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Chronicle AM: Trump May Ignore Congress's Ban on MedMJ Enforcement Funding, More... (5/8/17)

Marijuana activists march worldwide, the Trump administration hints it may ignore a congressional ban on funding for medical marijuana enforcement, the Vermont legalization effort still lives, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Global Marijuana Marchers Hit the Streets. From London to Lubbock, New York City to Buenos Aires, marijuana activists took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities around the world in what is being described as the19th annual Global Marijuana March. Hundreds came out in New York, thousands in Buenos Aires, in what was probably the largest single gathering. While Dana Beal and New York City activists have been holding marches since the 1970s, the first "global" march was in 1999.

Arizona Activists Gear Up for Another Initiative Effort in 2018. After being narrowly defeated at the polls last year, activists with Safer Arizona have filed paperwork with the secretary of state's office to allow them to begin signature gathering to place a legalization measure on the November 2018 ballot. The group needs 156,042 valid voter signatures by July 5, 2018 to qualify for the ballot.

Nevada Lawmakers Advance Bill to Eliminate Urine Drug Tests for DUID. Last Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Assembly Bill 135, which would eliminate the use of urine samples as a measure for testing impaired driving. Police would be limited to using blood tests under the bill. The bill is advancing based on medical testimony that urine testing cannot accurately measure cognitive impairment and maintains the state's existing law that sets a de facto impairment level of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The bill has already passed the Assembly and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Vermont Legalization Effort Not Dead Yet. Last Friday, one day before the legislature was set to adjourn, the Senate approved a compromise marijuana legalization bill. The bill is nearly identical to a measure already passed by the House and would implement the legalization of small-time possession and cultivation beginning in July, but would defer marijuana commerce to a nine-member commission, which would present legislation next year. It's unclear, though, when the House will take up the legislation or what it will do when it does address the bill. The House could vote to approve it or it could send it to conference committee. House leaders have said that instead of ending Saturday, the session will adjourn until Wednesday and then resume.

Medical Marijuana

Trump Threatens to Ignore Congressional Protections for Medical Marijuana. Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stop-gap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter. Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed. "Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Florida Legislature Adjourns With No Medical Marijuana Bill. Legislators were unable to agree on how to regulate the state's nascent medical marijuana industry, with the Senate refusing to hear a new proposal from the House on the last day of the legislative sessions, effectively killing the bill. That means it will now be up to the state Department of Health to craft rules and regulations for the industry. It also means that any rules -- such as a proposed ban on smoking medical marijuana -- will be easier to challenge in court than if they had been passed by the legislature.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Bills allowing for medical marijuana are dead this session. Identical bills filed in the House and Senate went basically nowhere, with the House version stuck in the Medical Committee and the Senate version still stuck in a subcommittee.

Texas Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Last Friday, the House Committee on Public Health approved a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 2107. The bill expands a 2015 law by increasing the number of medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. The bill now goes to the Calendars Committee, which will decide whether to take it to a House floor vote. Bills must pass the House by this Thursday or they're dead.

Drug Policy

Ohio GOP, Democratic Senators Blast Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Both Ohio senators, Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) blasted the Trump administration over reports that it plans a 95% cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Portman said the office was critical for fighting the opioid epidemic, while Brown echoed those comments.

Schumer Blasts Proposed Drug Czar Cuts. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted the Trump administration proposal to cut the drug czar's office, too. "The president goes out and talks about how important it is to fight drugs," he said Sunday. "I'm glad he's doing that, and then his budget is going to propose 95% of a cut in one of the most effective and cost effective ways we can fight the drug scourge."

International

Bipartisan Federal Bill Aims at Philippines Drug War. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have filed the "Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act of 2017," Senate Bill 1055, which places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Filipino human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use. The bill comes as the number of extrajudicial killings passes an estimated 7,000 in around nine months, as a result of the drug war led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump Threatens to Defy Congress to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

Congress moved to protect medical marijuana by including in its stopgap federal spending bill a provision barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after the drug in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now, President Trump says that doesn't matter.

The president wants to ignore the will of Congress when it comes to funding for medical marijuana enforcement. (Gage Skidmore)
Even though Trump signed the spending bill into law last Friday, he included a signing statement objecting to numerous provisions in the bill -- including the ban on funds to block the implementation of medical marijuana laws in those states.

Despite those state laws, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize "medical marijuana."

The president said he reserved the right to ignore that provision and left open the possibility the Trump administration could go after the 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico where medical marijuana use is allowed.

"Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories," Trump noted in the signing statement. "I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

The language suggests that Trump could give Attorney General Jeff Sessions his go ahead when it comes to enforcing marijuana policy. Sessions has vowed to crack down on marijuana and has scoffed at arguments for its medical use as "desperate."

"I reject the idea that we're going to be better placed if we have more marijuana," Sessions told law enforcement officials in an April speech. "It's not a healthy substance, particularly for young people."

But the language also sets up a potential power struggle with Congress, which, under the Constitution, has the sole power to appropriate funds for federal government operations.

As Steve Bell, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington told Bloomberg News, the signing statement signals a desire to usurp power from Congress.

"It is the constitutional prerogative of the Congress to spend money and to put limitations on spending," said Bell, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and an aide to former Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. "This is an extremely broad assertion of executive branch power over the purse."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a primary sponsor of the rider who is also a Trump supporter, threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary to protect medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal thought they had some protection, thanks to the congressional budget action, but in typical Trumpian fashion, the president's signing statement has once again introduced doubt and uncertainty, leaving at risk not only patients and providers, but also traditional limits on executive authority.

Chronicle AM: Trump Budget Slashes ONDCP, ACHA Leaves Millions Without Treatment, More... (5/5/17)

The Trump administration wants to slash funding for the drug czar's office by 95%, the American Health Care Act approved in the House Thursday would leave millions without access to drug treatment, and more.

ONDCP faces massive cuts under the Trump budget. But it's early.
Marijuana Policy

Michigan 2018 Legalization Campaign Gets Underway. Backers of a proposed initiative to legalize pot next year launched their campaign on Friday. The initiative is backed by in-state activists and the Marijuana Policy Project, and needs 252, 000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. A similar effort in 2016 came up short after state officials moved to tighten timelines for signature-gathering.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senate Approves Amended House Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate on Thursday gave its okay to a heavily-amended House Bill 1397, sending the measure back to the House for final approval. Senate bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) offered and the Senate approved a "delete all" amendment basically replacing the House text. Among the changes: limiting growers to five retail facilities, allowing the Health Department to grant 10 new licenses this year, and a provision to add five more licenses for every 75,000 patients. The legislative session ends on Monday, so the House must act quickly.

Drug Policy

White House Proposes Massive Cut in Drug Czar's Office Funding. The Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget has released a document that calls for a 95% cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Under the proposal, funding would be slashed from $388 million to $24 million, with up to 33 employees laid off. The budget would also eliminate grants for programs including the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and the Drug-Free Communities Support program. The OMB says the budget document is preliminary, not final.

Drug Treatment

House Passes Health Care Reform Bill That Would End Access to Treatment for Millions. The House passed the American Health Care Act (ACHA) on Thursday, placing addiction treatment opportunities for millions at risk. As the Drug Policy Alliance noted, "millions of people would lose treatment coverage under this bill and efforts to end the opioid crisis will be put in grave jeopardy." As a result, the advocacy group warned, "people struggling with problematic substance use could relapse to riskier opioid and other drug use behaviors that increase risk for developing costly medical conditions, contracting and transmitting blood-borne disease, and experiencing life-threating overdose." The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

UN Investigator on Executions Rebukes Philippines Over Drug War Killings. United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions rebuked the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, saying world leaders have recognized that a bloody-handed approach doesn't work, can compound social problems, and "can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law." Some 7,000 to 9,000 people have been killed in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year.

Congress Will Give the DOJ Exactly Zero Dollars to Go After Medical Marijuana

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

The bipartisan congressional budget agreement to keep the federal government operating through September contains exactly no money for the Justice Department to wage war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The agreement reached Sunday instead explicitly bars the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana.

You're safe -- sort of -- at least until September. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
And it sends a strong message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an avowed foe of marijuana and loosening marijuana laws, who told reporters in a February Justice Department briefing that while states "can pass the laws they choose," it remains "a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The budget agreement eliminated funding for medical marijuana enforcement by adopting the language of an amendment that has been successfully used since 2014 to keep the feds out of medical marijuana states. Known originally as the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment and now as the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, the measure bars the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from "implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

The budget language lists the states that have medical marijuana laws, but curiously enough, does not include Indiana and North Dakota, both of which recently adopted medical marijuana laws. At this point, the omission is considered an error, not evidence of malign intent toward those two states.

It should be noted that the budget move does not necessarily mean medical marijuana operators are now free and clear of potential federal attention. Federal prosecutors could attempt to go after such operations by arguing that they are somehow not in compliance with state laws.

Still, the move was greeted with studied approval by medical marijuana supporters, who are now calling for marijuana to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act.

"Medical marijuana patients and the businesses that support them now have a measure of certainty," said Oregon US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "But this annual challenge must end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use."

It is time to "amend federal law in a manner that comports with the available science, public opinion, and with America's rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape," agreed Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The best way to do that, Strekal said, is "removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that states possess the flexibility to engage in their own marijuana regulatory policies how best they see fit."

Adding restrictive amendments to the Justice Department budget bill has served in recent years to block the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states, but is only a stopgap measure. The amendments have to be renewed each fiscal year, and there is always a chance they could fail. That's why activists and the industry want the certainty that would be provided by either changing the federal marijuana laws or by making the funding ban permanent.

"Medical cannabis patients in the US can rest easy knowing they won't have to return to the black market to acquire their medicine," said Jeffrey Zucker of the marijuana business strategy firm Green Lion Partners. "Operators can relax a bit knowing their hard work isn't for naught and their employees' jobs are safe."

But only until September -- and that's why it's not quite time to get comfortable, he said.

"While this is great as a continuing step, it's important for activists and the industry to remain vigilant and getting cannabis federally unscheduled and truly ending the prohibition of this medicinal plant," Zucker said.

In the meantime, medical marijuana is protected in the 29 states where it is legal. But adult-use legal marijuana, legal in eight states, is not under the purview of the budget agreement and is still theoretically at risk from a Sessions Justice Department.

But even Sessions, a fire-breathing foe of the weed, increasingly seems disinclined to make good on earlier vows to go after legal pot. Like Donald Trump discovering that health care reform is "complicated," Jeff Sessions is apparently coming to understand, as he reportedly told Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff last week, that the Obama administration's toleration of state-legal marijuana legalization under specified conditions is "not too far from good policy."

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress refuses to fund anti-marijuana federal enforcement efforts in medical marijuana states, Arkansas and Florida continue grappling with establishing regulations for their new programs, California rolls out its medical marijuana regulations, and more.

National

On Sunday, Congress rolled out an interim budget with no funding for medical marijuana enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

On Monday, a federal CBD bill was filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, Arkansas regulators gave final approval for proposed medical marijuana rules. The state's Board of Health gave final approval for rules governing who gets to grow and sell medical marijuana. But the rules must still survive a review by lawmakers, which will study them in a special session that began on Monday. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment requires the rules to be in place by May 8, or the state will be violating the state constitution.

California

Last Friday, the state issued medical marijuana regulation draft rules. A trio of state agencies released 114 pages of draft rules designed to regulate the state's massive medical marijuana industry. Now there is a 45-day public comment period before the rules become law. Click on the link for more details.

Florida

Last Friday, Florida legislators edged closer toward agreement on medical marijuana regulations. The House modified its medical marijuana regulation bill, House Bill 1397, to make it more palatable to patients and the state Senate. The bill was amended to do away with a 90-day waiting requirement for and to allow the use of vaporizing and edibles. The House also backed away from requiring doctors to recertify patients every three months. But the House and Senate remain divided on how many operations should be added to the state's seven "dispensing organization," with Senate Bill 406 added five licenses, while the House bill only adds one. Legislators have only until Friday to get it done; the session ends then.

On Tuesday, the House passed the medical marijuana regulation bill. The House approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Vermont

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana expansion bill won a committee vote. The House Human Services Committee approved a medical marijuana expansion bill, Senate Bill 16, which adds Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, and PTSD to the list of qualifying condition. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits a House floor vote, but differences between what the Senate approved and what the House approved mean a conference committee is likely necessary to reconcile the two measures.

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

Chronicle AM: No Fed $$$ for Anti-MedMJ, MA Docs Call for Safe Injection Sites, More... (5/2/17)

Congress won't fund federal medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal, the Massachusetts Medical Society calls for a pilot safe injection site, a Wisconsin federal judge throws out that state's "cocaine mom" law, and more.

Chris Christie is back to attacking marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Chris Christie Accuses Democrats of Wanting to "Poison Our Kids" With Pot to Raise Tax Revenues. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday criticized efforts to legalize marijuana and claimed Democrats were willing to "poison our kids" to get marijuana tax revenues. A reference to a recent report saying the state could earn $300 million in pot taxes set him off. "This is the part that liberals love the most: We can tax it. Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!" Christie exclaime. "I can say this now because I'm not running for anything again: $300 million is nothing. We have a $35.5 billion budget; $300 million is a rounding error. I'm sorry. It's true. Think about it, that's 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of the entire state budget for a year. And we're going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, 'I delivered $300 million more for this.'" There's more, too; just click on the link.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Rolls Out Interim Budget With No Funding for Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The budget bill crafted by Congress to keep the federal government working in the short term includes the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment language barring the spending of federal dollars to enforce federal pot prohibition in states that have legalized medical marijuana. The language is only good through September, though.

Federal CBD Bill Filed. US Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) on Monday filed House Resolution 2273, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich plants from the definition of marijuana. It's been referred to the House Judiciary, Financial Services, and Energy and Commerce committees.

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill. The House on Tuesday approved a medical marijuana regulation measure, House Bill 1397, after altering several provisions opposed by patients and the industry. The measure removes the ban on using low-THC marijuana products in public, increases the number of dispensaries to 17 statewide, and allows patients to only have to see a doctor once every seven months to get renewed. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Baltimore Cops Begin Investigating Overdoses in Bid to Nail Dealers. A task force of five Baltimore police detectives have begun investigating drug overdoses in an effort to build criminal cases against drug dealers. But with 800 fatal overdoses in the city las year, five detectives may not be able to keep up. The state lacks a law allowing prosecutors to charge dealers in the death of an overdose victim, but prosecutors say there exists "a wide range" of ways they can bring related charges.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Docs Call for Supervised Drug Consumption Sites. The Massachusetts Medical Society has endorsed lobbying state and federal policymakers to allow the state to begin a safe injection site pilot program. At the group's annual meeting last Saturday, the membership adopted a policy calling for "a pilot supervised injection facility program in the state, to be under the direction and oversight of the state" as well as wider use of naloxone and more treatment for substance use disorder. The policy calls for the organization to lobby for a federal exemption and state legislation to allow such a facility.

Law Enforcement

Federal Judge Blocks Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law. A US district court judge in Madison ruled last Friday that the state's "cocaine mom" law, which allows the state to detain a pregnant woman suspected of drug or alcohol abuse, is so vague as to be unconstitutional. The law is "void for vagueness," Judge James Peterson held. "Erratic enforcement, driven by the stigma attached to drug and alcohol use by expectant mothers, is all but ensured." The law allowed the state to treat fetuses like children in need of protection if the "expectant mother habitually lacks self-control in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree, to the extent that there is a substantial risk that the physical health of the unborn child, and of the child when born, will be seriously affected or endangered." But Peterson ruled that such terminology is not "amenable to reasonably precise interpretation."

International

Uruguay Begins Registering Users to Buy Pot in Pharmacies. The first country to legalize marijuana took another step toward implementing that decision on Tuesday as it opened a registry for people who wish to buy marijuana from pharmacies beginning in July. All potential pharmacy pot customers must register before availing themselves of the service. Pot will go for about $1.30 a gram, with each user limited to 10 grams per week.

Chronicle AM: Nevada MJ Bills Moving, NY Safe Consumption Campaign Underway, More... (4/26/17)

A group of DAs have published a report critical of marijuana legalization, Nevada marijuana bills are moving, a New York campaign for the establishment of safe drug consumption rooms gets underway, and more.

Will El Chapo pay for the border wall? Ted Cruz thinks it's a swell idea.
Marijuana Policy

In New Report, Prosecutors Slam Marijuana Legalization. The National District Attorneys' Association has released a report, Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors' Perspective, that criticizes legalization as leading to greater access by children and creating challenges for impaired driving enforcement. The DAs also criticized state-level legalization and decriminalization as "an obstacle to the comprehensive federal framework." The report will be used by the Trump administration to help fashion its marijuana policy.

Massachusetts House Passes Bill Barring Use of Cash Welfare Benefits to Buy Pot. The House on Tuesday passed House Bill 3194, which would bar the use of cash welfare benefits to purchase marijuana. State law already prohibits cash benefits from being used to purchase alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and pornography. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Nevada Marijuana Bills Advance. In a frenzy of last-minute activity, legislators approved a series of marijuana bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 375, which advocates for tribes' right to establish marijuana facilities; Senate Bill 344, which establishes packaging standards; Senate Bill 236, which would allow for on-site consumption; and Senate Bill 374, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, all passed the Senate and head for the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Assembly passed Assembly Bill 259, which would allow courts to seal the records of people charged with possessing an ounce or less. That bill now heads for the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved House Bill 1397, which aims to regulate the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system. Critics call the House bill too restrictive and are calling on legislators to instead support a rival bill in the Senate.

Drug Policy

Ted Cruz Files Bill to Make El Chapo Pay for the Border Wall. US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed Senate Bill 939, "to reserve any amounts forfeited to the US government as a result of the criminal prosecution of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera (commonly known as "El Chapo"), or of other felony convictions involving the transportation of controlled substances into the United States, for security measures along the Southern border, including the completion of a border wall.

Harm Reduction

Safe Shape Tour across New York State Calls for "Safer Consumption Spaces" to Combat Skyrocketing Overdoses. In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS) supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer and connect them with medical care, drug treatment, and social services. Click on the link for much more information and how to register for events.

Trump Drug Czar Nominee: Tough on Colombian Peasants and US Marijuana Users

President Trump will name Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino (R) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), CBS News reported Tuesday. The White House gave no official comment, but sources told CBS that an official announcement would come soon.

Reported drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) (marino.house.gov)
Marino's legacy of legislative achievements around drug policy offers little comfort to reformers looking for signs that the "law and order" theme of the Trump administration may not be as bad as it sounds. Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term in the House. His 2016 Transnational Drug Trafficking Act expands the ability of US prosecutors to use extraterritoriality to go after international drug traffickers, but while the law is touted as aiming at "kingpins," but observers south of the border have argued that the law "targets people on the lowest rungs of the trafficking ladder, i.e. Colombia's coca farmers." Marino has also been a reliable vote in opposition to marijuana reform in Congress.

Marino's rural congressional district has seen rising concern about heroin and opioids, and he serves on the House bipartisan committee combating the opioid epidemic. A bill he was an author and key supporter of in that area may suggest a more complex picture -- the 2016 Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which supporters characterized as balancing the needs of patients, the pharmaceutical industry, and law enforcement, but which critics describe as a means of undercutting the DEA's ability to hold pharmaceutical drug distributors accountable for the diversion of large amounts of opioid pain relievers.

The ability of pain patients to have access to the drugs that can help them is a continuing -- and under-covered -- issue in the debate around prescription opioids. So is the ability of physicians to appropriately prescribe them within running afoul of regulatory authorities or even drug enforcement authorities. If Marino's bill reflects a concern with such issues, or a more general willingness to treat DEA pronouncements on such matters with skepticism, that could be useful. Conversely, however, the nation is also in the midst of a much more well-covered increase in the misuse of opioids. ONDCP has a role to play in promoting public health measures that can reduce overdoses and the risk of addiction. If Marino is too deferential to the preferences of big pharma lobbyists, while otherwise hooked on hard-line drug war approaches, opportunities to advance positive approaches for reducing the risks that go with opioids may be squandered.

In the fight over the 2016 Act, Marino, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Regulatory Reform, clashed repeatedly with DEA Office of Diversion Control head Joseph Rannazzisi. In a 2014 conference call with congressional staffers, Rannazzisi warned that the bill, backed by a pharmaceutical industry lobbying campaign, would protect corporations engaged in criminal activity.

"[If t]his bill passes the way it's written we won't be able to get immediate suspension orders, we won't be able to stop the hemorrhaging of these drugs out of these bad pharmacies and these bad corporations," Rannazzisi recalled telling them. "What you're doing is filing a bill that will protect defendants in our cases."

Rannazzisi's opposition infuriated Marino, who ripped into the veteran DEA official's boss, then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart at a congressional hearing later that year.

"It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of, quote, 'supporting criminals,' unquote" Marino said. "This offends me immensely."

A week later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General investigate Rannazzis for "intimidating" members of Congress. Rannazzissi was replaced and retired in October 2015.

Marino's record is good enough for anti-marijuana crusader and former ONDCP advisor Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). "My understanding is that Tom has a deep understanding of the issue and is excited to get started," he enthused to CBS News.

But it's not good enough for anyone interested in a truly progressive approach to drug policy.

Senators' False Claims Pave Way for Dangerous Drug Bill [FEATURE]

The two octogenarian senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are up to one of their favorite pastimes again this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have reintroduced a perennial bill that would increase penalties for drug dealers who sell products designed to entice children.

"Ecstasy bracelets" (non-edible) (Pinterest)
If the bill were to become law, anyone who knew or "had reasonable cause to believe" that a "modified controlled substance would be distributed to a minor" would be looking at a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.

But the bill, the "Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017" (Senate Bill 739), is seemingly justified more by urban myths than facts and, critics say, both unnecessary and more likely to be used against real-life sellers of marijuana edibles than mythical strawberry-flavored meth dealers.

"There are many instances of of drug dealers altering flavor and packaging of cocaine or methamphetamines to appeal to children," Feinstein tweeted as the bill rolled out late last month.

"Law enforcement reports that drug dealers frequently combine drugs with chocolate or fruit flavors or package the drugs to look like candy or soda to attract youth," the senators claimed in a joint statement. "For example, there are reports of candy bracelets containing ecstasy; gummy bears laced with Xanax; and candy laced with THC."

"Cynical criminals take advantage of drug trends in the general population to market dangerous illicit drugs specifically to kids," Grassley added in a separate press release. "It could be marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or something else. The criminals are innovative, and the law should keep up with them. Federal law should make crystal clear that marketing potentially lethal drugs to kids will have steep consequences."

The problem for Feinstein and Grassley, who have unsuccessfully filed the bill three times before, is that the crisis they wish to solve largely doesn't exist. The first time around, they were inspired by media reports of strawberry-flavored meth, but those have been roundly debunked as myths.

Some of their other claims are even more ludicrous. "Gummy bears laced with Xanax" seem only to be found on the furthest fringes of the web (a Reddit user subforum, to be precise) dedicated to bored drug hobbyists with too much time on their hands.

And the "candy bracelets containing ecstasy" claim appears to be based on a misreading of raver culture percolated through a concerned parents group.

"People (especially at Raves) have started wearing bracelets lined with ecstasy as opposed to the old candy bracelets kids used to wear," warned something called Careful Parents. "Much like the candy bracelets of old, people can eat the drug right off the bracelets. Google images of these bracelets for a better idea of what they look like and be on the lookout if your kids like to go to Raves."

But that warning was based on a 10-year-old story about rave culture in the Seattle Times -- a story that indeed mentioned bracelets and ecstasy and "candy kisses" (the sharing of beaded bracelets), but did not claim that the bracelets were made of ecstasy. The wearing of colorful bracelets is part of rave culture, but ecstasy bracelets are a myth based on misunderstanding.

The idea of drug dealers peddling candy-flavored drugs to kids may be an old bugaboo, but it just doesn't make much economic sense, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

"Those are not popular commodities to sell to children," he told ATTN:. "Why risk already severe penalties for some kid's lunch money?"

"This reminds me of the horror stories that you hear every Halloween -- where you have people handing out these infused products to children," Daniel Shortt, an attorney who focuses on cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:. "There's really no data supporting that that happens."

While candy-flavored meth or ecstasy bracelets are mythical, marijuana edibles and beverages are not. They are sold legally under state laws in medical and adult legal marijuana states, but the text of the bill could certainly be interpreted as aiming at them as well. It specifies that it would apply to people who sell federally illegal drugs to minors that are:

Combined with a beverage or candy product,
Marketed or packaged to appear similar to a beverage or candy product, or

Modified by flavoring or coloring to appear similar to a candy or beverage product.

"That's broad," Shortt said. "I worry about how that could applied to marijuana-infused edibles."

Edibles are often infused in candies, cookies, and chocolates, as well as brightly packaged beverages. It's not strawberry-flavored meth dealers who are likely to be caught up if this bill ever passes -- since they don't exist -- but people selling pot brownies and the like, in the black market or in the legal pot shop, who sell to minors, either knowingly or inadvertently.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

Reentry

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

International

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

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