances, More... (5/3/19)

A Vermont bill to legalize recreational cannabis sales takes another step forward, a New Hampshire bill to let patients grow their own goes to the governor's desk, Virginia's governor vetoes an overdose homicide bill, and more.

Twenty states have passed overdose homicide laws. Virginia won't be next, but North Carolina might. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Demand End to Policy Punishing Immigrants Working in Marijuana Industry. Four Colorado US representatives have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to end a policy that bars immigrants who work in the state-legal marijuana industry from gaining US citizenship. The US Customs and Immigration Service has ruled that working in the industry means immigrants lack the "good moral character" required for citizenship.

Vermont Recreational Sales Bill Wins First House Committee Vote. The House Committee on Government Operations voted 10-1 Thursday to approve a bill that would legalize marijuana sales in the state, SB 54. The bill would tax marijuana sales at 16% and give localities the option of adding another 2%. The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees before getting a House floor vote. The bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation. The Senate on Thursday approved HB 364, which would allow patients to grow up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings at home. The House has already passed the bill but will have to vote again to approve amendments made in the Senate. If it does so, the bill will then head to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA, Drug Distributors Team Up to Block Release of Opioid Delivery Information. The DEA and the nation's largest drug distributors worked together Thursday to block the public release of information that would show the number of opioid pain pills the companies delivered to pharmacies across the country. Lawyers for the Washington Post and two West Virginia newspapers had sued for release of the information, arguing that distributors and DEA only sought to withhold the information because it would be embarrassing for companies that shipped massive amounts of opioids to states and towns that were arguably unjustifiable, and the DEA doesn't want to explain its actions. In oral arguments in the US 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, judges hearing the case expressed skepticism about DEA and distributor claims, but issued no ruling.

Pharmaceutical Company Founder, Executives Found Guilty of Bribing Doctors to Prescribe Opioids. Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor and four colleagues were found guilty by a federal jury in Boston Thursday of participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe its fentanyl spray, Subsys. The bribery scheme involved retaining doctors to act as speakers at sham events that were supposedly meant to educate other doctors about the drug. They're looking at 20 years in federal prison. but maintain their innocence and plan to appeal.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) on Thursday signed into law a bill reforming civil asset forfeiture, HB 1286. The bill doesn't end civil forfeiture but raises the evidentiary standard for seizures from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." It also includes a proportionality test to block seizing property worth more than the criminal penalty for the offense. And it adds reporting requirements for courts, prosecutors and the attorney general.

Drug Policy

Amy Klobuchar Releases $100 Billion Proposal to Fight Drug Addiction. Democratic presidential contender and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Friday released a $100 billion policy proposal for tackling drug addiction. While short on specifics, the proposal focuses on funding prevention programs and treatment centers across the country. She also calls for bringing down the price of naloxone and curbing "doctor shopping." Klobuchar's father was an alcoholic, and that makes the issue personal for her. "The one thing I hear over and over again across the country is people’s stories of battling with mental health and addiction," she said in a statement. "People need help, but they just can't get it. I believe everyone should have the same opportunity my dad had to be pursued by grace and get the treatment and help they need." [Ed: Sometimes what's called "doctor shopping" is really pain patients whose doctors they went to are afraid to provide the prescriptions they need.]

Sentencing

North Carolina Senate Approves Homicide by Overdose Bill. The Senate voted on Thursday to approve SB 375, which would allow people who distribute a drug that results in an overdose death to be charged with murder. That means that drug users who share with friends, partners who use from the same supply of drugs, and people who sell to support a drug habit could face murder charges even when the death is an accident. The bill now heads to the House.

Virginia Governor Vetoes Homicide by Overdose Bill. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday vetoed HB 2528, which would have made it easier for state prosecutors to go after drug dealers with a felony homicide charge when users die of an overdose. "The disease of addiction has long devastated our communities," Northam said in his veto message. "While I share the goal of addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring drug dealers are punished for supplying dangerous drugs, this bill goes beyond drug dealers and would punish individuals who are themselves struggling with addiction. The way to help individuals struggling with addiction is to ensure they receive proper treatment."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Sales Compromise Broached, MI Forfeiture Reform Passes, More... (4/26/19)

Vermont could yet end up with a regulated marijuana market, Iowa gets ready to grow some hemp, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan and North Dakota, and more.

Iowa is about to become the next state to legalize industrial hemp. Only seven states have failed to do so. (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Democrats Could Compromise on Driver Saliva Testing to Get Legal Sales Bill Passed. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said last week that he would not sign a bill to create a regulated legal marijuana market unless it included saliva testing of drivers, and now Democratic legislative leaders are signaling that they may support the testing, but only if police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before doing the testing. "I don't see any way the Senate would support saliva testing without a search warrant," said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and cosponsor of the bill, SB 54.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Senate Committee Advances Home Grow Option. A bill that would allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to grow some of their own medicine has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. HB 364 now heads for a Senate floor vote. The House passed a similar bill last month. The Senate bill allows up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Implementation Bill Advances. A key piece of legislation that sets the framework for municipal enforcement of the state's medical marijuana laws has passed the House on the final day for non-appropriations bills to pass. Senate Bill 1030, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) instructs police on how to handle drivers in possession of marijuana without their medical marijuana licenses and sets limits on local zoning laws. The bill also cuts the state excise tax from 7% to 6% and lowers the state sales tax from 4.5% to 1% to give room for local governments to add their own taxes.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pushed to Next Year After Flurry of Late Amendments. The Compassionate Care Act, SB 366, is being pushed to next year, the second year of the legislative session, after the Senate Medical Affairs Committee was swamped with a deluge of last-minute amendments, including one that would that would drop herbal marijuana from the bill, instead allowing only oils and creams. "We're in the first year of a two-year process," said bill sponsor Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort). "We have a comprehensive amendment that addresses a lot of concerns that people have expressed. Time is on our side here."

Hemp

Iowa Hemp Bill Passes, Heads for Governor's Desk. The House on Thursday gave final approval for a bill to legalize industrial hemp farming, HF 781. A companion measure has already passed the Senate. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is expected to sign the legislation into law.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Poll Examines Public Attitudes Over Opioid Epidemic. A new NPR/Ipsos poll examining American attitudes toward the opioid crisis has a slight majority (56%) saying pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for making the opioid crisis worse, and nearly three-quarters said drug companies should help fund opioid addiction treatment (73%) and distribute naloxone kits (72%). A strong majority (71%) said they were willing to have the government intervene to restrict opioid redistribution, while 66% said they supported more widespread distribution of naloxone. More than one in three (35%) said they had been personally affected, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they knew someone who had overdosed. The survey is not reported to have asked about pain patients' problems with accessing opioid medications.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Bills to End Most Civil Asset Forfeiture Pass Legislature. A trio of bills that would end most civil asset forfeiture in the state has passed both houses of the legislature and is now headed for the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has signaled she will sign the bills into law. The bills require a criminal conviction before police can keep assets worth less than $50,000 seized in connection with a crime.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes House Over Sponsor's Objections. The House on Friday approved HB 1286, which reforms the state's asset forfeiture laws, but only after diluting it to such a degree that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), ended up voting against it. The bill would require a higher evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence for forfeiture, and it includes a provision to not forfeit property worth more than the associated criminal penalty. But it also allows seizure of property if there is evidence "beyond reasonable doubt" of the property's criminal involvement. "It's very, very confusing. It's a very odd loophole," Becker said of the latter exception. "It's putting a criminal proceeding standard into a civil proceeding with no trial."He also criticized the bill's reporting requirements as too weak. "I'm looking at the words in front of me," Becker said. "We had such good opportunity for real reform, and I'm happy to come back in two years and try again."

Chronicle AM: New CBS Pot Poll, CO Drug Defelonization Passes House, More... (4/19/19)

A new CBS poll has record support for marijuana legalization, Vermont's governor throws up an obstacle to the tax and regulate bill, the US immigration agency says using marijuana or even working in the state-legal industry makes immigrants "morally unfit" to become citizens, and more.

Marijuana is all over the news today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New CBS Poll Has Support for Legalization at All-Time High. The latest annual CBS news poll on attitudes toward marijuana legalization has support at 65% -- an all-time high for the poll. Most respondents also viewed marijuana as less dangerous than alcohol. Legalization is now favored even by Republicans (56%), and the only age group to not have majority support for legalization -- people 65 and older -- is now evenly split with support at 49%.

Federal Bill Would Let People Use Marijuana in Public Housing in Legal States. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has filed the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act, which would allow people who use marijuana in compliance with state laws to live in public housing. Current federal law prohibits people using federally illegal drugs from being admitted to public housing and allows their eviction if caught. The Norton bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Montana 2020 Legalization Initiative Planned. A new group calling itself Coalition406 has announced plans to create a 2020 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Big Sky Country. The latest polling has support for legalization at 51%. "Coalition406 will sponsor a statewide listening tour over the coming weeks to discuss preliminary thoughts for a November 2020 initiative to hear from real Montanans on this issue," said Coalition406 campaign manager Ted Dick, a former executive director of the Montana Democratic Party.

Vermont Governor Won't Support Regulated Marijuana Without Saliva Testing for Drivers. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said for the first time Thursday that he would not sign legislation to tax and regulate marijuana unless it had a provision that would allow saliva testing of motorists. The tests are opposed by many civil rights and liberties groups, but the House Judiciary Committee that same day reviewed a draft proposal for language around saliva testing that could be inserted in SB 54, the tax and regulate bill that has already passed the Senate.

Wisconsin Legalization Bill Filed. For the fourth time, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) has filed a marijuana legalization bill. The bill would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce as well as a process for expungement of old marijuana convictions. "Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out of date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," Sargent said in a press release. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal." A January Marquette University poll has support for legalization at 59%, but the Republican-controlled legislature does not favor the proposal.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Heads to House Floor. A bill that would add over a dozen conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana, HR 1365, is heading for a House floor vote after passing its last committee hurdle on Wednesday. The bill would add cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to the list of qualifying conditions.

Drug Treatment

Pennsylvania Bill Would Bar Addiction Centers from Requiring Positive Drug Tests Before Treatment. State Rep. Jack Rader (R-Monroe County) has cosponsored a bill that would ban addiction treatment centers from requiring people to test positive for opioids or other drugs in order to get admitted for care. Rader said he cosponsored the bill after a constituent told him her son had applied for drug treatment but had been required to test positive for opioids in order to begin treatment. He had gotten off opioids while waiting for treatment, but then used some to qualify for treatment and instead overdosed and died. The measure is HB 1024.

Immigration Policy

Using State-Legal Marijuana or Working in the Industry Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit to Be US Citizens, Federal Agency Rules. In a rules clarification Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services held that using marijuana or working in the industry even in states where it is legal violates the requirement that immigrants demonstrate five years of "good moral character" before applying for citizenship. In a memo detailing the ruling, USCIS said that "violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law." That includes working in the state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana industries. There is an exception for one-time possession of less than an ounce.

Sentencing Policy

Colorado House Approves Bipartisan Bill to Lower Penalties for Drug Possession Offenses. The House on Thursday approved HB 19-1263, which would defelonize drug possession in the state. The measure passed the House on a 40-25 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Chronicle AM: Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decrim, Denver Moves to Expand Pot Social Clubs, More... (4/16/19)

The Denver city council is trying to make it easier for marijuana social consumption businesses to open, a Colorado drug defelonization bill advances, a Democratic presidential contender calls for opioid decriminalization, and more.

The Denver city council is trying to find room for more social consumption spaces. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Moves to Boost Social Consumption Businesses. More than two years after voters approved social use of marijuana in licensed businesses, only two such businesses exist, and now, the City Council is moving to boost their prospects. The Council voted 9-2 on Monday to advance a proposal that would allow such businesses to operate closer to rec centers, day cares, and other such facilities. The law approved by voters required that such establishments be at least 1,000 feet from schools, but city officials added similar requirements for day care, rec centers, and addiction treatment centers. Under this bill, that distance requirement is dropped to 500 feet for all categories except schools.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Advances. State lawmakers have given a first approval to a measure to legalize hemp production, LB 657. The bill advanced on a 37-4 vote despite a filibuster from a senator who warned it was a stalking horse for marijuana legalization. The bill enjoys bipartisan support and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) says his administration is working with bill sponsor Sen. Justin Wayne (D-Omaha) to get the bill through. It still needs two more votes before going to the governor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Presidential Contender Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Startup veteran, Venture for America founder, and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang used a CNN town hall Sunday night to flesh out an earlier proposal to decriminalize opioids. Calling opioid addiction "a plague," Yang said the goal of decriminalization was to get more Americans in treatment and out of jail. "We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use," Yang said. "I'm also for the legalization of cannabis."

Sentencing Policy

Colorado Drug Defelonization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would shift drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors was approved by the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday. That's the final committee vote before HB19-1263 heads for a House floor vote. The bill has already been approved by the House Finance and House Judiciary committees.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Bipartisan Cannabis Banking Bill Filed, Texas MedMJ Hearings, More... (4/12/19)

Some 20 senators sign on to a bill to solve legal marijuana's banking problem, a Maine jail appeals a federal court ruling that it must provide Suboxone to a prisoner, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Bill Would Open Banks to Marijuana Businesses. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with 18 other cosponsors, filed legislation Thursday that would shield banks that maintain accounts for marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act would stop federal agencies from being able to "prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a depository institution from providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or to a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian Tribe that exercises jurisdiction over cannabis-related legitimate businesses." Companion legislation in the House has already passed out of committee and awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on a trio of medical bills Thursday. Testimony was sometimes highly emotional, and no one spoke up against medical marijuana. HB 122 would create a legal defense for patients possessing medical marijuana and doctors who recommend it; HB 1405 would allow hospital patients to use CBD cannabis oil; and HB 3703 would expand current use of CBD cannabis oil to all epilepsy patients, not just those with intractable epilepsy. No votes were taken.

Drug Treatment

Maine Jail Appeals Federal Court Ruling It Must Provide Drug Used in Opioid Treatment. The Aroostook County Jail is appealing a federal judge's ruling that it must provide an opioid addiction medication it says it is necessary to keep addiction in remission. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on March 27 that required the jail to provide buprenorphine (Suboxone) to the prisoner. The jail argues that the judge didn't defer enough to jail administrators for policymaking decisions.

Chronicle AM: Israeli Pot Decrim Now in Effect, NY Legal Pot Push Hits Bump, More... (4/1/19)

Pot legalization fails to make the budget in New York, New Mexico regulators reaffirm their support for medical marijuana for people addicted to opioids, Israel pot decriminalization is now in effect, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

New York Budget Proposal Doesn’t Include Marijuana Legalization. Marijuana legalization will not be fast-tracked as part of the state’s budget because lawmakers could not reach agreement by April 1, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will pass it by June. "We will get marijuana done, it’s not a question of political desire, it’s a question of practical reality of how you put the new system in place," Cuomo said.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Legislature Approves CBD Oil Access Bill. Both the House and the Senate have now approved HB 324, which makes it legal to possess CBD cannabis oil and bring it across state lines. The bill also sets up a framework for the growth and sale of CBD cannabis oil in the state. Currently, state law allows the use of CBD oil, but there is no way for patients to obtain it.

New Mexico Regulators Reaffirm Support for Medical Marijuana for Opioid Users. The state's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted 4-0 Friday to reaffirm its support for making medical marijuana available for people struggling with opioid addiction. That increases the pressure on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) to have the state's health secretary add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition.

West Virginia Governor Vetoes Medical Cannabis Vertical Integration Bill, But Fix May Appear on Special Session Call. Gov. Jim Justice (R) has vetoed a bill that would allow vertical integration of medical marijuana businesses.  The measure, HB 2079, may, however, be taken up in a special session set to resume in May.

International

Israel Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect. Marijuana possession is decriminalized as of April 1. Under new guidelines, possession of small amounts of marijuana in private homes will no longer be treated as an offense, criminal or otherwise. Public possession will generate a fine of around $275, with that fine doubling for a second offense within five years. Only if someone commits a third public possession offense within seven years will he face the possibility of criminal prosecution. 

Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Bill This Week in NJ, Global Drug War Human Rights Guidelines Issued, More... (3/18/19)

A New Mexico pot legalization bill dies and the governor says she will take it up next year, Minneapolis will quit charging small-time pot offenders, UN bodies and member states issue drug war human rights guidelines, a federal prisoner sues for access to methadone treatment, and more.

The state of New Jersey is banking on marijuana tax revenues. Now, to get that bill passed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Unveil Legalization Package. A group of House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday to unveil a proposed package go bills to allow marijuana to be grown, processed, and sold to consumers in the state. The draft bills include a pilot plan for adult sales, but do not include letting people grow their own.

New Jersey Legalization Committee Votes Begin Today. The compromise legalization bill agreed to by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders is due for committee votes Monday, with an eye toward final passage next Monday if all goes well. The bill would allow adults to possess up to an ounce, but not grow their own. It would also expunge records of past pot offenses and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Goes to Governor, But Legalization Bill Dies. In last minute action this past weekend, the legislature passed a pot decriminalization bill, SB 323, and sent it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). That’s some small consolation for the failure of a legalization bill, HB 356, which passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

New Mexico Governor Adds Marijuana Legalization to 2020 Agenda. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday she will add marijuana legalization to the agenda of next year’s 30-day short session. The move comes after a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill managed to pass the House this session, only to be stalled in the Senate until the session expired on Saturday.

Minnesota’s Most Populous County Won’t Charge Small-Time Pot Offenders. Prosecutors in Hennepin County, the home of Minneapolis, will no longer prosecute people caught with small amounts of pot, County Attorney Mike Freeman said last Thursday. Under state law, possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor, but possession of as little as 45 grams can be charged as a felony. Freeman said he will no longer charge anyone caught with less than 100 grams; instead, defendants will be considered for a diversion program.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Posts Draft Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Health and Senior Services released more drafts of rules for the state's emerging medical marijuana system last Thursday. The rules cover marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana establishments in general. Click on the link for a detailed analysis of the proposed regulations.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Rules into Law.  Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last Thursday signed into law new regulations for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. The legislation sets guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, and packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain safety-sensitive positions, such as fire fighters and heavy machinery operators.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Moving. A bill to legalize hemp production, HB 122, passed out of a pair of committees last Thursday and is now headed for a House floor vote. The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, and 41 other states have already legalized hemp production.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative in Planning Stages. A coalition of advocacy groups in hosting a series of meetings in coming months aimed at building support for an initiative to decriminalize not only magic mushrooms but all “entheogenic plants, fungi, and natural sources.” The campaign is called Decriminalize Nature.

Drug Treatment

Incoming Federal Prisoner Sues Over Policy Banning Methadone Treatment. A Massachusetts woman who is about to enter federal prison and will not be permitted to continue methadone treatment for opioid addiction under prison rules has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the policy. Stephanie DiPierro has to do a year for collecting disability benefits and food stamps without reporting income from a job and has been on methadone since 2005.

Massachusetts Bill Would Block Courts from Jailing Defendants in Treatment Who Fail Drug Tests. After the state’s highest court ruled last year that judges could order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, legislators have responded with S. 397, which would bar judges from incarcerating people who are in treatment and fail mandatory drug tests while on probation. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Human Rights

UN Member States, UN Bodies, and Human Rights Groups Launch International Legal Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. A coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday launched a landmark set of international legal standards to transform and reshape global responses to the world drug problem. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy introduces a comprehensive catalogue of human rights standards. They are a guide for governments to develop human rights compliant drug policies, covering the spectrum of cultivation to consumption. Harnessing the universal nature of human rights, the document covers a range of policy areas from development to criminal justice to public health.  

International

Philippines Quits International Criminal Court Over Drug War Investigation. A year after the Philippines told the United Nations it was quitting the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal because it is investigating human rights abuses in the bloody war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte it has now officially withdrawn from the International Criminal Court. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure. However, the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue.

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