Drug War Chronicle

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Chronicle AM: NM GOP Gov Vetoes MedMJ & OD Bills, Canada MJ Bill Thursday, More... (4/10/17)

Congressional drug policy reform bills are piling up, New Mexico's GOP governor vetoes medical marijuana and overdose prevention bills, Canada's Liberals roll out their marijuana legalization bill Thursday, and more.

A federal marijuana rescheduling bill has been filed. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Gaetz and Soto Propose Legislation to Reschedule Marijuana, Two Florida GOP congressmen, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Darren Soto, have filed House Resolution 2020, "to provide for the rescheduling of marijuana into schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act." Rescheduling would make it easier to conduct research into medical marijuana, the congressmen said. "This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year," Gaetz added.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. Both houses of the legislature have approved measures allowing for expanded access to CBD cannabis oil But Senate Bill 15 and House companion legislation now have differences in the percentages of chemicals allowed, so the bills must go to conference committee to hammer out the differences.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Changes. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed a measure that would have improved the state's medical marijuana law last Friday. House Bill 527 would have allowed people diagnosed with an opioid use disorder to use medical marijuana. In her veto message, Martinez wrote that allowing people addicted to opioids to seek medical marijuana "will likely cause a rapid increase in program enrollment, which the program is currently unable to sustain." But critics called that reasoning bogus, noting that the state Health Department sets the number of licensed producers and the amount they can grow.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

West Virginia Legislators Approve Overdose Monitoring, Creation of Office of Drug Policy. The legislature has approved Senate Bill 2620, which would create a statewide program to monitor drug overdoses and establish an office of drug control policy to coordinate the response to the heroin and opioid crisis. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).

Harm Reduction

Kansas Governor Signs Naloxone Access Bill. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 2217, which will allow first responders to administer the opioid overdose drug naloxone and which also allows pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription. Kansas was one of only three states without a naloxone access law, and the bill passed both houses unanimously.

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Overdose Prevention Bill. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 47, the 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, on Friday. The bill would have expanded the state's existing Good Samaritan law to include alcohol-related overdoses and to limit the prospect of arrest of people, who are on probation or parole or who have a restraining order, when they call 911 on behalf of someone experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a 58-5 vote.

Law Enforcement

Sheila Jackson Lee Files Bill to Raise Evidentiary Standards for Federal Drug Offenses. US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed House Resolution 1979 "to increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Reentry

Corey Booker, Elijah Cummings File Federal "Ban the Box" Bills. US Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House that would prevent employers from asking about applicants' criminal backgrounds until a job offer has been made. The bill would only apply to government agencies and federal contractors. The Senate measure is Senate Bill 842; its House companion is House Bill 1906. The bill text is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

Canada Marijuana Legalization Bill to Be Unveiled Thursday. The governing Liberals will roll out their marijuana legalization bill on Thursday, a "senior government source" said Monday. The government has said it wants legal marijuana to be a done deal on or before July 1, 2018.

WATCH: Florida Sheriff's Creepy Tough Guy Video Threatens Heroin Dealers

As part of his effort to fight heroin trafficking, Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has released a video pledging to go after drug dealers, but the effort from the sheriff's "Community Engagement Unit" is both creepy and wrong-headed.

The video features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military -- not the blue of law enforcement. They look like some sort of paramilitary hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Grinnell promises they will be.

"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the glowering sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."

The message is presumably designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased resort to paramilitarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.

The New York Times recently reported that in the past six years alone, at least 81 civilians and 13 cops have been killed in "dynamic entry" raids, oftentimes after police obtained a "no-knock" warrant allowing them to bust in a door and go in heavy without warning. And as the Washington Post noted in a roundup of SWAT raid mishaps last fall, such mistakes -- sometimes fatal -- continue to occur with depressing regularity.

But even when no one is killed and no headlines are made, mistaken SWAT raids corrode public confidence. Families whose children are subjected to screaming masked intruders kicking their doors down in the middle of the night and pointing guns at their heads are likely to be traumatized for years even if the cops say "sorry."

Bad raids happen for a variety of reasons. An informant may lie to score points with the cops. The cops might hit the wrong address by mistake. Or they may hit the right address, but without necessary information about who they may encounter, as was the case with the notorious 2014 Georgia raid where a SWAT member threw a flashbang grenade into a baby's crib and blew a hole in the 19 -- month-old's chest, nearly killing him. (Police in this case were also acting on a bad informant's tip.)

Heroin is a serious problem, and it is illegal. We expect police to enforce the law, but there has to be a better way than treating drug suspects like they're ISIS terrorists or Iraqi insurgents. What ever happened to, "We've got the place surrounded. Come out with your hands up!"?

Here's the video:

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Legal Pot Sales to Start in July, ID Gov Vetoes Forfeiture Reform, More... (4/7/17)

The Uruguayan government sets the date for legal marijuana sales in pharmacies to begin, West Virginia is just a governor's signature away from becoming the 29th medical marijuana state, Idaho's Republican governor vetoes a broadly-supported asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Montana Bill to Study Marijuana Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mary Dunwell (D-Helena) filed House Joint Resolution 35 on Thursday. The bill calls for "a study of the legalization and control of marijuana," with results to be reported to the next session of the legislature. The study would include input from the Departments of Public Health and Human Services, Justice, Revenue, and Agriculture, as well as local law enforcement, courts, schools, and lobbying groups.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Strikes Down Criminal Ban on Possession of Medical Marijuana on College Campuses. The state Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that even though colleges and universities can bar the possession of medical marijuana through administrative means, the state cannot make on-campus possession a criminal offense. The state's medical marijuana law barred its possession in prisons, schools, and on school buses, but the legislature in 2012 added college campuses to the list. Now, the appellate court has ruled the state couldn't do that. The case is Arizona v. Maestes.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Grower Applications Will Be Accepted Starting in June. The state Department of Commerce will begin accepting applications for 24 medical marijuana grow licenses beginning in June, the department announced on Friday. Once licenses are awarded, holders will have nine months to meet all requirements. Application forms and instructions should be released in the next two to three weeks, the department said.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Mountaineer State is poised to become the 29th medical marijuana state after the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 386 Thursday, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D). The bill would set up a dispensary system, but does not authorize patients to smoke marijuana or grow their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Bill to Raise Heroin, Fentanyl Penalties Awaits Governor's Signature. The General Assembly last week approved House Bill 333, which would increase penalties for the sale of heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. Under current laws, adopted as sentencing reform measures in 2011, traffickers face one to five years in prison. Under this bill, they would face five to 10 years in prison. The bill is currently on the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform. Gov. Butch Otter (R) on Thursday vetoed House Bill 202, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support. The bill would have ended asset forfeiture absent a criminal conviction, as well as imposing reporting and other requirements on law enforcement. The governor insisted there is no problem to fix, although lawmakers clearly disagreed.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Leads Bipartisan Bill that Repeals Federal Transportation Law Requiring States to Suspend Driver's Licenses for Drug Offenses. US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and five bipartisan cosponsors have filed House Resolution 1952, which would repeal a 26-year-old federal law that mandates states to automatically suspend driver's licenses for anyone convicted of a drug offense or risk losing federal highway aid money. Some 38 states have already opted out of that program, but 12 states -- including Texas, New York, Michigan, and Florida -- still comply with the requirement.

Rand Paul, Elijah Cummings File Bills to Seal Criminal Records for Federal Nonviolent Offenses. US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House to seal the federal criminal records of non-violent offenders, which includes tens of thousands of federal drug offenders. The measures are Senate Bill 827 and House Resolution 190, respectively.

International

Uruguay to Allow Marijuana Sales at Pharmacies Beginning in July. The office of President Tabare Vasquez said Thursday that legal marijuana sales through pharmacies will begin in July. That's the last step in implementing a 2013 law that made Uruguay the first country to legalize marijuana. While other parts of the law have been in place, pharmacy sales had been on hold under Vasquez, who isn't nearly as enthusiastic about legalization as was his predecessor, Jose "Pepe" Mujica, who shepherded the law to passage during his term. A gram of weed will go for $1.30.

Four Out of Five French Presidential Candidates Support Marijuana Reform. The leading candidate, centrist Emmanuel Macron, and the rightist candidate, Francois Fillon, both support decriminalizing marijuana possession, leftist candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon have both called for marijuana legalization, while only far-right candidate Marine LePen favors the status quo, which calls for up to a year in jail for the possession of any drug.

FEATURE: Ohio Opioid Overdose Outrage: One Town's Ugly Effort to Punish Victims

The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.

Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.

In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.

But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."

In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.

The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."

But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.

"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.

City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.

"In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities," he said.

Or they could just offer them treatment.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Reviewing MJ Policy, DEA Subpoenaed Over Snitch Program, More... (4/6/17)

A Justice Department review of marijuana policy is underway, congressional overseers subpoena the DEA over its snitch program, California's governor moves to reconicle the state's legal and medical marijuana programs, and more.

The DEA is in the hot seat with congressional investigators over its confidential informant program.
Marijuana Policy

DOJ Task Force is Reviewing Marijuana Policy. Attorney General Sessions issued a memo Wednesday saying that a task force on crime and public safety is reviewing federal marijuana policy and is charged with making initial recommendations by July 27. The task is reviewing ways to reduce violent crime and illegal immigration and is reviewing marijuana policy under that rubric.

California Governor Proposes Means of Melding Legal and Medical Marijuana Systems. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday released proposed legislation aimed at uniting the state's legal and medical marijuana regulatory systems. The draft language generally favors the less restrictive language of Prop 64, the state's successful marijuana legalization initiative. The Drug Policy Alliance, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the UFCW Western States Council, and the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association are all backing the draft language.

Alaska Regulators Punt (Again) on Onsite Consumption. The Marijuana Control Board was supposed to take up the thorny issue of permitting onsite consumption of marijuana Wednesday, but instead the board spent its meeting going through a backlog of license applications for production facilities and pot shops. "They really wanted to focus on approved applications at this meeting so people could get started with their businesses as we move into summer," said Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board. "On site consumption was kind of the big time consuming issue that they pushed until the end and then we ran out of time." Onsite consumption decisions will now be pushed back until at least the May 15 meeting, she said.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Dead -- At Least for Now. A bill that would legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 11, appears dead in the water after it failed to make the agenda for a Friday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reports are the bill, sponsored by Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven), was pulled because it didn't have enough votes to pass the committee. Legalization is not quite dead yet, though: The Looney bill or one of several other legalization proposals could still be attached as an amendment to another bill.

Virginia Commission to Study Decriminalization. The State Crime Commission decided on Wednesday that it will study marijuana decriminalization. The decision was made by the commission's executive committee.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sens. Teresa Van Duyn (D) and Valerie Jean Fousher (D) filed Senate Bill 648 on Tuesday. Under the bill, patients could possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 250 square feet of their own medicine. The bill would also establish a system of licensed cultivation centers and dispensaries. It has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations.

Hemp

West Virginia Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 2453, which would allow for the licensing of qualified producers and state institutions to grow hemp for industrial purposes. The bill passed the House last month and now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Awaits Governor's Signature. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is in a tight spot, caught between the wishes of legislators, who approved the asset forfeiture reform measure House Bill 2477, and county prosecutors, who are urging him to veto it. The measure would change Arizona's civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by "clear and convicting" evidence, a step above the current standard. Gov. Ducey has said he thinks this is an area of law that needs reform, but hasn't said whether he would sign the bill into law.

Law Enforcement

DEA Gets Hit With Congressional Subpoenas Over Its Informant Program. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), head of the House Oversight Committee, has subpoenaed the DEA for documents related to its confidential informant program. Congress members have been seeking copies of the guidelines since last year, when a Justice Department report detailed how DEA spent more than $200 million on informants with little oversight, but DEA has only allowed members to view the guidelines on-site. "Congress has a right to have this material," Chaffetz said, during an Oversight Committee hearing that he chaired on Tuesday morning. "It is unbelievable to me that you think we shouldn't have a copy of it," he told Deputy DEA Administrator Robert Patterson. Chaffetz then went next door to the House Judiciary Committee, where DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg was testifying, and issued a subpoena. "We are issuing a subpoena, and so I see no choice," he then told DEA chief Rosenberg. "The Department of Justice just doesn't get to hide things from the United States Congress," Chaffetz said, adding that there is evidence of "massive problems" in the program.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's jail and prison guards gone wild, plus a Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs cop gets in trouble for sticky-fingers. Let's get to it:

In Dover, New Hampshire, a Strafford County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly attempting to take heroin into the jail. Guard Bryant Shipman, 25, went down after a joint investigation by local and federal officials. He is charged with one count of delivery of contraband.

In Goshen, New York, a state prison guard was arrested last Thursday after police seized 43 bags of heroin from his home. Guard Michael Leake, 24, went down after an investigation by the town of Deerpark and city of Port Jarvis Crime Suppression Unit. He is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminally using paraphernalia in the second degree. Although the charges don't reflect it, local authorities said the dope, a scale, and other seized materials were "commonly used by drug traffickers."

In Sterling, Pennsylvania, a Wayne County jail guard was arrested Monday for selling morphine pills from his home. Howard Hums, 44, went down after an informant for the Wayne County DA's Drug Task Force bought pills from him on two occasions in February and March. He now faces two counts each of possession of a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a state Department of Veterans Affairs Police officer was sentenced last Tuesday to two years' probation for stealing prescription opioids from the department's evidence room and replacing them with similar-looking pills. David Walters, 37, also stole pills from the VA's drug drop-off receptacle. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in January.

Medical Marijuana Update

Arkansas' governor signs a package of medical marijuana regulation bills, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill is just a vote away from final passage, and more.

Arkansas

On Monday, the governor signed into law a dozen medical marijuana-related bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

Maryland

Last Wednesday, legislators proposed using marijuana to treat opioid addition. A House of Delegates committee has added "opioid use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. The bill was set to be heard by the House Friday.

On Tuesday, a bill to allow more license and increase diversity passed the House. The House of Delegates voted to approve House Bill 1443, which would allow five more licenses to grow and process medical marijuana. The bill is aimed at increasing minority participation in the developing industry, which the state's medical marijuana law explicitly calls for. "Passing this bill will show the country that this is not an issue that we're going lock African Americans and other minorities from participating in this business venture," bill cosponsor Del. Cheryl Glenn said before the House vote. "Less than 1% of the licenses held in the entire country are held by African Americans and other minorities. I'm very proud at the state of Maryland that we are passing this legislation. Nothing is perfect, but this is really moving us along the path of having a fair system in the state of Maryland."

West Virginia

Last Thursday, the House fast-tracked a medical marijuana bill. Less than a day after the Senate approved a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, the House has put it on path to quick consideration. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House voted to allow the bill to skip consideration by committees there and proceed directly to House floor debate. The move came in response to constituent pressure. "Like every member of this body, I can't count the number of emails and phone calls I received on this subject today," said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

On Monday, the House amended the medical marijuana bill. The state House on Monday amended the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to bar its use in leaf form. Medicines from marijuana would have to be in patch, pill, or potion form. Opponents of the amendment said it drastically changed the nature of the bill already approved in the Senate and worried that the Senate would not accept the changes, leaving patients in the lurch for another year. The bill must now have a final House floor vote, and then any differences will have to either be approved by the Senate or settled in a joint conference committee.

On Tuesday, the House approved the amended medical marijuana bill. The House voted to approve Senate Bill 386, which would establish a medical marijuana system in the state. The Senate passed the measure last week, but since it was amended in the House, reconciliation or a conference committee agreement must occur before it can head to the governor's desk.

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

Chronicle AM: Kansas City Decriminalizes, WV MedMJ Bill Nears Final Stage, More... (4/5/17)

Kansas City votes to decriminalizes, a Maryland bill to expand medical marijuana business opportunities advances, so does a package of Maryland bills aimed at the state's opioid crisis, and more.

Kudos to KC NORML for leading the charge on decriminalization.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Regulators Again Taking Up Onsite Marijuana Consumption. The state Marijuana Control Board will today resume its debate over whether to permit businesses to allow onsite consumption of marijuana. The board had decided in February to kill the idea, citing uncertainty over the Trump administration, but now it has reopened the process, inviting members to submit proposed new regulations. One proposal would impose a two-year moratorium on onsite consumption, while two others would allow for it, but one of those would not allow smoking or vaping.

Kansas City Votes to Decriminalize. Kansas City, Missouri, residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Unofficial vote counts had the measure winning with 71% of the vote. The measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, previously punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine -- with no arrest made or criminal record imposed.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Bill to Allow More Licenses, Increase Diversity Passes House. The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to approve House Bill 1443, which would allow five more licenses to grow and process medical marijuana. The bill is aimed at increasing minority participation in the developing industry, which the state's medical marijuana law explicitly calls for. "Passing this bill will show the country that this is not an issue that we're going lock African Americans and other minorities from participating in this business venture," bill cosponsor Del. Cheryl Glenn said before the House vote. "Less than 1% of the licenses held in the entire country are held by African Americans and other minorities. I'm very proud at the state of Maryland that we are passing this legislation. Nothing is perfect, but this is really moving us along the path of having a fair system in the state of Maryland."

West Virginia House Votes for Medical Marijuana. The House voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 386, which would establish a medical marijuana system in the state. The Senate passed the measure last week, but since it was amended in the House, reconciliation or a conference committee agreement must occur before it can head to the governor's desk.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland General Assembly Adopts Bills to Combat Opioid Epidemic. The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to approve a package of bills aimed at increasing access to drug treatment and crisis services, education, and public awareness around opioids. The bills are House Bill 869, which will require the state to compile a list of accredited recovery residences, House Bill 1082, which will require public schools to provide drug education and train personnel to respond to an opioid overdose; and House Bill 1329, which establishes a Health Crisis Hotline and network of crisis treatment centers. Because the bills were adopted with minor differences in the House and Senate, the House must vote one more time to approve the measures before they head to the governor's desk.

Drug Testing

Florida Welfare Drug Test Bill Moving. A bill to require welfare applicants with drug convictions to submit to mandatory drug testing has been approved by two subcommittees and now sits before the House Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, House Bill 1147, passed out of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday. Under the bill, applicants who test positive for drugs would lose benefits for a year, but could reapply after six months if they've completed a drug treatment program at their own expense.

Indiana Bill Criminalizing Use of Synthetic Urine Passes Legislature. The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 1104, which would make it a misdemeanor to use synthetic or another person's urine for a drug test. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

Chronicle AM:MJ State Govs Ask Feds to Stay Out, AZ Forfeiture Reform, More... (4/4/17):

The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana have written to Washington asking to be left alone, decrim advances in Texas, asset forfeiture reform advances in Arizona, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Governors from Four Legal Marijuana States Ask to Be Left Alone. The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking them not to interfere in state-level legalization. The governors said legal weed could be safely regulated and that a federal crackdown "would divert existing marijuana product to the black market." They also asked the Treasury Department not to make it even more difficult to marijuana businesses to deal with banks than it already is.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 4-2 on Monday to advance House Bill 81, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia House Amends Medical Marijuana Bill. The state House on Monday amended the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to bar its use in leaf form. Medicines from marijuana would have to be in patch, pill, or potion form. Opponents of the amendment said it drastically changed the nature of the bill already approved in the Senate and worried that the Senate would not accept the changes, leaving patients in the lurch for another year. The bill must now have a final House floor vote, and then any differences will have to either be approved by the Senate or settled in a joint conference committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Senate Passes Bill Taking on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill to reform the state's civil asset forfeiture law, House Bill 2477. The bill raises the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence," establishes stringent forfeiture reporting requirements, and bars prosecutors from handing cases off to the feds to get around state law. The bill now goes back to the House for a concurrence vote on Senate amendments and, if passed, then heads for the governor's desk.

Drug Testing

Maine Tests Few Welfare Recipients Under New Law. Since 2015, only 23 people have set off enough drug screening alarms to be tested under the state's welfare drug testing law. That's about 0.01% of welfare recipients in the state. Of those, 11 lost temporary cash assistance benefits after testing positive, while four more lost benefits for refusing to undergo the test. The Le Page administration blames Democrats, saying they limited drug screenings to people drug felonies, and is behind bills this year to expand drug screenings of cash assistance applicants, prohibiting food stamps for repeat drug offenders, and requiring treatment for first-time drug offenders.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Filed, WV MedMJ Bill Fast Tracked, More... (3/31/17)

A marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Delaware, a medical marijuana bill gets fast tracked in West Virginia, a South African court rules to free the weed, the Argentine Senate okays CBD cannabis oil, and more.

It looks like West Virginia is about to hop on the medical marijuana bandwagon. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Lawmakers Filed Legalization Bill. State Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Dover) and cosponsors filed House Bill 110 on Thursday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and to purchase it from state-regulated stores. The bill does not allow people to grow their own. It imposes a $50 an ounce tax on buds and a $15 an ounce tax on other parts of the plant. It now heads to the House Finance and Revenue Committee, which must hold a hearing within 12 days.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislators Propose Using Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction. A House of Delegates committee has added "opioid use disorder" to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. The bill was set to be heard by the House Friday.

West Virginia House Fast Tracks Medical Marijuana Bill. Less than a day after the Senate approved a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, the House has put it on path to quick consideration. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday, and on Thursday, the House voted to allow the bill to skip consideration by committees there and proceed directly to House floor debate. The move came in response to constituent pressure. "Like every member of this body, I can't count the number of emails and phone calls I received on this subject today," said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.

New Psychoactive Substances

Federal Bill Would Add New "Designer Drugs" to CSA's Schedule I. US Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) has filed House Resolution 1732, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2017. It adds dozens of substances to Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, including phenylalkylamines, cannabimimetic agents, arylcyclohexamines, tryptamines, benzodiazepines, benzylpiperidines, piperazines, and opioids and opioid-like substances. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Would Create Program to Divert Low-Level Drug Offenders. US Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY has filed House Resolution 1763, the Keeping Communities Safe Through Treatment Act of 2017. The bill directs the Justice Department to create a pilot program to provide grants to localities to divert people with low-level drug offenses into treatment programs before they are booked. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

Argentine Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for medical reasons and setting up a regulatory framework for state-run cultivation, processing, and distribution. Until the state-run system is up and running, CBD imports will be allowed.

South Africa High Court Rules Adults Can Possess Marijuana at Home. The Western Cape High Court ruled on Friday that it's legal for adults to use, possess, and grow marijuana at home. The court also ruled that sections of the Drug Trafficking act and the Medicines Control Act must be amended to comply with the decision. The decision isn't final yet, though -- it must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War

On Thursday March 16th our international drug policy work took a new turn, when we presented "Human Rights Challenge: Responding to Extrajudicial Killings in the Drug War," a side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. The event addressed the situation in the Philippines, in which the new president of the country, former Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, entered office last summer promising to slaughter large numbers of purported drug suspects. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the Philippines at the time of this writing, by police or vigilantes.

Speakers Chito Gascon, Alison Smith and Marco Perduca (photo by Joey Tranchina)
Our session unexpectedly drew high-level political interest, and Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, opposition leader and a critic of the killings, recorded a video to be presented there. The video and event were covered by TIME as part of being made public (one article featuring the video then another interviewing Robredo), and the news wire services Reuters and Agence France Press published articles, as did numerous outlets in the Philippines. At the time of this writing the video has garnered over 167,000 views.

Other speakers at the event included the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Chito Gascon; former prime minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva (also by video), the Chair of our partner group the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats; and experts on international criminal justice.

Unfortunately, allies of Pres. Duterte as well as other rivals of Vice President Robredo seized on the video to attack her politically, claiming that the video constituted a "betrayal of the public trust" that she should be impeached for. Political figures including the Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives and the president's spokesperson claimed falsely the video's release was timed to coincide with the filing by a member of Congress of an impeachment complaint against the president.

On the same day as the session, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to the killings and for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima, another prominent critic of the killings who has been jailed on charges that are widely viewed as unsupported. The critics of the vice president, which include Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator who lost by a narrow margin to Robredo in the vice-presidential election and is challenging it in court, have charged that Robredo was behind all three events and is engaged in a "destabilization campaign" against the Duterte government to make herself president.

By the time the actual session took place, it was already controversial, and the heated political conflict the video prompted has raged in the Philippine media during weeks since then, only now possibly slowing down. A Google News search on "Robredo" turns up dozens of articles about it, most of them mentioning the video and our UN event. We've been able to play a helpful role at times -- the Philippine Daily Inquirer published an article this week which primarily featured an interview with our executive director (Group Say Duterte, Not Robredo, Upsetting Int'l Community), shared over 7,600 times according to the newspaper's web site, and several outlets including CNN Philippines published a statement we issued clarifying that the video's release was not related to the impeachment complaint against the president.

We have full footage from the event prepared, which we are shopping around to major media outlets before posting, but which we hope to make public by next week. We hope that seeing footage from the actual event will help to turn the discussion in the Philippines back to what's important: the extrajudicial killings and other abuses in the president's drug war, and the failure of the drug in the Philippines, US and elsewhere.

In the meanwhile, you can help by circulating the vice president's powerful video message on your networks. If you have a web site, you can post an embedded copy of the YouTube video, or you can post it to your social media pages. (When posting to Facebook, we recommend you use this Facebook copy, as we've heard that Facebook deprioritizes YouTube videos.)

Here is the event flyer:

And here is Vice President Robredo's video.

Vienna International Centre
Vienna
Austria

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Reform Bills Filed Today, DEA Scorched on Seizures, More... (3/30/17)

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus is getting down to business, yet another poll shows strong (and increasing) support for marijuana legalization, Trump names an acting drug czar, a California safe injection site bill is moving, and more.

The DOJ's inspector general is not impressed with DEA asset forfeiture practices. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New General Social Survey Poll Shows Jump in Support for Legalization. Support for marijuana legalization surged last year, according to new data released by the General Social Survey. The poll has support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from 2014.

Package of Federal Marijuana Reform Bills, Including Legalization, Filed Today. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals. Click on the link to read our feature story and see more about the bills.

Vermont Legalization Bill Hits Snag. The effort to legalize marijuana took a detour Tuesday when the House leadership indefinitely postponed a vote on House Bill 170 after it became apparent it didn't have enough votes to pass. The bill isn't dead, but it has now been sent to the House Human Services Committee, where it will sit until the leadership thinks it has come up with enough votes to pass.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Tax Bill. The Senate voted 31-1 Wednesday to approve House Bill 1580, which would impose a 4% tax on medical marijuana at each transaction. The tax would be levied on growers' sales to dispensaries and again on dispensaries' sales to individuals. The tax would sunset in 2019 after raising an estimated $3.6 million. The bill had already passed the House, but was sent back there for a concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate.

Colorado Legislators Vote to Rein In Medical Marijuana Home Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 17-1220, which would limit the number of medical marijuana plants grown at a single residence to 12. Under current law, up to 99 plants are allowed. The bill now heads to the governor's desk.

West Virginia Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 386, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions. The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Report Scorches DEA Over Asset Forfeitures. The Justice Department inspector general's office has released a report on DEA cash and asset seizure practices that warns the way DEA operates may pose a risk to civil liberties. The report noted that most seizures result from direct observation by DEA agents or local police, leading to concerns about the potential for racial profiling. The report examined a hundred asset forfeiture cases, and found that fewer than half advanced ongoing investigations. "When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution," the report said.

Drug Policy

Trump Nominates Richard Baum as Acting Drug Czar. The president has nominated Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) veteran and Georgetown University adjunct professor Richard Baum to be acting drug czar. While some of Baum's remarks over the years have drawn controversy, he is generally viewed by insiders as having a public policy approach as opposed to a drug warrior approach.

Harm Reduction

California Bill to Allow Supervised Injection Sites Advances. A bill that would create a five-year exemption from the state's drug laws to allow for the operation of supervised injection facilities advanced in the Assembly last week. The Assembly Health Committee voted 9-4 to approve Assembly Bill 186. The bill now goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Bills Filed in DC Today Are "Path to Marijuana Reform" [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals.

"The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business," Wyden said in a statement. "This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard."

The three bills in the package have not yet been assigned bill numbers, but are:

The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) -- Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act -- Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden's Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act -- Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; end requirement for residents of marijuana-legal states to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and ease barriers for medical marijuana research.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (wikimedia)
The three-bill package is just the latest pot law reform effort in Congress this year. At least five other bills have already been filed, and lawmakers are also planning to reintroduce the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocked the Justice Department from funding enforcement efforts against state-legal medical marijuana programs, and the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would similarly block enforcement against state-legal adult use programs. That later amendment came up just eight votes short last year.

The moves come against a backdrop of increasing acceptance of marijuana and marijuana legalization. Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for qualified patients and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. Public opinion polls now consistently show pot legalization with majority support; the latest came this week when the General Social Survey pegged support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from just two years earlier.

Groups supporting marijuana legalization pronounced themselves pleased.

"The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, "With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress' approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country's disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics."

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
"This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws," Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it's time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it."

"If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition," said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. "Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion."

Not everybody was happy. Former White House drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, who now heads the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Cannabist that more marijuana legalization would have negative consequences.

"While we don't want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana," Sabet wrote in an e-mail. "We need to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. We can't ignore the fact that today's legalized marijuana -- and the accompanying industry -- is damaging to public health. States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales and interstate trafficking."

But Sabet's is an increasingly lonely voice in the wilderness.

One Simple Way to Reduce Deadly Heroin and Pain Pill Overdoses

The United States is in the grips of the worst drug overdose crisis ever, with prescription opioids and illicit opiates like heroin killing tens of thousands of people each year, but many of those people aren't dying from opioids alone. Another class of prescription drugs is too often involved.

Those drugs are the benzodiazepines -- with brand names like Valium and Xanax -- and are prescribed by the millions to treat anxiety, They can be deadly on their own, with federal data showing nearly 9,000 fatal benzo ODs in 2015. But here's the kicker: Nearly half of all fatal benzo ODs involve both them and opioids.

And a new study published in the British Medical Journal provides further evidence of the risks of doing benzos and opioids together. That study drew on a sample of more than 300,000 patients continuously enrolled in private health insurance plans between 2001 and 2013, and researchers looked at emergency room visits for drug overdoses among those prescribed only opioids versus those prescribed both opioids and benzos.

The results were dramatic: People prescribed both types of drugs had nearly double the risk of an ER or inpatient visit for a drug overdose. Based on the results, researchers estimated that cutting benzo prescriptions for opioid users reduced the risk of ER visits by 15%. If that figure holds true for overdose deaths, some 2,630 opioid-related overdose deaths could have been prevented in 2015 alone.

The policy implications are clear, said study coauthor and Stanford University drug policy expert Keith Humphreys: Don't prescribe benzos to people being prescribed opioids.

"Even if we didn't change opioid prescribing at all, the data here suggest that we could cut overdoses dramatically just by getting prescribers to not put people on a benzodiazepine at the same time," Humphreys said.

That would require a real shift in prescribing practices. The number of patients in the study being prescribed both benzos and opioids nearly doubled between 2001 and 2013, from 9% to 17%.

Reducing co-prescriptions could be problematic for some patients. If they are suffering both pain and anxiety, they and their doctors will have to work together to decide which issue is most serious and which could be treated with alternatives. But making such tough choices could lead to a reduced risk of fatal overdose.

The BMJ study has its limits. It looked only at legally prescribed benzos and opioids, missing the effects of concurrent use of illicit drugs, and it looked only at ER and inpatient visits, not fatal overdoses. And it only demonstrated correlation, not causation. It's possible some factor other than co-prescribing was driving up overdose rates among study patients, but given that the overdose risks of mixing benzos and opioids are well established, suggesting that co-prescribing them results in increased overdoses is not exactly controversial.

Doctors can do their part to reduce the number of overdose deaths by reducing benzo and opioid co-prescribing, but since much benzo and opioid use occurs outside legal medical channels, users in non-medically supervised settings are also going to have to be keenly aware of the dangers of mixing those drugs. If they are, the evidence suggests they can save some lives.

Medical Marijuana Update

A new study suggests that medical marijuana can reduce opioid abuse, Arkansas and Florida continue to grapple with addressing voter-approved medical marijuana laws, and more.

National

On Monday a new study found that legalized medical marijuana could help curb opiod abuse. A new study reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds that in states with medical marijuana, hospitalization rates for opioid pain pill dependence and abuse dropped by nearly a quarter (23%), while opioid overdose rates dropped by 13%. Researchers had expected to see an increase in marijuana-related visits. "Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers," said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Arkansas

Last Thursday the Senate passed two medical marijuana "fix" bills. The state Senate approved two bills aimed at modifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The Senate approved House Bill 1400, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is banned. That bill now goes to the governor's desk. The Senate also approved Senate Bill 721, which would require dispensaries to appoint a pharmacist director who would be available for consultations with patients during hours the dispensary is open. That bill now heads to the House.

Colorado

Last Wednesday the patient plant limit rose to 24 as a bill limiting home grows advanced. A bill aimed at limiting marijuana home grows has been amended -- again -- in the House Judiciary Committee. In a Wednesday vote, the committee approved raising the plant limit under House Bill 1220 to 24 plants. The bill had originally set the number at 12, but lawmakers then upped the count to 16, and now 24 -- if patients register with the state. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Florida

On Tuesday a restrictive medical marijuana bill advanced. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia

On Tuesday a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill passed the House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Maine

On Monday Ma bill to make medical marijuana users eligible for organ transplans got a hearing. Legislators heard powerful testimony from patients removed from life-saving organ transplant lists because they used marijuana as they considered Legislative Document 764. The bill would targets the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, whose transplant policy states that "use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route of administration is absolutely prohibited." No vote was taken, and the bill is scheduled for more hearings next month.

Oklahoma

On Monday the state Supreme Court ruled the former attorney general wrongly changed initiative ballot question wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.

West Virginia

Last Friday a medical marijuana bill advanced. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee voted to approve Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would create a system of regulated cultivation sites and dispensaries and allow the use of medical marijuana by persons suffering from a list of qualifying conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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

Chronicle AM: GA CBD Bill Advances, SD MedMJ & Legalization Inits Pass Hurdle, More... (3/29/17)

South Dakota activists hope the third time's the charm when it comes to medical marijuana initiatives, a Georgia CBD expansion bill advances, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slaps down former Attorney General (now EPA head) Scott Pruitt over medical marijuana ballot language, and more.

Will South Dakota ever approve medical marijuana? Voters could have another chance in 2018. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Get Attorney General Approval. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has provided required attorney general explanations for two proposed initiatives. A marijuana legalization initiative would allow the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to five plants, as well as taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, while a medical marijuana initiative would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow a minimum of six plants. The initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and both need 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Restrictive Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Clears House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Former Attorney General Wrongly Changed Initiative Ballot Question Wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate File 446, which would bar the seizure of property valued at less than $5,000 unless there was a prior criminal conviction. The measure also increases the standard of proof required for asset forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill is now in the House, where it must advance by a committee this week to survive.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Senator, Congresswoman File Federal Bill to Increase Penalties for Border "Spotters." US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced the "Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act," which would toughen penalties on "spotters" who warn drug and human smugglers about the position of Border Patrol surveillance or officers. The bill would subject such people to up to 10 years in federal prison. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Chronicle AM: American College of Physicians Says Addiction Not a Moral Failing, More... (3/28/17)

A leading doctors' group comes out for a progressive approach to opioid addiction, new research suggests medical marijuana can reduce opioid-related emergencies and overdoses, the Tennessee legislature slaps down pot decriminalization in Memphis and Nashville, and more.

The ACP sees an opioid crisis and has some progressive approaches. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Bill to Block Municipal Decriminalization Passes Legislature. After the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, passed municipal marijuana decriminalization ordinances, the legislature has struck back. The Senate on Monday approved House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The measure passed the House last week and now head's for the governor's desk.

Medical Marijuana

Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds. A new study reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds that in states with medical marijuana, hospitalization rates for opioid pain pill dependence and abuse dropped by nearly a quarter (23%), while opioid overdose rates dropped by 13%. Researchers had expected to see an increase in marijuana-related visits. "Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers," said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Maine Bill Would Make Medical Marijuana Users Eligible for Organ Transplants. Legislators heard powerful testimony from patients removed from life-saving organ transplant lists because they used marijuana as they considered Legislative Document 764 Monday. The bill would targets the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, whose transplant policy states that "use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route of administration is absolutely prohibited." No vote was taken, and the bill is scheduled for more hearings next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

American College of Physicians Calls for Opioid Addiction to Be Treated as Chronic Condition, Not Moral Failing. In a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians released a comprehensive set of public policy recommendations for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders that calls for treating addiction as a treatable chronic condition, not a moral failing or criminal activity. The guidelines call for expanded access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and opioid maintenance therapies, as well as urging physicians to avoid opioids as first-line treatments for most chronic pain and to limit opioids for acute pain to the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. And they suggest that it is time to consider drug decriminalization or legalization: "Stakeholders should assess the risks and benefits of removing or reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent offenses involving illicit drugs."

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalization mid-2018?, Christie Named "Drug Commissioner," More... (3/27/17)

Canada says it will legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018; Chris Christie will be named White House "drug commissioner," Illinoisans are ready to legalize weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66% if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The poll comes days after legislators filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353.

Michigan Legalizers Release 2018 Initiative Draft. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has released the latest draft of the cannabis legalization initiative the group hopes to put to voters in November 2018. Under the draft, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow up to 12 plants, and marijuana commerce would be taxed and regulated. An initiative campaign last year came up just short in signature gathering.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Recreational Weed. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) rolled out Senate Bill 302 last Friday. The bill would allow for an early start to recreational marijuana sales by allowing existing dispensaries to sell to non-patients before the January 1, 2018 deadline set in last fall's voter-approved ballot initiative. The move is aimed at stamping out the black market and allowing the state to get tax revenues. A similar move is afoot at the state Department of Taxation.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Democrats File Pair of Heroin Bills. Some three dozen Democratic General Assembly members gathered last Friday to announce a pair of bills aimed at fighting rising heroin overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 1060, the Start Talking Maryland Act, would require drug education programs to address the high lethality of fentanyl and colleges that teach medical providers to include addiction treatment education. Senate Bill 967, the Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish 10 heroin crisis centers around the state, as well as easing access to buprenorphine and naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Legislature Gives Final Approval to Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The House had approved the bill earlier, but had to have a final concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

New Mexico Bill That Would Have Directed Seized Funds to Cops Dies. A bill that would have diverted seized assets from the state general fund and given them to law enforcement agencies handling the cases has died in the House, and the cops are unhappy. Senate Bill 202 had passed the Senate unanimously, but couldn't get out of the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm utterly disgusted," said Pecos Valley Drug Task Force Commander James McCormick. "That's just takes away another avenue we have to thwart drug dealing. The money we used to get, we don't have any more."

Drug Policy

Jared Kushner's White House "SWAT Team" Will Include Chris Christie as Drug Commission Chair. The White House "SWAT team" to be led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and aimed at streamlining policy-making will include an official drug commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The commission will emphasis combating opioid abuse, a favorite theme for Trump.

Law Enforcement

New Hampshire Senate Approves Funding More Troopers to Fight Cross-Border Drugs. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to spend nearly $4.5 million over the next two years to hire five new state troopers to wage war on the state's opioid epidemic by targeting traffic from Massachusetts, expand the "Granite Hammer" program counts to local law enforcement, and pay for overtime for specialized enforcement units such as the State Police and Narcotics Investigation Unit. The measure, Senate Bill 131, is now headed for the House, where it is expected to pass.

NYPD Cop Who Killed Ramarley Graham Quits. Graham, 18, was shot and killed in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste after he fled into his own apartment bathroom and was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down a toilet. Haste avoided criminal charges for the killing, but a departmental trial found him guilty of violating department policies and he was facing firing when he decided to turn in his badge and gun.

International

Canada Will Legalize Marijuana By July 1, 2018. The governing Liberals will announce legislation next month to legalize marijuana, with the new law set to go into effect on Canada Day -- July1 -- next year. The legislation will set 18 as the age limit for legal use and set up a legal, regulated, and taxed system of marijuana commerce. People who want to grow their own will be limited to four plants. [Update: The government's point man on legalization has called this date "highly speculative." Hat tip: Marijuana Moment.]

Legal Marijuana: The Sky is (Probably) Not Falling [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Barrels of ink have been spilled over the prospect that the Trump administration could attempt to turn back the clock when it comes to legal marijuana, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth out there, marijuana industry insiders, advocates, and activists don't seem all that worried.

Jeff Sessions loathes marijuana, but is going after it the best use of DOJ resources? (senate.gov)
"I don't think there's any more reason to be scared than to be hopeful at this point," said Mason Tvert, Denver-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The administration has not changed its marijuana policy, and there is reason to believe it may maintain the existing policy or adopt a similar one that respects states' laws regulating marijuana."

"Marijuana is one of the least of my concerns with the Trump administration," said Dale Gieringer, coauthor of the pioneering 1996 Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative and long-time head of California NORML. "That's the first time I've been able to say that, but I just don’t see where there's any percentage in them going after marijuana. The polls are on our side, and they can't enforce the law."

The industry, too, seems to think that there's not really that much to fear from the Trump administration.

"We are in a posture of cautious optimism," said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "We're definitely not taking anything for granted -- it's quite clear that Sessions has really strong personal opposition to the industry -- but we are encouraged by the intense pushback, not just from the industry, but from elected officials, regulators, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. That is probably the most powerful signal to the Justice Department that dramatic changes to current policy would cause them a lot of problems."

West pointed to the strong reaction from state officials in marijuana-legal and medical marijuana states, as well as support from federal lawmakers and not just Democrats. She cited Nevada US Sen. Dean Heller as an example of a Republican lawmaker siding with the industry over the administration.

"They are speaking up because the industry and individual businesses and consumers have spoken up as their constituents and taught them about the industry and what we stand far and why we deserve respect from the federal government," she said.

And the marijuana money people appear largely unperturbed, too. In a report released Thursday, Arcview Market Research projected that the industry is going to continue to boom regardless of what happens in Washington, with revenues of nearly $7 billion this year and an astounding projected annual growth rate of 27% through 2021.

"While the uncertainty created by the mixed signals coming out of the administration may cause a temporary dip in some valuations of cannabis companies and some more risk-averse institutional investors and multinational companies may continue to stay on the sidelines, it won't impact the growth of the market much at all," said Troy Dayton, CEO of Arcview Market Research. "No matter what the administration does, states will continue to issue cannabis licenses to a long line of applicants and licensed cannabis outlets will continue to have long lines of consumers ready to purchase this product from regulated establishments."

Maintaining the Status Quo

Legal marijuana could be a $7 billion industry by 2021. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half the states and adult recreational use is legal in eight, including the entire West Coast. Some early enforcement actions notwithstanding, the Obama administration largely turned a blind eye to state-legal but federally-illegal marijuana. The Obama Justice Department adhered to the Cole memorandum, a 2013 "guidance" to federal prosecutors that essentially limited them to going only after legal marijuana operations that crossed specified lines: selling to minors, diverting product to non-legal states, being involved in violence or other trafficking, and the like.

Medical marijuana states at least are also protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-compliant medical marijuana operations. A similar measure, the McClintock-Hollis amendment, would have extended that same shield to the adult-legal states, but came up just short in the last Congress. Both amendments will be offered again this year.

"Jeff Sessions doesn't like marijuana -- that much is clear -- but that's not the question," MPP's Tvert argued. "The question is whether he believes limited federal resources should be used to interfere in state marijuana laws. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that's the case."

Tvert pointed to Sessions' seeming acceptance of the Cole memo, as well as a memo Sessions sent to federal prosecutors last month telling them to go after "the worst of the worst" and violent crime.

"State licensed and regulate marijuana businesses are by no means violent or the 'worst of the worst,'" Tvert noted. "They want to go after cartels and violent criminals and focus on serious crime, so why force marijuana back into the underground market?"

"President Trump said states should be able to determine own marijuana policies, and he also had strong support for legal access to medical marijuana, and we haven't heard anything new from him on it," said Tvert. "But again, it's not a question of the president's personal views, but of what the federal laws are and the realities of enforcement. Sessions has said on multiple occasions that the federal government cannot effectively enforce federal prohibition in states where it is legal."

The view was not quite as sanguine from Washington, DC, where national NORML has its offices.

"As far as the industry goes, even the threat of a crackdown by the Justice Department has a chilling effect," said Justin Strekal, NORML political director and lobbyist. "While medical marijuana is protected under Farr-Rohrabacher, the adult use economy has no such protections -- at least for now."

"The Cole memo is just a piece of paper," Strekal said, "and there is nothing stopping Sessions from just throwing it away, as the Heritage Foundation has called for him to do. But the Justice Department has no way to force states to recriminalize marijuana in decrim or legal states. The worst case would be that the adult use states are rolled back to a situation where there is no way to have a legal distribution system, but local law enforcement is not going to be enforcing federal marijuana prohibition."

Where apprehension about the direction of Trump administration pot policy is having a real impact right now is in causing politicians to think twice about legalization in states that are considering it, Strekal said.

"We're hearing feedback from legislators in Connecticut and Maryland saying that the attorney general's comments are acting as a road block, while in Georgia, we just saw a defelonization bill defeated. The mere presence of a Reefer Madness-era Jeff Sessions is frightening off potential supporters of ending prohibition."

Still, Bad Things Could Happen

If Congress blocks funding, DEA can't go after legal marijuana (sort of). (justice.gov/dea)
While an oppositional Trump administration may retard the expansion of legal marijuana in the states, the status quo of a fifth of the country living under legalization and more than half with access to medical marijuana appears unlikely to be rolled-back. But that doesn't necessarily mean a free ride for legal weed.

"There could be some sort of federal action against some adult use facility or grower or cultivation company whose product is found to have gone across state lines in quantity, or something like that," CANORML's Gieringer offered. "Like if you have a situation where Nebraska complains, maybe that could stir up pressure in the Justice Department. But that's the most I expect. I could be wrong, though."

"Since Colorado started its licensing program, there's always been a fear that the Justice Department would just bring a lawsuit saying the state is participating in an ongoing conspiracy to distribute a Schedule I drug," Gieringer observed. "They had their chance and they didn't do it. If they tried it now, they will have taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from Colorado and potentially billions from other states and leave anarchy. They can't enforce the marijuana laws anyway; it's a drain on federal resources to even try."

"A federal injection is a potential threat, but it was a potential threat six months ago, too," said MPP's Tvert. "It's still a question of resources. If that were to happen, marijuana would continue to be legal, but the federal government would be preventing states from controlling its production and sale. That would be a real serious problem."

But Tvert warned that the heavy hand of the federal government could still reach out and slap someone down.

"Sean Spicer said they would have greater enforcement, and that could mean anything," he said. "They could be planning to more rigorously enforce the laws against people not in compliance with state laws, there could be more enforcement against illegal actors, they could push states to strengthen their regulations to prevent interstate trafficking. They perhaps could encourage states to increase funding to law enforcement to investigate illegal activity. There is plenty they could do without interfering with the legal market."

The Fightback Against Rollback Will Only Grow Stronger

The advent of a potential hostile Trump administration isn't changing the way NORML does business, Strekal said.

"We're continuing to do what we've always done and act as a grassroots consumer advocacy group," he explained. "We have 150 chapters and we're engaging as an advocacy group at every level of government from city councils to state legislatures to the federal government. At the federal level, we're very encouraged by the formation of the congressional cannabis caucus. We've been working with them to host a few events."

"This moment in time, where there is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level, is the kind of moment the NCIA was created for," said West. "We've been building relationships and allies in DC around industry issues, so when we need those allies, we have them."

Like MPP, the NCIA has a full-time staff lobbyist in Washington. It also works with another DC-based lobbying firm to work the Hill, and with legislators and elected officials.

"You've been able to see, through our work and the work of others, a very strong pushback from people who previously wouldn't have been in favor of the marijuana industry," West said. "The federal government can try to enforce marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, but it doesn't really have the personnel to do that without the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement. If states are resisting that crackdown, which elected officials have said they would do, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

Legal marijuana is on guard, but it's not running away from a fight. The question for the Trump administration becomes whether this is a fight worth fighting.

Chronicle AM: AZ Init Would Legalize All Drugs, DE Legal MJ Bill Coming, More... (3/24/17)

An Arizona initiative would legalize all drugs, Delaware will see a marijuana legalization bill this year, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

A Spanish court has refused to convict a man of drug trafficking for importing coca leaf. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative Proposal. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative, saying the ballot title is ambiguous and that "a number of changes or additions" are needed "to more fully and correctly summarize" the proposal. The initiative came from Larry Morris of West Fork and would allow for the possession, cultivation, production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the state.

Delaware Legalization Bill Coming. State Sen. Margaret Rose-Henry (D-Wilmington) is preparing a marijuana legalization bill that she says has support from law enforcement. "Law enforcement wants this bill. I'm pleased to tell you that there are police officers who think this is a good thing that we are going to reduce their having to arrest people who don't need to be arrested," said Rose-Henry. She is currently putting the finishing touches on the bill, she said.

Tennessee House Approves Bill to Undo Nashville's Decriminalization. The House on Thursday approved a bill that would take away Nashville's ability to issue civil citations for small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting people for it. House Bill 173 passed the House 65-28 and now goes to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Passes Two Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills. The state Senate on Thursday approved two bills aimed at modifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The Senate approved House Bill 1400, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is banned. That bill now goes to the governor's desk. The Senate also approved Senate Bill 721, which would require dispensaries to appoint a pharmacist director who would be available for consultations with patients during hours the dispensary is open. That bill now heads to the House.

Colorado Patient Plant Limit Rises to 24 as Bill Advances. A bill aimed at limiting marijuana home grows has been amended -- again -- in the House Judiciary Committee. In a Wednesday vote, the committee approved raising the plant limit under House Bill 1220 to 24 plants. The bill had originally set the number at 12, but lawmakers then upped the count to 16, and now 24 -- if patients register with the state. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee voted Friday to approve Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would create a system of regulated cultivation sites and dispensaries and allow the use of medical marijuana by persons suffering from a list of qualifying conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia Hemp Bills Head for Floor Votes. Both the House and the Senate sent hemp-related measures to floor votes in their respective chambers Wednesday. The Senate Agriculture Committee advanced Senate Resolution 35, which calls on Congress to distinguish between hemp and marijuana by THC threshold. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 2453, which would allow the state agriculture commissioner discretion to issue commercial hemp production licenses.

Drug Policy

Arizona Groups Files Initiatives to Legalize Marijuana, All Drugs. An organization called RAD Final has filed a pair of initiatives relating to drug policy. Initiative I-13-2018 would legalize all drugs and forbid government from taxing or regulating them, while I-14-2018 would legalize marijuana alone. Initiative organizers would have to gather 150,642 valid voter signatures for each initiative by July 2018 to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Employee Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would let employers require employees to undergo suspicionless drug tests passed the House of Delegates on Thursday. House Bill 2857. The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

Spanish Court Acquits Man of Importing Coca Leaf. The provincial court of Girona has acquitted a Colombian man of drug trafficking charges for importing coca leaf. The decision came after the defense presented evidence and testimony about the historical, cultural, social and medicinal value of the coca leaf.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal MJ Bill Filed, CA Bill Bars Helping Feds Attack Legal MJ, More... (3/23/17)

Illinois lawmakers want to see marijuana legalization; California lawmakers want to protect marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Block Cops From Aiding Federal Pot Crackdown. Six Democratic legislators have filed Assembly Bill 1578, which would bar state and local law enforcement from cooperating in any federal enforcement activities aimed at state-legal marijuana operations. "Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces… the will of our state's voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.

Illinois Lawmakers File Legalization Bill. A group of Chicago Democratic legislators have filed a marijuana legalization bill by amending an existing bill, House Bill 2353. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults (a half-ounce for non-residents), set up a system of legal marijuana manufacture and distribution $50 per 28 grams on all cannabis flowers, and give state regulators 180 days to get a system up and running.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Rules Lawsuit From Man Jailed Over Bottle of Vitamins Can Advance. An Illinois man jailed for two months after police claimed the pills in his vitamin bottle were ecstasy despite lab tests that showed they weren't can continue to pursue his federal civil rights claim, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Elijah Manuel, who is black, said officers pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding, falsely claimed they smelled marijuana, screamed racial slurs, then claimed their field drug test indicated his vitamins were ecstasy. Police continued to hold him in jail even after other tests verified the pills were not ecstasy until prosecutors eventually dropped the case. "No evidence of Manuel's criminality had come to light in between the roadside arrest and the county court proceeding initiating legal process; to the contrary, yet another test of Manuel's pills had come back negative in that period," according to the opinion. "All that the judge had before him were police fabrications about the pills' content. The judge's order holding Manuel for trial therefore lacked any proper basis. And that means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

International

Vietnam Sentenced Nine to Death for Drug Trafficking. A court in Hoa Binh province sentenced nine men to death for trafficking more than a thousand pounds of heroin in a trial that ended Tuesday. Vietnam sentences dozens of people to death each year; about a third of them for drug offenses.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Cleveland jail guard gets caught trying to smuggle heroin to an accused rapist, a Border Patrol veteran heads to prison for trying to traffic cocaine, and more. Let's get to it:

In Cleveland, a Cuyahoga County jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was smuggling heroin in to an accused rapist. Corrections Officer Kamara Austin, 43, went down after investigators found heroin and pills in his car. He is charged with second-degree drug trafficking, drug possession, and possession of criminal tools. At last report, he was still behind bars on $250,000 bond.

In Casper, Wyoming, a Converse County detention officer was arrested last Thursday after a snitch told authorities he would be delivering oxycodone. Detention Officer Joe Martinez, 37, went down when he went to meet his buyer -- the snitch -- and was instead met by detectives, who found a pill bottle with 10 oxycodone tablets. He is charged with drug possession with intent to deliver.

In Tucson, Arizona, a former Border Patrol agent was sentenced last Friday to more than 13 years in federal prison for trying to drive what he thought was 110 pounds of cocaine from Tucson to Chicago for $50,000. The "cocaine" wasn't real cocaine, but a dummy substance placed there by an undercover law enforcement officer as part of a sting. Juan Pimentel, 48, was convicted of drug smuggling and accepting a bribe from drug traffickers.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy. Lawmakers in Arkansas and North Dakota try to "fix" medical marijuana initiatives, New York chronic pain patients can now use medical marijuana, a CBD compromise is reached in Georgia, and more.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the Court of Appeals upheld limits on PTSD recommendations. The state court of appeals ruled that the Department of Health Services was acting legally when it decided that doctors could only recommend medical marijuana for "palliative care" for PTSD. The department argued there was no evidence showing marijuana could actually cure people of PTSD. The department also limited recommendations to people who were already being treated for PTSD. An Arizona medical marijuana nurses group filed suit against the restrictions, but now the court has ruled against them.

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, a bill to ban edibles and public smoking won a committee vote. A bill that would bar medical marijuana patients from consuming edibles or from smoking their medicine in public was approved by the House Rules Committee. But the measure, House Bill 1400, faces an uphill battle to win final approval because any changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Last Friday, the bill passed the House. The House voted to approve House Bill 1400, which would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. The bill passed 88-0. Under the bill, knowingly smoking medical marijuana in the presence of a pregnant woman would be prohibited. The measure also prohibits those under 21 from smoking medical marijuana. A bill that would have banned smoking medical marijuana at all has already died in the Senate.

On Monday, the House killed a bill banning edibles. The House voted 52-40 to kill House Bill 1991, which would have banned the commercial production of medical marijuana edibles in the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) argued that patients could make their own and that medical marijuana is medicine, not candy, but her arguments failed to sway her peers.

Georgia

Last Thursday, lawmakers reached a compromise on a CBD cannabis oil bill. Lawmakers appear to have reached an agreement that would add six illnesses and conditions to the state's list of qualifying medical conditions, allow the use of CBD cannabis oil in hospice care, and keep the allowable level of THC in cannabis oil at 5% or less. That means Senate Bill 16 should now be able to pass out of the House Human Services Committee and head for a House floor vote.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, bills to protect patients' employment rights filed. Even as the state Supreme Court heard a case on employment rights for medical marijuana patients, two bills alive in the state legislature would do just that. Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) has introduced House Bill 2385, which would explicitlyprotect the rights of a medical marijuana patient to use the drug without facing discrimination in hiring, firing or terms of employment. The bill would also protect medical marijuana patients from discrimination in education, housing and child welfare and custody cases. That bill is currently before the Committee on Marijuana Policy. A similar bill was filed last sessions, but didn't pass. A second bill, House Bill 113, is aimed mostly at updating state law to bring it in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but one provision clarifies that employers cannot take adverse employment action against someone for using medical marijuana. That bill is before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.

Nebraska

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill got a charged hearing. At a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, law enforcement, the state attorney general's office, and the state's top doctor all came out in opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Legislative Bill 622, but legislators also heard emotional testimony in favor of the bill from Army veterans and others who said they would benefit from access to medical marijuana. Five of the bill's sponsors sit on the eight-member Judiciary Committee, so the bill is likely to make it to a House floor vote, where opposition has killed similar measures in past years.

Last Friday, the bill headed for a floor vote. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 6-1to advance Legislative Bill 622, which would bring medical marijuana to the Cornhusker state. The bill would authorize cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana products, but would ban smoking the herb or allowing patients to grow their own. The bill is opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), as well as the state's law enforcement establishment.

Nevada

On Monday, a bill was filed to let medical marijuana patients carry guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351. That measure would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a concealed carry permit. Current state law requires sheriffs to deny such permits for medical marijuana users.

New Hampshire

On Monday, Na Senate committee approved the use of medical marijuana for Ehrlers-Danlos syndrome. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Elderly Committee has approved a bill that would add Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The measure now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, the House will take it up.

New York

Last Thursday, the Health Department said New Yorkers suffering chronic pain will be able to use medical marijuana starting this week. After announcing in December that it planned to add chronic paid to its list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, the Health Department said patients could start getting recommendations for chronic pain beginning Wednesday. The department also announced that physicians' assistants can now recommend medical marijuana. "Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program," Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement. "These key enhancements further that goal."

North Dakota

On Tuesday, advocates threatened a lawsuit or new initiative in the face of legislative meddling. The head of the committee that ran the state's successful medical marijuana initiative campaign warned legislators that they could face a legal challenge or even another initiative campaign if they don't back away from changes contemplated in Senate Bill 2344, which has already passed the Senate. That measure bars patients and caregivers from growing their own plants and restricts the use of smoked medical marijuana to cases where a physician attests that no other form of marijuana would be effective. The comments came from Rilie Ray Morgan as he testified before the House Human Services Committee.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was prounounced dead. Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Crosby) said that his medical marijuana bill, House Bill 495, is dead because senators were afraid to vote for it. "The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said Tuesday after the House Health Committee shelved the bill and instead approved a non-binding marijuana-related resolution to study the issue over the summer.

Utah

On Tuesday, advocates announced plans for a 2018 initiative. Medical marijuana advocates are gearing up to try to put an initiative on the state's 2018 ballot. They said they would begin the process of signature gathering next month, and they cite promising polling. The state legislature has so far thwarted efforts to create a robust medical marijuana program.

Virginia

Last Thursday, the governor signed a bill legalizing pharmacy distribution of CBD and THC-A oil. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed Senate Bill 1027 into law. The bill allows for companies to manufacture and provide CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy and provides for its distribution through pharmacies.

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

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Advances, ID Senate Approves Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/22/17)

Legalization bills are still alive in Rhode Island and Vermont, Idaho (!) is on the verge of passing civil asset forfeiture reform, North Dakota activists are threatening to strike back if the legislature messes too much with the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

Marijuana legislation is on the move in Montpelier. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislators Say They Have Votes to Legalize Marijuana. Two state legislators who have spearheaded the effort to legalize marijuana said on Tuesday they have majority support in both chambers to pass marijuana legalization -- if the legislative leadership allows the bills to get to a vote. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence), sponsor of House Bill 5555, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), sponsor of companion measure Senate Bill 420, said at a press conference said the House bill is sponsored by one-third of House members and the Senate bill by 15 of 38 senators, and that others don't want to support the bill publicly, but have pledged their private support. Both bills are currently before their respective judiciary committees.

Vermont Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee approved a marijuana legalization bill on an 8-3 vote Wednesday. House Bill 170 would allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, but does not contemplate legal marijuana commerce. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Advocates Threaten Lawsuit or New Initiative in Face of Legislative Meddling. The head of the committee that ran the state's successful medical marijuana initiative campaign warned legislators Tuesday that they could face a legal challenge or even another initiative campaign if they don't back away from changes contemplated in Senate Bill 2344, which has already passed the Senate. That measure bars patients and caregivers from growing their own plants and restricts the use of smoked medical marijuana to cases where a physician attests that no other form of marijuana would be effective. The comments came from Rilie Ray Morgan as he testified before the House Human Services Committee.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Crosby) said Tuesday that his medical marijuana bill, House Bill 495, is dead because senators were afraid to vote for it. "The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said Tuesday after the House Health Committee shelved the bill and instead approved a non-binding marijuana-related resolution to study the issue over the summer.

Hemp

Texas Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) has filed House Bill 3587, which would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes. The bill would direct the state Agriculture Department to set up a licensing and regulation program for hemp.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The bill has already passed the House, but must now go back for a concurrence vote after the Senate amended by heightening reporting requirements, among other things.

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