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Chronicle AM: RI House Punts on Legalization, Leading Mexican Journo Gunned Down, More... (5/17/17)

The Rhode Island House voted to study marijuana legalization instead of actually do it, Vermont newspapers pressure the governor to sign their legalization bill, the federal Justice Safety Valve Act gets refiled, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas is gunned down, and more.

RIP. Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, gunned down by presumed cartel hit men in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Monday. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

California Assembly Passes Bill to Restrict Edibles Packaging. The Assembly on Monday approved Assembly Bill 350, which would bar labels on edibles that "contain any content that is designed to be attractive to individuals under the age of 21," including cartoons, images that resemble those used to advertise to children, or have candy-like packaging. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

California Senate Passes Edibles Packaging Bill. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 794, which would require all baked items and candies containing marijuana to be marked with a universal symbol (to be designed by the Bureau of Marijuana) and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. The bill now goes to the House.

Rhode Island House Punts on Legalization, Votes for More Study. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted to put off marijuana legalization for at least another year, instead approving a bill to set up a joint House-Senate commission to study the issue. The vote came as more than 200 people gathered on the state house steps to demand a vote on legalization. Legalization backers in the legislature say they have not given up on this year yet, though. Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) said he has "about three alternatives in my back pocket to get this done one way or another" and "I won't give up on this until the last night of session."

Four Vermont Newspapers Call on Governor to Sign Legalization Bill. The Burlington Free Press, the Bennington Banner, the Addison County Independent, and the Rutland Herald have all published editorials urging Gov. Phil Scott (R) to sign into law Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana and set up a commission to study taxing and regulating marijuana commerce. The bill has not yet officially arrived on Scott's desk. Once it does, he will have five days to either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Washington Governor Signs "Omnibus" Marijuana Bill. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 5131, the "omnibus bill" of more than a dozen legal changes to the state's marijuana laws. The bill creates an organic certification program for weed, allows people to share pot with friends without fear of violating the law, bars marijuana businesses from depicting plants on any billboards, allows medical patients to buy seeds and plants from producers, and instructs regulators to study the feasibility of allowing people to grow their own. Washington is the only legal state that doesn't allow for home grows.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Stalled. A bill that would have expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana stalled in the Senate Tuesday as lawmakers complained that a promised amendment to address concerns of the medical profession was never added. But sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) said Senate Bill 24 would be reintroduced at a later date. The bill would have added debilitating anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions and removed a requirement that a psychiatrist sign recommendations for people seeking medical marijuana for PTSD.

Drug Policy

Sen. Kamala Harris Slams Trump/Sessions Drug Policy. California's junior senator, Kamala Harris (D) on Tuesday took Attorney General Sessions to task over his call for tough crackdown on drug offenders last week. "I saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure," Harris said. "It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet." She also called for federal marijuana rescheduling and decriminalization.

Sentencing

Bipartisan "Justice Safety Valve Act" Filed in Both Houses. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Tuesday reintroduced the Justice Safety Valve Act, Senate Bill 1127, while Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) filed companion legislation, House Bill 2435, in the lower chamber. The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based on mitigating factors. "Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies. As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws," said Sen. Paul.

International

Leading Mexican Journalist Gunned Down in Sinaloa. Gunmen in the state capital of Culiacan on Monday assassinated journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, as he drove to work in his car. Valdez, a veteran journalist who chronicled the bloody conflicts between drug cartels in his home state, co-founded the newspaper Riodoce in 2003, and had won prizes from Columbia University and the Committee to Protect Journalists for his reporting. Valdez is only the latest of at least 104 journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2000; another 25 have disappeared. The killing is raising pressure on the Mexican government, which has failed to solve all but a handful of the slaying. Your reporter met Valdez in his office in Culiacan in 2008. He will be missed.

Chronicle AM: AG Sessions Orders Tougher Sentencing, NH Gov Will Sign Decrim, More... (5/12/17)

Attorney General Sessions has rolled out plans to return to the harsh war on drugs of old, New Hampshire is set to become the next decriminalization state (even as polls show it's ready for legalization), Denver takes a step toward social pot consumption permits, and more.

Attorney General Sessions has announced a return to the "tough on drugs" policies of the last century. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization.A new poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has some of the strongest support anywhere for marijuana legalization. The poll found 68% supported legalization, with only 27% opposed. What makes the finding even more striking is that more than half (53%) of respondents in the same poll identified drug abuse as the most serious issue facing the state. As the pollster noted, "The public doesn't see marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis as the same issue."

New Hampshire Governor Says He Will Sign Decriminalization Bill. Maybe he's following the polls, but Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has confirmed that he will sign House Bill 460, which decriminalizes the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of pot. "I want to thank the Legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform," Sununu said in a statement. "I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Dies. The clock has run out on House Bill 81, which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The House failed to take up the bill before a midnight Thursday deadline, meaning it is now dead for the session.

Denver Releases Draft Rules for Social Marijuana Consumption Permits. The city released draft rules and regulations for businesses seeking to obtain permits to allow onsite marijuana consumption on Thursday. The draft rules do not allow businesses seeking such a permit to hold a liquor license, meaning dreams of being able to smoke and drink at the same place have gone out the window -- at least for now. The rules are still open for review, with a public hearing set for June 13. The rules also envision making customers sign a waiver form saying they won't drive impaired and won't sell pot at the business. Businesses would not be able to sell any marijuana; instead customers would have to BYOB -- up to an ounce.

Philadelphia Mayor Says Legalize It, Let State Liquor Stores Sell It. Mayor Jim Kenney (D) has called for pot to be legalized and sold at state liquor stores. The state has "the perfect system to set up the legal recreational use" of marijuana with its state-controlled liquor stores, Kenny said. Doing so would allow the state "to capture all the income that is going to the underground," he said, adding that revenues could go to public education.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Patients to Transport Their Medicine. Rep. Peter Lucido (D-Macomb County) has filed House Bill 4606, which would repeal a 2012 law making it illegal to transport marijuana unless it's in a container in the trunk of a vehicle. It's "ridiculous" that medical marijuana patients can't carry pot like any other prescription medication," Lucido said."It makes no sense to give out medical marijuana cards and force patients to put it in the trunk," he continued. "My God, it's not a gun -- being a lawyer, my law firm has taken on at least a dozen of these cases."

New Jersey Panel Recommends Adding Chronic Pain as Qualifying Condition. The state Medical Marijuana Program Review Panel on Friday recommended that the Health Commissioner approve chronic pain related to a number of ailments as a qualifying condition for the use of medical marijuana. There will now be a 60-day comment period and a public hearing before the recommendations is finalized and sent to the commissioner.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Orders Tougher Drug Sentencing, Rolling Back Obama Reforms. In a memo released Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges against crime suspects, rolling back Obama administration steps to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders. The policy shift signals a return to "enforcing the laws that Congress has passed," Sessions said Friday.

ACLU Criticizes Sessions' Shift Back to Failed Drug Policies. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to Attorney General Sessions' shift in drug policy by calling it "repeating a failed experiment" and a throwback to the 1980s. Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice said it sounds like a return to the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s, which "devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans."

Eric Holder Criticizes Sessions Shift Back to Failed Drug Policies. Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, author of some of the sentencing reforms being rolled back by Sessions, called the move "dumb on crime" and said Sessions is ignoring bipartisan support for sentencing changes. Sessions' policy is "an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences," Holder added.

Chronicle AM: VT Lawmakers Pass Legalization, Sessions May Restart Harsh Drug War, More... (5/10/17)

A bill legalizing the possession and cultivaiton of small amounts of marijuana has passed the Vermont legislature, Attorney General Sessions could be on the verge of reinstating harsh drug war prosecution practices, Mexico's drug violence is on the upswing, and more.

The Vermont legislature made history today becoming the first to have both houses approve a legalization bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legislature Passes Legalization Bill. The state becomes the first in the nation to have both chambers of the legislature approve a marijuana legalization bill after the House voted on Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 22, a compromise between a House bill that would only legalize possession and cultivation -- not commerce -- and a Senate bill that envisioned a full-blown tax and regulate law. This bill postpones the effective date of personal legalization to next year and creates a commission to study whether to advance on taxation and regulation. The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R). It is unclear whether Scott will sign the bill or not.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Despite the strongest support yet in Austin, the fight to pass a medical marijuana bill is over. House Bill 2107 is dead, killed by the House Calendars Committee, which failed to take action on it by a Tuesday deadline.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate File 446, which requires a criminal conviction before property valued at less than $5,000 can be seized by police. The new law also raises the standard of proof from a preponderance of the evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, and implements record-keeping requirements.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Could Bring Back Harsh Drug War Prosecutions. Sessions is reviewing policy changes that could reverse Obama era sentencing practices aimed at reducing the federal prison population. According to reports, Sessions could be on the verge of reversing an Eric Holder memo that instructed prosecutors to avoid charging low-level defendants with crimes carrying the most severe penalties and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences. "As the Attorney General has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Ian Prior, a department spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Post.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Removes Obama Rule Blocking States' Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits. The department will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday notice that it is officially removing the Obama era rule that limited states' ability to force unemployment applicants to undergo drug testing. Congress had repealed the rule under the Congressional Review Act in March.

International

Irish Senators Approve Supervised Injection Sites. The Seanad on Wednesday approved legislation permitting the creation of supervised injection sites with a bill that will allow for the preparation and possession of drugs on such premises. The measure was approved by the lower house, the Dail, in March.

Mexico's Drug War Was World's Second Deadliest Conflict Last Year. Some 23,000 people were killed in prohibition-related violence in Mexico last year, making the country second only to Syria in terms of lives lost to conflict. About 50,000 were reported killed in the Syrian civil war in 2016. The numbers come from an annual survey of armed conflict from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan claimed 17,000 and 16,000 lives respectively in 2016, although in lethality they were surpassed by conflicts in Mexico and Central America, which have received much less attention from the media and the international community," said Anastasia Voronkova, the editor of the survey. Last year's toll is a dramatic increase from the 15,000 conflict deaths in Mexico in 2014 and the 17,000 in 2015. "It is noteworthy that the largest rises in fatalities were registered in states that were key battlegrounds for control between competing, increasingly fragmented cartels," she said. "The violence grew worse as the cartels expanded the territorial reach of their campaigns, seeking to 'cleanse' areas of rivals in their efforts to secure a monopoly on drug-trafficking routes and other criminal assets."

Colombian Coca Production More Than Triples. Thanks largely to "perverse incentives" linked to the end of the decades-long conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, Colombia is growing more coca than ever. As a result, the cocaine market is saturated, prices have crashed, and unpicked coca leaves are rotting in the fields. "We've never seen anything like it before," said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. The country produced a whopping 710 tons of cocaine last year, up from 235 tons three years earlier.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

Attorney General Sessions Won't Rule Out Using Mafia Law to Go After Legal Marijuana

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

On conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt's program Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to bad mouth marijuana and suggested he might use laws enacted to go after the Mafia against the legal marijuana industry.

"I think it's a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don#39;t think we're going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store," the attorney general told Hewitt.

The conservative talker then helpfully suggested that one way Washington could go after legal pot was by bringing racketeering charges against marijuana businesses.

"One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?" Hewitt asked Sessions.

Sessions didn't exactly jump on the idea, but neither did he reject it.

"We will um… marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws," Sessions said in response. "So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It's not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that's legalized it."

But Hewitt was not done chewing on that bone, asking Sessions if he couldn't just make an example out of somebody.

"I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you're going to send it?" he asked.

Sessions had to clue in Hewitt about the difficulty of reining in the burgeoning the legal marijuana industry.

"Well, we'll be evaluating how we want to handle that," he said. "I think it's a little more complicated than one RICO case, I've got to tell you. This, places like Colorado, it's just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it's also being moved interstate, not just in the home state," he added.

Sessions has been a staunch foe of marijuana legalization, and the industry has been on tenterhooks since he was nominated as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. He attempted to soft-shoe his views during his confirmation hearings, suggesting that he wasn't going to aggressively go after the legal pot industry, but his comments with Hewitt may suggest otherwise.

Taken together with a memo on violent crime Sessions sent to federal prosecutors Wednesday in which he hinted at at rolling back Obama Justice Department policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences, his comments to Hewitt Thursday suggest that the Trump administration is about to head resolutely backwards on drug policy in general and marijuana policy in particular.

Listen to the Hewitt interview below:

Chronicle AM: Ominous Sessions Hint on Sentencing, RI AG Anti-Pot Campaign, More... (3/9/17)

Attorney General Sessions hints at a return to tough federal drug sentencing, Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin announces a campaign to fend off marijuana legalization, Bolivia's president signs a law nearly doubling legal coca cultivation, and more.

It looks like the new attorney general is going old school with harsher drug sentencing. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of Democratic lawmakers has filed identical decriminalization bills in the House and Senate. State Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill 1403, while state Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill 1662. The bills would make possession of up to an ounce a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $100. Under current Florida law, small time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rhode Island Attorney General Gins Up Anti-Legalization Campaign. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) launched a campaign against marijuana legalization Thursday. Kilmartin said he was mobilizing lawmakers, business leaders, and others concerned about public health and public safety issues to fight ongoing efforts in the legislature to legalize it. He's joining forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, among others.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida Bills Would Have Dealers Facing Manslaughter Charges for Opioid Overdose Deaths. A pair of Republican state lawmakers has filed identical bills that would allow prosecutors to bring manslaughter charges against people who sold opioids to people who overdosed and died on them. Sen. Gregg Steube (R-Sarasota) filed Senate Bill 150 Tuesday, while Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) filed House Bill 477.

Drug Policy

Attorney General Sessions Signals He Could Reverse Obama Policy of Seeking Less Serious Charges in Drug Cases. Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday calling on them to crack down on violent crime, and in that memo, he hinted at rolling back Obama administration policies directing federal prosecutors to not always seek the most serious charges in drug cases and to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences by leaving drug quantities out of charging documents. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority -- including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases -- will be forthcoming."

International

Bolivian President Signs Law Nearly Doubling Amount of Legal Coca Grown. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower himself, signed into law Wednesday a bill that will increase the amount of coca that can be legally planted from 30,000 acres to 55,000 acres. "We want to guarantee coca supplies for life," he said.

Chronicle AM: Sessions Vows Drug Crackdown, State Forfeiture Bills Advance, More... (2/28/17)

Ominous noises from AG Sessions on marijuana and drug policy, asset forfeiture reform advances in three states, the feds threaten to shut down the Las Vegas Cannabis Cup, and more.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has more than just weed on his mind. (theleafonline.org)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Makes Ominous Noises on Marijuana Policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to marijuana use Monday and warned that marijuana legalization efforts could open states to "violence" and a response from the federal government. "I don't think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot," Sessions said to reporters Monday at the Department of Justice. "I believe it's an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we're seeing real violence around that." He had more disturbing things to say Tuesday. See below.

Feds Threaten to Shut Down Las Vegas Cannabis Cup. Nevada US Attorney Daniel Bogden has sent a letter to the Moapa Paiute tribe warning that the Cannabis Cup trade show set for tribal lands next weekend would violate federal marijuana prohibition laws. "I am informed that the tribal council is moving forward with the planned marijuana event referred to as the 2017 High Times Cannabis Cup because it is under the impression that the so-called 'Cole Memorandum' and subsequent memoranda from the Department of Justice permit marijuana use, possession and distribution on tribal lands when the state law also permits it. Unfortunately, this is an incorrect interpretation of the Department's position on this issue," Bogden wrote in a February 16 letter.

New Mexico Legalization Bill Killed. An effort to legalize marijuana died Monday in the House Business and Industry Committee after members voted 9-1 to kill it. House Bill 89 went down at least in part because of uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's posture toward legal marijuana. It would have created a 15% tax on marijuana sales from licensed shops, with revenues earmarked for schools, the judiciary, and drug treatment programs.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill to require police to demonstrate an actual connection between drugs and seized property before seizing it and to clarify that possession of cash alone is not grounds for seizure has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 202 now heads for a House floor vote.

Indiana Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and would bar prosecutors from circumventing state law by passing cases off to the feds has passed the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law. Senate Bill 8 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Close Asset Forfeiture Loophole Used By Cities. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 202 on a unanimous vote. The state ended civil asset forfeiture in 2015, but police in Albuquerque and other cities claimed the law did not apply to their municipal asset forfeiture programs. This bill clarifies that it does. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Drug Policy

Sessions Says DOJ Will Prioritize Drugs, Violent Crime. In remarks before the National Association of Attorneys General Tuesday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that crime was at historically low levels, but vowed to pursue gun and drug offenses. "[I]llegal drugs flood across our southern border and into cities and towns across our country, bringing violence, addiction and misery. In particular, we've seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs,"Sessions said. "As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire,"he continued. "In recent years, we've also seen a significant shift in the priority given to prosecuting gun and drug offenders at the federal level. While numbers don't tell the whole story, I still find the following statistics troubling: at the end of 2015 there were more than 7 percent fewer federal gun prosecutions than five years before. In that same five-year period, federal drug prosecutions declined by 18 percent. "Under my leadership at the Department of Justice, this trend will end,"he said.

Sentencing

West Virginia Bill Would Create Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Adults Who Make or Transport Drugs Around Minors. The House of Delegates' Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse has approved House Bill 2648, which would set a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for any adult found guilty of transporting or manufacturing drugs in front of a minor. The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

Poll Has Four of Five Danes Favoring Medical Marijuana. A new survey from Analyse Denmark has support for medical marijuana at 80%, "with the remainder saying they did not have an opinion." The poll comes as the country awaits a medical marijuana pilot project set to begin on January 1. The poll also asked about marijuana legalization, but only 36% were in favor, with 45% opposed.

Chronicle AM: AL Bill Has Mandatory Life w/o Parole for Possessing Ounce of Fentanyl, More... (2/17/17)

The Alabama legislature ponders harsh drug sentences not seen since the last century, decriminalization is picking up some support in Texas, China announces scheduling controls on fentanyl, and more.

An Alabama bill would make possession of as little as an ounce of fentanyl a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis, Drug Policy Reform Advocates Commend Congressional Members on Formation of Congressional Cannabis Caucus. In a joint statement Thursday, major marijuana and drug reform groups commended congress members for forming the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK). After commending the representatives, the joint statement noted that "the establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Picks Up Some Support. Law enforcement officials joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) at the capitol Thursday to express support for a measure to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, House Bill 81. The bill is currently before the committee. Harris County, the state's most populous, just announced plans to institute decriminalization there.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Advocates Say It's a Step Backwards. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 16, but advocates said it was a retreat because it lowers the amount of allowable THC in cannabis oil from 7% to 3%. Some senators wanted to reduce it to 1%. The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who wrote the original CBD bill, said he hopes to rewrite it to restore the 7% figure.

Utah Medical Marijuana Research Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill130, which would allow universities in the state to do research on the medicinal effects of marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Hemp

Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp has passed two key committees. Senate Bill 1337 passed the Public Safety Committee on a 6-1 vote Monday and the Appropriations Committee Tuesday on a 10-0 vote. It still needs to go before the Senate Rules Committee before it heads for a floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1170 on an 11-4 vote Thursday. The bill would require a criminal conviction before property could be seized in most situations and bans prosecutors from circumventing state law by handing cases off to the federal government. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Alabama Bills Would Increase Heroin, Fentanyl Sentences. Under bills currently before the state legislature, prison sentences would go up for people who possess or sell heroin and fentanyl. Under one bill, anyone convicted of their possession would face mandatory prison sentences, and under another, Senate Bill 154, people possessing as little as one ounce of fentanyl would face a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The state instituted sentencing reforms several years back; some legislators worry these bills would undo those efforts.

International

China Announces Scheduling Controls of Carfentanil and other Fentanyl Compounds. China announced Thursday that it will begin scheduling controls of four fentanyl-class substances -- carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl -- beginning March 1. Chinese pharmaceutical factories have been identified as major producers of the synthetic opioids, which are linked to thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US.

Chronicle AM: NM Senate on MedMJ & Harm Reduction; Iowa Students Win Speech Case, More... (2/14/17)

Medical marijuana and harm reduction measures advance in New Mexico, a police drug field test kit maker is being sued by a Florida man busted for the glaze on his Krispy Kreme donuts, Idaho considers ending mandatory minimums for drug offenses, and more.

The New Mexico Senate has approved a pair of measures aimed at reducing overdose deaths. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Calls for Decriminalization. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northum (D) called Monday for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, saying enforcement is costly and aimed disproportionately at African-Americans. The move comes weeks after Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) requested that the Virginia Crime Commission study the issue. That move froze pending decriminalization legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria).

Washington State Bill Would Repeal Legalization. Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kenniwick) has filed House Bill 2096, which would repeal "all laws legalizing the use, possession, sale, or production of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming.

Wyoming Senate Committee Scales Back Marijuana Sentencing Reforms. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to amend House Bill 197, weakening proposed sentencing reforms by doubling the period during which previous convictions would result in a longer sentence from five years to 10 years. More importantly, the amendment removes the plant form of marijuana from the bill completely, meaning the new tiered sentencing system would apply only to edibles.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted 29-11 Monday to approve Senate Bill 177, which would expand the state's program by increasing the amount of marijuana patients may possess to five ounces and increasing the number of plants commercial providers can grow. The bill now goes to the House.

Drug Policy

Idaho Bills Would Alter State's Drug Laws. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee voted Monday to introduce a package of three bills that would reform the state's harsh drug laws. One bill would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and another would bar the seizure of vehicles for simple drug possession and require that property found near drugs be seized only if it is meaningfully connected to the crime. The third bill, however, is a step in the opposite direction -- it would allow heroin sellers to be charged with murder in the event of fatal overdoses.

Drug Testing

Florida Field Drug Test Kit Company Sued By Man Jailed for Possessing Donut Glaze. A Florida man is suing the police field drug test kit manufacturer Safariland LLC after an Orlando police officer using one of its field kits charged him with possessing methamphetamine although the substance being tested was actually the glaze from a Krispy Kreme donut. The drug test is either ineffective or unreliable, Daniel Rushing charges in his lawsuit, twice registering a positive result for meth and resulting in his false arrest and imprisonment before felony charges were dropped.

First Amendment

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Student Drug Legalization Group's Free Speech Rights. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Iowa State University cannot bar a student group from using the university's logo and mascot on t-shirts calling for the legalization of marijuana. Iowa State NORML had sued in 2014 after the university first gave its okay, but then refused permission after pressure from high-ranking state officials, including the governor's office. Instead, the university suddenly changed its guidelines, with new rules prohibiting designs "that suggest promotion of dangerous, illegal, or unhealthy products." Last year a federal district court filed an injunction prohibiting the school from using its new policy to block NORML from printing new t-shirts, and now the appeals court has upheld that permanent injunction.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Senate Approves Pair of Harm Reduction Bills. The state Senate Monday overwhelmingly approved two bills aimed at reducing the number of fatal drug overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 47 would improve the state's 911 Good Samaritan law to include alcohol overdoses and eliminate the prospect of criminal liability for violating drug laws while seeking medical assistance for an overdose. Senate Bill 16 would require health care providers to counsel patients on the risk of overdose and to offer prescriptions for the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The bills now go to the House.

International

Trump Administration Accuses Venezuela VP of Drug Smuggling. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of being an international drug kingpin. Treasury said that El Aissimi facilitated drug trafficking in his previous post of Aragua state. The Treasury Department placed him on a list reserved for "specially designated narcotics traffickers," part of what's known as the Kingpin Act.

Trump Goes Full Nixon on Law-and-Order, Vows 'Ruthless' War on Drugs and Crime [FEATURE]

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

In a sharp break with the Obama administration, which distanced itself from harsh anti-drug rhetoric and emphasized treatment for drug users over punishment, President Trump last week reverted to tough drug war oratory and backed it up with a series of executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America."

"We're going to stop the drugs from pouring in," Trump told law enforcement professionals of the Major Cities Chiefs Association last Wednesday. "We're going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people. We're going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice. And we're going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence."

Trump also lambasted the Obama administration for one of its signature achievements in criminal justice reform, opening the prison doors for more than 1,700 drug war prisoners who had already served sentences longer than they would have under current, revised sentencing guidelines. Obama freed "record numbers of drug traffickers, many of them kingpins," Trump complained.

And in a sign of a return to the dark days of drug war over-sentencing, he called for harsher mandatory minimum prison sentences for "the most serious" drug offenders, as well as aggressive prosecutions of drug traffickers and cracking down on "shipping loopholes" he claimed allowed drugs to be sent to the US from other countries.

In a New Hampshire campaign speech during the campaign, Trump called for more treatment for drug users and more access to overdose reversal drugs, but there was no sign of that side of the drug policy equation in Wednesday's speech.

Last Thursday, Trump backed up his tough talk with action as, at the Oval Office swearing in of Attorney General Jeff Session, he rolled out three executive orders he said were "designed to restore safety in America," but which appear to signal an increasingly authoritarian response to crime, drugs, and discontent with policing practices.

The first, which Trump said would "reduce crime and restore public safety," orders Sessions to create a new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Policy, which will come up with "strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime," propose legislation to implement them, and submit a report to the president within a year.

The second, regarding "transnational criminal organizations and preventing drug trafficking," directs various federal law enforcement agencies to "increase intelligence sharing" and orders an already existing interagency working group to submit a report to Trump within four months describing progress made in combating the cartels, "along with any recommended actions for dismantling them."

"I'm directing Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people," Trump said Thursday.

The third directs the Justice Department to use federal law to prosecute people who commit crimes against police officers, even though they already face universally severe penalties under existing state laws.

Trump was breathing law-and-order brimstone last week. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
"It's a shame what's been happening to our great, truly great law enforcement officers," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "That's going to stop as of today."

The tough talk and the executive orders provoked immediate alarm and pushback from human and civil rights advocates, drug reformers, the Mexican government, and even the law enforcement community. The apparent turn back toward a more law-and-order approach to drugs also runs against the tide of public health and public policy opinion that the war on drugs has been a failure.

In a report released last Friday, dozens of senior law enforcement officials warned Trump against a tough crackdown on crime and urged him to instead continue the Obama administration's efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The report was coauthored for Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration by former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who won wide praise for his response after a gun man killed five of his officers last year.

"Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today's crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety," the report said.

The president's crime plan would encourage police to focus on general lawbreaking rather than violent crime, the report said. The Justice Department already spends more than $5 billion a year to support local police, much of it spent on "antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses" and Trump's plan would "repeat this mistake," the officials wrote. "We cannot fund all crime fighting tactics."

Drug reformers also sounded the alarm.

"This rhetoric is dangerous, disturbing, and dishonest," said Bill Piper, senior director for national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We have had a war on drugs. It has failed. Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs. It mostly causes the death and destruction of innocent lives. Trump must tone down his outrageous rhetoric and threats, and instead reach out to leadership from both parties to enact a humane and sensible health-based approach to drug policies that both reduce overdose and our country's mass incarceration crisis."

Indeed, most public health experts argue that the prohibitionist approach to drugs has been a failure. They point to research such as a 2013 study in the British Medical Journal that found that despite billions spent on drug prohibition since 1990, drug prices have only decreased and purity increased, making getting high easier and more affordable than ever before.

"These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing," the authors conclude.

Public health analysts also point to research showing that between 1991 and 2001, even when the drug war was in full effect, the rate of illicit drug use among teens rose sharply, while their cigarette smoking rate fell off a bit and their alcohol use dropped sharply. The substances that are legal for adult use were less likely to see increases than ones that are prohibited, the analysts point out.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray also chimed in to note that there wouldn't be any Mexican drug cartels without American demand for drugs and to remind Washington that it's not just what's being exported from Mexico that is a problem, but what's being imported, too.

"For years, from the Mexican perspective, people say, 'OK, the problem with drugs -- that it's creating so much violence, so many deaths of young people in Mexico -- is because there's demand for drugs in the US,''" Videgaray said. "We happen to be neighbors to the largest market for drugs. From the American perspective, it's just the other way around," he said, adding that both countries need to get past "the blame game."

And if the US is serious about helping Mexico disrupt the cartels "business model," it needs to stop the southbound traffic in cash and guns.

"We need to stop illegal weapons flowing from the U.S. into Mexico," Videgaray said. "We always think about illegal stuff moving through the border south to north, but people forget that most guns -- and we're not talking small guns, we're talking heavy weapons -- they get to the cartels and create literally small armies out of the cartels."

Will progress on reducing mass incarceration come to a halt? (nadcp.org)
Human Rights Watch reacted to a comment from Attorney General Sessions at his swearing in ceremony that crime is a "dangerous permanent trend that places the lives of American people at risk," by noting that crime is down dramatically by all measures over the past 20 years despite a slight increase in violent crimes between 2014 and 2015. "There is no 'dangerous permanent trend' in violent or non-violent crime," it pointed out.

And Amnesty International swiftly reacted to the executive order calling for new federal penalties for crimes against police.

"Law enforcement officers face unique hardships and challenges due to the nature of their work," said Amnesty's Noor Mir. "Authorities are already able to vigorously prosecute crimes against law enforcement officers, and there is no history to suggest that officers are not fully protected by current laws. This order will not protect anyone, and instead it creates additional penalties that could cause people to be significantly over-prosecuted for offenses including resisting arrest.

There is a better way, said Mir, but that would require going in a radically different direction than where the Trump administration is headed.

"This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the US criminal justice system," he said. "Relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve could instead be improved by investing in reform of the criminal justice system and better training for officers. Police already have laws protecting them, but there is no federal standard for the prosecution of officers who unlawfully kill civilians. Implementing a standard for lethal force in line with international standards will protect both police and civilians."

The Trump administration has outlined an approach to drugs and criminal justice policy with dark Nixonian and Reaganite underpinnings, promising more, more, more heavy-handed policing, more swelling prison populations, and more -- not less -- distrust and suspicion between police and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect.

And, in typical Trump fashion, his brash, draconian approach to the complex social problems around crime and drugs is creating a rapid backlash. Whether the rising opposition to Trump can rein in his authoritarian impulses and regressive policy approaches to the issue remains to be seen, but a battle to stop the slide backward is brewing.

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