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Medical Marijuana Update

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 20:15

The FDA cracks down on claims marijuana cures cancer, Michigan's dispensaries catch a break and Detroit's dispensaries win on Election Day, a South Dakota initiative hands in signatures, and more.

[image:1 align:right]National

Last Tuesday, The FDA cracked down on claims marijuana cures cancer The Food and Drug Administration sent letters to four companies warning them they cannot market their products as treatments for cancer. The letter is directed at companies who claim their products can combat tumors and kill cancer cells. "We don't let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we're not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Last Thursday, an American Legion poll found strong support for medical marijuana among veterans. A poll from the American Legion found support for medical marijuana at a whopping 83% among veterans surveyed. Even more -- 92% -- support research into the clinical efficacy of medical marijuana. The American Legion passed a resolution at its national conference in August urging the federal government to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal.

Michigan

Last Wednesday, the state reversed itself on forcing dispensaries to close during the transition to a new regulatory regime. After ferocious blowback from patients concerned they could lose access to their medicine, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs reversed an earlier decision forcing dispensaries to shut down while the licensing process for them under a new state law is completed. Now, the dispensaries will be able to stay open past December 15, the day they were supposed to have to shut down.

On Tuesday, Detroit voters approved medical marijuana ballot proposals. Voters in the Motor City approved two ordinances to loosen zoning restrictions and other rules around the city's medical marijuana industry. The ordinances are a popular response to tight zoning laws and rules passed by the city council last year. The marijuana facilities ordinance won with 60.15% of the vote and the marijuana zoning ordinance won with 58.85% of the vote.

North Dakota

On Monday, the Health Department said medical marijuana was still a year away. The state Health Department announced proposed administrative rules for such things as lab testing, security requirements, and transportation regulations, and added that the proposed rules will be open for public comment until December 26. The department also said it doesn't expect the drug to be available for sale to patients for another year -- two years after it was approved by voters.

Ohio

Last Friday, the state issued its first medical marijuana grower licenses. State officials announced they had issued 11 Level II medical marijuana licenses. The licenses will allow holders to begin medical marijuana growing operations.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the state started signing up patients. The state Health Department announced that it had launched its patient and caregiver registry, bringing patients one step closer to being able to legally access their medicine. Medical marijuana should be available for patients by May 1, the department said.

Last Thursday, patients showed they were interested. The state Health Department reported that more than a thousand people registered on the first day of open applications for the state's new Medical Marijuana Program. That includes both patients and caregivers.

South Dakota

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative organizers handed in signatures. Sponsors of an initiative to legalize medical marijuana turned in 15,000 raw signatures Tuesday, the deadline day for initiatives to turn in signatures. The state requires 14,000 valid voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot, and initiative campaigns typically have an invalid signature rate of between 10% and 30%, so it still looks like an uphill battle to get the measure before the voters. A marijuana legalization initiative failed to gather enough signatures to pass this first hurdle.

Tennessee

Last Thursday, state Democrats endorsed medical marijuana. The state Democratic Party's executive committee has passed a resolution calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. The state has seen repeated attempts to pass a medical marijuana bill, to no avail so far.

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

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: NJ Elects MJ-Friendly Gov, Canada NDP Head Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (11/8/17)

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 19:55

Election day brought good news for marijuana reformers in New Jersey, Detroit, and an Ohio town; Canada's NDP leader calls for drug decriminalization, and more.

[image:1 align:left]Marijuana Policy

Maine Republicans Threaten to Block Pot Bill If Not Overhauled. The Republican House Minority Leader, Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport), says that after Gov. LePage (R) vetoed the bill to regulate marijuana commerce, it must be altered or it will face another veto. Fredette and the Republicans want tougher penalties for impaired driving, removing "loopholes" from the medical marijuana program, and killing a tax-sharing provision for locales that host marijuana businesses. "If they don't, they'll get more of the same: they'll get another veto," said Fredette on Tuesday. "Rank-and-file House Republicans are frustrated. Our districts think this is moving too fast. If they don't reach out to House Republicans, who have been the most powerful force in Augusta for the past five years and the only group that is willing to work closely with the governor, they'll end up with another veto, and we will sustain that one as easily as we did this one." Meanwhile, it remains legal to possess and grow marijuana for personal use.

Democratic Victory in New Jersey Governor Race a Good Omen for Legalization. Voters elected a pro-marijuana legalization Democrat to replace Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Tuesday. Governor-elect Phil Murphy made marijuana legalization part of his campaign and has said he will sign a legalization bill if it reaches his desk. A legalization bill sponsored by Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union), S3195, has already been filed, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who controls which bills move, said his goal was to get the bill passed within the first 100 days of the Murphy administration.

Athens, Ohio, Depenalizes Marijuana. Voters in the Ohio city approved The Athens Cannabis Ordinance (TACO) on Tuesday with 77% of the vote. TACO removes all penalties for the possession, cultivation, and gifting of up to 200 grams of marijuana. Last November, four other communities passed similar measures. Under state law, though, marijuana possession remains a minor misdemeanor, with fines, but no jail time.

Cook County, Illinois, Commissioner Wants Marijuana on the March Primary Ballot. Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey said on Tuesday he plans to let county residents hold a non-binding vote on marijuana legalization in the March primary election. Fritchey said he already has enough support for the idea from other commission members to get the measure on the ballot. Cook County, the home of Chicago, contains 40% of Illinois voters.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Turns in Signatures. Sponsors of an initiative to legalize medical marijuana turned in 15,000 raw signatures Tuesday, the deadline day for initiatives to turn in signatures. The state requires 14,000 valid voter signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot, and initiative campaigns typically have an invalid signature rate of between 10% and 30%, so it still looks like an uphill battle to get the measure before the voters. A marijuana legalization initiative failed to gather enough signatures to pass this first hurdle.

Detroit Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Ballot Proposals. Voters in the Motor City approved two ordinances to loosen zoning restrictions and other rules around the city's medical marijuana industry. The ordinances are a popular response to tight zoning laws and rules passed by the city council last year. The marijuana facilities ordinance won with 60.15% of the vote and the marijuana zoning ordinance won with 58.85% of the vote.

International

Canada New Democratic Party Leader Calls for Drug Decriminalization. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Tuesday called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to consider drug decriminalization as a response to the country's opioid crisis. Trudeau has previously dismissed such pleas. Singh argued that the majority of Canadians struggling with opioids also struggle with mental health issues and poverty and that the solution to the crisis lies in social justice, not criminal justice.

South Africa's Highest Court Considers Marijuana Legalization. The country's Constitutional Court heard arguments Tuesday on the government's appeal of a case from the Western Cape High Court, which had held in March that arrests for growing marijuana for personal use at home violated citizens' right to privacy and gave the government two years to amend the Drug Trafficking Act to incorporate that decision. A decision on the appeal is expected by next March.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: CA Magic Mushroom Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering, More... (11/7/17)

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 20:24

The Maine legislature fails to override the governor's veto of the pot regulation bill, a California initiative to legalize magic mushrooms gets the okay for signature gathering, North Dakotans will wait another year for their medical marijuana, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Maine House Fails to Override Veto of Marijuana Regulation Bill. The House voted Monday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of a bill providing a legal regulatory framework for marijuana commerce. What happens next is unclear. A moratorium on recreational sales expires on February 1. The legislature reconvenes in January, but there is little indication political dynamics will change between now and then. If the moratorium is not extended and a new bill passed, the law as passed by voters in 2016 would go into effect. "I feel like we legalized gasoline, but not gas stations," Rep. Martin Grohman told the Portland Press-Herald.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Says Medical Marijuana Still a Year Away. The state Health Department Monday announced proposed administrative rules for such things as lab testing, security requirements, and transportation regulations, and added that the proposed rules will be open for public comment until December 26. The department also said it doesn't expect the drug to be available for sale to patients for another year -- two years after it was approved by voters.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Florida's Largest Insurer Stops Covering Oxycontin. The state's largest health insurance company will stop covering OxyContin, the brand name prescription opioid, beginning January 1, in a bid to reduce overdoses and opioid dependence. Instead, Florida Blue will start covering an alternative opioid that isn't crushable for injection or snorting, reducing its potential for abuse, the company said Monday. That other drug is Xtampza ER, which also contains oxycodone, but which is designed to deter abuse because the pills cannot be crushed for snorting or injection.

Psychedelics

California Magic Mushroom Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. An initiative that would legalize psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, has been approved for signature gathering by state officials. The California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative needs 365,880 valid voter signatures by April 30 to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. House leaders Monday proposed sweeping changes to the state's criminal justice and sentencing laws. It's a mixed bag: Some provisions would allow for the expungement of marijuana offenses and end some mandatory minimum drug sentences, but others would increase sentences for dealing in opioids. The bill also includes pre-trial diversion programs and bail reforms. The House will debate the measures next week. The Senate has already passed its own version of a criminal justice reform bill.

International

Canada's Newest Safe Injection Site Approved in Ottawa. Health Canada has given final approval for a safe injection site in Ottawa, which will be housed in a trailer in a hospital parking lot. Operators said they expected to begin welcoming clients today.

Dutch Localities Line Up for Regulated Marijuana Cultivation Pilot Project. Some 25 of the country's 380 local authorities have applied to participate in pilot schemes to allow the regulated growth of marijuana to supply the nation's fabled cannabis cafes. Among those councils which have come forward are Breda, the Noord-Brabant town of Cuijk, and Rotterdam, where mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb wants the experiment to cover distribution as well. The government is expected to announce which locales win spots in the pilot program next year.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: ME Lawmakers Try to Save MJ Reg Bill from Veto, Denver SIF Advances, More... (11/6/17)

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 20:30

Maine's governor vetoes the marijuana regulation bill, but the legislature will attempt an override today; a plan for a safe injection site in Denver advances, a Michigan roadside drug testing pilot program gets underway this week, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Maine Governor Vetoes Bill to Regulate Legal Marijuana Production, Sales. Gov. Paul LePage last Friday vetoed the bill that would regulate legal marijuana commerce in the state. In his veto message, he cited a number of concerns, including how the Trump administration is going to deal with the conflict between state and federal law. "Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine," the governor explained.

Maine Lawmakers Meet Today to Try to Override Governor's Veto. The legislature is set to meet at 4:00pm today in a bid to override Gov. LePage's veto of the marijuana regulation bill. The bill passed the Senate, but not the House, by a veto-proof majority earlier this year.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Announces First Licensees for Medical Marijuana Production. State officials announced last Friday they had issued 11 Level II medical marijuana licenses. The licenses will allow holders to begin medical marijuana growing operations.

Drug Testing

Michigan Roadside Drug Testing Pilot Program Begins This Week. Michigan State Police are set to begin a pilot program in five counties to do roadside oral fluid drug tests of drivers in a bid to reduce drugged driving. The counties included are Berrien, Delta, Kent, St. Clair and Washtenaw. Under the program, officers trained in "drug recognition" will be able to require drivers to submit to a preliminary saliva test if they suspect he is impaired. The tests will look for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine and opiates.

Harm Reduction

Walgreen's to Carry Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug, No Prescription Needed. Walgreen's drugstores will soon stock the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) at its thousands of locations across the US, and it will be available over the counter, no prescription needed. Walgreen's is the nation's second largest drugstore chain with more than 8,000 stores. "By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed," Walgreen's vice president Rick Gates said in a statement. "As a pharmacy, we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve."

Denver Starts Down Path Toward Safe Injection Sites. Seattle and San Francisco are the US cities closest to opening safe injection sites for drug users, but now Denver is making a move in the same direction. A legislative committee last week gave unanimous approval to a plan to open a pilot site in the city. But that's just a first step: The next step is to get the legislation through the General Assembly when the legislature convenes in January.

International

Colombia, UNODC Sign Cooperation Agreement on Coca and Cocaine. In a deal announced last Friday, Colombia and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have agreed to cooperate on the county's coca reduction strategy. Under the deal, the UNODC will help Colombia implement "alternative and sustainable development programs in areas affected by coca cultivation," according to a press release from the Colombian presidency. The plan is estimated to require $315 million in funding over the next four years. The question is whether Colombia has the political will to come up with the money.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Belize Decriminalizes Ten Grams, SF Ponders Smoking in Shops, More... (11/3/17)

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 19:23

It's all marijuana news today, with San Francisco considering allowing smoking at pot shops, an American Legion poll finding very strong support for medical marijuana among veteans, Belize decriminalizing up to 10 grams, and more.

[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy

San Francisco Ponders Allowing Pot Smoking in Pot Shops. Bureaucratic battle lines are being drawn inside the city government as it grapples with the looming advent of legal marijuana sales. At a Thursday meeting, the Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee recommended making it legal to smoke pot at pot shops, but the Department of Public Health, which has a longstanding policy of opposing smoking in public spaces, is opposed. This is only one of the issues the city is grappling with as the January 1 legal sales date looms.

Medical Marijuana

American Legion Poll Finds Strong Medical Marijuana Support Among Veterans. A poll from the American Legion released Thursday found support for medical marijuana at a whopping 83% among veterans surveyed. Even more -- 92% -- support research into the clinical efficacy of medical marijuana. The American Legion passed a resolution at its national conference in August urging the federal government to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is legal.

Pennsylvania Patients Are Eager to Get in the Program. The state Health Department reported Thursday that more than a thousand people registered on the first day of open applications for the state's new Medical Marijuana Program. That includes both patients and caregivers.

Tennessee Democrats Endorse Medical Marijuana. The state Democratic Party's executive committee has passed a resolution calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. The state has seen repeated attempts to pass a medical marijuana bill, to no avail so far.

International

Belize Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. Governor General Colville Young Thursday signed into law a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill "decriminalizes the possession of cannabis in amounts not exceeding 10 grams, provides for the imposition of monetary and non-recordable penalties for the possession of cannabis in such amounts occurring on school premises, in specified circumstances, and decriminalizes the smoking of cannabis on private premises."

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: DPA Decries Resort to Drug Courts, OSU Creates Drug Policy Center, More... (11/02/17)

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 18:13

The Drug Policy Alliance takes aim at some of the opioid commission's recommendations, Michigan dispensaries can stay open during the shift to the new regime, Ohio State creates a Koch-funded drug policy center, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Colorado Budget Plan Would Use Pot Tax Money to Fund Task Force Aimed at Illegal Marijuana Operations. Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) budget proposal for FY 2018-2019 includes directing $1.2 million in pot tax revenues to create a task force with the state Bureau of Investigation to "investigate black marker marijuana operations across Colorado." Such operations are on the increase, the governor complained.

Medical Marijuana

FDA Cracks Down on Marijuana Cancer Treatment Claims. The Food and Drug Administration sent letters Tuesday to four companies warning them they cannot market their products as treatments for cancer. The letter is directed at companies who claim their products can combat tumors and kill cancer cells. "We don't let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we're not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Can Stay Open During Shift to New Regime. After ferocious blowback from patients concerned they could lose access to their medicine, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday reversed an earlier decision forcing dispensaries to shut down while the licensing process for them under a new state law is completed. Now, the dispensaries will be able to stay open past December 15, the day they were supposed to have to shut down.

Pennsylvania Starts Signing Up Patients. The state Health Department announced Wednesday that it had launched its patient and caregiver registry, bringing patients one step closer to being able to legally access their medicine. Medical marijuana should be available for patients by May 1, the department said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Advocates Denounce White House Opioid Commission's Emphasis on Drug Courts and Proposed Increase in Drug Sentences. The Drug Policy Alliance attacked the emphasis on drug courts, saying research does not support their continued expansion. "Most drug courts do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and ultimately fail to help people struggling with drug problems. Today's drug courts are no more effective -- but are considerably more costly -- than voluntary treatment, with participants often spending more time behind bars than those whose cases are handled by conventional courts. While the commission has recommended that drug courts provide access to medication-assisted treatments, it would be far more valuable to offer such treatments on a voluntary basis, without subjecting people who are struggling with addiction to the criminal justice system," the group said in press release Wednesday.

Drug Policy

Ohio State Creates Center to Study Impact of War on Drugs. The Ohio State University announced Wednesday the creation of a center to study the social impacts of the war on drugs. The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center will be funded with a $4.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. It will be headed by Professor Robert Berman, who has had a long-term interest in drug policy reform and is perhaps best known as the author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Categories: Latest News

Medical Marijuana Update

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 20:12

Congresspeople want the VA to research medical marijuana, New Jersey expands its list of qualifying conditions, and more.

[image:1 align:right]National

Last Thursday,lawmakers called on the VA to research medical marijuana for veterans. A group of lawmakers who sit on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee wrote a letter to Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin urging him to use his agency to research medical marijuana. The VA "is uniquely situated to pursue research on the impact of medical marijuana on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD given its access to world class researchers, the population it serves, and its history of overseeing and producing research resulting in cutting-edge medical treatments," the lawmakers wrote. Shulkin has yet to respond.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, rejected medical marijuana business applicants sued over their rejected bids. A group of applicants seeking to open some of the first medical marijuana businesses in the state filed lawsuits last week charging that the state Medical Marijuana Commission erred in its initial assessment of applications, where it rejected several applicants for failing to meet minimum requirements. The lawsuits seek a temporary restraining order to force the commission to include the plaintiffs' applications during a final scoring review.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state recognized five new qualifying conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Review Panel has officially approved five new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette's Syndrome. The panel rejected adding chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma as qualifying conditions.

Utah

Last Wednesday, another new poll showed continuing strong support for a medical marijuana initiative. A new Salt Lake Tribune/University of Utah Hinckley School of Politics poll has support for a 2018 medical marijuana initiative at 75%. That result mirrors a July poll that had 77% support.

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

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Trump Opioid Commission Calls for More Drug Courts, More... (11/1/17)

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 20:02

President Trump's opioid commission issues its recommendations, El Paso becomes the latest Texas locale to ease marijuana possession penalties, would-be Arkansas medical marijuana providers file suit over an application process that excluded them, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Task Force Report to Be Delayed. The legislative task force studying whether to legalize marijuana has delayed issuing its final report from the end of January to the end of February. The delay was requested by the Keep Delaware Safe and Healthy Coalition, a coalition of influential groups opposed to legalization.

New Jersey Court Rules State Must Consider Reclassifying Marijuana. An Appellate Division court ruled 2-1 Tuesday that the state must at least consider removing marijuana from its list of controlled substances. The ruling came in a case brought by two plaintiffs, a man serving a life sentence for marijuana trafficking and a young girl with epilepsy who uses marijuana for medical reasons. The court did not order the state to reclassify the herb, but said the head of the Division of Consumer Affairs should have considered reclassification instead of just flatly denying a petition to do so.

El Paso Becomes Latest Texas Locale to Not Automatically Arrest for Marijuana Offenses. El Paso county commissioners voted on Monday to approve a program under which first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces of weed can avoid arrest and criminal charges. The state passed a law allowing for the down-grading of pot possession offenses in 2014, but it has only been implemented in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Business Applicants Sue Over Rejected Bids. A group of applicants seeking to open some of the first medical marijuana businesses in the state filed lawsuits last week charging that the state Medical Marijuana Commission erred in its initial assessment of applications, where it rejected several applicants for failing to meet minimum requirements. The lawsuits seek a temporary restraining order to force the commission to include the plaintiffs' applications during a final scoring review.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House Opioid Commission Issues Recommendations. President Trump's commission on the opioid crisis called Wednesday for the nationwide expansion of drug courts and more access to alternatives to opioids for people suffering pain as part of a series of recommendations for shaping drug policy to more effectively address the crisis. The 56 recommendations also include requiring doctors to show they have training in the safe provision of such drugs before their DEA licenses are renewed, requiring health care providers to use prescription drug monitoring databases, and easing Medicaid and insurance payments for opioid drug treatment. The recommendations contain no provision for increased funding.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Germany's Merkel May Agree to Legalization as Part of Coalition, More... (10/31/17)

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 20:13

Marijuana decriminalization takes center stage in Virginia drug policy debates, Germany's Angela Merkel may agree to legalize marijuana in a bid to build a governing coalition, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Virginia Crime Commission Briefed on Marijuana Stats. The state Crime Commission was briefed Monday on the results of a months-long study examining the costs and consequences of marijuana arrests in the Old Dominion. The study found there were more than 133,000 pot possession arrests in the state in the past 10 years, but that relatively few people went to jail for it in the state. The study was prompted by a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Virginia Senate Majority Leader Will File Decriminalization Bill. State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) said Monday he plans to file a bill that would decriminalize small-time pot possession for first offenders. Norment said the bill is still being drafted, but would make first-time possession a civil offense punishable by a fine, mandatory education, and a drivers' license suspension.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Program Gets Underway. Under a program that took effect last week, state residents who apply for welfare must now undergo a drug screen questionnaire, with those whose responses are deemed suspicious required to take and pass a drug test. People who fail a drug test will be required to undergo drug treatment at their own expense -- while being denied funds that could help pay for it.

International

Germany's Merkel May Agree to Marijuana Legalization as Part of Coalition Deal. Reports from German media suggest that Prime Minister Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union Party may agree to support marijuana legalization as part of an effort to form a coalition government with two parties that want to free the weed, the Free Democrats and the Greens. Marijuana policy would be addressed at the end of coalition talks, the reports said.

Categories: Latest News

Two NYPD Cops Charged with Raping Teen After Busting Her for Marijuana

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 18:21

A New York City grand jury indicted two Brooklyn narcotics officers late last week on charges they raped an 18-year-old woman after arresting her for smoking marijuana. The alleged victim says she was assaulted while handcuffed in the back of a police van in the parking lot of a Chipotle restaurant in September.

[image:1 align:left]The two narcotics officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall, now face charges of first degree rape. The alleged victim, who posts on social media under the name Anna Chambers, including posts about the case, says that both narcs forced her to perform oral sex on them, and that one of them raped her. She alleges that she and two young men were pulled over by Martins and Hall for smoking pot, and that they targeted her after finding prescription drugs in the car. The narcs told her companions to leave before ordering her to undress so they could "search for drugs."

They didn't find any drugs on her, but handcuffed the teen anyway before coercing her into sex, her attorney, Michael David, told the New York Post.

"You'll spend three hours in the precinct," they allegedly told her. They also allegedly said: "This is what you're going to do for us, and we'll let you go," David said.

"There was zero consent," David said. "The cops were over 6 feet tall. She's very petite, like 5-2 and maybe 100 pounds. There's nothing she could do."

The grand jury issued the indictments October 26 after hearing a week of testimony, including testimony on the stand from Chambers herself. The narcs were not arrested upon indictment, but are expected to turn themselves in this week. They have been placed on modified duty and stripped of their guns and badges and are now suspended without pay. They're looking at between three and 25 years in prison if convicted.

The detectives, from NYPD's Brooklyn South narcotics squad, have not denied that they engaged in sex acts with the alleged victim, but claimed they were consensual. They also spent the past week trying to discredit and impugn their accuser.

In a letter to prosecutors, lawyers for the narcs pointed out that she had filed a $50 million claim against the city in October and that she had posted "provocative" selfies on her Instagram and Twitter accounts after the assault. The lawyers called on prosecutors "to further investigate Chambers' dubious claim before you ask the grand jury to return an indictment against Martins and Hall."

Chambers furiously rejects the narcs' claim that the sex was consensual, her lawyer said.

"She was shocked that the [cops] would say it was consensual after everything that was done to her. She wanted to get the word out," David explained. 'She just wants everybody to know it's an absolute lie that this was consensual. She was raped. She was viciously, brutally raped in handcuffs. It's the truth," he said.

"She's embarrassed," David continued. "She's very depressed over this. Her whole life had changed after this experience. She's afraid of the police, and she really wants justice to be served here."

After the attack, Chambers did what victims are supposed to do: She sought help at NYU Langone Hospital, which performed a rape kit on her that found the cops' DNA. She reported a sexual assault to police. She confided to friends after it happened. And she filed a civil lawsuit. And now, the criminal justice system swings into action against the perpetrators.

One of the reasons the war on drugs is so loathed is that it provides the opportunity for crooked cops to abuse their power in ways that have been alleged in this case. One wonders how many similarly abused women have not come forward.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Second Australia SIJ Coming, DEA Adds Heroin Enforcement Teams, More... (10/30/17)

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 19:45

The Victoria state government has approved a safe injection site in Melbourne, a new report warns that high taxes on legal marijuana could push people to the black market, New Jersey adds some new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Report: High Legal Pot Taxes Could Push Consumers to Black Market. California retail marijuana taxes, which could reach as high as 45% in some cases, could potentially push consumers out of legal pot shops and into the black market, according to a new report from the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings. "The existing black market for cannabis may prove a formidable competitor to legal markets if new taxes lead to higher prices than available from illicit sources," the report says.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Adds Five New Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Review Panel has officially approved five new qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. They are anxiety, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, migraines, chronic pain of visceral origin, and Tourette's Syndrome. The panel rejected adding chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma as qualifying conditions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Creates Six New Heroin Enforcement Teams. The DEA has announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on heroin and fentanyl. The teams will operate in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Charleston, West Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Long Island, New York. The DEA got funding in its Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations to pay for the teams.

Public Health Experts Issue Report With Comprehensive Recommendations for Opioid Crisis.
Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation have issued a report with comprehensive recommendations for stemming the opioid crisis. Among its 10 priority recommendations are: expanded electronic opioid prescription monitoring, policies in line with CDC Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, clear guidance on opioid disposal and "take back" programs, increased federal funding for drug treatment in the most hard hit communities, and cheaper naloxone.

International

Taliban Now Making Heroin -- and Increased Profits. For years, Afghanistan's Taliban have profited from opium poppy production, using the proceeds to finance their war, but now, Afghan and Western officials say that more than half of Afghan opium is being processed in-country, and that is leading for increased profits for the Taliban, for whom the drug trade consists of about 60% of its income.

Australia to Get Second Safe Injection Site, in Melbourne. The Victoria state government cabinet has approved a safe injection site for the North Richmond area of Melbourne. It is set to open next year. At the same time, the state government is also moving to crack down on heroin traffickers by reducing the amounts of heroin needed to impose harsh sentences.

Categories: Latest News

Chronicle AM: Trump Declares Opioid Emergency, SF SIJ Could Come Soon, More... (10/26/17)

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 20:49

The president declares the opioid crisis an emergency, but not enough of one to actually need funding; lawmakers go after the DEA over West Virginia pain pill deliveries, a St. Louis alderman files a marijuana legalization measure, the US Sentencing Commission issues a report on mandatory minimums, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

St. Louis Ordinance Would End Local Marijuana Prohibition. Alderman Megan Green has filed an ordinance that would end enforcement of any laws that allow "the civil or criminal punishment for the use or possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia against any individual or entity," with some specified exceptions. Under the bill, pot could be used, sold, and grown in the city. The bill gets a first reading Friday, and Green says she's confident it can pass in coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Call for VA to Research Medical Marijuana for Veterans. A group of lawmakers who sit on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee wrote a letter Thursday to Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin urging him to use his agency to research medical marijuana. The VA "is uniquely situated to pursue research on the impact of medical marijuana on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD given its access to world class researchers, the population it serves, and its history of overseeing and producing research resulting in cutting-edge medical treatments," the lawmakers wrote. Shulkin has yet to respond.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency, But Provides No Funds. President Trump announced Thursday that he had directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency around the opioid crisis. But he declined to declare a national emergency, which would have allowed for the rapid allocation of monies to address it. Trump's declaration carries no funding with it, but would allow some grant money to be used to combat opioid abuse.

Lawmakers Take DEA to Task Over Spread of Opioids. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee threatened to subpoena the DEA over its slow response to their questions about how wholesale drug distributors poured millions of opioid pain pills into West Virginia. Members said the committee had been waiting six months for answers from the DEA about which companies had sent nine million pills to the town of Kermit, WV (pop. 392), over a two-year period. Members did not express any concerns about how a crackdown on pain pill prescribing might impact chronic pain patients.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Could See Safe Injection Sites Within a Year, Official Says. Safe injection sites in the city could be open in eight to 12 months if a proposal to create them gets approved, Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia told supervisors on Wednesday. Even if the plan was approved immediately, it would take time to obtain funding, establish protocols, hire and train staff, and set up the program, she said.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Issues Report on Mandatory Minimums. The US Sentencing Commission has issued a report on the use and impact of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. The report finds, among other things, that mandatory minimums continue to be imposed and result in long sentences in the federal system, but that they were being used less often last year. The report also noted that mandatory minimums may be applied more broadly than Congress intended, but that laws allows for departures from the harsh sentences "result in significantly reduced sentences when applied."

International

Colombia Will Move to Decriminalize Small-Time Coca Farming. The government will introduce legislation that would make the cultivation of up to just under ten acres of coca a non-punishable offense. More than 100,000 families earn a living from coca farming, with the average planting being less than an acre. This move would provide some breathing room for farmers caught between drug gangs on one hand and police on the other. The move was part of the peace deal agreed to with the leftist rebels of the FARC, but this is the first step toward actually implementing it.

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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 21:37

Sticky-fingered pill-stealing cops get themselves in trouble in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

[image:1 align:left]In Palm Beach, Florida, a Palm Beach deputy was arrested last Thursday on charges he stole pills and other items from the home of a man who died during Hurricane Irma. Deputy Jason Cooke went down after the son of the dead man delivered in-home surveillance footage of him making off with pain pills, muscle relaxers, and anti-psychotic medications from the home of the 85-year-old man after discovering him dead in the house. He is charged with burglary and grand theft.

In Key West, Florida, a Monroe County sheriff's correctional officer was arrested Tuesday on charges she stole drugs from a family friend. Officer Ashlie Nicole Hernandez allegedly took the pills while babysitting, and the victim reported he to authorities. She is charged two counts of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and one count of theft of a controlled substance.

In West Chester, Pennsylvania, a state trooper was sentenced last Wednesday to three years' probation for using one of his informants as his personal cocaine dealer. Jose Israel Lebron went down after the informant snitched him out, telling police he had been buying cocaine for and using it with Lebron for months before cops rolled up Lebron in April 2016. He pleaded guilty to a single count of purchase of a controlled substance by an unauthorized person in commerce. That conviction means he will not be able to be certified as a law enforcement officer in the state again.

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Chronicle AM: New Gallup Poll Has Record Support for Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/25/17)

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 20:54

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and even more in Connecticut, the House passes a bill increasing funding for drug interdiction, the GAO reports on five years of US drug war spending in Latin America, Afghanistan has a whopping record opium crop, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Has Legalization Support at Record High, Approaching Two-Thirds. A Gallup poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at a record high 64%, up four points from last year and twice as high as just 17 years ago. The poll also includes another first: For the first time, a majority of Republicans support legalization.

Connecticut Poll Has Legalization Support Above 70%. A new Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy poll has support for legalization at a whopping 70.6%. That includes both "strongly support" and "somewhat support." Among people under 35, 83.2% wanted to legalize it, and even 73.6% of residents with children in the household were supportive. Legalization should be on the legislative agenda next year.

Washington State Marijuana Sales Top $1 Billion Mark This Year. By the end of September, retail marijuana sales topped $1.1 billion, according to data released by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board. That's just short of Colorado's figure of $1.118 billion so far this year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Bill Would Create Federal Task Force to Fight Fentanyl and Heroin. US Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Evan Jenkins (R-VA) filed HR 4090, the Fentanyl and Heroin Task Force Act, on Monday. The bill would create a multi-agency task force including members of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS, the International Trade Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Inspection Service. The task force would coordinate federal efforts to go after fentanyl trafficking groups and identify the sources of heroin and fentanyl production and distribution. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Passes Bill to Beef Up Customs, Border Patrol to Wage Drug War. The House voted 412-3 to approve HR 2142, the INTERDICT Act. The bill appropriates funds to pay for new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel needed to enforce prohibition against fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. A companion measure in the Senate hasn't moved yet.

Foreign Policy

GAO Report: US Spent $39 Billion Fighting Drugs in Western Hemisphere in Five Years. Between 2010 and 2015, US agencies implementing the National Drug Control Strategy spent $39 billion trying to block the flow of drugs from Latin America into the United States. That includes the Defense Department, Homeland Security's ICE, Homeland Security's CBP, the Coast Guard, the Justice Department's DEA and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, the State Department, and the Agency for International Development. Given the huge drug flows from south of the border, it doesn't seem to be working that well.

State Department Wants Stronger Anti-Drug Efforts from Mexico. A day after the DEA identified Mexican drug trafficking groups as the key criminal threat in drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a business meeting in Mexico that Mexico needed to do more to help. "More rigorous, collaborative efforts to confront the threat posed by the production and distribution of heroin and fentanyl are a priority for the United States," Sullivan said in remarks reported by ABC News.

International

Afghanistan Has Record Opium Harvest This Year. The opium poppy crop this year is a record and more than double last year's crop, according to Afghan Counter-Narcotics Minister Salamt Azimi. He blamed high levels of insurgency for preventing eradication programs from operating. Last year's crop was estimated at 4,700 tons, but this year's will likely exceed 10,000 tons.

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Chronicle AM: DEA Annual Threat Assessment Released, Trump Opium Event Thursday, More... (10/24/17)

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 20:09

The White House could announce a national opioid emergency on Thursday, the DEA releases its annual drug threat assessment, the Maine legislature approves a marijuana regulation bill, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Governor May Veto. The legislature approved a bill to regulate the state's impending legal marijuana market Monday, but not by big enough a margin to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would set up a licensing system and set a 10% sales tax and a weight-based excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers. If LePage vetoes the bill, the result could be "chaos" that would throw "oxygen onto the fire of the black market," said Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) in remarks reported by the Bangor Daily News. LePage has said he wants to postpones retail sales until next year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House to Host Opioid Event on Thursday. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has announced that it will host an event Thursday on "the nationwide opioid crisis." The announcement did not make clear what the event will be, but could be the declaration of a national emergency around the opioid crisis. President Trump surprised his advisors last week by saying he would make such an announcement this week.

Trump Opioid Commission Member Not Optimistic. In an interview Monday, Trump opioid commission member former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said he was not optimistic that any recommendations from the commission will lead to any effective action to ameliorate the opioid crisis. Kennedy told the Washington Post "the worry is that" the commission's final recommendations, set for release next week, "won't be adopted."

Drug Store Group Offers Recommendations to Ease Opioid Crisis. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has been criticized on some fronts for contributing to the crisis, has suggested four public policy initiatives that could help rein it in. Among the policy prescriptions are a seven-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions, nationwide electronic prescription monitoring, the use of manufacturer-funded envelopes to return unused opioids, and regulation of synthetic opioids. The association did not address the impact such policy prescriptions could have on chronic pain patients.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The agency released its annual report Monday, and it concentrates on the opioid crisis. The report notes the high number of prescription opioid overdose deaths, warns that heroin is a "serious public health and safety threat," notes the rise of fentanyl, says "the methamphetamine threat remains prevalent," "the cocaine threat continues to rebound," and that the emergence of new psychoactive substances remains "a challenge," among other findings. It qualifies Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

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Chronicle AM: Iran Restricts Death Penalty in Drug Cases, Belize MJ Decrim Move, More... (10/23/17)

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 20:59

Iran has approved dramatic changes in the use of the death penalty in drug cases, an Indiana county ends needle exchange and cites the Bible to do so, Jamaica issues its first marijuana business licenses, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Colorado Credit Union Sues Federal Reserve Over Cannabis Banking. The Fourth Corner Credit Union has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City over its refusal to grant the business a master account because Fourth Corner wants to provide financial services to groups in the marijuana business. Fourth Corner received a state banking charter in 2014 and even altered its business plan to only serve marijuana advocacy groups -- not pot businesses -- but the Fed still refuses to issue a master account.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Scores $300,000 in Medical Marijuana Taxes. The state collected medical marijuana taxes at the rate of $100,000 a month for the three months ending in September, the Department of Revenue reported. The proceeds are coming from a 4% tax on provider's gross revenue. The tax went into effect on July 1.

Utah Poll Shows Continuing Strong Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new Salt Lake Tribune/University of Utah Hinckley School of Politics poll has support for a 2018 medical marijuana initiative at 75%. That result mirrors a July poll that had 77% support.

Harm Reduction

Indiana County Ends Needle Exchange Program, Cites Biblical Morality. County commissioners in Lawrence County voted last week to end a needle exchange program, with commissioners citing the Bible and morality as reasons for doing so. "It was a moral issue with me. I had severe reservations that were going to keep me from approving that motion," County Commissioner Rodney Fish, who voted against the program, told NBC News. "I did not approach this decision lightly. I gave it a great deal of thought and prayer. My conclusion was that I could not support this program and be true to my principles and my beliefs." Before voting, Fish quoted a Bible verse about people turning from their "wicked ways."

International

Belize House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization. The House last Friday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill that would allow the possession of up to 10 grams of pot. It would also legalize industrial hemp. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Colombia Prosecutor General Calls for Reconsideration of Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. In an interview with the newspaper El Tiempo, Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez called on the government to consider resuming aerial spraying of coca groups with herbicides. The call comes amid rising concerns over the government's ability to rein in coca production in the wake of its peace treaty with the leftist rebels of the FARC.

Indonesia Drug Czar Threatens Philippines-Style Killings of Drug Dealers. National Narcotics Agency (BNN) head Commander General Budi Waseso said last Thursday that police should be prepared to shoot drug dealers on the spot. "People said that the BNN cannot shoot on the spot. Why not?" Waseso said, in remarks reported by the Jakarta Post. "Stern actions" are justified because "there are too few drug dealers who are dead, while they have killed thousands of people."

Iran Limits Death Penalty in Drug Cases. The Islamic Republic's Guardian Council last Wednesday approved amendments to the country's Law Against Drug Trafficking that will greatly reduce the imposition of the death penalty for drug offenses. In past years, Iran has executed hundreds of people each year for drug trafficking offenses, but the amendment limits imposition of the death penalty to drug lords, armed traffickers, people with significant prior convictions, and people who use children to sell drugs.

Jamaica Issues First Marijuana Licenses. The Cannabis Licensing Authority of Jamaica issued the first two licenses for marijuana businesses last Wednesday. One went to Everyting Oily Labs for processing, and the other went to Epican for cultivation. "Although it has taken some time to get to this historic occasion, we have remained committed to getting it right and to ensure that Jamaica's stake in the global medicinal cannabis industry is never compromised and remains sustainable," said Authority Chairwoman Hyacinth Lightbourne in a press release. "During the process, we have endeavored to remain in dialogue with our applicants every step of the way, and we are confident that they have satisfied the rigors of the regulations," she said.

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Chronicle AM: New Zealand to Vote on MJ Legalization, Peru Congress OKs MedMJ, More... (10/20/17)

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 21:11

A new doctors' group is calling on the medical community to be open to marijuana legalization, kratom activists file a FOIA on the DEA, New Zealand's new prime minister says she will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization, and more.

[image:1 align:left]Marijuana Policy

New Doctors' Group Advocates for Marijuana Legalization. A newly formed physicians' group is calling on organized medicine to be open to legalizing and regulating marijuana. Doctors for Cannabis Regulation includes as members former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and former US Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Westley Clark.

Maine Governor Wants to Delay Legal Marijuana Sales. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has proposed that lawmakers delay recreational marijuana sales instead of trying to pass a legislative rewrite of the voter-approved 2016 legalization initiative. LePage is proposing pushing the sales date back to January 2019. Lawmakers have already pushed the sales date back to February 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump's Vow to Deliver Emergency Opioid Proclamation Is News to His Advisors. When President Trump announced Monday he would deliver an emergency proclamation on the opioid crisis next week, he blindsided his advisors, who are now scrambling to actually develop a plan. Despite Trump's remarks, it is unclear how or if it will be done, when it will be announced, and whether there is permanent leadership in place to execute it. "They are not ready for this," a public health advocate told Politico, which reported that top officials were "stunned" by Trump's off-script remarks.

Kratom

Citing DEA "Shadow Campaign," Kratom Backers File FOIA Request. Charging that the DEA is involved in a "shadow campaign" against the herb, the American Kratom Association has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all records of kratom-related communications between the DEA and state lawmakers, law enforcement officials, coroners, and medical examiners. The association believes a recent claim of a "kratom-related death" by a local coroner is "part of a larger behind-the-scenes push against kratom by the DEA in the wake of its decision last year to suspend an emergency scheduling push that would have effectively banned the legal botanical product," according to its press release.

Criminal Justice

In Speech to Oklahoma Sheriffs, Sessions Praises Asset Forfeiture, Denies Need for Sentencing Reform. Addressing the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association in Midway City Wednesday, Attorney General Sessions praised President Trump as a "law and order president," defended federal asset forfeiture, and denied that the country has a mass incarceration problem. "If you want to bring down our prison population, then we should bring down crime," Sessions said in prepared remarks.

International

Colombia Coca Farmers, Social Organization Call General Strike. Upset by the government's failure to fully implement peace accords signed with the leftist FARC rebels 11 months ago, dozens of groups, including the National Coordinator for Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Growers; the National Coordinator of Communities and Afrodescendant Organization, and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples have called an indefinite strike. "This national strike is to demand compliance with the agreement. We hope that the Government respects our right to protest, "said the spokesman of the National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones, Cesar Jerez, in a statement issued by Patriotic March.

New Zealand Will Hold Referendum on Marijuana Legalization. Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has said the country will hold a referendum on marijuana legalization at some point in the next three years. She has not taken a position on the issue herself, but said she wanted to hear the view of the public.

Peru Congress Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Congress approved a bill Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in the Andean nation. The move has the support of President Pablo Kuczynski, who proposed it after a scandal erupted when police cracked down on a group of mothers making cannabis oil in a home factory to treat their epileptic children.

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Chronicle AM: Washington SIJs Win Court Ruling, Houston DA Goes Deep on Reform, More.. (10/19/17)

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 20:10

Hemp farming comes a step closer in Wisconsin, safe injection sites win a court battle in suburban Seattle, Houston's DA is proving to be a real criminal justice reformer, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Industrial Hemp

Wisconsin Hemp Bill Advances. The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved an industrial hemp bill Wednesday. The measure, Senate Bill 119, would create state licenses for farmers seeking to grow hemp. Plants could not contain more than 1% THC. The bill is now ready for a Senate floor vote.

Bail Reform

New Mexico Governor Wants to Roll Back Bail Reform. Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment that aimed to ensure that low-level, non-violent offenders did not rot in jail awaiting trial, but now Gov. Susana Martinez (R) wants to repeal it. While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have concerns about how the courts are implementing reform, actually repealing it would be a long shot.

Drug Policy

Houston DA Lays Out Reform Agenda. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Tuesday laid out plans for what she called "more diversion, less jail" for people struggling with drug use or mental illness. Ogg released eight reports based on her transition team's recommendations, around everything from police shootings to bail reform to equality in justice to diversion, and more. Ogg has already enacted a marijuana diversion program and ended the prosecution of cases where only trace amounts of drugs are found. But she's ready to go deeper.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Judge Rules in Favor of Safe Injection Sites. King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galvan ruled Monday that a NIMBY initiative aimed at blocking a site in suburban Seattle "interferes with the duties and obligations of the Health Board and County Council." If upheld, the ruling would kill the initiative, which is currently set for a February vote, but foes vow to appeal the ruling.

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Senate Heavyweights File Sentencing Reform Bill [FEATURE]

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 22:20

A bipartisan group of Senate heavy-hitters have filed a bill aimed at reducing the swollen federal prison population by moving away from harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences, among other reforms. But it's not completely reformist.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]The measure is a mixed bag, a product of lengthy discussions among senators seeking a compromise that could actually pass the Senate. While it has a number of progressive sentencing reform provisions, it also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, including some drug offenses. Those provisions will provide political cover to conservatives fearful of being tagged "soft on crime," but tired of perpetuating failed drug war policies.

The federal prison system has swollen dramatically since President Reagan reinvigorated Nixon's war on drugs. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal prison population has increased eight-fold since 1980, and while it peaked in 2012 and 2013, before Obama era sentencing reforms began to bite, there are still 192,000 people currently behind bars in the federal system.

The federal incarceration boom has largely been driven by the war on drugs. While the prison population jumped eight-fold, the number of drug prisoners jumped nearly 25-fold during the same period, according to the Sentencing Project. The nearly 81,000 people currently doing federal time for drug crimes constitutes nearly half (46.2%) of all federal prisoners.

The reform bill, S. 1917, was rolled out Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with cosponsors senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

"Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe," said Grassley. "This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society. This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward."

"This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform," said Durbin. "The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

Given who is behind it and the senatorial compromise it represents, the measure actually has a chance of moving in the Republican-controlled body. Still, even if it were to pass there, sentencing reform faces murkier prospects in the House and, if the first months of the Trump administration are any indication, implacable hostility from the White House and the Justice Department.

According to a summary from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill:

  • Reduces enhanced mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offenders and eliminates the mandatory life provision for third strike offenders.
  • Increases judicial discretion by expanding existing the "safety valve" allowing judges to sentence beneath federal guidelines to include offenders with broader criminal histories, including people with prior felonies or violent or drug trafficking offenses if a court finds those offenses overstate a defendant's criminal history and recidivism risk. The bill also creates a second "safety valve" allowing judges to sentence some low-level drug offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum.
  • Reforms sentences for drug offenses with firearms to clarify that enhanced mandatory minimums only apply for people who have previously been convicted and served a sentence for such an offense and gives judges the discretion to order lesser sentences if the firearm wasn't brandished or discharged during the commission of a drug or violent crime. This provision would prevent abominations like the case of Weldon Angelos, the Salt Lake city music producer who got nailed for selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant, but ended up being sentenced to 55 years because he had a pistol in an ankle holster when he did his pot deals. (He was released last year after winning a sentence reduction.)
  • Makes the Fair Sentencing Act and certain other sentencing reforms retroactive, which would allow some nonviolent offenders current serving time to seek sentence reductions upon a judicial review.
  • Establishes programs to reduce recidivism, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Prisoners who successfully complete those programs could get to serve up to the final quarter of their sentences under home confinement or in a reentry center.
  • Limits solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody.
  • Creates a national criminal justice commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.
  • Creates new mandatory minimums for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons and defense materials to prohibited countries or designated terrorist groups, and creates a five-year sentencing enhancement for trafficking heroin containing fentanyl.

There's plenty in there to appeal to sentencing reformers, and some sops to conservatives, but from a drug reform and anti-prohibitionist perspective, this is just some fixes on the back end. From that vantage point, instead of haggling over how many months to shave off some poor sap's sentence, we should be questioning why he was even arrested and prosecuted in the first place.

But you have to start somewhere, and ameliorating some of the cruelest injustices of the drug war is a good place to get going.

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Wine Country Fires Hit Northern California Marijuana Industry Hard

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 22:17

The wildfires raging through Northern California's Wine Country these past weeks have killed at least 41 people, left dozens missing, and thousands burned out of their homes. They have also put a significant hurt on the region's namesake wine industry, and its up-and-coming country cousin, the weed business.

[image:1 align:right]As of this week, more than 5,000 structures had gone up in flames, including whole neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 about an hour north of San Francisco. Tens of thousands of people endured mandatory evacuations as smoke turned skies grey as far south as San Jose.

Vineyards and wineries along the Silverado Trail in Napa County and the Highway 12 corridor between Santa Rosa and Sonoma in Sonoma County have been destroyed or damaged. Wine Country towns like Kenwood and Glen Ellen have been hard hit.

Major tourist hotels like the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country and the Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa have burned. At least one Silverado Trail winery, Signorello Estates, appears to have been destroyed, while damage reports are pending on others. Similarly, Sonoma County wineries including Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood, Kunde and B.R. Cohn, were endangered Tuesday.

"It looks like a bombing run," winemaker Joe Nielsen told the San Francisco Chronicle as he viewed what was left of Donelan Family Wines. "Just chimneys and burnt out cars and cooked trees."

The Wine Country devastation will have an impact not only on tourism, but also on the price of some fine reds. While 75% of the region's grapes have already been picked, premium merlot and cabernet sauvignon crops are mostly still on the vines. The number of wineries burned or threatened could cause shortages of these prized grapes for years, since California produces about 85% of American wine, and Napa and Sonoma counties produce the bulk of its premium wines.

The same temperature Mediterranean climate that makes the area so suitable for grape growing makes it ideal for pot farming, too, and Sonoma County's estimated 3,000 to 9,000 marijuana growers have been hard-hit, as well. While damage reports for the wine industry will take a while, pot people are already reporting losses in the tens of millions of dollars.

The marijuana harvest begins a bit later than the grape harvest, and when the fires reared up, thousands and thousands of outdoor marijuana plants were still in the ground. Now, some of those fields are little more than ash, including in neighboring Mendocino County, where the Redwood Valley fire is burning up pot crops, too.

This is shaping up to be "the worst year on record for California's growers," California Growers' Association head Hezekiah Allen told SFGate last week, adding that at least two dozen members had lost their entire farms.

"This is going to leave a deep scar," he said. "I had one conversation today where the family was in tears, saying, 'We don't know how we're going to make it to January, let alone next planting season.'"

Sonoma County Growers Alliance chair Tawnie Logan reported significant losses among her membership.

"We have a lot of people who have lost their farms in the last 36 hours, and their homes," she said last week, citing a $2 million greenhouse crop that went up in smoke on the first night of the fires. "There's no way for them to recover the millions in anticipated revenue they just lost," she said. "It's gone. It's ashes."

The San Francisco dispensary SPARC reported that while it had suffered "some pretty substantial damage" at its farm in Glen Ellen, it was preparing Tuesday to try to salvage some of its crop. The Sonoma County Cannabis Company also was also hit hard -- and working frantically to avoid a total wipeout.

"There are no words right now to describe the loss, the heart break and the trauma that our beloved home and community is going through," the company posted to its Instagram account. "We are trying to save what we can."

While the losses could put a dent in the county's multi-hundred million dollar pot industry, consumers are unlikely to notice any impact. The state already grows so much marijuana that downward pressures are already keeping prices low, and even the losses incurred in this week's fires aren't going to shake the market.

But unlike the wine industry, marijuana growers are unlikely to be able to obtain insurance to replace lost crops and facilities. Those pot farmers who took losses are going to be feeling the pain for a good while.

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