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Chronicle AM: VT Gov Will Act on Legalization, Trump Retreats from ONDCP Defunding, More... (5/23/17)

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says he will act on marijuana legalization tomorrow, the Trump budget reverses earlier plans to radically defund the drug czar's office, a new Michigan poll has good news for activists, and more.

Will Vermont's governor sign or veto the marijuana legalization bill? Check back tomorrow to find out. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A new poll from the Marketing Resource Group has support for marijuana legalization at 58%, if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The strongest support came from Democrats and people under 40. The poll comes as the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is beginning a signature gathering campaign to put its legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot. "While attitudes toward marijuana may be mellowing, most Republican voters and those 65 and older still are not ready to legalize it," said Tom Shields, president of MRG. "Support for legalizing recreational use of marijuana has grown from 41 percent in 2013 to 58 percent in just the last four years. I would not be surprised to see a successful ballot proposal within the next few years."

Vermont Governor to Act on Legalization Bill Tomorrow. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Tuesday he would either sign or veto Senate Bill 22 on Wednesday, the last possible day for him to act. Under state law, the bill could become law if Scott fails to act, but Scott said he would not let that happen and would either veto or sign the bill. If he signs it, Vermont becomes the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.

Hemp

Arizona Governor Vetoes Hemp Bill. Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed an industrial hemp bill on Monday. Ducey said he vetoed Senate Bill 1337 because it did not provide funding for the state Agriculture Department to administer the program.

Drug Policy

Trump Backs Away From De-Funding the Drug Czar's Office. President Trump has reversed a proposal to cut 95% of the funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). In his budget proposal released Tuesday, ONDCP funding is still reduced, but only by 3%, in line with other non-defense-related spending cuts.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Supervised Injection Site Task Force Launched. A 15-member task force charged with developing a report to the Board of Supervisors on the feasibility and potential costs and benefits of a supervised drug consumption site got to work on Monday. The task force will meet three times over the next three months before issuing its report. The city has bout 22,000 injection drug users and a hundred overdose deaths a year, mostly from heroin and opioids.

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Slams Jeff Sessions, Guatemala Poppy Conflict Grows Violent, More... (5/16/17)

Marijuana legalization efforts look stalled in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Rand Paul joins the chorus of critics of Attorney General Sessions' drug war crackdown, the California Senate approves a bill to end sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions, and more.

Kentucky libertarian GOP Sen. Rand Paul says return to harsh drug war will disproportionately harm black communities.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Dems Put Legalization Language in Budget Bill. Democrats have included marijuana legalization language in their budget recommendations, while conceding they don't have enough votes in their own caucus to pass the measure. The measure needs 76 votes to pass, but not all 79 Democrats are on board. They said they included the language to spur further conversations and to help balance the state budget. Legalization bills have been defeated in two committees this year.

Rhode Island Bill to Create Legalization Study Commission Gets Vote Today. The House Judiciary Committee was set to vote today on a measure that would create a legislative commission to study marijuana legalization. The move is not supported by legalization proponents, who charge it is a delaying tactic. Foes were set to rally at the statehouse at noon today to urge a legalization vote this year.

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Slams Sessions' Return to Hard Core Drug War. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) slammed Attorney General Sessions' new sentencing guidelines in a CNN op-ed Monday. Last Friday, Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious possible offense carrying the longest possible prison sentence. "The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system," Paul wrote, adding that the "war on drugs" disproportionately affects young black men. "I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general," Paul said.

Senate Bill to Reauthorize Drug Czar's Office Funding Filed. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has filed Senate Bill 1123, which would reauthorize funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). The move comes after the Trump administration suggested cutting funding for the office by 95%. This bill does not actually fund ONDCP; it merely authorizes funding it. Actual appropriations levels would be set later in the budget process.

Sentencing

California Senate Approves Bill to End Sentence Enhancements for Prior Drug Convictions. The Senaate approved the RISE ACT (Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements), Senate Bill 180, on a party line vote Monday. The bill would repeal a three-year mandatory enhancement for prior drug convictions that are added to any new conviction. Today, someone convicted for sale or possession for sale of a miniscule amount of drugs, can face 3-5 years plus an additional three years in jail for each prior conviction for similar drug offenses.

International

Guatemala Border Communities Clash Over Cartel-Tied Opium Crops. The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in the Ixchiguán and Tajumulco municipalities of the San Marcos department near the border with Mexico after community members engaged in armed battles between themselves and the Guatemalan military. The villagers are fighting over poppy crops, with one village aligned with the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the other aligned with the Sinaloa cartel. Videos of the conflict show the villagers heavily armed.

Chronicle AM: DE Legalization Bill Advances, NH Decrim Bill Passes, More... (5/11/17)

A legalization bill in Vermont awaits the governor's signature, and so does a decrim bill in New Hampshire, Trump names an anti-reform drug commission, Senate Democrats signal their concerns over Trump drug policies, and more.

New England is happening! A Vermont legalization bill is on the governor's desk, so is a New Hampshire decrim bill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Revenue and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 110, which would allow people 21 and over to possess marijuana and buy it from marijuana shops, which would be limited to 75. There is no provision for people to grow their own. The bill now goes to the House floor.

New Hampshire Legislature Approves Decriminalization Bill. With approval by the Senate on Thursday, a decriminalization bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R). House Bill 640 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction. It is currently a misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania Poll for First Time Has Majority for Legalization. For the first time, the Franklin and Marshall College Poll is reporting a majority of Keystone Staters favoring marijuana legalization. The poll had support at 56%, a whopping 16-point increase over the last time Franklin and Marshall asked the question in June 2015. But only 44% of Republicans supported it, and the GOP has huge majorities in the state legislature.

Vermont Legalization Bill Awaits Governor's Action. In a historic move, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 22, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana possession and allow for limited cultivation by people 21 and over, as well las creating a commission to study the best ways to tax and regulate marijuana commerce in the future. Now the question is whether Gov. Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill into law. He has expressed concerns about drugged driving, but also said he thinks legalization is "inevitable." He says he will "review" the bill and did not commit to vetoing it.

Medical Marijuana

Calls Grow for Florida Special Session to Deal With Medical Marijuana. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has joined a growing number of people calling for a special legislative session to come up with rules for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Joe Negron has also said the legislature should be responsible for crafting the rules. The session ended earlier this week without the legislature reaching agreement on how to regulate medical marijuana. If the legislature doesn't come back into session to deal with the issue, it will be left up to the state Health Department.

Drug Policy

Trump Names Members of Commission to Combat Drug Addiction. President Trump has named the members of his new commission to combat drug addiction, and the list of names is heavy with opponents of marijuana legalization. The members are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Project SAM co-founder and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Bertha Madras.

Senate Dems Send Letter Raising Concerns on Trump's Opioids, Marijuana Policy. Six Senate Democrats this week sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) saying they were concerned with the administration's "open hostility" to legal marijuana states and possible budget cuts they said could aggravate the opioid crisis. "We appreciate any sincere efforts to combat substance use disorders. We are concerned that this administration may revert to a policy that focuses on the criminal justice system over public health efforts," the letter reads. The senators referenced Trump's threat to radically defund ONDCP, as well as the repeal of other Obama-era policies responding to the opioid epidemic. "A meaningful effort to combat substance use disorders must focus on the full implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, adequate funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and improving the Affordable Care Act by expanding access to mental health and substance use disorder services and health insurance," the letter says. Repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would be "a major step backwards in the prevention and treatment of drug addiction," they wrote. "We are very concerned that this administration will exacerbate the opioid epidemic rather than alleviate it," the letter said. And then, there's pot: "We are also concerned by the administration's open hostility to state policies legalizing or decriminalizing the possession and use of medical or recreational marijuana," the senators wrote. "Particularly given the severity of the ongoing opioid use epidemic, federal resources should be targeted at providing comprehensive substance use disorder programs and cutting off the flow of deadly drugs rather than interfering with state regulatory regimes for marijuana," the letter said.

International

Medical Marijuana Now Available in Chilean Pharmacies. Pharmacies in Santiago will begin selling medical marijuana this week, a first for Latin America. Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2015, but until now, patients could only obtain it by importing it or from a small number of dedicated farms set up by a charity. The Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow people to grow their own.

Chronicle AM: Nevada Marijuana Sales Could Start July 1, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More... (5/9/17)

Nevada marijuana stores get an okay for early openings, Georgia's governor signs a CBC cannabis oil expansion bill, Chris Christie says drug czar budget cuts aren't going to happen, and more.

Peruvian police attack medical marijuana marchers in Lima last Saturday. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Recreational Marijuana Sales Can Begin as Early as July 1. The Nevada Tax Commission voted on Monday to approve temporary licenses for qualifying pot shops so that they can open without waiting for the commission to draft rules, a process that must be completed by January 1. The marijuana retailers must, though, have state and local licenses to operate, and most counties have yet to approve their own regulations.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Tuesday signed into law Senate Bill 16, which expands the number of qualifying conditions for the use of low-THC cannabis oil and allows patients in hospice care to possess it. The new qualifying conditions are AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette's syndrome.

Drug Policy

Chris Christie Says Cuts to Drug Czar's Office Won't Happen. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was named by President Trump to head an advisory group on the opioid epidemic, said on Tuesday that a widely-reported deep cut in funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is "not going to happen." The governor added that: "I believe there will be funding and I believe funding will take different forms." But he also criticized the office, saying the opioid epidemic was evidence it wasn't doing its job.

International

Australia Welfare Recipients to Be Subject to Drug Testing. The federal government is aiming to cut welfare expenses, in part by going after people affected by drugs and alcohol. Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his budget speech that a pilot drug testing program will be run on 5,000 welfare recipients. Anyone who tests positive will have his or her benefits locked to a cashless card that can only be used for "essential living expenses" and will also be "subjected to further tests and possible referral to treatment."

Peru Police Attack Medical Marijuana Rally Marchers. Activists calling for the legalization of marijuana announced Monday they had filed a lawsuit against the National Police after officers violently attacked marchers in a peaceful demonstration last Saturday. "We were just marching peacefully when the police started attacking us with tear gas, including our children, regardless of the fact that some of them were in wheelchairs," said Looking for Hope leader Ayde Farfan. Police also arrested eight activists, although they released them the next day. The Peruvian Congress is set to debate a medical marijuana bill next week, but it doesn't include a provision for growing your own, which is what the marchers were calling for.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Treatment

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

International

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

Chronicle AM: NH Decrim Bill Advances, VT Legalization Bill Passes House, More... (5/3/17)

The long slog toward marijuana law reform continues in New Hampshire and Vermont, a Maine bill would ban kratom, Tom Marino is reportedly out as drug czar, and more.

Maine could join the handful of states that have banned kratom. (Project CBD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Decriminalization Bill Advances. After years of rejecting marijuana law reforms, the state Senate is advancing a decriminalization bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 640 on a 3-2 vote. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of weed. The bill has already passed the House, but the House version decriminalized up to an ounce.

Oregon Bill to Protect Workers Who Use Marijuana Dies. A bill that would have ended workplace marijuana drug testing has died in the Senate after backers conceded they did not have the votes to pass it. Senate Bill 301 would have required employers from testing workers for any drug that is legal in the state, as long as it was consumed outside of work hours and didn't interfere with the workers' duties. The bill was opposed by business groups.

Vermont House Passes Legalization Bill, But… The House on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana -- though not its sale -- but the bill is not expected to advance further this year. House Bill 170 passed on a 74-68 vote, but only after fending off attempts to send it back to committee and to weaken it. The bill also allows for the cultivation of two mature or four immature plants. The Senate has passed its own, more far-reaching legalization bill, which includes tax and regulate, but an amendment that would have brought the House bill in line with the Senate bill was defeated 42-99. The legislative session ends Saturday, and it is not expected that a compromise can be reached by then, but lawmakers can consider bills passed this session next year during the second half of the legislative biennium.

Kratom

Maine Bill Would Ban Kratom. A bill that would make kratom a controlled substance in the same schedule as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin has been filed in the state legislature. Senate Bill1546 was introduced last week and is now before the Joint Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Lawmakers Back With New Asset Forfeiture Bill. Senate Republicans killed a civil asset forfeiture reform bill earlier this session, but now a bipartisan group of lawmakers are back with a new bill, House Bill 1313, which has been modified to address the concerns of law enforcement and prosecutors, who opposed the earlier bill. The new bill cuts in half the $100,000 threshold that barred local law enforcement from partnering with the feds in order to get the bulk of seized goods. It also imposes reporting requirements on seizures. The bill won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday.

Drug Policy

Donald Trump Will NOT Name Tom Marino Drug Czar. According to news reports, President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the "drug czar"). His nomination was opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which launched a campaign to prevent Marino from being nominated. Marino's nomination seemed all but certain just a few weeks ago but a flurry of news stories on his extremist views, like turning hospitals into prisons, and using his power as prosecutor to help his friends, no doubt put pressure on the administration to go in a different direction.

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: 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: Trump Could Cut Drug Czar Office, Thousands Protest Duterte's Drug War, More... (2/20/17)

The drug czar's office could be on Trump's chopping block, asset forfeiture reform advances in two states, a Washington state legislator tries to sic the Justice Department on Seattle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Kids From Weed Would Allow Cops to Inspect Pot Businesses. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) has filed Assembly Bill 729, which he said is aimed at putting "safeguards in place" to keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Among its provisions are allowing law enforcement to enter and conduct inspections of pot businesses, requiring retailers to "maintain an unobstructed view for law enforcement into their establishment," and allowing underage sting operations aimed at retailers.

Colorado Bill Would Allow Home Delivery of Weed. A bill filed last week would allow for the home delivery of recreational and medical marijuana. Senate Bill 192 is modeled after Oregon's newly launched home delivery regulations. "This hopefully solves some of the problems as it relates to people concerned about marijuana DUIs or sick patients who don't have access to dispensaries," said lead cosponsor Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont).

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Approves Bill Banning Military Members from Becoming Registered Caregivers. The body approved House Bill 1451 last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) said federal law prevents military members from acting in that capacity. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Arkansas Bill Would Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 357, which would make it illegal to consume medical marijuana by smoking it. The bill also removes a provision in the current law that bars landlords from prohibiting the use of non-smoked medical marijuana, leaving renters wondering if landlords will just bar any use of medical marijuana.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Freshman Rep. John Sims (D-Fleminsburg) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 411, which would give doctors the ability to recommend medical marijuana for patients. Sims said he saw the bill as a tool for reducing opioid addiction in his state.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Ends. Medical marijuana will not be on the ballot next year. Organizers of a signature-gathering campaign failed to hand in signatures to the secretary of state's office by the Valentine's Day deadline. Organizers said they will continue to fight to bring medical marijuana to the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Bill Would Use Seized Cartel Assets to Build Border Wall. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed House Resolution 1067, which would order the Justice Department to issue a report on Mexican drug trafficking organization profits and how the DOJ could "increase assets seized by such cartels" to build President Trump's promised border wall. He's even got a name for the bill that creates a nifty acronym: the "Build Up Illegal Line Defense With Assets Lawfully Lifted (BUILD WALL) Act of 2017.

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would require prosecutors to set a higher evidentiary standard -- from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence" -- is advancing in the House. House Bill 2477 cleared the Federalism, Property Rights & Public Policy by a 9-0 vote last Tuesday, and passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee by the same margin last Wednesday.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture in most cases has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 1170 now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy

White House Could Cut Funding for Drug Czar's Office. The New York Times reported last Friday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is on an Office of Management and Budget "hit list" of programs that could be eliminated to reduce federal spending.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Republican Asks Justice Department to Block Seattle Safe Injection Sites. State Sen. Mark Miiloscia (R-Federal Way) has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to block Seattle and King County from opening supervised injection sites for drug users. An avowed opponent of the harm reduction measure, Miloscia has already authored a bill in the legislature to block it.

International

More Than a Dozen Dead in Mexico Border Town Shoot-Outs. More prohibition-related violence broke out in Reynosa over the weekend, with at least 13 people killed in gun battles between cartel members and in fighting between authorities and the cartels.

Thousands March in Manila Against Duterte's Drug War. Thousands of Filipino Catholics gathered in Manila Sunday in a "show of force" to protest extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. Organizers estimated the crowd at 20,000, the largest rally yet against the mass killings.

Drug War Issues

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