Decriminalization

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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: 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: Pot SWAT Raids Kill More People Than Pot, Aussie Bigwigs Call for Decrim, More... (3/21/17)

The New York Times reports on fatal SWAT drug raids, Australian former premiers and police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, medical marijuana keeps statehouses busy, and more.

Medical marijuana is keeping state legislatures busy. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Poll Shows Support for Plant Limits. A new Keating Research poll has support for limiting home marijuana grows to 12 plants at 57%, with only 36% opposed. The poll comes as lawmakers consider House Bill 1220, which originally imposed a 12-plant limit, but was amended to up the limit to 16 plants. That bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Votes to Kill Bill Banning Edibles. The House voted 52-40 Monday 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.

Nevada Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Carry Guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351 Monday. 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 Senate Committee Approves Use of Medical Marijuana for Ehlers-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.

Utah 2018 Medical Marijuana Initiative Drive Gearing Up. 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.

Law Enforcement

Marijuana Raids Kill More People Than Pot Ever Did. According to data compiled by the New York Times, since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have resulted in deaths, including those of four police officers. The toll for all drug SWAT raid deaths is, of course, higher, with 81 people killed, including 13 cops.

International

Australian Police Chiefs, Former Premiers Call for Drug Decriminalization. A group of former premiers, police commissioners, and legal advocates have called for an end to the criminalization of drug users. The call comes in the Australia 21 report, which was released Monday. The report, titled "Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely," makes 13 recommendations for reducing drug-related harms, such as supervised drug use rooms and other harm reduction measures, but also called for eliminating penalties for possession and drug use.

Chronicle AM: DEA Says CO Not New Crackdown, Tunisia Easing Cannabis Penalties, More... (3/17/17)

Yesterday's DEA raids in Colorado do not signal a new crackdown, the agency says; Georgia CBD cannabis oil legislation looks set to advance, Rand Paul reintroduces a federal asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DEA Raids Targeting Illicit Colorado Pot Distribution Ring Hit 20 Locations. The DEA and state and local law enforcement agencies raided at least 20 sites Thursday in a crackdown aimed at what it called a "large-scale illegal marijuana grow and distribution operation." DEA said the operation was selling exclusively outside of Colorado, which would have put it under DEA scrutiny even under the Obama administration's policy or largely letting states do their own thing. The DEA said Thursday's raids were not part of a new crackdown.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Lawmakers Reach Compromise on 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.

New Yorkers Suffering Chronic Pain Will Be Able to Use Medical Marijuana Starting Next 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 Thursday patients could start getting recommendations for chronic pain beginning next 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."

Hemp

Arizona Hemp Bill Advances. The House Land, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 1337 Thursday. The measure would authorize industrial hemp production and explicitly does not require federal approval. The bill has already passed the Senate, but it still faces votes in the House Rules and House Appropriations committees before heading for a House floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

Rand Paul Files Federal Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill (Again). US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has reintroduced Senate Bill 642, the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. The bill would target and limit federal civil asset forfeiture. Paul introduced the same bill last year. A companion measure, House Resolution 1555, has been filed in the House by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI).

International

Tunisia to Ease Marijuana Penalties Beginning Monday. For years, anyone caught with any amount of cannabis faced a mandatory minimum jail term, but the National Security Council said Wednesday that beginning next week, first offenders caught with cannabis will be pardoned as soon as judgement is pronounced. The council action comes as legislation that would have pardoned the first two possession offenses remains tied up in parliament.

Chronicle AM: US Senate Okays Unemployment Drug Testing, NM Decrim Advances, More... (3/15/17)

The US Congress has voted to allow states to force drug tests on people seeking unemployment benefits, decriminalization bills get filed in Florida and advance in New Mexico, another mass grave is uncovered in Old Mexico, and more.

A bill that would decriminalize small-time marijuana possession is moving in Santa Fe. (irin.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of lawmakers have filed identical decriminalization bills. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill1403, while Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill1662. Under the bills, possession of up to an ounce would be decriminalized, with a maximum $100 fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana has passed out of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and now faces only one more vote in the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the House floor. The measure, Senate Bill 258, has already passed the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Washington State Bill Would Force Heroin and Opioid Users into Treatment. State Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) has filed a bill that could force opioid users into involuntary drug treatment by declaring them "gravely disabled" under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The measure, Senate Bill 5811, had a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health, and Housing, but no vote was taken, and O'Ban said he didn't think the bill was going anywhere this year.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 812, under which state law enforcement agencies will have to report their seizures, create a searchable website for seizure information, and submit civil seizure warrants to judges within 72 hours. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture in the state, but advocates said "it's a start."

Drug Testing

Senate Votes to Allow States to Drug Test People Seeking Unemployment Benefits. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to roll back an Obama-era regulation that blocks states from demanding drug tests of people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs that could be included under the law. The measure has already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.

International

Mass Grave Discovered in Mexico's Veracruz. Searchers have uncovered a series of mass graves on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz where scores, if not hundreds, of people believed to have been killed in drug gang violence have been buried. On Tuesday, local prosecutor Jorge Winkler told reporters that 250 human skulls had been found at the sites. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade, and tens of thousands more have gone missing.

Colombia Coca Cultivation at Two-Decade High, US Says. The US estimates that coca production in Colombia increased 18% last year over 2015, with nearly half a million acres under production. The spike in production comes as the country begins implementing a peace accord with FARC rebels, and be the result of a "perverse incentive" for farmers to grow coca last year in order to qualify for subsidies for switching to substitute crops.

Chronicle AM: Conyers Racial Profiling Bill, Competing FL MedMJ Proposals, More... (3/13/17)

The senior member of the House files a racial profiling bill, Colorado lawmakers move to reduce medical marijuana homegrow limits, Kansas lawmakers mess with a medical marijuana bill, Texas lawmakers get a hearing on decriminalization, and more.

CBD cannabis oil (marijuanagames.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Decriminalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today held a hearing on House Bill 81, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, offenders would face a ticket and fine rather than jail time and a criminal record. The Sheriff's Association of Texas opposes the bill, arguing that marijuana is "a gateway drug."

Medical Marijuana

Colorado House Gives Preliminary Approval to Cutting Home Grow Plant Limits. The House voted last Friday to give preliminary approval to House Bill 17-1220, which would limit medical marijuana home grows to 16 plants per residence. The current limit is 99 plants. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and law enforcement support the bill as a means of reducing diversion. The House must vote on the bill again this week before sending it to the Senate.

Florida Lawmakers Have Six Competing Medical Marijuana Plans to Choose From. Voters approved medical marijuana at the ballot box last November. Now, the legislature is trying to figure out how to implement it. Here's an overview of the six competing plans.

Kansas Senate Committee Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill, But Activists Unhappy. The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last Thursday, but only after gutting the original bill, Senate Bill 155, and replacing it with Senate Bill 151, which would only allow doctors to recommend "non-intoxicating" cannabinoid medications. "This is not the scope of what those who want to see prescriptive authority for medical marijuana want," said Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), who sponsored the original bill. Haley said he would attempt to restore the original bill this week.

Race

Conyers Files Federal Racial Profiling Bill. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the longest serving member of the House (he's been there since 1965), filed House Resolution 1498 last Friday. The bill calls for "eliminat[ing] racial profiling by law enforcement."

International

Philippines President Creates New "Joint Command" to Wage Bloody Drug War. President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order creating an Interagency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD). The order mobilizes 21 executive agencies to prioritize "high value" targets and go after all levels of the drug trade. Since Duterte took office last year, more than 8,000 people have been killed by police or shadowy vigilante groups. Another 48,000 have been jailed.

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: NH House Passes Decrim, FL GOP Files Restrictive MedMJ Bill, More... (3/8/17)

Marijuana policy continues to play out in state legislatures across the land, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Iowa, the Ohio Supreme Court reverses itself on cocaine sentencing, and more.

The bud is keeping state legislatures busy. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Cannabis Cafes Are Back Under Consideration. The Marijuana Control Board met Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage and agreed to try again to come up with rules for on-site marijuana consumption at businesses. The notion was shot down at the last board meeting, but revived on a 4-1 vote.

Connecticut Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Lawmakers went into the evening hours Tuesday as they engaged in heated debate over several bills before the General Assembly that would legalize marijuana. Click the link to get the flavor of the dewbate.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Overwhelmingly Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The House voted 318-36 Wednesday to approve House Bill 640, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Similar bills have failed in years past, but opposition seems to have largely evaporated this year. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Los Angeles Voters Approved Marijuana Regulation Initiative. Voters in Los Angeles approved Measure M with nearly 80% voting in favor. The measure would allow the city to regulate legal marijuana businesses when the legal recreational commerce comes on line next year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill Would Ban Smoking and Edibles. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative in November, but now Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) has filed a medical marijuana regulation bill that would ban people from smoking it or using it in edible form. The measure, House Bill 1397, is not yet available on the legislative website. Rodrigues is a member of the Republican House leadership, and the bill represents the Republican approach to expanding medical marijuana access in the state. "It goes further than the current statute in terms of restricting medical marijuana," says Ben Pollara, the medical marijuana initiative's campaign director. "There was unanimous agreement that the new amendment would expand use."

Utah Lawmakers Pass Medical Marijuana Study Bill; Advocates Call it a Trojan Horse. The House voted Wednesday to concur with earlier Senate amendments to House Bill 130 and sent it to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R). The bill allows state universities to study cannabinoid products for their medicinal potential, but doesn't allow for any actual use. Medical marijuana advocates called the bill "a Trojan horse," saying it is merely a delaying tactic.

Wisconsin Legislature Passes CBD Bill. The Assembly voted Tuesday night to approve Senate Bill 10, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering seizures. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is expected to sign it.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Committee Passes Bill Taking on Asset Forfeiture; Closes Federal Loophole. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to approve Senate File 446, which would severely limit asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and which would bar prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court Reverses Itself, Declares Filler Must Be Included in Drug Weights. Two months after ruling that prosecutors must prove the actual amount of pure cocaine possessed -- not inert filler -- to secure longer sentences, the state Supreme Court has done a U-turn. In a ruling Monday, the court sided with prosecutors and held that the total weight of drug plus filler must be used when determining sentences. The reversal comes after two new judges were named to the court earlier this year, and dissenting Justice Bill O'Neill said that was the only thing that changed. "The logic is unassailable. The possession of baby formula, talcum powder, or baking soda does not pose the same risk to the public's health and safety as possession of cocaine does," O'Neill wrote.

Blunting Trump's Mass Deportation Plans With Drug Reform [FEATURE]

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

As President Trump ratchets up the machinery of mass deportation, supporters of a humane, comprehensive approach to immigration are seeking ways to throw sand in its gears. When mass deportation is touted because of the "criminality" of those targeted, one solution is to reduce criminalization, which is not to turn a blind eye to violent or dangerous criminals, but to recognize that we live in an over-criminalized society. That means school kids can now be arrested for behavior that would have sent them to the principal's office in years past (especially if they're a certain color). The US also generates the world's largest prison-industrial complex, and has criminalized tens of millions of people for the offense of simply possessing a certain plant, and millions more for possessing other proscribed substances.

ICE arrests an immigrant in San Jose. (dhs.gov)
While Trump talks about "bad hombres" as he ramps up the immigration crackdown, data shows that the net of criminality used to deport not just undocumented workers, but also legal immigrants and permanent resident aliens, is cast exceedingly wide. It's overwhelmingly not gang members or drug lords who are getting deported, but people whose crimes include crossing the border without papers, as well as traffic and minor drug offenses.

The report Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program , which examined Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation records, found that the top three "most serious" criminal charges used to deport people and which accounted for roughly half of all deportations were illegal entry, followed by DWI and unspecified traffic violations.

The fourth "most serious" criminal charge used to deport people was simple marijuana possession, with more than 6,000 people being thrown out of the country in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the years the study covered. Right behind that was simple cocaine possession, accounting for another 6,000 in each of those years. "Other" drug possession charges accounted for nearly 2,500 deportations each of those years.

Nearly 3,000 people a year were deported for selling pot, and more than 4,000 for selling cocaine, but only about 2,000 a year for the more serious offense of drug trafficking, accounting for a mere 1% of all deportations in those years.

ICE raid in Atlanta. (dhs.gov)
This has been going on for years. In the same report, researchers estimated that some 250,000 people had been deported for drug offenses during the Obama administration, accounting for one-fifth of all criminal deportations. Now, the Trump administration gives every indication it intends to be even tougher.

In light of the massive use of drug charges to deport non-citizens, drug reform takes on a whole new aspect. Marijuana decriminalization and legalization may not generally be viewed through the lens of immigrant protection, but they shield millions of people from drug deportation in those states that have enacted such laws. Similarly, efforts to decriminalize drug possession in general are also moves that would protect immigrants.

Now, legislators and activists in vanguard states are adopting prophylactic measures, such as sealing marijuana arrest records, rejiggering the way drug possession cases are handled, and, more fundamentally, moving to decriminalize pot and/or drug possession. In doing so, they are building alliances with other communities, especially those of color, that have been hard hit by the mass criminalization of the war on drugs.

In California, first decriminalization in 2011 and then outright legalization last year removed pot possession from the realm of the criminal, offering protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. But the California legalization initiative, Proposition 64, also made the reduction or elimination of marijuana-related criminal penalties retroactive,meaning past convictions for marijuana offenses reduced or eliminated can be reclassified on a criminal record for free. Having old marijuana offenses reduced to infractions or dismissed outright can remove that criminal cause for removal from any California immigrant's record.

Across the county in New York, with a charge led by the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, the state assembly voted in January to approve AB 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who had been unjustly arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, a charge police used to still bust people for marijuana after it was decriminalized in 1977. Like the Prop 64 provision in California, this measure would protect not only minority community members in general -- who make up 80% of those arrested on the public possession charge -- from the collateral consequences of a drug conviction, but immigrants in particular from being expelled from their homes.

"A marijuana conviction can lead to devastating consequences for immigrants, including detention and deportation," said Alisa Wellek, executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project. "This bill will provide some important protections for green card holders and undocumented New Yorkers targeted by Trump's aggressive deportation agenda."

"Sealing past illegitimate marijuana convictions is not only right, it is most urgent as the country moves toward legalization and immigrant families are put at risk under our new federal administration," said Kassandra Frederique, New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comprehensive drug law reform must include legislative and programmatic measures that account for our wrongheaded policies and invest in building healthier and safer communities, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Muslim and Christian, US-born and green card-holding."

Companion legislation in the form of Senate Bill 3809 awaits action in the Senate, but activists are also pushing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include similar language as part of his decriminalization proposal in state budget legislation, opening another possible path forward.

One-way street? (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"In New York State 22,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2016. The misdemeanor charge for public view of marijuana possession gives those people convicted a criminal record that will follow them throughout their lives, potentially limiting their access to education, affecting their ability to obtain employment, leading to a potential inability to provide for their families," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, author of the Senate bill.

"Furthermore, and even more problematic, there exist significant racial disparities in the manner that marijuana possession policy is enforced. Blacks and Latinos are arrested at higher rates despite the fact that white people use marijuana at higher rates than people of color. Responsible and fair policy is what we need here," Bailey added. "We must act now, with proactive legislation, for the future of many young men and women of our state are at stake here."

Meanwhile, back in California, Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) has reintroduced legislation explicitly designed to shield immigrants from deportation for drug possession charges, as long as they undergo treatment or counseling. Under her bill, Assembly Bill 208, people arrested for simple possession would be able to enroll in a drug treatment for six months to a year before formally entering a guilty plea, and if they successfully completed treatment, the courts would wipe the charges from their records.

The bill would address a discrepancy between state law and federal immigration law. Under state drug diversion programs, defendants are required to first plead guilty before opting for treatment. But although successful completion of treatment sees the charges dropped under state law, the charges still stand under federal law, triggering deportation proceedings even if the person has completed treatment and had charges dismissed.

"For those who want to get treatment and get their life right, we should see that with open arms, not see it as a way of deporting somebody," Eggman said.

Eggman authored a similar bill in 2015 that got all the way through the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who worried that it eliminated "the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that the judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

In the Trump era, the need for such measures has become even more critical, Eggman said.

"It might be a more complex discussion this year, and it's a discussion we should have," she said. "If our laws are meant to treat everyone the same, then why wouldn't we want that opportunity for treatment available to anyone without risk for deportation?"

Reforming drug laws to reduce criminalization benefits all of us, but in the time of Trump, reforming drug laws is also a means of protecting some of our most vulnerable residents from the knock in the night and expulsion from the country they call home.

Chronicle AM: Israel Cabinet Approves MJ Decrim, NM Senate Approves MJ Decrim, More... (3/6/17)

Legalization bills are getting hearings on the East Coast, decriminalization advances in New Mexico and Israel, a Wyoming edibles penalty bill is dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow. The General Assembly's Public Health Committee has a hearing set for House Bill 5314, cosponsored by Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-East Haddam). The bill would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, set up a regulatory system for marijuana cultivation and sales, and set up a tax system for marijuana commerce. Other legalization bills proposed by Democrats are awaiting action.

Maryland Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Supporters and foes of marijuana legalization testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last Thursday on Senate Bill 927, which would tax and regulate legal marijuana sales, and on Senate Bill 891, which would set up a referendum to amend the state constitution to allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants. No votes were taken.

New Mexico Senate Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate voted last Thursday to approve Senate Bill 258, which would decriminalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Between a half-ounce and eight ounces would remain a misdemeanor. The move comes after the legislature rejected outright legalization. The bill is now before the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Supporters Will Try Again. Initiative campaigners gave up a few months ago on signature gathering, but now say they will try again and are aiming at getting a measure on the 2018 ballot. Campaigners said they would have a new petition later this spring or summer.

Wyoming Bill to Set Edibles Penalties Dies Amidst Discord. A conference committee of House and Senate members was unable to reach agreement on how to punish the possession of marijuana edibles, killing House Bill 197. The bill had sought to close a loophole in state law that left it unclear how to punish edibles possession, but originally also included sentencing reductions for marijuana in its plant form. That provision was intended to make the bill palatable to Democratic lawmakers, but it was stripped out of the bill in the Senate. The bill died when the House rejected the Senate version.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Are Moving. The Senate sent two medical marijuana bills to the governor's desk last Thursday, while the House passed three more bills and sent them to the Senate. Winning final legislative approval were House Bill 1556, which bars the use of teleconferencing to certify a patient for medical marijuana, and House Bill 1402, which would allow the state to reschedule marijuana if the federal government does it first. Meanwhile, the Senate will now take up House Bill 1580, which imposes a 4% sales tax on cultivation facilities and a 4% sales tax on dispensary sales; House Bill 1436, which sets an expiration date for dispensary licenses, and House Bill 1584, which would led regulators issue temporary dispensary or cultivation licenses when the original owner ceases to be in control of the business.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson) and 11 cosponsors have filed Senate Bill 386 and companion legislation in the House that would allow for the medical use of marijuana by patients with one of a list of qualifying disorders.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate voted unanimously last Thursday to approve House Bill 812, which will require law enforcement to report on all forfeitures and creates a new asset forfeiture warrant system under which a judge would have to authorize seizures. The bill had already passed both houses, but had to go back to the Senate for a housekeeping vote. It now head to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant (R).

International

Israeli Cabinet Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The cabinet has approved the public safety minister's proposal to decriminalize pot possession. Under the proposal, people caught with marijuana would face only administrative fines for their first three offenses, but criminal charges for a fourth. The measure must still be approved by the Knesset.

Durham Police Will Become First in England to Implement Prescription Heroin and Supervised Injection Sites. Police in Durham are set to begin buying pharmaceutical heroin and providing it to addicts, who will inject it twice a day at a supervised injection site. The plan is currently being studied by public health authorities in the region.

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