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Chronicle AM: DHS Flip Flops on MJ, OR Bill to Protect MJ Users from Feds Passes, More... (4/19/17)

Two top federal security officials say scary things about marijuana policy, at least two states are moving to protect pot people from any federal crackdown, San Francisco becomes the latest city to embrace LEAD, and more.

DHS head John Kelly went from marijuana "is not a factor" in drug war to vowing to deport marijuana users in less than 48 hours.
Marijuana Policy

AG Sessions Says Marijuana Plays Role in International Criminal Enterprises. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that marijuana is a significant part of international drug trafficking and that there is "a lot" of violence around "marijuana distribution networks" in this country. "We have quite a bit of marijuana being imported by the cartels from Mexico. This is definitely a cartel-sponsored event," he said. "So it is a financial money-maker for them," he said. "I returned from the border last week and they told me that quite a number of the people they arrest are hauling marijuana across the border."

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana Possession is Grounds for Deportation. What a difference a couple of days makes! Over the weekend, Homeland Security Chief John Kelly said that "marijuana is not a factor" in the administration's war on drugs, but by Tuesday, he had changed his tune, denouncing marijuana as a "gateway drug" and warning that DHS would use pot charges to deport people. "ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States," he said.

California Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Advances. A bill aimed at protecting marijuana users and the state's blossoming pot industry from any federal crackdown was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 1578, would prevent state and local police from helping federal law enforcement crack down on state-legal marijuana activity.

Guam Governor Backs Away from Legalization Proposal, Citing Trump. Governor Eddie Baza Calvo has suspended his push to legalize marijuana on the American territory, citing a change of atmosphere in Washington. "US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' pronouncement that the federal government intends to crack down on jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal," a Calvo spokesman pointed out.

Oregon Bill to Protect Pot People from Feds Signed into Law Governor Kate Brown (D) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 863. The bill would protect Oregon marijuana users from any federal crackdown by prohibiting the state's pot retailers from sharing or keeping information about their customers' purchases or identities.

Atlanta City Council Punts on Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council on Tuesday failed to pass a decriminalization ordinance, instead referring the measure to the Public Safety Committee for further review. The measure would have decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce, with a maximum fine of $75.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Senate Approves Bill to Down-Schedule Marijuana. The state Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would reschedule marijuana under state law from Schedule I to Schedule II and allow the manufacture and distribution of medical marijuana products. The bill now heads to the House.

North Dakota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. Governor Doug Burgum (R) on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 2344, which imposes sweeping legislative modifications on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. With the governor's signature on the bill, the state now expects to have its system up and running within 12 to 18 months.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Begins Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program. As of the beginning of April, the city is now operating a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aimed at reducing the incarceration and criminalization of drug users and those with mental illnesses. LEAD is a pre-booking diversion program that refers low level offenders to treatment and community-based health and social services instead of prosecuting and jailing them. LEAD was pioneered in Seattle and is now in operation in a handful of cities across the country.

Chronicle AM: NV Syringe Vending Machines, Good and Bad CO MJ Bills, More... (4/17/17)

Nevada will soon see the first syringe vending machines in the country, the Colorado legislature responds to a threatened federal crackdown -- for better and worse -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is moving forward with plans to drug test Medicaid recipients, and more.

Syringe vending machines -- coming first to Nevada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

A Majority of American Adults Have Tried Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Marist/Yahoo poll finds that 52% of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, and that 56% find the drug "socially acceptable. The same poll has support for legalization at 49%, with 47% opposed.

DC Marijuana Activists to Hand Out Free Joints on Capitol Hill for 4/20. The same folks who brought legal marijuana to the nation's capital are planning to hand out more than a thousand free marijuana joints on Capitol Hill Thursday, 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday. Anyone over 21 who has a congressional ID is eligible for the free weed, said DCMJ. The activists said the action was meant to life the "special interest smokescreen" blocking marijuana reform in Congress.

Homeland Security Chief Says Marijuana "Not a Factor" in Drug War. DHS Secretary John Kelly said Sunday that marijuana is "not a factor" in the country's drug war and that "arresting a lot of users" will not solve the country's drug problems. Kelly responded to a question about whether legalizing marijuana in the US would help or hinder his work attempting to interdict drug shipments to the US. "Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war," Kelly responded, adding later: "It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south." And rather than arresting users: "The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the south."

Colorado Social Consumption Bill Dies. A bill that would have set up the country's first statewide law allowing for on-premises marijuana consumption at licensed businesses is dead, with legislators citing fear of a federal crackdown for its demise. The House voted last Thursday to amend Senate Bill 17-184 to remove the provision that would have allowed adults to bring their own weed to businesses and consume it on-premises.

Colorado Senate Approves Bill to Shift Legal Marijuana Inventories Over to Medical Marijuana in Event of Federal Crackdown. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 17-192, which would allow adult-use marijuana businesses to transfer their inventory to medical marijuana status if a federal crackdown on adult-legal weed happens. The bill now goes to the House.

Nevada Legislature Still Faces Heavy Load of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session marked its first key deadline last Friday when all proposed bills had to have passed out of their committee of introduction or be declared dead. And fourteen marijuana-related bills remain alive, including one, Senate Bill 302, that would allow dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to any adult beginning in July. Click the link for the rest of the bills and their status.

Tennessee Governor Signs Bill Killing Decrim in Memphis and Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last Friday signed into law House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The bill was a response to moves by the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, which had passed municipal decriminalization ordinances.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Regulators Finalize Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Medical Marijuana Commission last Tuesday gave final approval to rules governing dispensaries and cultivation facilities. The rules must still be approved by the legislature, which has passed some legislation that appears to conflict with them. The legislature only has until May 8 to modify the rules or the state will be out of compliance with the Medical Marijuana Act, which is now part of the state constitution.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Alabama House Approves Tougher Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl. The House voted last week to approve harsh new penalties for the possession and sale of heroin and fentanyl. In a unanimous vote, the chamber approved a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession and increased penalties for trafficking, including a mandatory life sentence without parole for trafficking 10 or more kilos of either drugs. The bill is House Bill 203, which is now before the Senate.

Maryland General Assembly Passes Package of Heroin/Opioid Bills. The Assembly last week approved a package of bills aimed at tackling the state's heroin and prescription opioid crisis. One bill would create 24/7 drug treatment centers for addicts, increase reimbursements for drug treatment, and ease access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. A second bill would create drug awareness programs in schools and allow school nurses to stock and dispense naloxone. A third bill would require doctors to follow best practices when prescribing opioids, while a fourth bill increases prison sentences for people convicted of fentanyl offenses. The bills now await the governor's signature.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last week signed into law House Bill 2477, which requires a higher evidentiary standard before police and prosecutors can seize assets from suspects. Instead of a "preponderance" of the evidence, cops must now provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the assets are linked to a crime.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Passes Bill to Coordinate Drug Policy Among City Departments. The city council recently passed legislation to create a coordinated municipal drug strategy. The bill empowers the Mayor to designate a lead agency or office to convene stakeholders including city agencies, outside experts, and communities impacted by drug use to develop a city-wide, health-focused plan for a coordinated approach in addressing issues related to drug use.

West Virginia Legislature Passes Bill Creating Drug Policy Office. A bill that would create an Office of Drug Control Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services has passed both houses of the legislature and awaits the governor's signature. The measure, House Bill 2620, passed last Friday, the final day of the session. Gov. Jim Justice (D) has fifteen days to sign the bill.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday posted his proposal for moving people off state Badgercare Medicaid, which includes a provision requiring drug screenings for Medicaid recipients. People suspected of illegal drug use after screening would be ineligible for coverage until they are tested. People who test positive would be offered drug treatment, while people who refuse the test would lose benefits for six months.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Becomes First State to Install Needle Vending Machines. In a bid to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hep C, a needle exchange program in Las Vegas is now providing clean needles in vending machines. The Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center worked together with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society to install the new machines. Each client will be limited to two kits per week, with the kits including syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and a needle disposal box.

International

Canada Unveils Plan for Legal Marijuana Sales by June 2018. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Thursday filed legislation designed to implement marijuana legalization by June of next year. The bill would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana and would allow the federal government to regulate producers, while the provinces would regulate sales to consumers. Other issues, such as pricing, taxation, and packaging are still to be worked out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: Sessions "Surprised" By MJ Support, VT MJ Bill on Last Legs, More... (4/12/17)

The US attorney general admits being surprised that people don't like his stance on marijuana, Vermont's legalization bill is on a death watch, Illinois legalizers gear up, and more.

Who knew marijuana legalization was popular? (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Jeff Sessions "Surprised" By Opposition to His Marijuana Stance. At a speech at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pronounced himself "surprised" that his position against marijuana was drawing criticism. "When they nominated me for attorney general, who would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, 'I don't think America's going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store?,'" Sessions asked. "They didn't like that; I'm surprised they didn't like that."

Hawaii Bill Would Roll Back Nation's Toughest Drug Paraphernalia Laws. Under current Hawaii law, possession of a pipe or bong for marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, but perhaps not for long. A measure that would decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia, House Bill 1501, passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill has already been approved by the House, but differences in the amount of fines allowed will have to be ironed out in conference committee.

Illinois Legalization Backers Unveil Statewide Coalition. State Sen. Heather Steans (D) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), the legislators behind the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353, announced Tuesday that the bill would get a first hearing next week and that they had formed a statewide coalition, the Coalition for a Safer Illinois to garner public and legislative support.

Vermont Legalization Bill on Verge of Death. The prospects for the Green Mountain State legalizing marijuana this year grow exceedingly dim. Senate leaders said Tuesday their body is extremely unlikely to support a legalization measure, House Bill 170, currently stuck in the House. Proponents in the House had hoped they could get it moving again, but Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said even if it passed the House, it still faced "insurmountable obstacles" in the Senate. The House bill would only legalize possession and personal cultivation -- not commercial marijuana -- while the Senate wants a regulated market.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Bills Get Hearing. Measures that would add new qualifying medical conditions and allow patients to grow their plants got a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. The bills have already passed the House. No votes were taken, though.

Chronicle AM: Trump Names Drug Czar Nominee, Dallas to Take Up Decrim, More... (4/11/17)

A Colorado bill barring co-op grows heads to the governor, an Oregon bill protecting marijuana consumers and an Iowa bill reforming asset forfeiture go to their governors, Trump reportedly names a new drug czar, and more.

Trump has reportedly named Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. (marino.house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Legislature Approves Banning Co-op Grows. The state Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve House Bill 17-1771, which makes it a criminal offense to grow recreational marijuana for other people. The House approved the measure earlier. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) supported the bill and is expected to sign it.

Oregon Bill Would Shield Marijuana User Data from Federal Officials. The legislature has approved a bill that would protect marijuana consumers by ending the state practice of collecting point-of-sale identification information. The measure now goes to Gov. Kate Brown (D), who is expected to sign it.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Hearing Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 5555, on Tuesday. The bill would legalize the consumption and cultivation of marijuana by adults and set up a system of legal, regulated marijuana commerce.

Tennessee Bill to Reduce Penalty for Small Amounts of Marijuana Fails. A bill that would have increased the amount of marijuana for which simple possession could be charged from one-half ounce to one ounce has died in the legislature. House Bill 0109 lost by one vote in the House on Monday.

Dallas City Council to Vote on Decrim Ordinance Wednesday. The city council will vote Wednesday on a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana. The city says it hopes to reduce jail time for nonviolent offenders and free officers for more serious policing priorities.

Medical Marijuana

Montana House Amends Regulation Bill, Advocates Unhappy. A bill aimed at setting up a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana in the state was radically overhauled in a House committee Monday -- and supports of the original measure are not pleased. The measure, Senate Bill 333, saw 20 amendments attached by the House Taxation Committee, including amendments that changed the taxing structure, before that committee sent it to the House floor. The bill has already passed the Senate, and if the bill passes the House, a conference committee will be necessary to try to reconcile the differences.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature has approved Senate File 446, which bars civil asset forfeiture for cash or property valued at less than $5,000 and raises the standard of proof required for asset seizure from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for final approval.

Drug Policy

President Trump Reportedly Names Congressman Tom Marino as Drug Czar. CBS News has reported that President Trump will name Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Marino is a former prosecutor now in his third term who has cosponsored at least two major drug policy bills, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act and the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, both of which have their critics.

International

The Industry and Trade Ministry has proposed allowing the cultivation of opiates for medicine production. It has prepared a bill for the Duma take up. The notion has already been explored by federal executive bodies and apparently has their go-ahead.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Reviewing MJ Policy, DEA Subpoenaed Over Snitch Program, More... (4/6/17)

A Justice Department review of marijuana policy is underway, congressional overseers subpoena the DEA over its snitch program, California's governor moves to reconicle the state's legal and medical marijuana programs, and more.

The DEA is in the hot seat with congressional investigators over its confidential informant program.
Marijuana Policy

DOJ Task Force is Reviewing Marijuana Policy. Attorney General Sessions issued a memo Wednesday saying that a task force on crime and public safety is reviewing federal marijuana policy and is charged with making initial recommendations by July 27. The task is reviewing ways to reduce violent crime and illegal immigration and is reviewing marijuana policy under that rubric.

California Governor Proposes Means of Melding Legal and Medical Marijuana Systems. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday released proposed legislation aimed at uniting the state's legal and medical marijuana regulatory systems. The draft language generally favors the less restrictive language of Prop 64, the state's successful marijuana legalization initiative. The Drug Policy Alliance, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the UFCW Western States Council, and the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association are all backing the draft language.

Alaska Regulators Punt (Again) on Onsite Consumption. The Marijuana Control Board was supposed to take up the thorny issue of permitting onsite consumption of marijuana Wednesday, but instead the board spent its meeting going through a backlog of license applications for production facilities and pot shops. "They really wanted to focus on approved applications at this meeting so people could get started with their businesses as we move into summer," said Erika McConnell, director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board. "On site consumption was kind of the big time consuming issue that they pushed until the end and then we ran out of time." Onsite consumption decisions will now be pushed back until at least the May 15 meeting, she said.

Connecticut Legalization Bill Dead -- At Least for Now. A bill that would legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 11, appears dead in the water after it failed to make the agenda for a Friday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reports are the bill, sponsored by Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven), was pulled because it didn't have enough votes to pass the committee. Legalization is not quite dead yet, though: The Looney bill or one of several other legalization proposals could still be attached as an amendment to another bill.

Virginia Commission to Study Decriminalization. The State Crime Commission decided on Wednesday that it will study marijuana decriminalization. The decision was made by the commission's executive committee.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sens. Teresa Van Duyn (D) and Valerie Jean Fousher (D) filed Senate Bill 648 on Tuesday. Under the bill, patients could possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 250 square feet of their own medicine. The bill would also establish a system of licensed cultivation centers and dispensaries. It has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations.

Hemp

West Virginia Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to approve House Bill 2453, which would allow for the licensing of qualified producers and state institutions to grow hemp for industrial purposes. The bill passed the House last month and now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D).

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Awaits Governor's Signature. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is in a tight spot, caught between the wishes of legislators, who approved the asset forfeiture reform measure House Bill 2477, and county prosecutors, who are urging him to veto it. The measure would change Arizona's civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by "clear and convicting" evidence, a step above the current standard. Gov. Ducey has said he thinks this is an area of law that needs reform, but hasn't said whether he would sign the bill into law.

Law Enforcement

DEA Gets Hit With Congressional Subpoenas Over Its Informant Program. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), head of the House Oversight Committee, has subpoenaed the DEA for documents related to its confidential informant program. Congress members have been seeking copies of the guidelines since last year, when a Justice Department report detailed how DEA spent more than $200 million on informants with little oversight, but DEA has only allowed members to view the guidelines on-site. "Congress has a right to have this material," Chaffetz said, during an Oversight Committee hearing that he chaired on Tuesday morning. "It is unbelievable to me that you think we shouldn't have a copy of it," he told Deputy DEA Administrator Robert Patterson. Chaffetz then went next door to the House Judiciary Committee, where DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg was testifying, and issued a subpoena. "We are issuing a subpoena, and so I see no choice," he then told DEA chief Rosenberg. "The Department of Justice just doesn't get to hide things from the United States Congress," Chaffetz said, adding that there is evidence of "massive problems" in the program.

Chronicle AM:MJ State Govs Ask Feds to Stay Out, AZ Forfeiture Reform, More... (4/4/17):

The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana have written to Washington asking to be left alone, decrim advances in Texas, asset forfeiture reform advances in Arizona, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Governors from Four Legal Marijuana States Ask to Be Left Alone. The governors of the first four states to legalize marijuana -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking them not to interfere in state-level legalization. The governors said legal weed could be safely regulated and that a federal crackdown "would divert existing marijuana product to the black market." They also asked the Treasury Department not to make it even more difficult to marijuana businesses to deal with banks than it already is.

Texas Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 4-2 on Monday to advance House Bill 81, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia House Amends Medical Marijuana Bill. The state House on Monday amended the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, to bar its use in leaf form. Medicines from marijuana would have to be in patch, pill, or potion form. Opponents of the amendment said it drastically changed the nature of the bill already approved in the Senate and worried that the Senate would not accept the changes, leaving patients in the lurch for another year. The bill must now have a final House floor vote, and then any differences will have to either be approved by the Senate or settled in a joint conference committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Senate Passes Bill Taking on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill to reform the state's civil asset forfeiture law, House Bill 2477. The bill raises the evidentiary standard for forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence," establishes stringent forfeiture reporting requirements, and bars prosecutors from handing cases off to the feds to get around state law. The bill now goes back to the House for a concurrence vote on Senate amendments and, if passed, then heads for the governor's desk.

Drug Testing

Maine Tests Few Welfare Recipients Under New Law. Since 2015, only 23 people have set off enough drug screening alarms to be tested under the state's welfare drug testing law. That's about 0.01% of welfare recipients in the state. Of those, 11 lost temporary cash assistance benefits after testing positive, while four more lost benefits for refusing to undergo the test. The Le Page administration blames Democrats, saying they limited drug screenings to people drug felonies, and is behind bills this year to expand drug screenings of cash assistance applicants, prohibiting food stamps for repeat drug offenders, and requiring treatment for first-time drug offenders.

Chronicle AM: Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Test Bill, WVA MedMJ Bill House Vote, More... (4/3/17)

President Trump signs a bill that will expand the drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits, the West Virginia House is taking up medical marijuana, Colorado legislators have crafted a plan to deal with any federal attack on recreational marijuana, and more.

President Trump has signed a bill undoing Obama administration rules limiting unemployment drug testing. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Seeks to Avoid Thwart Possible Fed Crackdown by Classifying Legal Marijuana as Medical. In what the Associated Press called "the boldest attempt yet by a US marijuana state to avoid federal intervention in its weed market," the legislature is considering Senate Bill 17-192. The bill would allow retail marijuana licenses to be transferred into medical marijuana licenses. The measure has already passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee and the Senate Finance committee and has a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Michigan Hash Bash Draws 10,000+. Ann Arbor's annual celebration of marijuana drew the largest crowd in years this past weekend, with more than 10,000 people showing up to light up and voice support for marijuana legalization. Michigan nearly became the first Midwest state to put legalization to a vote last year -- coming up just short on signature gathering -- and activists there are vowing to try again in 2018.

Kansas City Voters to Decide on Decriminalization Tomorrow. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will vote Tuesday on whether to approve the Question 5 decriminalization ordinance. Under the proposal, people 21 and over caught with less than an ounce would face no more than a $25 ticket.

Wichita Pot Defelonilization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. Wichita activists hope the second time is the charm. A successful 2015 defelonization initiative was stuck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue. Now, the activists say they are preparing a new campaign to put the issue on the August municipal ballot. Under their proposal, small-time pot possessors would face a misdemeanor charge and a maximum $50 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Governor Signs a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a dozen bills aimed at regulating the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Bills that actually modified the law required a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature. For a complete list of the bills and what they do, click on the link.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Hearing Today. After a delay over the weekend at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, the House is taking up the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 386, today. Shott was expected to introduce an amendment during today's hearing before a vote is taken.

Drug Testing

Trump Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Into Law. President Trump last Friday signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment benefits applicants who can be drug tested. The bill undid an Obama administration rule that limited unemployment drug testing to professions where drug screenings are the norm. The bill passed Congress with no Democratic support in the Senate and only four Democrats in the House.

Harm Reduction

JAPA Issue Focuses on Naloxone. The March-April issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association is devoted to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. It contains nearly 30 letters, research reports and research notes on issues related to pharmacists and naloxone. The articles appear to be all open access, too. Click on the link to check 'em out.

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalization mid-2018?, Christie Named "Drug Commissioner," More... (3/27/17)

Canada says it will legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018; Chris Christie will be named White House "drug commissioner," Illinoisans are ready to legalize weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66% if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The poll comes days after legislators filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353.

Michigan Legalizers Release 2018 Initiative Draft. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has released the latest draft of the cannabis legalization initiative the group hopes to put to voters in November 2018. Under the draft, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow up to 12 plants, and marijuana commerce would be taxed and regulated. An initiative campaign last year came up just short in signature gathering.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Recreational Weed. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) rolled out Senate Bill 302 last Friday. The bill would allow for an early start to recreational marijuana sales by allowing existing dispensaries to sell to non-patients before the January 1, 2018 deadline set in last fall's voter-approved ballot initiative. The move is aimed at stamping out the black market and allowing the state to get tax revenues. A similar move is afoot at the state Department of Taxation.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Democrats File Pair of Heroin Bills. Some three dozen Democratic General Assembly members gathered last Friday to announce a pair of bills aimed at fighting rising heroin overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 1060, the Start Talking Maryland Act, would require drug education programs to address the high lethality of fentanyl and colleges that teach medical providers to include addiction treatment education. Senate Bill 967, the Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish 10 heroin crisis centers around the state, as well as easing access to buprenorphine and naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Legislature Gives Final Approval to Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The House had approved the bill earlier, but had to have a final concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

New Mexico Bill That Would Have Directed Seized Funds to Cops Dies. A bill that would have diverted seized assets from the state general fund and given them to law enforcement agencies handling the cases has died in the House, and the cops are unhappy. Senate Bill 202 had passed the Senate unanimously, but couldn't get out of the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm utterly disgusted," said Pecos Valley Drug Task Force Commander James McCormick. "That's just takes away another avenue we have to thwart drug dealing. The money we used to get, we don't have any more."

Drug Policy

Jared Kushner's White House "SWAT Team" Will Include Chris Christie as Drug Commission Chair. The White House "SWAT team" to be led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and aimed at streamlining policy-making will include an official drug commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The commission will emphasis combating opioid abuse, a favorite theme for Trump.

Law Enforcement

New Hampshire Senate Approves Funding More Troopers to Fight Cross-Border Drugs. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to spend nearly $4.5 million over the next two years to hire five new state troopers to wage war on the state's opioid epidemic by targeting traffic from Massachusetts, expand the "Granite Hammer" program counts to local law enforcement, and pay for overtime for specialized enforcement units such as the State Police and Narcotics Investigation Unit. The measure, Senate Bill 131, is now headed for the House, where it is expected to pass.

NYPD Cop Who Killed Ramarley Graham Quits. Graham, 18, was shot and killed in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste after he fled into his own apartment bathroom and was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down a toilet. Haste avoided criminal charges for the killing, but a departmental trial found him guilty of violating department policies and he was facing firing when he decided to turn in his badge and gun.

International

Canada Will Legalize Marijuana By July 1, 2018. The governing Liberals will announce legislation next month to legalize marijuana, with the new law set to go into effect on Canada Day -- July1 -- next year. The legislation will set 18 as the age limit for legal use and set up a legal, regulated, and taxed system of marijuana commerce. People who want to grow their own will be limited to four plants. [Update: The government's point man on legalization has called this date "highly speculative." Hat tip: Marijuana Moment.]

Legal Marijuana: The Sky is (Probably) Not Falling [FEATURE]

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

Barrels of ink have been spilled over the prospect that the Trump administration could attempt to turn back the clock when it comes to legal marijuana, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth out there, marijuana industry insiders, advocates, and activists don't seem all that worried.

Jeff Sessions loathes marijuana, but is going after it the best use of DOJ resources? (senate.gov)
"I don't think there's any more reason to be scared than to be hopeful at this point," said Mason Tvert, Denver-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The administration has not changed its marijuana policy, and there is reason to believe it may maintain the existing policy or adopt a similar one that respects states' laws regulating marijuana."

"Marijuana is one of the least of my concerns with the Trump administration," said Dale Gieringer, coauthor of the pioneering 1996 Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative and long-time head of California NORML. "That's the first time I've been able to say that, but I just don’t see where there's any percentage in them going after marijuana. The polls are on our side, and they can't enforce the law."

The industry, too, seems to think that there's not really that much to fear from the Trump administration.

"We are in a posture of cautious optimism," said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "We're definitely not taking anything for granted -- it's quite clear that Sessions has really strong personal opposition to the industry -- but we are encouraged by the intense pushback, not just from the industry, but from elected officials, regulators, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. That is probably the most powerful signal to the Justice Department that dramatic changes to current policy would cause them a lot of problems."

West pointed to the strong reaction from state officials in marijuana-legal and medical marijuana states, as well as support from federal lawmakers and not just Democrats. She cited Nevada US Sen. Dean Heller as an example of a Republican lawmaker siding with the industry over the administration.

"They are speaking up because the industry and individual businesses and consumers have spoken up as their constituents and taught them about the industry and what we stand far and why we deserve respect from the federal government," she said.

And the marijuana money people appear largely unperturbed, too. In a report released Thursday, Arcview Market Research projected that the industry is going to continue to boom regardless of what happens in Washington, with revenues of nearly $7 billion this year and an astounding projected annual growth rate of 27% through 2021.

"While the uncertainty created by the mixed signals coming out of the administration may cause a temporary dip in some valuations of cannabis companies and some more risk-averse institutional investors and multinational companies may continue to stay on the sidelines, it won't impact the growth of the market much at all," said Troy Dayton, CEO of Arcview Market Research. "No matter what the administration does, states will continue to issue cannabis licenses to a long line of applicants and licensed cannabis outlets will continue to have long lines of consumers ready to purchase this product from regulated establishments."

Maintaining the Status Quo

Legal marijuana could be a $7 billion industry by 2021. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half the states and adult recreational use is legal in eight, including the entire West Coast. Some early enforcement actions notwithstanding, the Obama administration largely turned a blind eye to state-legal but federally-illegal marijuana. The Obama Justice Department adhered to the Cole memorandum, a 2013 "guidance" to federal prosecutors that essentially limited them to going only after legal marijuana operations that crossed specified lines: selling to minors, diverting product to non-legal states, being involved in violence or other trafficking, and the like.

Medical marijuana states at least are also protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-compliant medical marijuana operations. A similar measure, the McClintock-Hollis amendment, would have extended that same shield to the adult-legal states, but came up just short in the last Congress. Both amendments will be offered again this year.

"Jeff Sessions doesn't like marijuana -- that much is clear -- but that's not the question," MPP's Tvert argued. "The question is whether he believes limited federal resources should be used to interfere in state marijuana laws. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that's the case."

Tvert pointed to Sessions' seeming acceptance of the Cole memo, as well as a memo Sessions sent to federal prosecutors last month telling them to go after "the worst of the worst" and violent crime.

"State licensed and regulate marijuana businesses are by no means violent or the 'worst of the worst,'" Tvert noted. "They want to go after cartels and violent criminals and focus on serious crime, so why force marijuana back into the underground market?"

"President Trump said states should be able to determine own marijuana policies, and he also had strong support for legal access to medical marijuana, and we haven't heard anything new from him on it," said Tvert. "But again, it's not a question of the president's personal views, but of what the federal laws are and the realities of enforcement. Sessions has said on multiple occasions that the federal government cannot effectively enforce federal prohibition in states where it is legal."

The view was not quite as sanguine from Washington, DC, where national NORML has its offices.

"As far as the industry goes, even the threat of a crackdown by the Justice Department has a chilling effect," said Justin Strekal, NORML political director and lobbyist. "While medical marijuana is protected under Farr-Rohrabacher, the adult use economy has no such protections -- at least for now."

"The Cole memo is just a piece of paper," Strekal said, "and there is nothing stopping Sessions from just throwing it away, as the Heritage Foundation has called for him to do. But the Justice Department has no way to force states to recriminalize marijuana in decrim or legal states. The worst case would be that the adult use states are rolled back to a situation where there is no way to have a legal distribution system, but local law enforcement is not going to be enforcing federal marijuana prohibition."

Where apprehension about the direction of Trump administration pot policy is having a real impact right now is in causing politicians to think twice about legalization in states that are considering it, Strekal said.

"We're hearing feedback from legislators in Connecticut and Maryland saying that the attorney general's comments are acting as a road block, while in Georgia, we just saw a defelonization bill defeated. The mere presence of a Reefer Madness-era Jeff Sessions is frightening off potential supporters of ending prohibition."

Still, Bad Things Could Happen

If Congress blocks funding, DEA can't go after legal marijuana (sort of). (justice.gov/dea)
While an oppositional Trump administration may retard the expansion of legal marijuana in the states, the status quo of a fifth of the country living under legalization and more than half with access to medical marijuana appears unlikely to be rolled-back. But that doesn't necessarily mean a free ride for legal weed.

"There could be some sort of federal action against some adult use facility or grower or cultivation company whose product is found to have gone across state lines in quantity, or something like that," CANORML's Gieringer offered. "Like if you have a situation where Nebraska complains, maybe that could stir up pressure in the Justice Department. But that's the most I expect. I could be wrong, though."

"Since Colorado started its licensing program, there's always been a fear that the Justice Department would just bring a lawsuit saying the state is participating in an ongoing conspiracy to distribute a Schedule I drug," Gieringer observed. "They had their chance and they didn't do it. If they tried it now, they will have taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from Colorado and potentially billions from other states and leave anarchy. They can't enforce the marijuana laws anyway; it's a drain on federal resources to even try."

"A federal injection is a potential threat, but it was a potential threat six months ago, too," said MPP's Tvert. "It's still a question of resources. If that were to happen, marijuana would continue to be legal, but the federal government would be preventing states from controlling its production and sale. That would be a real serious problem."

But Tvert warned that the heavy hand of the federal government could still reach out and slap someone down.

"Sean Spicer said they would have greater enforcement, and that could mean anything," he said. "They could be planning to more rigorously enforce the laws against people not in compliance with state laws, there could be more enforcement against illegal actors, they could push states to strengthen their regulations to prevent interstate trafficking. They perhaps could encourage states to increase funding to law enforcement to investigate illegal activity. There is plenty they could do without interfering with the legal market."

The Fightback Against Rollback Will Only Grow Stronger

The advent of a potential hostile Trump administration isn't changing the way NORML does business, Strekal said.

"We're continuing to do what we've always done and act as a grassroots consumer advocacy group," he explained. "We have 150 chapters and we're engaging as an advocacy group at every level of government from city councils to state legislatures to the federal government. At the federal level, we're very encouraged by the formation of the congressional cannabis caucus. We've been working with them to host a few events."

"This moment in time, where there is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level, is the kind of moment the NCIA was created for," said West. "We've been building relationships and allies in DC around industry issues, so when we need those allies, we have them."

Like MPP, the NCIA has a full-time staff lobbyist in Washington. It also works with another DC-based lobbying firm to work the Hill, and with legislators and elected officials.

"You've been able to see, through our work and the work of others, a very strong pushback from people who previously wouldn't have been in favor of the marijuana industry," West said. "The federal government can try to enforce marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, but it doesn't really have the personnel to do that without the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement. If states are resisting that crackdown, which elected officials have said they would do, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

Legal marijuana is on guard, but it's not running away from a fight. The question for the Trump administration becomes whether this is a fight worth fighting.

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