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VA Clears Air on Talking to Patients About Medical Marijuana Use

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:39
With a new directive, the Veterans Health Administration is urging vets and their doctors to open up on the subject.



VA Clears The Air On Talking To Patients About Marijuana Use

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is how many veterans have approached health care conversations about marijuana use with the doctors they see from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Worried that owning up ...

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Kansas GOPer Makes Outrageous Racist Statement About Effects of Marijuana

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 23:37
Reefer Madness isn't dead yet.

Kansas state Republican lawmaker resurrected a Jim Crow myth that African Americans are genetically predisposed to handle marijuana more poorly than other races during a speech over the weekend.

As the Garden City Telegram reported, State Rep. Steve Alford (R) told an all-white crowd that marijuana was criminalized during the prohibition era in the 1930’s primarily because of black marijuana use when asked a question by a member of the local Democratic party about potential economic boons from cannabis legalization.

“What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s, when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas (and) across the United States,” Alford said. “What was the reason why they did that? One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that.”

As the Telegram noted in their report, Alford’s comments referenced a belief promoted by marijuana prohibitionist Harry Anslinger, the founding commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

“Under Anslinger’s leadership, the FBN came to be considered responsible for the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937,” the report noted, “regulating cannabis and further taxing it to the ultimate detriment of the hemp industry that was booming at the time.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” Anslinger said once when explaining why marijuana supposedly caused crime and violence. The commissioner also fought for the prohibition of cannabis due to “its effect on the degenerate races,” the Telegram noted.

Watch Rep. Alford’s comments below, via the Garden City Telegram.

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Experts Predict 4 Surprising Ways Jeff Sessions' Reefer Madness Pot Decision Could Shake Out in 2018

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 17:20
Click here for reuse options! A backlash against the new war on weed could tip the scales to favor federal legalization.

Days after California’s first new adult-use pot shops opened their doors this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would allow federal prosecutors to crack down on marijuana operations in states that have legalized marijuana.

His decision overturns an Obama-era Justice Department policy, set in motion by the Cole Memo, that instructed prosecutors to make pot their lowest priority in legal weed states. While the Obama administration’s decision was lauded on both sides of the aisle, the opposite is true of Sessions’ announcement. The backlash so far has been sizeable and bipartisan, splitting the GOP and bolstering Democrats and others who favor legalization.

Speculations abound over how Sessions’ new decision might impact the nascent legal weed industry in California and the thriving, lucrative industries that already exist in the five other states that have legalized pot over the last half decade.

What might this mean for the future of weed in 2018 and beyond? To help sort through this potentially chaotic new territory, we’ve compiled the best observations from experts on some surprising, unintended consequences of Sessions’ announcement.

1. Federal prosecutors might choose to keep their distance from state-legal weed, despite Sessions’ decision.

Tamar Todd, the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior legal affairs director, told the Washington Post it’s not likely U.S. attorneys in legal pot states will start “busting down the doors of marijuana dispensaries” tomorrow. Todd is quoted in the piece explaining how federal attorneys rely on cooperation with state authorities for many drug cases, and that there are plenty of illicit drug operations for them to focus on already.

Todd’s overall message was that it would be unwise on many levels for federal prosecutors to start attacking states’ legal pot industries, and the prosecutors likely know it. Any feds who went after state-legal weed would be isolated, the Post piece notes, because “such a crackdown would produce an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans, in addition to state government and law enforcement officials.”

Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, also said it’s unlikely Sessions’ decision will send hordes of prosecutors after his state’s incredibly lucrative pot operations—at least not right away.

According to a New York Times piece by Harlie Savage and Jack Healy, Hickenlooper “expressed skepticism that United States attorneys would want to siphon resources from other prosecutions so they could close a marijuana dispensary operating under state regulations.”

Colorado’s Republican Senator Cory Gardner, chair of NRSC, put an ultimatum out to Sessions in response to his pot decision:

“I will be putting a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado. Until he lives up to that commitment, I’ll be holding up all nominations of the Department of Justice,” Gardner said. “The people of Colorado deserve answers. The people of Colorado deserve to be respected.”

2. California will likely join forces with other pro-pot states to stand up for the weed industry.

The states where pot is legal have heavy incentive to protect their pot businesses, because, as the industry has already proven, legalization brings with it staggering tax revenues, cash flow, jobs and other benefits. California alone is set to collect $1 billion in taxes this year via retail cannabis.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to encourage cooperation between states with legal cannabis laws, and said to the New York Times: “This brings states together around issues of freedom, individual liberty, states’ rights... all of the principles that transcend red and blue.”

Newsom said in a separate statement, “Today, Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will” of voters.

California may be poised to designate itself a “sanctuary state” for pot, following the model of its designation as a sanctuary state for immigrants against deportation. In response to Sessions announcement, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has redrafted an earlier proposal of Assembly Bill 1578, which would prevent state and local agencies from assisting federal drug enforcement agencies in targeting the state’s cannabis industry without a federal court order.

Jones-Sawyer said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee:

“The impacts of this ill-conceived and poorly executed war [on marijuana] are still being felt by communities of color across the state. The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state.”

California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been reaching out to the Department of Justice on the issue, and told Sacramento Bee he has not ruled out a lawsuit to “protect the state’s laws.”

“We’ll do whatever we must to make sure that California’s laws are obeyed,” Becerra said.

Authorities in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and other states with cannabis legalization laws have also made statements to indicate they will stand by voters and protect their in-state marijuana industries.

3. More skittish cannabis investors might pull out, and a pot stock sell-off has already begun. But many cannabis investors are activists for the industry who were there prior to the Cole Memo, and they're not going anywhere.

The cannabis investment firm Poseidon Asset Management was managing investments in pot more than six months before the Cole Memo came out in 2013. Attorney Cristina Buccola, whose practice focuses on the pot industry, says in a Forbes article that Sessions’ memo has not impacted her clients. “This is not causing [investors] to turn away from these investment opportunities,” she told Forbes. “None of the projects have been put on pause.”

Forbes also quotes an email from Ryan Ansin—a cannabis investor, president of the Family Office Association and managing director of Revolutionary Clinics—noting that Sessions’ memo doesn’t impact the laws. Pot was already federally illegal, and continues to be federally illegal, “and informed investors know that,” Ansin says.

4.  The political, economic and social effect of Sessions' decision might boost the Dems and tip the scales in Congress to legalize pot at the federal level.

A growing majority of Americans think pot should be legal in some form; 61 percent think it should be legal for adult use, according to the most recent Pew Research Center polling, out this week.

Even Republicans hate Sessions’ pot announcement, and the GOP is split apart in its wake. This is one of many reasons Paul Waldman gives in his Washington Post article, “Why Jeff Sessions’s marijuana crackdown is going to make legalization more likely," arguing that the backlash to Sessions’ decision could spell doom for Republicans and prohibitionists. "A backlash could help more Democrats get elected, and push elected Democrats to more unambiguously support legalization,” he writes.

Public opinion is so far away from backing Sessions and the Trump administration’s attempt at reversing marijuana legalization progress that Republicans are in an “awkward position,” Waldman notes. Many have "released outraged statements condemning the decision, but it might not be enough to persuade voters not to punish President Trump by voting them out. ”

In Politico, James Higdon quotes California Republican Dana Rohrabacher in a conference call with five members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, arguing that the Sessions announcement is likely to have an inverse effect of turning a states issue into a national priority.

“It’s a big plus for our efforts that the federal government is now aware that our constituents have been alerted,” Rohrabacher said. "We can be confident we can win this fight, because this is a freedom issue.”

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California Just Might Declare Itself a 'Sanctuary State' for Legal Weed

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:44
A bill in Sacramento would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the feds on pot busts.

SACRAMENTO (CN) — A California lawmaker is aiming to protect the state’s budding marijuana industry by barring law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal drug agencies on pot busts.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, says his bill “protects the will of California voters,” who overwhelmingly legalized marijuana in 2016.

His proposal, which would create a so-called sanctuary pot state, came less than a week after recreational pot became legal in California, and was sparked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of a federal policy shift on enforcement of marijuana laws.

Jones-Sawyer said California voters made it clear they don’t want Sessions’ “cannabis-centric war on drugs” waged in the Golden State.

“The intent of Assembly Bill 1578 is to provide state agencies with the protection they need to uphold state laws without federal interference,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement. “What Jeff Sessions is proposing is not a return to ‘Rule of Law’ as he claims; instead he is taking away access to cannabis for children with chronic diseases, cancer patients, seniors and veterans.”

The measure would prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from assisting federal authorities on marijuana activities that are legal under California law, without a court order. Jones-Sawyer’s bill would also bar state agencies from providing the federal government with information on licensed marijuana growers and retailers.

The bill is based on a 2017 California law that restricts state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agencies. Sessions has called California’s immigration sanctuary bill a “threat to public safety.”

This is the second time around for AB 1578, which stalled in the Legislature in August last year. The Assembly narrowly approved Jones-Sawyer’s pot bill 41-33 but it never made it to a vote in the Senate. The American Civil Liberties Union and a host of labor unions supported the bill, which was opposed by California law enforcement agencies.

Jones-Sawyer, a second-term assemblyman and former Los Angeles deputy mayor said the decades-long war on drugs has had a disparate impact on minority communities and that his bill will protect Californians from the federal government’s outdated drug laws.

“The last time California supported the federal government’s efforts, families were torn apart and critical state resources were used to incarcerate more black and brown people than ever before in the history of our state,” Jones-Sawyer said.


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U.S. Asks Targets of Trump Attacks--U.N., China, Mexico--to Help With Opioid Crisis

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:31
Washington has asked the U.N. to help declare fentanyl illegal in U.S. and China, as White House works with Mexico to address the drug’s spread.

While Donald Trump criticizes and argues with the United Nations, Mexico, and China over embassies, walls and trade deals, his administration is relying upon them as he attempts to combat the opioid epidemic.

The president declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last year, with most recent government estimates suggesting the more than 64,000 fatal overdoses in 2016 outnumber the total number of American deaths in the Vietnam war.

Richard Baum, acting director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Guardian that the US had requested the UN help declare fentanyl – an opioid at the heart of the crisis in the US – illegal in both the US and China.

The US claims fentanyl manufactured in China – available for purchase online or imported into the US via established trafficking routes – contributes to the epidemic currently facing the country. A UN effort to outlaw the drug would empower international law enforcement to stem the flow across borders.

“It creates a better environment if [fentanyl] is illegal in the US and it’s illegal in China,” said Baum. “So we’re cooperating. We are trading information about what’s happening. They are banning substances [and] we are. We’re working together at the UN.”

The importance of the UN in coordinating international cooperation on an American drug problem underlines the complex relationship the Trump administration has with the world body – as well as countries it needs to partner with to face down critical domestic issues.

Trump is a strong critic of the UN, saying after his 2016 election that it was “just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time”. He also slammed the general assembly’s rebuke of his plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year.

But Baum, Trump’s top adviser on drug control issues, said global cooperation was key to addressing the US opioid epidemic and must be maintained.

“When the US asked China for help on some of these cases, they have told us that it’s much better for them if [a drug] is something that is illegal in China,” he said. “I always want more cooperation, faster action, but when we put in requests and we’ve documented things that are sourced from China, they’re acting on it.”

Baum said Mexican drug cartels were also importing fentanyl from China and mixing it with heroin trafficked into the US. Fentanyl is also imported to Mexicofrom China, repackaged as pills, and shipped into the US.

“It is the same organizations, the Mexican trafficking organizations, that are moving a lot of product into the US containing fentanyl,” Baum said.

“We have a really positive, collaborative relationship with Mexico. We’re working very closely with them. We have our shared border, and that doesn’t change. The cartels based in Mexico are a hugely difficult and complicated problem and we need to continue to work together with our Mexican colleagues in addressing that problem.”

Yet the necessity of a positive relationship with Mexico on drug control is contradicted by Trump’s continuing public statements about his country’s southern neighbor. A campaign declaration that Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” and demands for Mexico to pay for a border wall contributed to a low in relations when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a 2017 state visit. Immigration and trade issues are also contentious.

Baum, however, said a longstanding relationship between law enforcement and on-the-ground diplomatic efforts by the US embassy in Mexico City overcome top-level tension between the countries.

“We understand the blood and treasure the Mexican government has spent trying to address the drug cartels,” Baum said. “We understand it’s an enormous problem and challenge for Mexico. They are working very hard. They’ve lost a lot of good people trying to address the problem. It’s a relationship based on professional law enforcement people working together to address a shared problem.”

Trump’s 2016 national health emergency declaration was criticized for freeing up just $57,000 in federal funds but Baum said the president had proposed a $28.7bn overall federal drug budget – including $10.8bn for drug treatment programs for 2018.

“We’re doing more against drugs than we ever have before but it’s not enough,” Baum said.


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Jeff Sessions' Threatens New War on Weed and Both Sides of the Aisle Fire Back

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:42
Click here for reuse options! The attorney general may have done us a favor by heightening the contradictions of federal marijuana prohibition.

With his announcement that he is freeing federal prosecutors to go after marijuana operations in states where it is legal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has excited strong bipartisan opposition, splitting the Republicans, providing a potential opening for Democrats in the 2018 elections, and energizing supporters of just ending marijuana prohibition once and for all.

On Thursday, after a year of dilly-dallying, the fervently anti-marijuana Sessions declared that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that basically told them to keep their hands off marijuana operations that were acting in compliance with state laws. The move not only puts Sessions at odds with public opinion, it also puts the lie to President Trump's campaign position that marijuana policy is best left to the states.

With legal marijuana enjoying consistent majority support in opinion polls—a Pew poll released Friday at support at 61%--the blowback has been immediate, fierce, and across the board. Feeling particularly vulnerable, legal pot state Republicans howled especially loudly.

Republican Howls

"I am obligated to the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado and their rights," said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), taking to the Senate floor to announce his amazement and dismay at the move. He threatened to block all Justice Department nominees until Sessions relents.

Gardner, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, said that both Trump and Sessions had assured him before he voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general that going after legal marijuana in the states was not a priority. He wasn't happy with the turnabout.

Neither was another Republican legal pot state senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, she said she had repeatedly urged Sessions to leave legal weed alone. His move Thursday was "regrettable and divisive," she said.

Maine is about to become a legal pot state—if Sessions' move doesn't throw a wrench in the works—leaving Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who supported Sessions' nomination, walking a tightrope.

While acknowledging the medical uses of marijuana, "here is considerable scientific and medical evidence of the detrimental impact that marijuana can have on the brain development of otherwise healthy teenagers, Collins spokesman Christopher Knight said. Congress and the Department of Justice should review the Controlled Substances Act, which generally prohibits growing, distributing or using marijuana, in light of current medical evidence as well as actions taken by states."

Marijuana should be a "states' rights issue," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who doesn't represent a legal pot state, but has long been a proponent of drug law reform. "The federal government has better things to focus on."

Another leading Trump ally, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), doesn't represent a legal pot state, but he does represent a medical marijuana state. He's not happy either, calling the move "heartless and cold." Sessions' move "shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients."

And that's from friends of the administration. The Democrats, unsurprisingly, are even harsher.

Democratic Growls

Congressional Democrats were quick to pounce on what they correctly perceived as an opening to attack Trump and Sessions on an issue where the public is not on their side. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose state just began the legal sale of recreational marijuana this week, led the way.

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision bulldozes over the will of the American people and insults the democratic process under which majorities of voters in California and in states across the nation supported decriminalization at the ballot box," Pelosi said. "Yet again, Republicans expose their utter hypocrisy in paying lip service to states’ rights while trampling over laws they personally dislike."

Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said they would attempt to block Sessions by extending a current ban on Justice Department funding to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. But that would not protect the legal pot states.

Other legal pot state Democrats were also quick to go on the offensive and happy to throw the "states' rights" issue in the face of Republicans.

"It is absurd that Attorney General Sessions has broken Trump’s campaign promise and is now waging war on legal marijuana and states’ rights," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. "The growing Colorado economy is in jeopardy with the news that the Attorney General will now go after states that have decided to regulate marijuana.  The Trump Administration needs to back off, and allow marijuana to be treated like alcohol under the law.  At stake is a growing industry that has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in tax revenue in Colorado. I’m calling on President Trump to overrule Attorney General Sessions and protect consumers, our economy, the will of the voters, and states’ rights."

"Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies," charged Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade." Wyden is demanding that any budget negotiations must include protection for legal marijuana states. "Any budget deal," Wyden said, "must ... prevent the federal government from intruding in state-legal, voter-supported decisions."

That's just a representative sample of statements from congressional Democrats, who consider Sessions' move an enormous political gift. California House Republicans were already facing an uphill battle this year, thanks to Trump's unpopularity in the state. With a Republican administration messing with legal weed in the Golden State, Republicans could go extinct in November.

State Officials Stand Up to Washington

It isn't just politicians in Washington who are taking umbrage with Sessions. Across the legal pot states, elected officials are sticking up for the will of the voters.

"As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state's laws against undue federal infringement," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat. "In Washington state we have put a system in place that adheres to what we pledged to the people of Washington and the federal government. We are going to keep doing that and overseeing the well-regulated market that Washington voters approved."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a former US attorney herself, said Seattle police wouldn't cooperate in any crackdown: "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions," she said. "Let's be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults," she said in a statement. "Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions."

Calling Sessions' move "deeply concerning and disruptive," Oregon Gov. Kathleen Brown (D) told the feds to back right off. "States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people," she said. "Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians. My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market."

Similar notes were heard from California.

"Akin to the ill-conceived positions the Trump administration has adopted on so many important public policy topics during the past year, Attorney General Session’s decision today is out of step with the will of the people of not only California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis," said California Treasurer John Chiang. "The action taken by Attorney General Sessions threatens us with new national divisiveness and casts into turmoil a newly established industry that is creating jobs and tax revenues. Until the slow, clunking machinery of the federal government catches up with the values and will of the people it purportedly serves, states like California will continue to both resist, and more importantly, to lead."

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) also weighed in on what he called Sessions' "harmful and destructive attempt to revive the failed war on drugs." Sessions' position, he added, "defies fact and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal framework for legal marijuana, and is just another part of the Trump administration's cynical war on America's largest state—its people and its policies—through policy reversals, health care repeals, and now, marijuana policing."

The Republicans Own This

Despite the howls from legal pot state Republicans (and a handful of others), this backwards-looking policy shift lies squarely with the GOP and the Trump administration. It is driving wedges between Republicans and widening the gap between the GOP and the desires of the nation.

Whether the Republicans pay a penalty for messing with marijuana come November remains to be seen, but Jeff Sessions may have inadvertently done us a favor. Not only does his move hurt Republican prospects, even endangering control of the House, it will spark movement to quit dancing around with the end of marijuana prohibition and just get it done once and for all. 

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Why Jeff Sessions' War on Weed Is a Futile Pursuit

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:13
Click here for reuse options! He can do some damage, but he can't roll back the clock.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement Thursday that he is rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors directing them to take a laissez-faire approach to state-legal marijuana except under specified circumstances (violence, out-of-state diversion, money laundering, etc.) is sending shock waves through the marijuana industry, but its impact is likely to be limited.

That's because marijuana prohibition is a dying beast, and while the twitching of its tail in its death throes could cause some injury, neither the attorney general nor his minions are going to be able to get that beast back up and roaring again. They are too late.

At least one of them recognized as much Thursday afternoon. Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, a Sessions appointee, said within hours that there would be no changes in his office's enforcement priorities. He  would continue "identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state," he said, an approach "consistent with Sessions' guidance." 

Sessions' move comes days after California, the nation's most populous state, began recreational marijuana sales, joining Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Maine and Massachusetts have also already legalized marijuana, with taxed and regulated sales being just a matter of time. Washington, D.C., has also legalized marijuana possession and cultivation, although not sales, and another 21 states allow for medical marijuana.

More states are likely to legalize it this year (although the Sessions move could cause some hesitation at state houses), as even slow-to-act legislators eye marijuana legalization's ever-increasing popularity. The latest Gallup poll has 64 percent supporting legalization, suggesting that going after legal weed is likely to be a political loser.

Which is not to say that Sessions and the Justice Department can't do some serious harm. The mere announcement of the move saw marijuana stocks plummet in value Thursday. And unleashed federal prosecutors could attempt arrests and prosecutions of marijuana businesses. Even more dire, they could seek—and likely win—permanent injunctions in the federal courts shutting down state marijuana programs. They do, after all, violate federal law.

Such moves could totally disrupt legal marijuana regimes, shuttering pot businesses and turning off the pot tax revenue spigot, but they can't end legal weed. And Sessions' announcement doesn't mean he has ordered an immediate crackdown; instead, he has signaled to federal prosecutors that they are free to move forward against legal marijuana if and as they wish.

Even if they do, here are four reasons why Sessions' war on weed is a quixotic quest.

1. The federal government cannot make states recriminalize marijuana.

The federal government can make marijuana illegal under federal law and it likely has the ability to enjoin pot businesses and state regulatory apparatuses from selling, regulating, and taxing marijuana, but it cannot dictate to the states what their marijuana laws should be. In other words, the feds may have the ability to disrupt legal marijuana markets and states' ability to tax and regulate them, but not to make weed illegal again in California or any of the other states that have or will legalize it.

2. There aren't enough DEA agents to effectively enforce pot prohibition.

Just as the federal government cannot force states to recriminalize marijuana, neither can it force state law enforcement to enforce federal marijuana laws. With legal marijuana states extremely unlikely to give cops the go-ahead to enforce federal pot laws, that leaves the DEA. But there are only 4,000 DEA agents worldwide, and they have other pressing issues to deal with, such as the opioid epidemic, not to mention meth and cocaine. Even if every DEA agent worldwide dropped everything and rushed to California to enforce federal pot laws, that's only one agent for every 10,000 state residents. And that's just California. They could do exemplary raids on a token number of pot businesses, which could indeed have a chilling effect, but they will be unable to effectively enforce pot prohibition.

3. Shutting down legal pot regimes will only strengthen the black market.

Even conservative federal prosecutors will understand this. To the degree that the Justice Department is successful in shuttering marijuana businesses and squeezing off legal access to marijuana, it will drive marijuana consumers to obtain their weed elsewhere. That strengthens the black market and the very criminality that Attorney General Sessions rails against. For a law and order administration, policies that strengthen criminal networks are counterproductive.

4. The reaction is fierce, and only just beginning.

Trump, Sessions, and federal prosecutors are just beginning to get a taste of the condemnation the move is inspiring. Industry spokespeople are calling out the president for appearing to back away from the Trump campaign promise that marijuana legalization would be left up to the states, and a Republican senator, Cory Gardner of Colorado, has already announced from the Senate floor that he will place a hold on every Justice Department nomination until Sessions reverses course and lives up to what Gardner says was a promise to him not to reverse Obama-era policy.

Democrats are also hollering and screaming, and it's worth noting that more than half the Senate and more than a hundred House members now represent states that have legalized marijuana in some form, either medicinally or recreationally or both.

Short of just legalizing marijuana, where Congress has real power over the Justice Department is in appropriations. When it comes to medical marijuana, for the past three years Congress has approved an amendment that bars the use of Justice Department funds to go after the medical marijuana states. Look for a similar appropriations bill rider barring Justice from going after legal marijuana states, too. 

Jeff Sessions is leaving decisions about marijuana enforcement to his U.S. attorneys. They could impose huge disruptions on the legal, regulated marijuana business, which is bad enough, but they can't bring back pot prohibition. Sessions is fighting a lonely, rear-guard battle not even supported by his own party or the president he serves. It's a battle he will lose, although it could cause some casualties. 

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Pharmacists Slow to Dispense Lifesaving Overdose Reversal Drug

Fri, 01/05/2018 - 11:29
Costs, limited awareness and stigma all appear to be playing a part in naloxone not getting to those who need it. This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News.

Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible.

But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug.

“I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”

In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. They cite several reasons, including low public awareness, heavy workloads, fear that they won’t be adequately paid and reluctance to treat drug-addicted people.

In 48 states and Washington, D.C., pharmacists have flexibility in supplying the drug without a prescription to patients, or to their friends or relatives, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. But as in California, pharmacists in many states, including Wisconsin and Kentucky, have divergent opinions about whether to dispense naloxone.

“The fact that we don’t have wider uptake . . . is a public health emergency in and of itself,” said Virginia Herold, executive officer of the California State Board of Pharmacy. She said both pharmacists and the public need to be better educated about the drug.

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to identify those at risk and help save the lives of patients who overdose on opioids, said Talia Puzantian, a pharmacist and associate professor of clinical sciences at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy in Claremont, Calif.

“There’s a Starbucks on every corner. What else is on every corner? A pharmacy. So we are very accessible,” Puzantian told a group of pharmacy students recently as she trained them on providing naloxone to customers. “We are interfacing with patients who may be at risk. We can help reduce overdose deaths by expanding access to naloxone.”

Opioid overdoses killed 2,000 people in California and 15,000 nationwide in 2015.

Naloxone can be administered via nasal spray, injection or auto-injector. Prices for it vary widely, but insurers often cover it. The drug binds to opioid receptors, reversing the effect of opioids and helping someone who has overdosed to breathe again.

At least 26,500 overdoses were reversed from 1996 to 2014 because of naloxone administered by laypeople, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since then, the drug has become much more widely available among first responders, law enforcement officers and community groups. The drug is safe and doesn’t have serious side effects, apart from putting someone into immediate withdrawal, according to the institute.

Information on how many pharmacists are dispensing naloxone is limited, but one study last year showed access to the drug at retail pharmacies increased significantly from 2013 to 2015 from previously small numbers.

Interviews and available evidence from around the U.S. indicate that pharmacists have varying perspectives. In Kentucky, for example, one study found that 28 percent of pharmacists surveyed were not willing to dispense naloxone.

In Pennsylvania, pharmacists weren’t exactly lining up to hand out naloxone when the state passed a law in 2015 allowing them to do it, said Pat Epple, CEO of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association. She said there were some initial obstacles, including the cost of the drug and pharmacists’ limited awareness of the law. The association worked with state health officials to raise awareness of naloxone among patients and pharmacists and reduce the stigma of dispensing it, Epple said.

Wisconsin is also among the states that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone. Sarah Sorum, a vice president at the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, said the state’s pharmacists want to expand their public health role and help curb the opioid epidemic. But reimbursement has been a challenge, she said.

Not all health plans across the nation cover the full cost of the drug, and pharmacists also are concerned about getting paid for the time it takes to counsel patients or their relatives.

California and other states require pharmacists to undergo training before they can dispense naloxone to patients who don’t have a doctor’s prescription. Puzantian and others say that in California not enough pharmacists are getting the training, which can be taken online or in person and can cost a few hundred dollars.

So far, the California State Board of Pharmacy has trained between 450 and 500 pharmacists, and the membership-based California Pharmacists Association has added an additional 170. Other smaller organizations offer the naloxone training, according to the association. There are about 28,000 licensed pharmacists in the state.

Once trained, California pharmacists who provide naloxone must screen patients to find out if they have a history of opioid use. They also must counsel people requesting the drug on how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose.

Some say training requirements are an unnecessary barrier, especially given the high level of education already required to become a pharmacist.

Some of the bigger pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens, have made the drug available without a prescription in the states that allow it. Walgreens has announced that it would stock the nasal spray version of naloxone at all of its pharmacies. It said it offers the drug in 45 states without requiring the patient to have a prescription.

Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said not every pharmacy has to dispense naloxone for people to have access to it. “But the greater the number of dispensing pharmacies the better,” he said, adding that it is “especially important in more sparsely populated areas.”

Corey Davis, deputy director of the Network for Public Health Law, said making naloxone available over the counter would also increase access, since people could buy it off the shelf without talking to a pharmacist.

Bryan Koschak, a community pharmacist at Shopko in Redding, Calif., said people should go to a hospital or doctor’s office for naloxone. “I am not champing at the bit to do it,” he said. “It is one more thing on my plate that I would have to do.”

Michael Creason, a pharmacist in San Diego expressed a different view. He did the training after his employer, CVS, required it. He said pharmacies are a great vehicle for expanding access to naloxone because patients often develop a rapport with their pharmacists and feel comfortable asking for it.

Pharmacy associations should educate their members about the laws that allow naloxone to be provided without a doctor’s prescription and persuade more of them to provide the drug to customers who need it, Lurie said. Others say more pharmacists should put up signs to make customers aware that naloxone is available in their shops.

The California Pharmacists Association said it is trying to raise awareness through newsletters and emails to pharmacists in the state. “We want to see every pharmacy be able to furnish naloxone and every person at risk have access to it,” said Jon Roth, the association’s CEO.

The state’s pharmacy schools also include the training in their curriculum. One day recently, Puzantian explained to a classroom full of pharmacy students that naloxone is effective, safe and can prevent death.

“You can’t get a dead addict into recovery,” she told the students. Drug users “might have multiple overdoses, but each overdose reversal is a chance for them to get into recovery.”


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Jeff Sessions Is Coming for America's Legalized Marijuana

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 10:30
"This is not a drill."

On the heels of a California law legalizing recreational marijuana use, which took effect Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to rescind the federal policy that has enabled Americans to grow, sell, and use cannabis in places where it has been legalized, without federal intervention, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

"The move will leave it to U.S. attorneys where pot is legal to decide whether to aggressively enforce federal marijuana law," the AP noted, a move that will likely "add to confusion about whether it's OK to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where it's legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it." The report cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the decision.

"RED ALERT!" the Drug Policy Alliance tweeted in response to the report. "This is not a drill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after legalized marijuana."

In California—which was the first state to legalize medical marijuana—state officials have, according to the Los Angeles Times, "issued dozens of permits for retailers to begin recreational sales this week, expanding a market that is expected to grow to $7 billion annually by 2020."

California is the sixth state to introduce the sale of recreational cannabis, following Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In response to ballot measures from the 2016 election, Maine and Massachusetts are expected to start sales later this year—despite protest from state leaders like Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who in November vetoed a law that would have regulated the state's marijuana sales. 

Several states have passed legislation or ballot measures to relax statewide policies of marijuana use for medicinal and, increasingly, recreational purposes. The Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbies in favor of cannabis-friendly laws, tracks the state-by-state rules on its website:

Sessions is a long-time opponent of the nationwide push to legalize recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Journalist and former lawyer Glenn Greenwald used the news to offer the analysis that "Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud," tweeting:

Conservatives' self-professed belief in federalism was always a huge fraud. It never extended to any state policies that they disliked, and still doesn't:

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 4, 2018


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Trump Administration to Target Legal Marijuana

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 10:06
The move is generating a strong bipartisan backlash.



Trump administration to target legal marijuana

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the long-standing federal policy permitting states to legalize recreational pot, placing thousands of marijuana businesses in several states operating legally under state law at risk to federal raids and seizures.

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A Jeff Sessions Adviser Thinks Doctors Should Force Suspected Addicts Into Rehab and Drug Test All Patients

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 13:25
Robert DuPont has the attorney general's ear.




Attorney General Jeff Sessions received marijuana policy advice from a seasoned veteran of the War on drugs, who helped popularize the phrase "Gateway Drug" and has proposed that doctors force some ...

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What Happens When You Suddenly Stop Using Marijuana?

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 12:56
What to expect when you suddenly just say no.

Back in 1994, there were lots of things we were undecided about: Raves, were they the pied-piper of the techno-tribal revolution, or unrelenting embarrassment? Bill Clinton—corrupt, lying philanderer, or charming, lying philanderer? Brenda or KellyZima or death?


For its part, the DSM-IV, the standard psychiatric diagnosis manual, was undecided whether the marijuana habit could be kicked cleanly or whether there would be consequences. In the run-up to the next revision, there was a flurry of studies on marijuana withdrawal, including ones that looked at the general population of users, adolescents, and even “non-treatment-seeking adult cannabis smokers.”

By the time the DMS-5 was released in 2013, the jury was in and there was a new entry: Cannabis withdrawal syndrome.

Evoking images of innocent teen-aged lives ruined by the allure of “jazz cigarettes” and dangerous “race music,” the idea of marijuana withdrawal has often been dismissed as a legacy anti-drug hysteria, from Reefer Madness to Just Say No. Nevertheless, clinicians have documented some 40 symptoms associated with quitting marijuana use—which range from the troubling (aggression and other mood disorders) to the trivial (excessive yawning) to the downright scatological (runny nose and diarrhea). The DSM-5 recognizes just seven symptoms: irritability, weight loss, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms (including fever, chills, stomach- and headache). You’ll be happy to know that diarrhea did not make the cut.

Compared with the torment of opioid withdrawal and the potentially deadly alcoholic DTs, cannabis withdrawal is relatively mild. Only about half of heavy users who go cold turkey will even experience withdrawal symptoms of any kind. If you’re one of the unlucky fifty percent, expect your symptoms to peak anywhere between a week to 10 days. They might even linger for a month.

“Mild” withdrawal symptoms does not mean “pleasant,” however, and marijuana detox can be a trial, for both the former user and those around them.


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Over-the-Top Georgia Cops Arrest 70 Partygoers After No One 'Fesses Up to Owning Less Than an Ounce of Weed

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 00:33
Dozens of people spent 48 hours in jail in this case of police abuse of power.

Early on the morning of December 31, 2017, police in the Atlanta suburb of Cartersville arrested 70 people at a house party because no one would claim ownership of a stash of marijuana that totaled less than an ounce.

As The Cartersville Daily Tribune reported, Cartersville police responded to a “shots fired” call around 2:18 AM on New Year’s Eve at a “Christmas Lingerie Party,” and soon found the marijuana.

Jail records acquired by the Daily Tribune showed that 63 of the 70 arrestees had all been processed with a single count of marijuana possession under one ounce.

The report also noted that most of the people arrested are men aged 19-25, many of whom had been “star athletes” at the local high school.

After the arrests, parents of the some of the people arrested at the party told Fox 5 Atlanta that they were frustrated by the lack of information surrounding the mass arrests.

“We just want our babies,” one of the parents, Monesha Fezzia, told Fox 5 on December 31. “They aren’t telling us anything.”

On Tuesday, Tyisha Fernandes, a reporter for Atlanta’s WSB-TV, tweeted that some of the arrestees are just now being released over 48 hours after their New Year’s Eve arrests.


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How Legal Marijuana Will Change California in 2018

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 11:36
Golden State smokers can expect higher-quality, and more expensive, weed.

When I first moved from New York City to San Francisco, I was captivated by the polarities between the two cities. New York City buildings were black and grey; San Francisco’s exploded with color. New York City’s produce selection in the winter was disgraceful; San Francisco had fresh avocados. New York City’s streets smelled like cigarettes; San Francisco’s smelled like weed.

Marijuana’s distinguishable presence in California is hard to miss, especially in San Francisco, even for the greenest tourist. The state has been known for decades for its laissez-faire attitude towards the herb. People smoke it indoors; outside on the streets; they eat it at dinner parties; toke up in the outdoor areas of bars; and it can be bought for just five dollars a joint in San Francisco’s Dolores Park.

Weed has been legal since voters passed proposition 64 in 2016, but you couldn't formally buy it in a store the way one might buy liquor (without a medical card, at least). That all changes starting on midnight at January 1, and as a California resident, I can’t help but wonder: how will this change the state I live in? Will weed cafés suddenly be everywhere, à la Amsterdam? Will tech workers at startups have marijuana dispensers alongside kegerators in their “non-traditional” offices?

Derek Peterson, the CEO of Terra Tech, a cannabis-focused agriculture company which is also the first publicly traded company to be associated with marijuana, thinks it will be a gradual integration into California culture.

"For 2018, it will be a year of adapting to the regulations; you won't see big enforcement until 2019. There will always be black market consumers, but as they become more educated, they will naturally rise to the regulated market,” he told Salon.

How California Got Here

First, a brief overview of the legalization situation: On Nov. 8, 2016, Californians voted to pass the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, also referred to as Proposition 64, allowing adults 21 and older to legally possess one ounce of weed. Californians can also have up to six plants in their home. This will take effect on Jan. 1. California will join Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Washington, and Washington, D.C., in the cohort of states that have legalized recreational weed.

Marijuana first started making its way into the state’s legislature in 1996 when voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana. California was the first state in the U.S. to do this, paving the way for medical marijuana use in other states. In 2010, the California Senate passed bill 1449 which made possession of 28.5 grams of marijuana an infraction punishable by fine less than $100. Opponents called this move a “virtual legalization.” In 2015, California underwent a major overhaul in the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. Alas, here we are today.

California State Revenue

Legalizing marijuana could possibly be a regulatory mess for the state and its infrastructure, but that could be a small price to pay for the revenue legal weed could bring to the state. According to cannabis financial analysis firm GreenWave Advisors, the legalization of marijuana could be worth over $5 billion in its first year. The state of California will have a 15 percent tax on marijuana; cities can add freely to this. It’s unclear what the predicted tax revenue from recreational legal pot will be, but if Colorado has set any precedent, it’s clear that it can indeed bring a substantial amount. In July, Colorado hit a milestone of bringing in nearly $200 million in 2016, which it has reportedly spent on schools.

A New Stream of Tourism

Perhaps what some in the cannabis industry are most excited about is what legalization will mean for California as a tourist hub for cannabis. According to a forecasting report by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, there are more than 260 millions visits to California each year that bring more than $122 billion to the state. It’s estimated that tourists spend $7.2 billion on wine in California—some think the cost of legal cannabis use could reach similar heights.

“Like Napa is for wine, the Emerald Triangle will create something like that,” Leslie Bocskor of Electrum Partners, who has advised policy makers in various states that have legalized marijuana, told Salon. “People can visit the groves, the farms, see how it’s grown and processed, and it will be all be in beautiful Northern California.”

What About Smoking & Driving?

Driving under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal because it’s a drug, and driving under the influence of drugs has always been a crime, a spokesperson from the San Francisco Police Department confirmed to Salon. According to Vehicle Code 23152(e): "It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle."

Additionally, Californians shouldn’t expect to see new measures to screen for marijuana use while driving.

“There are specific officers trained in recognizing drivers who may be operating under the influence of drugs, called Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). These officers attend specialized training in order to have this certification and are called to respond to a scene where officers believe a driver may be under the influence of drugs,” Officer Grace Gatpandan told Salon in an email.

The Quality of California’s Weed

“California weed” means top-of-the-line pot across state borders. The Emerald Triangle, which is the largest cannabis-producing region in the U.S., is known for growing high-quality cannabis. However, under the new regulations, legalized weed could be even higher quality. The new regulations prohibit types of pesticides that can be unhealthy when smoked, which will ensure legal weed is the real stuff. The black market will likely have more chemical-filled bud.

So, Where Can You Buy It?

Just because marijuana is officially legal on Jan. 1 doesn’t mean your local corner store is going to start selling it. Businesses need to apply for a license through the California Department of Public Health. California growers must apply through the California Department of Food & Agriculture. Only a couple dozen shops have reportedly received licenses and will be ready to open on Jan. 1, and those are mostly in Oakland, San Diego, Berkeley and San Jose. Licenses are subject to municipality laws too.

What About Those Convicted of Marijuana-Related Offenses?

The same proposition that has legalized marijuana has also cut penalties for many marijuana-related offenses, and anyone who is currently incarcerated, on probation, on parole, or under community supervision could petition to have a sentence reduced or a charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance has a whole guide about it here.

Medical Marijuana Cards

One interesting part of legalization will be observing how it affects the medical marijuana business, and the dispensaries that support those with medical marijuana cards. The Green Cross, a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, said it will continue to serve high-quality and “affordable” weed to its patients, and all adults once the City of San Francisco allows them to purchase it.

“We're glad that the new state laws will require all cannabis to be lab-tested for safety, as we've been doing for years. We're also happy the new city laws will permit our non-retail vendors, and incentivize participation in this newly-regulated market-segment by people who have been arrested, reversing part of the Drug War's structural racism,” Kevin Reed, founder and the president of the Green Cross, told Salon.

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From Bloody Drug War to Legal Pot: 10 Global Drug Policy Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2017

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 13:06
Click here for reuse options! Drug reform advances unevenly on the world stage, and sometimes, it regresses.

1. In the Philippines, Duterte's Bloody Drug War Rages On

Undeterred by international criticism, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte continued his murderous war on small-time drug users and sellers throughout 2017, with Human Rights Watch estimating that some 12,000 people, almost all of them poor, have been killed since June 2016. Poor neighborhoods have also been subjected to warrantless searches and door-to-door drug testing, and thousands more people have been imprisoned in insalubrious conditions.

2. Indonesia Starts Going Down Duterte's Path

Indonesian President Joko Widodo must have liked what he was seeing one archipelago over, because in July, he started sounding like his Filipino counterpart. To fight the country's "narcotic emergency," he said, police should "gun down" foreigners suspected of drug trafficking if they "resist arrest." At year's end, the National Narcotics agency proudly reported it had killed 79 people in drug raids during 2017, and arrested more than half a million, of whom 1,523 were declared rehabilitated after drug treatment. In 2016, Widodo had ordered that 100,000 people receive drug treatment, but there don't seem to be any resources for that.

3. Norway Moves to Decriminalize All Drug Use

In December, the Norwegian parliament sent a strong signal that it wants to decriminalize drug use and possession, voting to direct the government to begin making changes in the laws. Legislation that would actually enact the changes has yet to be drafted, but Norway is on the way.

4. Uruguay Legal Marijuana Sales Begin

It took more than three years after the country legalized marijuana before it happened, but it happened this year: Pharmacies began selling marijuana direct to customers in July, making Uruguay the first country in the world to permit the legal production and sale of marijuana.

5. Nevada Becomes Fifth U.S. State to Allow Legal Marijuana Sales, More Coming Online Soon

Uruguay may be the first country to legalize marijuana, but now, eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia have done it, and the first four—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—all allow recreational marijuana sales. Four states legalized it in November 2016, but only Nevada got legal sales up and running in 2017. But watch out, a tidal wave is coming: Legal sales begin in California, with its population of nearly 40 million, on January 1. Oh, and Maine and Massachusetts will begin legal sales sometime in 2018.

6. Mexico Drug War Mayhem at Record Levels

Eleven years after President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and sent in the military, things are worse than ever. According to government crime statistics, 2017 was the bloodiest year yet with more than 27,000 murders as splintering drug trafficking organizations fight a multi-sided war among themselves and against the police and military (when the police and military aren't acting on behalf of cartel factions). The year brought other grim milestones as well: More than 200,000 dead, an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves uncovered. All to keep Americans well supplied with the drugs we love to hate—or hate to love.

7. Iran Moves to Drastically Reduce Drug Executions

The Islamic Republic has long been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, but that could be about to change. In August, the Iranian parliament approved an amendment that significantly raises the bar for mandatory executions for certain drug offenses. The amendment dramatically increases the quantities of drugs needed to trigger a sentence of death or life in prison and should result in hundreds of people being spared execution each year. But it's not a done deal yet: It still must be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Islamic jurists, to ensure it complies with the Iranian constitution and their interpretation of sharia law.

8. U.S. Heightens Afghan Drug War, First Round of Bombing Campaign Kills Dozens

In August, President Trump authorized new rules of engagement for American forces in Afghanistan, allowing them to target the Taliban directly with air strikes. Previously, air strikes had been allowed only in support of Afghan troop operations or to protect U.S. or NATO troops under attack. In November, US military commanders made the first use of that authority by bombing ten Taliban-controlled opium production facilities in Helmand province, leaving a toll of at least 44 dead. The aim is to disrupt Taliban funding, but it looks like there's plenty more work to do: The Pentagon says the Taliban have another 400 to 500 heroin labs. And with bumper opium crops in 2017, they have plenty of work to do, too.

9. Colombia's Bumper Coca Harvests Prompt U.S. Pressure to Resume Aerial Eradication

Colombia just came off a bumper year for coca and cocaine production, but that's largely an artifact of the peace settlement between FARC and the government, which offered assistance to coca growers wishing to transition to other crops, thus encouraging farmers to grow coca so they could qualify for the program. But such nuances matter little to the Trump administration, which is pressuring the Colombian government to reinstate the aerial fumigation of coca crops with potentially carcinogenic herbicides.

10. In Sanctions-Busting Move, North Korea Ups Meth Production

The regime in Pyongyang has long been accused of resorting to drug trafficking to help finance its oft-sanctioned military activities, and it looks like it's up to its old tricks. In August came reports that state-affiliated companies and universities were "ramping up" the production of methamphetamine as a means of obtaining desperately needed foreign currency. With more sanctions, expect more North Korean meth.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Top 10 U.S. Drug Policy Stories of 2017

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 15:45
Click here for reuse options! Let's put the year to bed.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Tens of thousands died of drug overdoses, hundreds of thousands were arrested for drugs, yet marijuana is seeing boom times. As we bid adieu to 2017, here are the year's drug policy highlights.

1. The Opioid Crisis Deepens, With Overdose Deaths at an All-Time High

The country's opioid crisis showed no signs of abating in 2017, with the Centers for Disease Control estimating 66,000 overdose deaths this year, up from 63,000 in 2016. To be clear, only about two-thirds of fatal drug overdoses are linked to heroin and prescription opioids, but opioid overdoses surged in 2016 by 28%. It's too early for final data on 2017 overdoses, but there is little reason to doubt that opioids were driving the increase this year. The high levels of overdose deaths have led to a fall in US life expectancy for the past two years, only the third time that has happened in the past century.

2. Fentanyl Is Killing More and More People

The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs are implicated in an increasingly large number of opioid overdose deaths. While deaths involving prescription opioids are decreasing, fentanyl-related deaths have increased by an average of 88% a year since 2013. Illicitly imported fentanyl from labs in China or Mexico is mixed with heroin with lethal results: Half of the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths is attributable to heroin cut with fentanyl, the CDC reported in September. There were nearly 20,000 deaths attributable to fentanyl and other illicit opioids in 2016; the 2017 numbers are likely to be even worse.

3. Key Federal Drug Policy Positions Remain Unfilled, and Kellyanne Is in Charge

The Trump administration has not nominated anyone to head the DEA, and the agency is currently being led by Acting Administrator Robert Patterson after Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator when Trump took office, resigned in September, saying he didn't want to work with the administration any longer. Similarly, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) is without a permanent head after Trump's nominee, Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino went down in flames in October in the wake of reports he steered a bill through Congress that impeded the DEA from going after pharmaceutical drug distributors. Neither the White House nor anyone else seems very interested in filling the position, perhaps because earlier in the year, Trump floated the notion of cutting ONDCP's budget by nearly 95%. But not to worry: Trump pollster, counselor and apologist Kellyanne Conway is now leading the administration's fight against opioids—even though she has no public health experience whatsoever.

4. Attorney General Sessions Revives the Federal War on Drugs…

Under President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder presided over a ratcheting down of harsh federal drug prosecutions and sentences, but current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doing his best to undo those reforms. In May, Sessions announced that he had directed federal prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties possible in drug cases, including mandatory minimum sentences.

5. ...But Fails to Implement a War on Weed

For all the wailing, gnashing of teeth and dire predictions of a Sessions war on weed, it hasn't happened. The attorney general has made no secret of his dislike for the demon weed, but that has yet to translate into any firm policy positions or federal crackdowns on marijuana in states where it is legal, for either medical or recreational use. Congressional action continues to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana, but there was no bar on going after state-legal recreational marijuana, yet it didn't happen. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November that the Obama-era Cole memo remains in effect. That memo directs prosecutors to pretty much leave state-legal marijuana alone except for specified concerns, such as the involvement of youth, violence, or diversion. Later in November, Sessions said the Justice Department was still examining the Cole memo, but so far, so good.

6. Legal Marijuana's $10 Billion Year

In December, marijuana market watchers Arcview Market Research estimated that retail marijuana sales would hit $10 billion in 2017, up 33% over 2016. But that's just the beginning, Arcview said. With huge recreational markets such as California (pop. 39 million) and Canada (36 million) coming online next year, the group expects North American sales to top $24.5 billion by 2021. It's hard even for a pot-hating attorney general to get in front of that economic juggernaut.

7. Pot Is More Popular than Ever

Just ask Gallup. The venerable polling firm has been tracking support for marijuana legalization since 1969, when it was at just 12%. In its latest poll, from October, Gallup now has support for marijuana legalization at 64%. What is really impressive is the rapid increase in support in the past 20 years: In 1996, support was at 25%; by  2012, it had doubled to 50%; and it's gained another 14 points in the five years since. Other pollsters are reporting similar current levels of support for marijuana legalization. And this could be another reason the attorney general hesitates to crack down on weed.

8. No State Legalized Weed, But 2018 Should Be Different

After 2016 saw marijuana legalization initiatives win in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada—losing only in Arizona—anticipation was high that 2017 would see more states come aboard. It didn't happen. There are two explanations for this: First, it was an off-off election year and no initiatives were on the ballot, and second, it's hard to move controversial legislation through the state house. Still, the Vermont legislature actually passed a legalization bill, only to see it vetoed by a Republican governor, and that governor now says he is ready to sign a legalization bill. That could happen as early as next month. Likewise, a number of other states saw legalization bills make serious progress, and we could see those efforts come to fruition in places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And 2018 will most likely see at least one legalization initiative. Activists in Michigan have already handed in signatures and should have enough of a cushion to qualify for the ballot.

9. Safe Injection Sites in the U.S. Draw Ever Nearer

The harm reduction intervention has been proven to save lives, increase public health and public safety, and get hardcore drug users in touch with medical and social service help, and the message is finally on the verge of getting through in the U.S. At least two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, are advancing plans to open such facilities—although not without staunch opposition—and, under the progressive leadership of young Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca, New York, is making similar plans.

10. The War on Drugs Rolls On

Despite the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in various states, despite various sentencing reforms at the state and federal level, despite the growing recognition that "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," the drug war just keeps on going. The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report in November, and while the numbers are from 2016, this year's numbers are unlikely to be any better. More than 600,000 people got arrested for marijuana offenses in 2016, down from a peak of nearly 800,000 in 2007, but still up by 75,000 or 12% over 2015. It's the same story with overall drug arrests: While total drug arrest numbers peaked at just under 1.9 million a year in 2006 and 2007—just ahead of the peak in prison population—and had been trending downward ever since, they bumped up again last year to 1.57 million, a 5.6% increase over 2015.


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Legal Pot Begins in California, Already the World's Largest Marijuana Marketplace

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 13:37
Click here for reuse options! When the calendar flips over, the world's largest legal marijuana marketplace gets underway.

The world's largest legal marijuana economy gets underway on January 1, as California's voter-approved law legalizing recreational marijuana commerce goes into effect. It's been legal to possess and grow small amounts of weed since shortly after votes passed Prop 64 in November 2016, but as of New Year's Day, we see the unleashing of what is expected to be a $7 billion a year state pot industry.

But in a state of 39 million, only a few dozen pot shops are expected to be open for business on day one—and major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco are not included. That's because weed sellers have to have both a local permit and a state license, and few localities have completed their permitting procedures.

San Francisco is among them, but it's still not quite going to be ready on day one. Expect recreational marijuana sales to begin there within a matter of days, though.

"It is going to take a while to get these businesses up and running," said Lori Ajax, who runs the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. "We're asking people to be patient."

Among the major cities that will have recreational pot shops open on day one are Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego, and San Jose. This interactive map charts all of the approximately 40 shops that will be open on January 1.

zAccording to the Bureau of Cannabis Control, San Diego and San Jose will have the most stores open, with seven each, while two will be open in Berkeley and one in Oakland. Other pot shops open on January 1 are scattered across the state, from Mt. Shasta, Shasta Lake, Eureka, and Ukiah in the north, down to Santa Cruz on the coast, Palm Springs in the Southern California interior, and Woodlake, the only shop open in the entire Central Valley.

Medical marijuana dispensaries that have not applied for and received licenses for recreational marijuana sales will remain limited to serving customers with patient IDs.

While January 1 marks the beginning of the era of recreational marijuana sales, that doesn't mean California is turning into the Wild West of weed. The state has a reputation for being highly regulated, and that's no different when it comes to marijuana. Here are some of the things you can't do with legal weed in the Golden State:

  • You can't purchase or possess more than an ounce--unless it is the fruits of your personal grow. 
  • You can't smoke it in public in most places, including bars and restaurants. Anywhere cigarette smoking is prohibited, pot smoking is prohibited. And if you're a renter, your landlord can ban pot smoking on the premises.

  • You can't get stoned while driving.  Getting caught toking up behind the wheel will get you a $75 ticket, but if the cops think you are too high, you could also end up getting busted for driving under the influence, and that's a whole lot more than a $75 ticket.

  • You can't use marijuana's state-legal status to prevent your employer for firing you for smoking pot, even off the job.

People purchasing legal recreational marijuana will be contributing mightily to the state's coffers. In addition to state sales tax of 8% and any local sales taxes—some localities plan sales taxes of up to 10%-- a 15% excise tax on wholesale purchases by retailers will be passed on to consumers. This could end up putting a billion dollars a year in the state and local treasuries.

It could also make the state's existing black market more attractive to consumers. If Californians accustomed to buying their weed in the informal sector are faced with higher prices in pot shops than they can get from the guy down the street, they must just stay with the guy down the street.

And product shortages could also drive up prices, at least in the short run. While the state produces massive amounts of marijuana—an estimated 13.5 million pounds each year—up to 80% of that is destined for the black market, either for export to prohibitionist states or sold informally in-state. With permitting and licensing of producers for the legal recreational market at a very early stage, supply bottlenecks are likely to develop, leading to empty shelves, as they did in Nevada in 2017.

Still, California is now entering a Brave New World of legal marijuana. And with the nation's most populous state embracing legalization, there's no going back now, no matter what Washington thinks. 

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How Congress Unwittingly Turned the Nation's Capital into the Wild West of Weed

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 12:17
When Congress banned recreational marijuana sales in the District of Columbia, this isn't what it had in mind. Too bad.



How Congress unwittingly turned the capital into the Wild West of marijuana

WASHINGTON - It's not the promise of prompt delivery that has residents of Washington, D.C., spending fifty bucks for nondescript glass jars, nor is it the small jars themselves, which resemble something found on the bottom shelf of a Dollar Tree. ... a regulated legal market could constitute a felony. The result has been to turn Washington into the country's biggest experiment in largely unregulated marijuana selling. "This...{C}

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Marijuana And Sex: How Much Weed Is Too Much?

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 11:30
If you don't know about the 'bidirectional effect.' you need to read this.

It’s not secret that medical cannabis has been proved beneficial to those seeking pain management, alleviating chronic ailments and improving appetite. And for millennia it has been reported that marijuana and sex go together, too.

A new study released this month reveals that cannabis use, indeed, can improve sexual function — but it depends on the amount you and your partner partake.

Cannabis and Sexuality,” a report authored by Richard Balon and published in Current Sexual Health Reports, suggests that low doses of marijuana enhances sexual desire, while higher doses may lead to a bad sex. Says the report:

Cannabis has bidirectional effect on sexual functioning. Low and acute doses of cannabis may enhance sexual human sexual functioning, e.g., sexual desire and enjoyment/satisfaction in some subjects. On the other hand, chronic use of higher doses of cannabis may lead to negative effect on sexual functioning such as lack of interest, erectile dysfunction, and inhibited orgasm. Studies of cannabis effect on human sexuality in cannabis users and healthy volunteers which would implement a double-blind design and use valid and reliable instruments are urgently needed in view of expanded use of cannabis/marijuana due to its legalization and medicalization.

Of course, this is not new to anyone who has smoked a joint and is not a virgin. Another study, released late last year, concluded:

“For centuries, in addition to its recreational actions, several contradictory claims regarding the effects of cannabis use in sexual functioning and behavior (e.g. aphrodisiac vs anti-aphrodisiac) of both sexes have been accumulated. … Marijuana contains therapeutic compounds known as cannabinoids, which researchers have found beneficial in treating problems related to sex.”

But dosage is important. Too much pot can be unhealthy for male sexuality. “You get that classic stoner couch lock and lose your desire to have sex at all,” according to Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer at HelloMD. Perry suggests that men should consume cannabis that contains 10-14 percent THC.


Although it appears women have a different tolerance when it comes to cannabis and sexual activity, it is recommended to start with low doses before escalating the high.

According to HelloMD:

One reason why this may be so is that cannabis consumption is known to stimulate the production of oxytocin in the body. The production of oxytocin, also known as the bonding hormone, is closely related to the endocannabinoid system. Oxytocin is involved in a variety of human interactions, including sexual intercourse. Oxytocin is often released during orgasm, creating a bond between sexual partners that brings them closer together. The increased oxytocin production experienced while using cannabis during sex leaves me feeling deeply connected to my partner on a physical and spiritual level. Cannabis helps us achieve a level of closeness and unity that is truly unique.


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Mexico Maelstrom: How the Drug Violence Got So Bad

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 10:57
Eleven years since the government launched a crackdown on cartels, violence continues, rule of law is elusive and charges of human rights abuses abound.

Sofía, a medical assistant in Reynosa, a scruffy border city in northern Mexico, has a regular morning routine.

She wakes at 6am and readies her son for preschool; then she reviews her social media feeds for news of the latest murders.

Updates come via WhatsApp messages from friends and family: “There was a gun battle on X street”, “They found a body in Y neighbourhood”, “Avoid Z”.

In Mexico today, choosing your route to work can be a matter of life or death, but Sofía compares the daily drill to checking the weather on the way out the door. “It doesn’t rain water here,” she said. “It rains lead.”

It is 11 years since the then president Felipe Calderón launched a militarised crackdown on drug cartels deploying thousands of soldiers and promising an end to the violence and impunity. But the bloodletting continues, the rule of law remains elusive and accusations of human rights abuses by state security forces abound.

All the while, Mexico continues to race past a series a grim milestones: more than 200,000 dead and an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves unearthed. This year is set to be the country’s bloodiest since the government started releasing crime figures in 1997, with about 27,000 murders in the past 12 months.

Some of the worst violence in recent years has struck Reynosa and the surrounding state of Tamaulipas, which sits squeezed against the Gulf coast and the US border.

Once in a while, a particularly terrible incident here will make news around the world, such as the murder of Miriam Rodríguez, an activist for families of missing people, who was shot dead in her home on Mother’s Day.

But most crimes are not even reported in the local papers: journalists censor themselves to stay alive and drug cartels dictate press coverage.

“We don’t publish cartel and crime news in order to protect our journalists,” said one local news director, whose media outlet has been attacked by cartel gunmen. Eight journalists were murdered in Mexico in 2017, making it the most dangerous country for the press after Syria.

The information vacuum is filled by social media where bloody photographs of crime scenes and breaking news alerts on cartel shootouts are shared on anonymous accounts.

In Reynosa, violence has become a constant strand in everyday life. Morning commutes are held up by gun battles; movie theatres lock the doors if a shootout erupts during a screening. More than 90% of residents feel unsafe in the city, according to a September survey by the state statistics service.

Signs of the drug war are everywhere: trees and walls along the main boulevard are pockmarked with bullet holes. Drug dealers can be seen loafing on abandoned lots; every so often, rival convoys of gunmen battle on the streets.

Video cameras look down from rooftops; spies are all around. “They have eyes everywhere,” said one woman. “It could be the government or the cartels.”

The violence here first erupted around 2010 when the the Gulf cartel’s armed wing – a group of former soldiers known as Los Zetas – turned on their masters.

Since then, wave after wave of conflict has scorched through the state as rival factions emerge and collapse.

Fighting erupts over trafficking routes and the growing local drug markets, but state forces are also implicated: earlier this month, soldiers killed seven people, including two women, in what was described as a “confrontation”.

Crime hit such alarming levels this year that the local maquiladora industry – which pulls thousands to Reynosa every year to work in its export factories – warned that companies might be forced to relocate.

Amid the mayhem, ordinary life continues: shopping malls fill with families trying to escape the oppressive heat. Cars full of young people cruise the streets at night, banda music blaring from open windows.

“Life can’t stop. We have to get out and enjoy ourselves a little,” said Alonso de León, a local caterer. But he added: “The problem affecting us in Tamaulipas is the shootouts, this violence – in any other country this would be called terrorism.”

The government bristles at any suggestion that the country is at war. When the International Institute for Strategic Studies ranked Mexico as second-deadliest country in the world – ahead of warzones such as Afghanistan and Yemen – the foreign ministry responded angrily, pointing to higher murder rates in Brazil and Venezuela.

War or not, the bodycount keeps climbing.

And the violence is spreading: tourist areas have seen shootouts and decapitations, and even the capital has seen confrontations with armed groups. Earlier this month, the bodies of six men were found hanging from bridges in the resort city of Los Cabos.

All of which has been disastrous for the image of President Enrique Peña Nietowho took office in 2012 with an ambitious agenda to push through structural reforms and promote Mexico as an emerging economy.

Fighting crime seemed an afterthought.

“He thought that security issues in Mexico were a problem of perception so he embraced a policy of silence,” said Viridiana Ríos, scholar at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Peña Nieto’s government maintained the military focus of the drug war, and continued to target cartel kingpins. But analysts question the strategy, saying that it shatters larger criminal empires but leaves smaller – often more violent – factions fighting for the spoils.

Breaking up the cartels also has the perverse effect of encouraging crime groups to diversify, said Brian J Phillips, professor at the Centre for Teaching and Research in Economics.

“The new groups are more likely to raise money by kidnapping or extortion since that doesn’t require the logistics of drug trafficking,” he said. “And as long as demand exists in the USA, and supply is in or passing through Mexico, new criminal organisations will appear.”

When the country’s most-wanted crime boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was recaptured last year, Peña Nieto tweeted “Mission accomplished” but even that success has not caused any measurable reduction in crime: Guzmán’s extradition to the United States in January triggered a fresh wave of violence in his home state of Sinaloa.

Meanwhile rivals such as the Jalisco New Generation cartel – a fast-growing organisation specialising in methamphetamines and excessive violence – moved in on Sinaloa trafficking territories along the Pacific coast.

And the liberalisation of marijuana laws in some US states has prompted some farmers to switch to opium poppies, prompting fresh conflict around the heroin trade.

But despite the worsening violence, there has been little serious consideration of any fresh approaches. Earlier this month, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential election – was widely condemned for floating a possible amnesty for criminals.

The proposal drew comparisons with the pax mafiosa before more than 70 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) ended in 2000, in which politicians turned a blind eye to drug-dealing in return for peace.

But analysts say even that would not work nowadays as the drug cartels have splintered.

“It’s a useless endeavour, given the broken criminal landscape,” said security analyst Jorge Kawas. “There’s no group of leaders who can be summoned to discuss stopping the violence.”

Politicians are nonetheless still perceived as allying themselves with criminals –especially during costly election campaigns.

“Mexico cannot stop dirty money going into the political system,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, an organised crime expert at Columbia University. “That’s the key to understanding why violence has increased in Mexico.”

Such accusations are all too familiar in Tamaulipas, where two of the past three governors have been indicted in US courts on drug and organised crime charges.

Meanwhile, police departments are dilapidated, dispirited, corrupt and underfunded as state and national politicians pass on security responsibilities on the armed forces.

Earlier this month, congress rammed through a controversial security lawcementing the role of the military in the drug war – despite mounting accusations of human rights abuses committed by troops and marines.

In Tamaulipas, residents express exasperation with the flailing government response. But few ask too many questions about the violence around them: they just want the killing to end.

“I don’t care about organised crime,” said one woman, known online as Loba, or She-wolf. “They can traffic all the drugs they want so long as they don’t mess with ordinary people.”

Loba is one of the social media activists who report on cartel violence via Twitter and Facebook. It’s a perilous undertaking: at least two citizen journalists in Tamaulipas have been killed, and Loba herself was kidnapped by the Zetas in 2011 and held for 12 days before her family paid a £10,000 ($13,500) ransom.

When asked why she runs such risks, Loba answered: “Perhaps this can save someone from being shot.”



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