Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 02/05/2020 - 22:05
div class=field field-type-text field-field-body div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pThe fight over medical marijuana in Alabama heats up, a Pennsylvania court sides with a worker fired over legal medical marijuana use, and more./pp[image:1 align:right]strongAlabama/strong/ppa href=https://mynbc15.com/news/local/alabama-gets-another-shot-at-legalizing-medical-marijuana target=_blankAlabama Attorney General Opposes Medical Marijuana Bill/a. While the legislature is once again set to take up a medical marijuana bill supported by 12 of 18 members of the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) has now come out against it. He wrote a three-page letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill this session./ppstrongMontana/strong/ppa href=https://www.kpax.com/news/western-montana-news/updated-rules-on-montanas-medical-marijuana target=_blankMontana Posts Medical Marijuana Rules/a. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted rules that make changes to the state#39;s medical marijuana system, including a new fee structure and a license structure based on the provider#39;s growing space. The rules are designed to implement a new medical marijuana law the legislature approved last year. The rules are open for public comment until the end of the month./ppstrongPennsylvania/strong/ppa href=https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/pennsylvania-court-allows-medical-pot-49123/ target=_blankPennsylvania Court Allows Medical Pot User to Proceed with Wrongful Termination Suit/a. In a recent decision, emPalmiter v. Commonwealth Health Systems/em, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas ruled that the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act creates a right to sue for wrongful termination and that a worker who claims to have been fired for medical marijuana use authorized by that law can bring a claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy./ppstrongRhode Island/strong/ppa href=https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20200204/in-reversal-ri-lawmakers-abandon-attempt-to-regulate-medical-marijuana-outlets target=_blankRhode Island Legislators End Bid to Regulate Medical Marijuana Outlets/a. Lawmakers voted Tuesday in unanimous votes on identical bills in both houses to remove the legislative veto language over medical marijuana and hemp regulations that was included in the state budget. They have backed down from a fight with Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) over who will control licensing of six new medical marijuana dispensaries./p /div /div /div
Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: DC Psychedelic Initiative Advances, VT Legal Pot Sales Bill Moves Again, More... (2/5/20)

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 02/05/2020 - 21:55
div class=field field-type-text field-field-body div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pVermont#39;s House is moving on a legal marijuana sales bill approved last year by the Senate, Rhode Island legislators yield in a fight with the governor over medical marijuana, and more./pp[image:1 align:right caption:true]strongMarijuana Policy/strong/ppa href=https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/feb/4/senator-drops-push-to-force-indiana-marijuana-pros/ target=_blankIndiana GOP Senator Drops Bid to Force Marijuana Prosecutions/a. Sen. Mike Young (R) has dropped a bill that would have allowed the state attorney general to appoint special prosecutors to take over criminal cases that local prosecutors decide not to pursue. The bill was filed in response to the Indianapolis prosecutor#39;s new policy of not pressing charges for small-time marijuana cases. Young let the measure die after the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council argued the proposal wrongly usurped the discretion that county prosecutors must have about how to use their staff and budgets on which cases to pursue./ppa href=https://grizzle.com/kentucky-residents-support-marijuana-legalization/ target=_blankKentucky Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana, Near Majority for Marijuana Legalization/a.A poll conducted by two nonprofit groups, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health, has support for marijuana legalization at 49% and support for medical marijuana at 90%. That#39;s up 12 points for the latter and 23 points for the former over 2012./ppa href=https://www.marijuanamoment.net/vermont-committee-oks-bill-to-legalize-marijuana-sales-and-limit-thc-potency target=_blankVermont Committee OKs Bill to Legalize Marijuana Sales and Limit THC Potency/a. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill to legalize and tax marijuana sales. a href=https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.54 target=_blankSB 54/a passed out of the Government Operations Committee a day earlier. It now heads for the House Appropriations Committee before going to a House floor vote. It was approved by the Senate last year, and that vote is still in effect./ppstrongMedical Marijuana/strong/ppa href=https://www.kpax.com/news/western-montana-news/updated-rules-on-montanas-medical-marijuana target=_blankMontana Posts Medical Marijuana Rules/a. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted rules that make changes to the state#39;s medical marijuana system, including a new fee structure and a license structure based on the provider#39;s growing space. The rules are designed to implement a new medical marijuana law the legislature approved last year. The rules are open for public comment until the end of the month./ppa href=https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20200204/in-reversal-ri-lawmakers-abandon-attempt-to-regulate-medical-marijuana-outlets target=_blankRhode Island Legislators End Bid to Regulate Medical Marijuana Outlets/a. Lawmakers voted Tuesday in unanimous votes on identical bills in both houses to remove the quot;legislative vetoquot; language over medical marijuana and hemp regulations that was included in the state budget. They have backed down from a fight with Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) over who will control licensing of six new medical marijuana dispensaries./ppstrongPsychedelics/strong/ppa href=https://www.marijuanamoment.net/measure-to-decriminalize-psychedelics-advances-in-washington-d-c/ target=_blankMeasure to Decriminalize Psychedelics Advances in Washington, DC/a. A proposed ballot initiative that would decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics has been given preliminary approval by the District#39;s Board of Elections. Now, the board must approve a short title and summary statement, then the official language with be published in the DC register, after which a ten-day challenge period will take place, and after that, the board will meet again to give final approval to the language. Then, Decriminalize Nature DC will have 180 days to come up with 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot./p /div /div /div
Categories: Latest News

Republican Reefer Reactionaries: Meet America's Eight Worst Governors on Marijuana Reform [FEATURE]

Drug War Chronicle - Wed, 02/05/2020 - 19:24
div class=field field-type-text field-field-body div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pThe nation#39;s most venerable marijuana legalization group, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has just issued its a href=https://norml.org/us-governors/ target=_blank2020 Gubernatorial Scorecard/a grading the nation#39;s governors on their level of support for ending marijuana prohibition. Thanks to NORML, we can now identify those chief executives whose stances on cannabis remain mired in the last century./pp[image:1 align:left caption:true]But before we get to that rogues#39; gallery of governors, its worth mentioning the good news in the scorecard. Based on the governors#39; voting records and comments on marijuana policy, NORML bestowed quot;Aquot; grades on nine governors -- all Democrats -- while 11 more Democrats and one Republican earned a quot;B.quot; That means governors in nearly half the states are working hard to enact or maintain marijuana reform legislation, and that#39;s a long way from where we were only a few years ago./ppGetting marijuana reforms, whether its medical marijuana or adult legalization, through state legislatures is a tough, grinding slog, and the position of the governor can make or break a bill. Although, as governors such as Democrats Phil Murphy in New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo in New York found out last year, even the governor#39;s support can#39;t guarantee a measure gets passed./ppAs NORML executive director a href=https://blog.norml.org/2020/01/29/norml-releases-2020-gubernatorial-scorecard/ target=_blankEric Altieri noted/a in releasing the report, quot;Most legislative activity specific to marijuana policy takes place at the state level and America#39;s governors are our nation#39;s most powerful state-elected officials. These 50 lawmakers play a key role in whether or not marijuana policy reform advances at the state level so it is vitally important that reformers are aware of where they stand on the issue.quot;/ppHere are the ones that stand farthest to the right. All eight of these Republican governors earned a big, fat quot;Fquot; from NORML:/ppstrongIdaho Gov. Brad Little. /strongWhile he neither enacted nor vetoed marijuana-related legislation last year, he has opposed any loosening of pot prohibition, including even industrial hemp and medical marijuana. His position is best summed up by this a href=https://www.idahopress.com/news/local/little-if-idahoans-want-legal-marijuana-they-elected-wrong-guy/article_f13c3be4-bd74-58e9-8a6c-92d01ba4f2da.html target=_blankquote from April 2019/a: If Idahoans wanted to legalize marijuana, quot;they elected the wrong guy as governor.quot;/ppstrongIndiana Gov. Eric Holcomb./strong With marijuana bills unable to get anywhere in the GOP-dominated legislature, Holcomb has not had to sign or veto any measures, but he has historically opposed even medical marijuana, not to mention adult legalization. Now, he#39;s a href=https://fox59.com/2019/02/27/gov-holcomb-wont-support-marijuana-legalization-until-federal-law-changes-admits-he-smoked-in-college/ target=_blankusing federal pot prohibition as a shield/a for his recalcitrance, saying that he will continue to oppose and marijuana reforms as long as the federal ban remains. He a href=https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/midwest/2019/01/04/513488.htm target=_blankalso said in 2019/a that, quot;Right now, it#39;s a crime. I#39;m just simply not willing to look the other way,quot; even though he could act to make it not a crime and even though he is apparently willing to look the other way on a href=https://fox59.com/2019/02/27/gov-holcomb-wont-support-marijuana-legalization-until-federal-law-changes-admits-he-smoked-in-college/ target=_blankhis own self-admitted college toking/a./pp[image:2 align:right caption:true]strongNebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts/strong. Nebraska was once on the cutting edge of marijuana law reform, decriminalizing it back in the 1970s, but that#39;s apparently been long forgotten by the state#39;s GOP political establishment, including Gov. Ricketts. While governor, he authored a href=https://governor.nebraska.gov/press/understanding-marijuana%E2%80%99s-dangers target=_blanka position paper/a arguing the discredited position that marijuana is a gateway drug, that it#39;s use can lead to suicide, and that medical marijuana is simply a stalking horse for legalization. He was at again just last month, releasing quot;a href=https://governor.nebraska.gov/press/understanding-marijuana%E2%80%99s-dangers target=_blankAn Honest Look at Marijuana/a,quot; which ends thusly: quot;As Governor, I have a duty to promote public safety. I want Nebraskans to be informed of the dangers of marijuana and to know where I stand on the issue. I firmly oppose legislative legalization and will veto any legislation that attempts to make marijuana use lawful in the Cornhusker State.quot;/ppstrongOhio Gov. Mike DeWine./strong DeWine has long been a reefer recalcitrant and spoken consistently about his opposition to recreational marijuana legalization. Even though neighboring Michigan has flipped and neighboring Pennsylvania could this year, he still sides with his fellow prohibitionist GOP governor in neighboring Indiana. quot;It would really be a mistake for Ohio, by legislation, to say that marijuana for adults is just okay,quot; a href=https://www.statenews.org/post/gov-dewine-doesnt-think-ohio-should-legalize-marijuana-even-if-nearby-states-have target=_blankhe said just last month/a./ppstrongSouth Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster/strong. Long an opponent of recreational marijuana legalization, McMaster has also opposed medical marijuana when pressed. In his a href=https://www.postandcourier.com/politics/we-gave-sc-governor-candidates-questions-here-s-where-they/article_f1c9d7d6-ce3c-11e8-8e5b-5fb0725a8c4f.html target=_blankmost recent comments/a on the issue, when asked about supporting medical marijuana, he said, quot;No. Law enforcement officials have made it clear that we are not in a position to appropriately regulate medical marijuana.quot;/pp[image:3 align:left caption:true]strongSouth Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem./strong South Dakota is the only state where it#39;s a criminal offense to test positive for marijuana, but Noem is fine with that. She#39;s another GOP gateway theory adherent, a href=https://dakotawarcollege.com/governor-kristi-noem-comes-out-against-marijuana-related-ballot-measures/ target=_blank_claiming in November/a that marijuana is quot;the gateway drug to getting people more addicted, getting into stronger drugs, then they end up committing crimes, and it just opens the door to bad habits and behaviors that aren#39;t going to be beneficial.quot; She also vetoed an industrial hemp bill in her heavily agricultural state because, well, it#39;s just a sneaky attempt to legalize weed: quot;There is no question in my mind that normalizing hemp, like legalizing medical marijuana, is part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable,quot; a href=https://apnews.com/6634924c8a6d48a08b3bb14e23992047 target=_blankshe said in March 2019/a. And of course, a href=http://dkelo.com/news/articles/2019/nov/07/gov-noem-opposes-both-marijuana-initiated-measures/955261/ target=_blankshe opposes/a both the medical marijuana and adult legalization initiatives on the ballot there this year./ppstrongTennessee Gov. Bill Lee./strong The state passed an extremely limited CBD possession law in 2014, and the a href=https://www.wmcactionnews5.com/2019/03/09/governor-lee-doubles-down-his-stance-against-marijuana-decriminalization/ target=_blankonly interest/a he has in any further marijuana reforms is expanding on that. He hasn#39;t gotten behind broader medical marijuana, and he#39;s even against decriminalization, not to mention legalization. quot;I have said before and still believe that we should not decriminalize marijuana... I think that#39;s not good for our state,quot; a href=https://www.wmcactionnews5.com/2019/03/09/governor-lee-doubles-down-his-stance-against-marijuana-decriminalization/ target=_blankhe said in March 2019/a./ppstrongWyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.nbsp;/strongGordon is foe of adult legalization and a skeptic on medical marijuana. quot;I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana,quot; a href=https://www.wyomingnewsnow.tv/content/news/Governor-Candidates-Talk-Marijuana-490853791.html target=_blankhe said as a gubernatorial candidate in 2018/a.quot;There is maybe some discussion that can be had about medical marijuana, but I am not particularity in favor of doing that until we#39;ve had a very full conversation about what that means. So I am not in favor really of legalizing that. My understanding is that there are some alternatives that are prescription based. So the dosage is known, the purity is known, and we#39;re taking risks for our patients.quot; He didn#39;t say anything last year to indicate his position has become more enlightened./ppem(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org#39;s 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)/em/p /div /div /div
Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Taking Sides on Marijuana Legalization in NY, PA MMJ Wrongful Firing Court Ruling, More... (2/4/20)

Drug War Chronicle - Tue, 02/04/2020 - 21:57
div class=field field-type-text field-field-body div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pMajor players in New York are staking out positions on marijuana legalization, a Pennsylvania court rules in favor of a worker fired for legal medical marijuana use, and more./pp[image:1 align:left caption:true]strongMarijuana Policy/strong/ppa href=https://abc7chicago.com/5900562/ target=_blankIllinois Went Through Almost $40 Million Worth of Weed in First Month of Legal Sales/a. The state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced Monday that legal marijuana sales totaled $39,247,840.83 in the first month after they began. quot;The revenue from the first month is an incredible look at what the potential could possibly be,quot; said State Senator Toi Hutchinson, Illinois Cannabis Control Senior Advisor. quot;I just want to build a thriving and healthy industry that protects the public safety.quot;/ppa href=https://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/289198/following-study-nys-bar-association-comes-out-in-support-of-adult-recreation-marijuana-use/ target=_blankNew York State Bar Association Supports Marijuana Legalization/a. The State Bar Association last Friday came out in support of legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana. It approved a report from its Committee on Cannabis Law that outlines strategies for implementing legalization in the state. quot;The report provides the necessary details surrounding safety, research, social equity, taxation, and other principles critical to the success of a legalized adult use program in this state,quot; said Aleece Burgio, who co-chairs the Committee on Cannabis Law. quot;While policy continues to evolve at the federal level, the committee also believes the most effective way to navigate this complex issue is for any comprehensive cannabis proposal to include hemp, medical marijuana and adult use.quot;/ppa href=https://cnynews.com/sheriffs-association-passes-resolution-opposing-legalization-of-marijuana/ target=_blankNew York State Sheriff#39;s Association Opposes Marijuana Legalization/a. Gathered at their 86th Annual Winter Training Conference in Albany, the state#39;s sheriffs voted once again to oppose efforts to legalize the possession and sale of recreational marijuana. The association passed a similar resolution last year. The sheriffs argue that legalization would quot;pose a significant risk to the health and safety of communities.quot;/ppstrongMedical Marijuana/strong/ppa href=https://mynbc15.com/news/local/alabama-gets-another-shot-at-legalizing-medical-marijuana target=_blankAlabama Attorney General Opposes Medical Marijuana Bill/a. While the legislature is once again set to take up a medical marijuana bill supported by 12 of 18 members of the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) has now come out against it. He wrote a 3-page letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill this session./ppa href=https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/pennsylvania-court-allows-medical-pot-49123/ target=_blankPennsylvania Court Allows Medical Pot User to Proceed with Wrongful Termination Suit/a. In a recent decision,emPalmiter v. Commonwealth Health Systems/em, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas ruled that the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act creates a right to sue for wrongful termination and that a worker who claims to have been fired for medical marijuana use authorized by that law can bring a claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy./p /div /div /div
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Chronicle AM: VT Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Moves, MD Kratom Ban Bill Moves, More... (2/3/20)

Drug War Chronicle - Mon, 02/03/2020 - 21:34
div class=field field-type-text field-field-body div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pVermont is moving toward full, commercial marijuana legalization, Maryland is moving toward banning -- not regulating -- kratom, and more./pp[image:1 align:right caption:true]strongMarijuana Policy/strong/ppa href=https://www.marijuanamoment.net/vermont-committee-unanimously-approves-bill-to-legalize-marijuana-sales/ target=_blankVermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Moves/a. The House Committee on Government Operations approved 11-0 a bill that would legalize commercial marijuana sales in the state. a href=https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House%20Government%20Operations/Bills/S.54/Drafts,%20Amendments,%20Summaries/S.54~Michele%20Childs~%20Draft%2012.1,%201-31-2020~1-31-2020.pdf target=_blankSB 54/a now heads for a Tuesday hearing at the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill was already approved by the Senate last year, but with changes made in the House, would likely require a conference committee to come to agreement if it passes the House./ppstrongKratom/strong/ppa href=https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/health/treatment_and_diseases/maryland-bills-aim-to-restrict-herbal-substance-kratom/article_24c4a15e-ab4c-5613-86ab-0fbca861ea83.html target=_blankMaryland Bill Would Make Kratom a Schedule I Dangerous Drug/a. Delegate Ken Kerr (D-Frederick) has filed a href=https://legiscan.com/MD/bill/HB283/2020 target=_blankHB 283/a, which would criminalize the use, possession, and distribution of kratom by making it a Schedule I controlled substance under state law. It gets a hearing at the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. A companion bill, a href=https://legiscan.com/MD/bill/SB147/2020 target=_blankSB 147/a, was reported out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings with a favorable vote Monday. Kratom is banned in six states and four cities in the United States but remains unrestricted under federal law. Kratom advocates call for regulation instead of prohibition, pointing to a model Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which has been passed in four states./ppa href=https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-crime/firefights-blocked-roads-in-mexican-city-after-senior-cartel-leader-detained-idUSKBN1ZU30H target=_blankMexican City Rocked by Violence After Arrest of Cartel Leader/a. For the second time in recent months, the arrest of a leading cartel figure has sparked widespread violence in a Mexican city. When police detained a senior leader of the Los Viagras cartel, Luis Felipe quot;El Vochoquot; last Friday, armed men blocked roads and burned cars in the western city of Uruapan, and there were reports of multiple shootouts. Los Viagras have been involved in a gang war with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel over territory in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan./p /div /div /div
Categories: Latest News

Illinois Poised to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 20:22

Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize marijuana, as soon as Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs into law a legalization bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate last week. Pritzker pushed for the bill's passage.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]When he signs, Illinois will become the first state to get a legalization bill all the way through the legislative process this year, and the first ever to create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce through the legislative process rather than through a voter initiative. (Vermont's legislature legalized possession and cultivation but not sales in early 2018.)

The Senate approved the bill last Wednesday and the House concurred on Friday, the last day of the legislative session.

"The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation," Pritzker said in a statement upon passage of the bill. "This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

Once the law goes into effect on January 1, Illinois residents 21 and over will be able to legally possess 30 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of concentrate, or 500 milligrams of THC in a marijuana-infused product. Out-of-staters will only be able to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.

The right to grow one's own plants, however, was sacrificed in a bid to assuage critics and get the bill over the hump. The bill originally allowed for the home cultivation of up to five plants, but the loud opposition of law enforcement, who worried that it would make it more difficult to find illegal growers, along with Republican lawmakers and other interests, got that taken out.

Washington is the only other legal adult-use marijuana state that does not allow home cultivation.

It also took weakening of the expungement provision in the bill to bring some needed Republicans on board. When the bill was rolled out in the first week of May, it included language that would have created automatic expungement of criminal records for marijuana offenses that will no longer be a crime, but Republicans objected. Instead, bill sponsors agreed to language that removed automatic expungement and replaced it with language allowing the governor to pardon past offenses "with permission to expunge," but that will then require the filing of a petition to get it done, making it likely that many people with past marijuana convictions will not get their records expunged.

Excluding home grows and scaling back expungement was enough to get Republicans such as Rep. David Welter (R-Morris) on board, and that handful of GOP votes ensured passage of the bill.

"I'm a father of three from a rural district, and I'm standing before you supporting this bill because I do not believe the current policy that we have out there right now is working," Welter said during House debate. "Prohibition doesn't work, and we see that. Putting safeguards in place, taxing, regulating it, I believe provides a better market and a safer market."

The new law creates a system of licensed commercial cultivation operations and retail shops, while also setting up a social equity program to help minority businesses enter the emerging industry. That program will deploy grants and loans to such businesses, as well as establishing a grant fund to aid the communities most disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Legal marijuana is expected to generate some $87 million in tax revenues for the coming budget year, with $30 million going for a marijuana business development fund and $57 million headed for general revenues. That money will first pay for regulatory expenses and costs related to expungement. After that, the pot dollars will be divided among the general fund (35 percent), community grants (25 percent), mental health and substance abuse programs (20 percent, paying down the state's budget deficit (10 percent), supporting law enforcement (8 percent), and public education (2 percent).

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx cheered the passage of the bill even though the expungement provisions were weakened, and vowed to fight

"I applaud the Illinois General Assembly for passing legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis and provides conviction relief to hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans with low-level charges of cannabis possession," she said in a statement. As prosecutors who implemented these convictions, we must own our role in the harm they have caused and we should play a role in reversing them. The failed war on drugs has disproportionately impacted communities of color, and my office will continue to explore ways to provide the broadest relief possible, beyond that provided by this legislation."

This year has been something of a disappointment for marijuana reformers, with much-touted legalization efforts in states such as Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York stalling out. Illinois was considered something of a dark horse, but now it has beat everyone else across the finish line.

And the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working hard to get that New York bill passed, has taken notice.

"Illinois state representatives had the courage to pass comprehensive marijuana justice -- and made it their priority before the close of their legislative session," said DPA New York deputy director Melissa Moore. "As we enter the final three weeks of New York's session, our elected officials have a tremendous opportunity to show bold leadership and pass responsible regulation that will serve all New Yorkers and address the harms of marijuana prohibition. The time to act is now and the game plan is clear: Pass the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act immediately."

Whether New York or any other state can still get it done this year or not, the fabric of marijuana prohibition grows increasingly frayed. Thoroughly shredded on the West Coast and tattered in the Northeast, it now has a big hole in the heart of the Midwest with Illinois joining Michigan as a legal weed state.

And there's always next year, where voters in initiative states will have an opportunity to get it done themselves -- without having to deal with cumbersome legislative processes where a single committee chairman can kill a bill, or with recalcitrant lawmakers still stuck in the last century.

(Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.)

Categories: Latest News

Why Are Prosecutors Trying to Send a First Step Act Ex-Prisoner Back to Prison? [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 06:34

Back in 1994, in the depths of the war on drugs, Sonny Mikell picked up a third federal drug conviction in Florida and was handed a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. No guns, no violence, but the 22-year-old black man was still looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars.

[image:1 align:left]"I had jobs off and on, I worked as a cook, but I got on the path of selling drugs and caught and charged in 1991 and 1992, and then caught that last one in '94," Mikell said in an interview last week. "And they gave me a life sentence for conspiracy to sell crack. All they needed was the two priors, and then they could hand down a life sentence."

Sonny Mikell is emblematic of the tens of thousands of people, disproportionately black and brown, imprisoned with draconian sentences under repressive drug laws passed with bipartisan support in the 1980s and 1990s. The war on drugs caused both state and federal prison populations to skyrocket, cementing the land of the free's status as the world's leading jailer.

In the federal prison system, where Mikell did his time, fewer than 5,000 people were doing time for drug offenses in 1980, before the Reagan-era acceleration of the Nixon-era drug war. By 1995, that number had increased a whopping ten-fold to more than 52,000. With more harsh drug sentences in the 1994 crime bill, the number of federal drug prisoners doubled again to a peak of nearly 99,000 in 2010, before beginning to fall as 21st century efforts to undo the damage of mass incarceration began to kick in.

For 25 years, Mikell did his time quietly while picking up only one minor disciplinary infraction: "I worked, I was a cook in the kitchen, I studied law, I worked on my case, I filed motions to try and see what could help," Mikell said of his years behind bars. "Most got denied."

But as Mikell and thousands like him rotted behind bars for decades, attitudes toward the war on drugs and the resort to mass incarceration to wage it have changed and pressure for relief mounted. Given the failure of the drug war to eliminate drug use, arguably even to reduce it, and given the damage done to communities of color by heavy-handed policing and ever-increasing numbers of breadwinners hauled off to prison and families disrupted, the states began embracing sentencing reforms shortly after the turn of the century.

But it would take a few years more for those new realizations to work their way to the federal law and give Mikell and his fellow federal drug war prisoners the hope that they might somehow, someday be given a second chance. That came under the Obama administration.

While Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder took significant steps to ease drug-related mass incarceration, such as advising prosecutors to not seek the toughest possible charges, it was the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 that marked the first effort to redress the inequities of the drug war. That law reduced -- but did not eliminate -- the disparity in the sentencing of crack and powder cocaine offenses. According to the US Sentencing Commission, the new law helped both to reduce the federal prison population and to lower sentences for new crack offenders,

But because the new law wasn't retroactive, it did no good for Mikell and his imprisoned peers. That changed in 2011, when the Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively apply new, more lenient sentencing guidelines in the Fair Sentencing Act to people sentenced before the law was enacted. With that move, thousands of federal prisoners have been able to seek and obtain sentencing reductions.

But not Sonny Mickell. The Sentencing Commission's move only affected federal sentencing guidelines, not the mandatory minimum laws that had him in a box for life. It would take that rare Trump-era bipartisan achievement, the passage of the First Step Act late last year, to give Mickell a shot at freedom. That law extended the sentencing reductions for crack offenders to people sentenced prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act -- even those with mandatory minimums.

"Hoping it was my chance, I filed for clemency when Obama was in office," Mikell recalled. "The Clemency Project tried, but I get denied. I told myself I couldn't lose hope, and when the First Step Act passed and made those sentencing cuts retroactive, I contacted my lawyers and asked if I qualified."

"I was assigned to Sonny's case," explained Juliann Welch, a federal public defender in the appellate division of the Middle District of Florida. "The judge set a hearing for the case on March 15 and I was ready to argue that he was eligible for some relief, but the judge had already reviewed the records and said he didn't see any reason to keep Sonny in prison and reduced his sentence to time served right there."

Even though federal prosecutors objected to the summary ruling, Welch said it was clearly the correct call: "When they passed the First Step Act, sentences like Sonny's are the wrong they were trying to right," she said. "He had never done a day in prison and then got a mandatory life sentence as a young kid for a nonviolent drug crime."

"Ms. Welch called me the same day the judge issued the order, and they gave me a bus ticket home," Mikell recalled. "That's all they gave me."

In the couple of months that Mikell has been free, he's been reuniting with family, trying to catch up with technology, and trying to reestablish himself in society.

"I have good family support," he said, explaining that the mother of a woman he had dated basically adopted him while he was in prison. "She is a goodhearted woman, she always stayed in contact, and she's still there. It was a sight for me to see her. I can still hardly believe it. I still don't know how to use these phones, though," he laughed.

But being able to find employment is no laughing matter for an ex-con. "I've got a drivers' license and I'm looking for a job, but people want to know what's on your resume, where you've been. Every day I try to find a job, but it's tough with that hanging over my head."

Mikell has something else hanging over his head, too: A potential move by federal prosecutors to appeal his sentence cut and send him back to prison for life.

While prosecutors have yet to actually file their appeal to send Mikell back to prison, Welch said their legal issue was a bit of sentencing arcana that revolved around the weight of the drug for which he could be held culpable. Although he was only found guilty for 50 grams by a jury, a sentencing judge using a lesser standard of evidence in effect at the time found him culpable for 290 grams.

Prosecutors will argue that current federal drug statutes that have a 280-gram cutoff would render Mikell ineligible for release under the provisions of the First Step Act. Welch is prepared to fight that case on its merits, but wonders what the prosecutors are thinking.

"Even though the judge found him responsible for 290 grams, the government never proved anything beyond 50 grams," she said. "But we will argue it and have to wonder why they think a sentencing finding of ten extra grams is worth sending him back to prison for life."

"I think that's just wrong," said Mikell. "The law is designed to help guys like me who have been in for years and years. It gives judges the discretion to give a man a second chance, and these prosecutors are coming back and saying we want you in prison, but they're not looking at the individual, just the law. I didn't do any violent crime on the street or in prison. I don't understand why they're trying to send me back to prison."

Neither does public defender Welch. "They haven't move to reincarcerate him pending appeal," said Welch. "If they really thought he was a public threat, they would have moved to keep him in prison, but they didn't."

Appealing First Step Act sentence cuts would seem to run counter of the law's goals, and it's not clear who in the Justice Department is advising prosecutors to appeal Mikell's case, Welch explained.

"The US Attorney has to have the permission of the Solicitor General to appeal, but we don't actually know how far up the chain this has gone," she said.

Hundreds of inmates have already received sentence cuts under the First Step Act, but at least one other released prisoner has been threatened with an appeal. Gregory Allen's was a similar case to Mikell's, with federal prosecutors raising the same legal issues.

In Allen's case, though, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed the appeal. Maybe it was because it they thought it would look bad since the man they were going after had just been to the White House in an event where President Trump hosted ex-inmates helped by the First Step Act.

"We don't know why that dropped that appeal," Welch said. "We suspect it had something to do with the optics. The Justice Department and US Attorneys have to consider which cases they want to make the face of this fight."

Prosecutors have until the end of the month to actually file their appeal. Welch and Mikell are hoping they will reconsider. After all, that's what the First Step Act is supposed to do.

Categories: Latest News

The Five States with the Most Drug Arrests Per Capita (and the Five with the Fewest) [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:54

Thanks to a new report on state-by-state drug issues, courtesy of WalletHub, we now have a good idea which are the most perilous for people who use drugs, whether its marijuana, mushrooms, or methamphetamines. (The report doesn't break down which drugs people were arrested for.)

The Five States with the Highest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. South Dakota (tie)
  2. Wyoming (tie)
  3. South Carolina (tie)
  4. North Dakota
  5. Mississippi

We have a three-way tie for worst place and, notably, a clear regional pattern. Three of the top drug arrest states are neighbors in the thinly populated region where the northern plains eventually run into the Rocky Mountains. All are deep red states. The other two are in the heart of Dixie, and are also deep red.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]None of these states has legalized or even decriminalized marijuana (North Dakota just decriminalized this month, but it's not in effect yet), which accounts for roughly half of all drug arrests. So there's that, too.

An oft-heard lament of bikers attending the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota's Black Hills is that "you come for a stroll, but leave on parole" (or, in a more optimistic variant, "you come on vacation, but leave on probation"). One reason for that and for the state's number one ranking here is South Dakota"s unlawful ingestion or "internal possession" law, a uniquely regressive andst repressive addition to the drug war armory.

Under that law, anyone who tests positive for drugs is subject to a criminal penalty -- a misdemeanor in the case of marijuana, a felony for other illicit drugs. And state law enforcement routinely seeks drug tests from arrestees. If they refuse to consent, state judges routinely rubber stamp search warrant requests, and law enforcement threatens to forcibly catheterize uncooperative arrestees. Something to keep in mind on your way to Mt. Rushmore this summer.

The law applies even if the drug were ingested elsewhere. Consider that. Someone who lawfully used medical marijuana in neighboring Montana, North Dakota, or Minnesota could come to South Dakota, get hit by a car crossing the street, get drug tested in the hospital, and be arrested for unlawful ingestion under state law. Likewise, someone who smoked marijuana in neighboring Nebraska, where it is decriminalized, could face a stiffer punishment for having pot in his urine in South Dakota than if he had been caught with actual marijuana in Nebraska, where he would just pay a fine.

A bill that would remove unlawful ingestion charges for marijuana died in the legislature earlier this year. A bill to study the unlawful ingestion law, SB 167 has been signed into law this year, but only after it was amended to remove any specific mention of unlawful ingestion. Instead, it sets up a commission to study alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenses.

The Five States with the Lowest Rates of Drug Arrests

  1. Alaska
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Washington
  4. Vermont
  5. Rhode Island

Again, a clear regional pattern emerges. Three of these states are in New England, while the other two are in the Pacific Northwest (stretching it a bit for Alaska). All of them except Alaska are deep blue states.

And all of them except Rhode Island are legal marijuana states. Rhode Island is a decriminalization state. No wonder these states have the lowest drug arrest rates; half of all drug arrests go up in smoke with legalization, or even decrim.

Two of these states -- Massachusetts and Washington -- have Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs, which shunt potential drug arrestees into the public health and drug treatment systems instead of the criminal justice system. That shrinks drug arrest numbers, too.

And it shrinks arrest numbers not only by detouring drug offenders into treatment or social services instead of the courts, but also by producing a much lower future arrest rate among people who have been diverted. In Seattle, where LEAD was first introduced, people in the program were 58% less likely to be rearrested.

So… if you're headed for Mt. Rushmore or Ft. Sumter, you've been warned. Maybe visiting Plymouth Rock or Mt. Denali might be a safer choice.

Categories: Latest News

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

Top Stories (STDW) - Wed, 05/15/2019 - 06:47

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

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Since taking office in January 2018, Krasner has made a number of policy moves that are helping to cement his reputation as one of the country's most radical prosecutors, and he's doing it in one of America's largest cities. His progressive approach didn't come out of nowhere, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Latest News

In Historic Come-from-Behind Victory, Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Passes [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Thu, 05/09/2019 - 05:56

Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Election officials tweeted that "the results remain unofficial" until the city certifies them on May 16. If they hold, Denver will become the first locality in the United States to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of a psychedelic substance.

Even Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the measure, had conceded defeat Tuesday night, with group leader Kevin Matthews saying "it's not a loss, it's a lesson," as the measure trailed by thousands of votes throughout the evening. But then the worm turned, and now Denver has broken new ground.

With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

Personal possession is defined under the measure to include growing one's own mushrooms, but the mushrooms not be "used or displayed in public." The measure does not decriminalize sales, saying they are still subject to prosecution under state law.

Decriminalize Denver campaigned on the criminal and social justice implications of the proposal, as well as touting the potential therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms. Interest in those benefits is part of a psychedelic renaissance underway for years now that is manifested not only in significant increases in the number of young people reporting having used hallucinogens, but also an explosion of research into the therapeutic properties of psychedelics.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]Denver may be the first place where the psychedelic renaissance passes an electoral test, but it won't be the last where it's tried. The Oregon Psilocybin Society is already in the signature-gathering phase of its 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, while just to the south, a group calling itself Decriminalize California is just beginning efforts to get on the 2020 ballot with a statewide decriminalization there. Those same activists tried but failed to get on the ballot last year.

For the Drug Policy Alliance, Wednesday's victory in Denver was only the beginning.

"No one should be arrested or incarcerated simply for using or possessing psilocybin or any other drug," said the group's Colorado state director, Art Way. "If anything, this initiative doesn't go nearly far enough. Given the scientific and public support for decriminalizing all drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, we need broader reforms that can scale back the mass criminalization of people who use drugs."

The state -- and the nation -- need to go further, Way said: "More than a million people are arrested each year in the US for drug possession, but this has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs or the harms they can cause. More comprehensive is necessary to achieve the cost savings and public health outcomes that will maximally benefit Colorado."

But Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization is a beginning.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Categories: Latest News

Legal Marijuana Is a Job Creation Machine [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Wed, 05/08/2019 - 21:40

As the marijuana business comes out of the shadows and into the legal marketplace, jobs in the legal industry are coming with it -- by the hundreds of thousands, with more on the way. In fact, the legal marijuana business is forecast to see the greatest increase in demand of any profession over the next ten years.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]That's according to the marijuana information clearing house Leafly, which crunched the numbers in its recently-released Special Report: 2019 Cannabis Jobs Count. That report finds that legal marijuana has already created 211,000 full-time jobs, with more than 64,000 added last year alone, and tens of thousands more being created this year.

The marijuana workforce increased 21 percent in 2017, jumped by another 44 percent last year, and Leafly expects at least another 20 percent growth this year. That's a more than doubling of the industry workforce in just three years.

By way of comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently listed the industries with the fastest job growth prospects. Home health care aide positions are expected to jump 47 percent, while openings for wind turbine technicians and solar voltaic installers are expected to double. But that's in the next 10 years; the marijuana industry did it in three.

Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't count pot jobs. That left Leafly's data team, working in conjunction with Whitney Economics, to come up with the numbers. They did so using state-reported data, industry surveys, on-the-ground reporting, Leafly's own proprietary data, and economic formulas devised by Whitney.

The upward jobs trend is likely to continue for years to come, rolling through the individual states as they embrace medical marijuana and recreational legalization. So far, 34 states have some form of legal medical marijuana, but only ten have achieved full-blown legalization, so the medium-term job creation potential is substantial.

We can see this playing out in the legal states. Early legalizers Colorado and Washington saw double-digit jobs growth last year -- 17 percent and 26 percent, respectively -- but these numbers actually represent a plateau as their legal markets mature. Triple-digit job growth figures are common as states come online. In Florida, when medical marijuana dispensaries opened up last year, the state added more than 9,000 pot jobs, a stunning increase of more than 700 percent.

The Sunshine State wasn't alone in seeing huge job increases last year. Nevada added more than 7,500 jobs, Pennsylvania went from 90 pot jobs to nearly 4,000, and New York nearly tripled the number of full-time positions. By year's end more than 5,000 New Yorkers worked in the industry.

This year, Leafly predicts the biggest harvest of new jobs in the industry will come in California, where hiring was flat last year because of disruptions caused by the shift from the unlicensed medical system to tightly regulated adult-use legalization. The Golden State should see 10,000 new cannabis jobs, bringing total employment to around 60,000.

Massachusetts, where the adult-use market is just getting started, is set to add some 9,500 positions, while Florida's rollout of medical marijuana should see jobs there increase by 5,000 this year, bringing the total for the state to 15,000. In Oklahoma, there were no legal marijuana jobs in 2018, but with the November 2018 victory of a medical marijuana initiative, there are more than 2,100 jobs now, which should more than double to 4,400 by year's end. Similarly, in Arkansas, where the first dispensary is set to open any day now, the number of industry positions is expected to go from 135 now to nearly a thousand before the year is up.

Now, just imagine what happens when states such as Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York manage to actually get legalization bills through the legislature. The jobs will follow in a wave that will eventually make its way to the last stubborn prohibitionist holdouts in places like South Carolina and South Dakota. The marijuana job boom isn't ending; it's just getting underway.

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

Categories: Latest News

Marijuana With a Mission: Brother David's Quest to Turn the Cannabis Industry Truly Green and Good [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 16:26

With the advent of legalization, the marijuana cultivation industry is being transformed -- and not always for the better. What was once an illicit lifestyle with mom and pop growers hiding in the hills and playing cat and mouse games with prohibition enforcers is now a legal, above-board economic sector that increasingly resembles industrial agriculture, complete with massive indoor grows the size of football fields that gobble up energy, suck up water, and require large inputs of nutrients and pesticides.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]These sorts of practices are not exactly environmentally-friendly and they turn a blind eye to the climate change crisis that is already having an impact in this country, whether it's ever-more-drenching downpours during hurricanes, more frequent and intense tornados, shorelines inundated by rising sea levels, or -- closer to home for the legal marijuana industry -- drought and forest fires in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Now, some stalwarts of environmental and drug reform activism are partnering with one of California's most environmentally and socially-conscious cannabis distributors to try to tip the industry and marijuana consumers toward embracing ecologically-aware best practices that protect family farms, produce highest-quality product at competitive prices, and are good for the planet.

David Bronner, grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and the company's CEO (Cosmic Engagement Officer), is joining forces with small, sun-grown farmer champion and sustainable cannabis supply chain company Flow Kana to create Brother David's, a nonprofit marijuana company for consumers who value where their weed was grown and care about how it was produced. The venture will also promote a "beyond organic" Sun + Earth certification that all its products will carry.

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, pot farmers who wish to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable, environmentally-sound organic agriculture practices cannot avail themselves of the label "organic," which is a federal program operated by the US Department of Agriculture. Sun + Earth certification seeks to fill that gap, and then some.

The Sun + Earth label "certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers, and the planet," the group's web site explains. "We set the standard above and beyond organic." As seen in draft standards released for public comment last August, compliance with standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is just the beginning. The standards go above and beyond organic by promoting biodiversity and preserving ecosystem health, water conservation, carbon sequestration, growing plants in natural light only, and promoting soil conservation, among other requirements.

Such standards are wholly in line with the cutting edge save-the-planet practices now known as regenerative agriculture, which its practitioners define as following: "Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities."

That's exactly what Bronner and Flow Kana want to create in the marijuana industry.

[image:2 align:right caption:true]"The problem with cannabis production now is the same as with industrial agriculture in general," Bronner said in a phone interview last week. "Now that we're post-prohibition, we have all the same problems as every legal commodity crop. We're seeing huge, indoor corporate grows that rely on chemicals and are energy-intensive and are displacing small farmers. There's a way we should be growing our crops that is regenerative, that builds top soil and creates biodiverse habitat for wildlife -- not dumping huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers on the land and forcing farmers off the land to work for slave wages."

Flow Kana has the pot farmers Brother David's is looking for. Dedicated to creating the first sun-grown cannabis brand while supporting the state's small, independent marijuana farming ecosystem, the company has partnered with more than 200 Northern California growers using organic farming practices. Not every Flow Kana partner farmer is Sun + Earth certified, but every partner farmer whose product is destined for Brother David's is.

"It took us awhile to find Flow Kana," Bronner noted. "We didn't know of any distribution entity of any size that wasn't trying to integrate with massive grows. But there is a real cool family at the heart of the company; they have really good ethics about partnering with farmers, they're very transparent, and their top farms are all totally regenerative organic. These are multigenerational back-to-the-land farmers who've been growing cannabis alongside vegetables for decades."

"The Emerald Triangle's ecosystem of small farms is a rare one that regenerative pioneers like Dr. Bronner's have spent decades creating in their supply chain. The cannabis industry already has this and we have to fight to preserve it from the ways of industrial agriculture," said Michael Steinmetz, Flow Kana CEO. "This movement is not only about saving these environmental and community values but making this decentralized model of agriculture the gold standard for others to follow across the cannabis industry and beyond. This fight requires everyone's involvement and careful collaboration across many operators, distributors, retailers, and brands working in tandem to preserve, protect, and evolve our industry and world."

Veteran Washington, DC activist Adam Eidinger, who organized the District's successful 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, is a longtime Bronner ally who describes himself as "a missionary" for Brother David's. He accompanied Bronner on Emerald Triangle scouting trips looking for the right farms.

"We visited all the farms," he recalled in a phone interview. "They're all advocate farms. They've been in the space since before it was legal, some of them 30 or 40 years. These are well-established, multigeneration cannabis farmers. But they're also farms that can grow their own nutrients on-site, they usually also have livestock, veggies, greens, perennials, maybe 40 crops on a small amount of land. And no-till agriculture. You end up losing a lot of topsoil every time you till," he added.

"Brother David's is an activist brand," Eidinger emphasized. "This is people who have consistently been fighting for reform for 20 years, and we're jumping in now, kind of late, because we want to identify cannabis that consumers can trust and we want to support regenerative organic farmers, small-scale producers who have transitioned to the legal market. With this brand, consumers can put their money where it will do the most good."

That's because Brother David's is not only operating under agricultural best practices, it's operating as a nonprofit, with all net proceeds going to support regenerative ag and drug and criminal justice reform efforts.

"Brother David's is dedicating 100% of net profits, and a big chunk of that will go to drug policy reform groups, and not just cannabis reform," Eidinger explained. "David committed $5 million to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) through Dr Bronner's, but there is still more need with more studies and initiatives. Some of the money will go to criminal justice reform in general, not necessarily about drugs, things like prisoner reentry and sentencing reform. If this takes off, we can do more for the community, and that's the mission. Other companies' mission is to make money."

"The cannabis legalization movement has achieved significant victories in the last 20 years. Now, we need to advance consumer and environmental interests by implementing regenerative organic agriculture in the cannabis industry," said Bronner. "As society moves closer and closer toward the federal legalization of cannabis, we need to chart a new course before it's too late. We need to promote Sun + Earth and other high bar standards -- because it's best for the Earth in this age of climate crisis, and produces the cleanest, greenest and most ethical cannabis possible."

Brother David's is rolling out beginning in May in select California dispensaries. It will offer nine strains from eight different Sun + Earth certified farms partnering with Flow Kana. The strains are priced to compete in the mid-price premium market. For pot people who want to do their share to save the planet, it's time to get woke and bake with Brother D.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org, the publisher of this newsletter.

Categories: Latest News

DHS Considers Classifying Fentanyl as a Weapon of Mass Destruction [FEATURE]

Top Stories (STDW) - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 21:33

The military affairs and news web site Task & Purpose has obtained an internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that shows the agency is considering designating the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Typically produced in China and then smuggled through Mexico or sent directly to the US via package delivery services, fentanyl has been implicated in tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths in recent years. The drug is doubly dangerous because not only is it dozens of times stronger than heroin, it is all too often mixed in with other drugs so that consumers ingest it unwittingly.

The memo obtained by Task & Purpose was dated February 22, 2019 and titled "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl." It was prepared for then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James F. McConnell, who sketched the background of the drug and noted how some members of the federal government see it as a potential "mass casualty weapon."

McConnell is a long-time homeland security official who has led the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office since he was appointed by President Trump in May 2018.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," he wrote. "In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that '...fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals'," he wrote.

But other parts of the memo suggest DHS is considering the move not only as part of a war on fentanyl but as a means of obtaining more funding for the agency's WMD activities. Indeed, funding for the counter-WMD program has declined under Trump, whose homeland security priorities are focused on the US-Mexico border, despite crime rates at the border being lower than in other parts of the country.

"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," McDonnell wrote as he tried to sell the idea. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts. Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis," he added.

The Counter-WMD office could help in the fight against fentanyl by developing and managing new technologies, deploying sensors, and helping other agencies in the field, McDonnell told Nielsen. He also claimed that senior Defense Department leaders "had proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material."

Neither the Defense Department nor DHS would comment to Task & Purpose on the report, but members of the counter-WMD community contacted by the web site reacted with bemusement and skepticism.

Fentanyl as a WMD is a "fringe scenario," chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense expert Dan Kaszeta reacted. There are "literally dozens" of toxic chemicals that could be easily weaponized, he said.

"This is like declaring ecstasy as a WMD," said another member of the Defense Department's counter-WMD team speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told Task & Purpose. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

But McConnell is planning to move ahead. In the memo, he said his office would continue to brief DHS on fentanyl-related counter-WMD efforts and would schedule an interagency planning event on fentanyl.

An unnamed senior Defense official told Task & Purpose that while such a meeting was probably "a good idea," it was far more likely that someone seeking a chemical WMD would instead turn to sarin or mustard gas. "Anybody with a college level degree in chemistry can manufacture chemical weapons agents," he said.

"I cannot see any scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield, or for that matter, a terrorist using a really toxic chemical like fentanyl in an attack when they could just sell it for funding the purchase of firearms and explosives or steal an industrial chemical instead," the official added.

In that light, McConnell's memo appears more as a cynical bureaucratic exercise aimed at increasing program budgets rather than a serious effort to address homeland security.

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Infographic: How Drug War Fuels the Global HIV Pandemic

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Drug criminalization and mass incarceration force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments with higher HIV risks.
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