South Dakota activists hope the third time's the charm when it comes to medical marijuana initiatives, a Georgia CBD expansion bill advances, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slaps down former Attorney General (now EPA head) Scott Pruitt over medical marijuana ballot language, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
South Dakota Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Get Attorney General Approval. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has provided required attorney general explanations for two proposed initiatives. A marijuana legalization initiative would allow the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to five plants, as well as taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, while a medical marijuana initiative would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow a minimum of six plants. The initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and both need 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.
Restrictive Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.
Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Clears House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Former Attorney General Wrongly Changed Initiative Ballot Question Wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.
Iowa Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate File 446, which would bar the seizure of property valued at less than $5,000 unless there was a prior criminal conviction. The measure also increases the standard of proof required for asset forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill is now in the House, where it must advance by a committee this week to survive.
Arizona Senator, Congresswoman File Federal Bill to Increase Penalties for Border "Spotters." US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced the "Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act," which would toughen penalties on "spotters" who warn drug and human smugglers about the position of Border Patrol surveillance or officers. The bill would subject such people to up to 10 years in federal prison. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.
The US Congress has voted to allow states to force drug tests on people seeking unemployment benefits, decriminalization bills get filed in Florida and advance in New Mexico, another mass grave is uncovered in Old Mexico, and more.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Florida Decriminalization Bills Filed. A pair of lawmakers have filed identical decriminalization bills. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) filed House Bill1403, while Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed Senate Bill1662. Under the bills, possession of up to an ounce would be decriminalized, with a maximum $100 fine. Under current law, possession of up to an ounce is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana has passed out of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee and now faces only one more vote in the House Judiciary Committee before heading to the House floor. The measure, Senate Bill 258, has already passed the Senate.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Washington State Bill Would Force Heroin and Opioid Users into Treatment. State Sen. Steve O'Ban (R-University Place) has filed a bill that could force opioid users into involuntary drug treatment by declaring them "gravely disabled" under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The measure, Senate Bill 5811, had a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health, and Housing, but no vote was taken, and O'Ban said he didn't think the bill was going anywhere this year.
Mississippi Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 812, under which state law enforcement agencies will have to report their seizures, create a searchable website for seizure information, and submit civil seizure warrants to judges within 72 hours. The new law doesn't end civil asset forfeiture in the state, but advocates said "it's a start."
Senate Votes to Allow States to Drug Test People Seeking Unemployment Benefits. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to roll back an Obama-era regulation that blocks states from demanding drug tests of people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs that could be included under the law. The measure has already passed the House, and President Trump is expected to sign it.
Mass Grave Discovered in Mexico's Veracruz. Searchers have uncovered a series of mass graves on the outskirts of the city of Veracruz where scores, if not hundreds, of people believed to have been killed in drug gang violence have been buried. On Tuesday, local prosecutor Jorge Winkler told reporters that 250 human skulls had been found at the sites. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars in the past decade, and tens of thousands more have gone missing.
Colombia Coca Cultivation at Two-Decade High, US Says. The US estimates that coca production in Colombia increased 18% last year over 2015, with nearly half a million acres under production. The spike in production comes as the country begins implementing a peace accord with FARC rebels, and be the result of a "perverse incentive" for farmers to grow coca last year in order to qualify for subsidies for switching to substitute crops.
In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention summoning the specter of Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs.
[image:1 align:right]If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech.
"Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come. ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need…")
And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs.
"To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."
But talk is cheap. Drug law enforcement costs money. The DEA and other federal agencies are already waging a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs; if Trump's budget proposals match his rhetoric, he will have to be prepared to spend billions more. Just when he wants to cut just about all federal spending but defense, too.
Trump can ratchet up the drug war in some ways without relying on congressional appropriations through his control of the executive branch. For instance, his Justice Department could direct federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum prison sentences in most or all drug cases, a practice eschewed by the Obama Justice Department. That, too, has budgetary consequences, but until some time down the road.
Trump did at least pay lip service to addressing drug use as a public health issue, saying he would "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted," but that doesn't gibe with his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare is repealed, nearly three million Americans with addiction disorders with lose access to some or all of their health coverage, including nearly a quarter million receiving opioid addiction treatment.
Trump's Tuesday night crime and drug talk was interwoven with talk about the border, comingling immigration, drugs, and his border wall in a hot mess of overheated, but politically useful, rhetoric.
"We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate," he said, ignoring the quadrupling in size of the Border Patrol in the past 20 years and the billions pumped into border security since 2001. "We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth."
Trump also said that he was already making America safer with his immigration enforcement actions.
"As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," he said.
It's too early to see who is actually being deported in the opening days of the Trump administration, but if the past is any indicator, it's not "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," but, in rank order, people whose most serious crime was crossing the border without papers, alcohol-impaired drivers, other traffic violators, and pot smokers. Those were the four leading charges for criminal immigration deportations in one recent year, according to Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?
Trump's drug war rhetoric is triumphalist and militaristic, but so far it's largely just talk. The proof will be in budget proposals and Justice Department memoranda, but in terms of progressive drug policy, he's striking a very ominous tone. This does not bode well.