(CNN)On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the federal policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws. While controversial for many reasons, this move is first and foremost a significant step backward in our country’s fight against opioid addiction.
Maybe Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to come to Logan County, West Virginia, where I grew up. Maybe he needs to visit nearby Huntington, West Virginia, a town of nearly 49,000 that’s been dubbed the overdose capital of America. A town where opioid- and heroin-related crime has spiked to such levels that the National Guard is now backing up local law enforcement efforts.
Maybe if he were to open the door to a public restroom and find someone overdosed on the floor, as have residents of Huntington and other West Virginia communities, then Sessions would rethink his disastrous decision to bring down the heavy hand of the federal government on states whose citizens and legislatures have opted to legalize medical cannabis.
Sessions’ decision takes away one of the few effective tools we have for getting people off of opioids, off of heroin, bringing peace back to our streets and making our neighborhoods great again.
In 2016 alone, drug overdoses killed nearly as many Americans as the total amount who died in the Vietnam War, according to a report from the Police Executive Research Forum.
As a retired soldier, I know that if any person or nation killed that many Americans, we would pull up our bootstraps and go to war with them. How then can an administration which has rightfully declared opioid addiction a national emergency, strip us of our ability to fight?
Medical cannabis can save lives in a country where opioids continue to take them. It offers patients an alternative to addictive opioids. It also helps combat withdrawal symptoms and could give those struggling with addiction a way to detox without feeling as though they are dying. It could be an effective way to help those who have fallen prey to addiction to rebuild their lives.
Last year, as a freshman state senator, I sponsored legislation to legalize medical cannabis in West Virginia with the hopes that it would help our state combat opioid dependence. I’m a Democrat in a legislature where Republicans have a super-majority, but we were able to get this bill passed and signed by the governor in April 2017. This rare show of bipartisanship didn’t happen because we’re all singing Kumbaya and getting along. It happened because the devastation of addiction is so obvious where we live that my colleagues could not in good conscience deny our citizens a chance to escape this scourge.
Will new Justice Dept. guidance affect legal pot?
When our bill was signed into law, I felt hopeful. We still don’t have nearly enough treatment facilities or nearly enough funding to deal with the overwhelming addiction in West Virginia. But at least medical cannabis could be a fresh line of attack and give the state a better chance at restoring our families and rebuilding our communities.
Sessions’ attack on cannabis patients cynically hurts the very people who so enthusiastically sent this administration to Washington, the ones Democrats and Republicans in West Virginia came together to try to protect.
Maybe he should find out why pharmaceutical companies thought nothing of shipping 9 million pain pills into Kermit, a tiny town of just 392 people in my congressional district. Maybe he should take a look at the politicians who took big contributions from these same drug makers and then turned the other cheek as the pills flooded in and our towns turned into war zones. Because I can promise you that the true drug problem is not sitting in dispensaries in Colorado.
I have watched as my home state struggles to reverse the crippling effects of opioid addiction and I will not sit quiet while Sessions threatens our efforts to overcome it. He thinks that cannabis is a gateway drug. I agree. It is a gateway to a life free of opioid addiction.
(CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rescinded a trioof memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.
The move essentially shifts federal policy from the hands-off approach adopted under the previous administration to unleashing federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on pot possession, distribution and cultivation of the drug in states where it is legal.
While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law. Thursday’s announcement is a major decision for an attorney general who has regularly decried marijuana use as dangerous.
In a written statement Thursday, Sessions called the shift a “return to the rule of law” but he did not go as far as some advocates had feared he might, stopping short of explicitly directing more prosecutions, resources or other efforts to take down the industry as a whole.
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” Sessions said in a memo to all federal prosecutors. “These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.”
The former senior Justice Department official behind the decision to harmonize federal prosecutions with state legalization efforts during the Obama told CNN in a phone interview Thursday that it’s uncertain how Sessions’ new memo will play out at the state level.
“The whole point was to do what we could to maintain some control in this area,” said Jim Cole, former deputy attorney general and now a partner at Sidley Austin in Washington.
Back in 2013, as an increasing number of states began to legalize marijuana, Cole released a directive to federal prosecutors that essentially adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.
In what became colloquially known as the “Cole memo,” the department recognized that the drug was still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act but gave federal prosecutors permission to focus their resources elsewhere, so long as the states didn’t threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and targeting cartels.
“The memo set out harms we saw associated with marijuana” but essentially said that otherwise “let’s let the states deal with this,” Cole told CNN. “Given a non-perfect situation, we figured this was the best way to deal with it.”
The new memo likely “reduces the level of comfort in the industry until it sees how US attorneys actually implement it,” Cole added. “Each US attorney now gets to decide what will and will not be prosecuted. We’ll have to see how it plays out. … There was a previously a higher level of reliability that you could operate your industry if you followed certain rules. That’s not necessarily being destroyed, but it is being thrown into question.”
The US Attorney’s Office in Colorado released a statement Thursday saying there are no plans to change marijuana prosecutions:
“Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions — focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state. We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.”
Congress, industry alarmed
Sessions’ shift at the Justice Department comes days after marijuana became officially legal under laws in California, the largest state. Voters in California approved the measure in November 2016, but the legal, commercial sale of marijuana under state law just went into effect with the new year.
A majority of states allow the use of medical marijuana and eight, including the entire West Coast and the District of Columbia, allow recreational use.
When asked whether the Justice Department was considering suing states that attempt to legalize the drug after this new policy has gone into effect, one senior Justice official said, “Further steps are still under consideration.”
The immediate reaction to Thursday’s news from the marijuana industry and some members of Congress was alarm.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, tweeted that the issue “must be left up to the states,” ran counter to what he had been previously told by Sessions and threatened to hold up confirmation of DOJ nominees.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon, where marijuana is also legal, similarly blasted the move.
“Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies. Now he’s breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade. Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states’ rights only when they believe the state is right,” Wyden said in a statement.
One issue that may be potentially litigated is how the new memo affects medical versus recreational marijuana use.
Congress voted in its last session to extend a spending provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to impede the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
Sessions’ new memo does not explicitly set forth how prosecutors should treat medical marijuana, though a senior Justice official explained that prosecutors wouldn’t do anything contrary to any current federal law. The open question is how broadly or narrowly that appropriations rider may be interpreted down the line, as it is an unsettled issue in the federal courts.
Former prosecutor Jonna Spilbor reacts on ‘Fox & Friends First.’
The new year in California brings broad legalization of recreational marijuana – a much-anticipated move two decades after the state was the first to allow the use of the drug for medicinal purposes.
California joins states such as Colorado — as well as Washington, D.C. — where pot is permitted for recreational purposes even as the federal government continues to regard the drug as a controlled dangerous substance, like LSD and heroin.
Legalized marijuana is expected to become a $3.7 billion business in California in 2018 and grow to $5.1 billion in 2019 — comparable to the revenue generated by beer sales, Business Insider reported.
The boost to California’s economy could generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year, the Hill reported.
Twenty-nine states have adopted medical marijuana laws, while seven other states have legalized recreational use of pot.
BREAKING Recreational marijuana sales are legalised in California. One in five Americans can now purchase a drug banned by the federal government.
Marijuana will now be legal in California for adults age 21 and older, and people will be permitted to grow up to six plants and possess an ounce of pot.
The new state laws — approved by voters in 2016 with the passage of Proposition 64 — were met with joy by some Californians who swapped their champagne glasses for blunts of pot on New Year’s Eve.
“This is something we’ve all been waiting for,” said Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist, who celebrated the arrival of 2018 by smoking “Happy New Year blunts” with his family members.
“It is something that can help so many people and there’s no reason why we should not be sharing that,” he added, hoping that the new laws will remove the stigma surrounding the marijuana use.
“People might actually realize weed isn’t bad. It helps a lot of people,” he said.
But authorities remain tense amid the legalization, saying the more liberal attitude toward the drug might bring about problems such as stoned drivers, negatively impact young people, increase the cost of policing and prop up the existing black market – as taxes and fees could raise the retail pot price by as much as 70 percent.
“There’s going to be a public-health cost and a public-safety cost enforcing these new laws and regulations,” said Jonathan Feldman, a legislative advocate for the California Police Chiefs Association. “It remains to be seen if this can balance itself out.”
SFPD says 1 of every 4 drivers is stoned. Now breathalysers are coming out to detect high drivers as California gets ready for recreational marijuana legalization Jan 1. pic.twitter.com/v3eJ7VOGxp
Despite the legalization, it will take time until non-medical pot will be widely available across California. Only 90 businesses so far have acquired a state license to sell pot, most located in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.
Residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco will not be able to find recreational pot Jan. 1 as local regulations were not approved in time, so neither city has issued the licenses needed to get state permits for selling recreational pot.
Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside, meanwhile, have banned the sale of recreational pot.
As part of regulations paving the way to recreational pot in California, other strict laws will take effect on the strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin.
Some business owners are also concerned that once the state starts fully regulating the industry, there could be a shortage of state-approved cannabis in California.
Jamie Garzot, founder of a cannabis shop in Northern California’s Shasta Lake, said she is worried that once the current cannabis crop dries up, there will be a shortage of pot that meets the regulations.
”Playing in the gray market is not an option,” she said. “California produces more cannabis than any state in the nation, but going forward, if it’s not from a state-licensed source, I can’t put it on my shelf. If I choose to do so, I run the risk of losing my license.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.
California legalizes cannabis for adult recreational use, making it the largest legal pot market in the country. Here’s what you need to know:
California’s legal pot economy was supposed to operate under the umbrella of a vast computerized system to track marijuana from seed to storefronts, ensuring that plants are followed throughout the supply chain and don’t drift into the black market.
But recreational cannabis sales began this week without the computer system in use for pot businesses. Instead, they are being asked to document sales and transfers of pot manually, using paper invoices or shipping manifests. That raises the potential that an unknown amount of weed will continue slipping into the illicit market, as it has for years.
For the moment, “you are looking at pieces of paper and self-reporting. A lot of these regulations are not being enforced right now,” said Jerred Kiloh, a Los Angeles dispensary owner who heads the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.
The state Department of Food and Agriculture, which is overseeing the tracking system, said in a statement it was “implemented” Tuesday. However, it conceded that growers and sellers are not required to use it yet and training on how to input data will be necessary before it becomes mandatory, apparently later in the year.
The slow rollout of the tracking system is just one sign of the daunting task facing the nation’s most populous state as it attempts to transform its long-standing medicinal and illegal marijuana markets into a multibillion-dollar regulated system. Not since the end of Prohibition in 1933 has such an expansive illegal economy been reshaped into a legal one.
So far, it’s been an unsteady start.
Business licenses issued to growers, distributors and sellers are temporary and will need to be redone or extended later this year. Much of the state is blacked out from recreational sales because of the scarcity of licenses and because some local governments banned commercial pot activity.
“There are a lot of things inside the law that are transitional. I don’t think it’s as rigid as people want it to sound,” Kiloh said.
Another risk is that some consumers might stay in the black market to avoid sticker shock from hefty taxes. And there are concerns that a new distribution system will fail to get cannabis to shelves once current stockpiles run out, possibly in weeks.
Cathy Bliss at Mankind Cooperative in San Diego said the store did not have as much pot in stock as it would have liked.
Charles Boldwyn, chief compliance officer of ShowGrow in Santa Ana, which opened to customers Monday, said the relatively small number of licenses issued so far could create a bottleneck, cutting off pot from stores selling it.
“The biggest hurdle we see, right out of the gate, is that starting today our access to product is limited,” Boldwyn said.
The tracking system is part of the state’s maze of rules and regulations intended to govern the emerging $7 billion pot economy, the nation’s largest. They range from where cannabis can be grown and smoked to environmental safeguards for streams near marijuana fields.
According to state law, the tracking system will provide “data points for the different stages of commercial activity, including, but not limited to, cultivation, harvest, processing, distribution, inventory and sale.”
It’s also intended to help the state keep track of taxes.
According to the state, businesses holding annual licenses will be required use the tracking system, but those issued so far to growers and retailers have been temporary and they “are not required” to use the system.
The expanded legal sales could offer a rich payoff for the state treasury. California expects to pull in $1 billion annually in taxes within several years.
The move into an era of legalization was marked across the state Monday with ceremonial ribbon cuttings and door prizes at dispensaries.
The path to legalization began in 2016 when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for legal pot sales to adults. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for about two decades.
With the 2016 vote, it became legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it was not legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.
The state did not issue rules for the new marketplace until late last year, and cities and counties have struggled to fashion their own. Los Angeles and San Francisco are among those where recreational pot sales have been delayed.
California joined a growing list of states, and the nation’s capital, where recreational marijuana is permitted, even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles officials said they would begin accepting applications Wednesday from medical marijuana shops to expand their sales to recreational pot. Temporary city licenses could go out as soon as Monday, which would then clear the way for the state to issue licenses for recreational sales.
Unlicensed medical marijuana shops in LA that continue to supply customers in the interim would technically be violating state law, but Los Angeles police won’t crack down on those operating in good faith, Assistant Chief Michel Moore said. He said police would focus on pot operations run by felons or that attract gang activity or violence.
Adults can grow up to six plants and possess an ounce of cannabis as about 90 businesses receive licenses to sell pot in most populous state
The arrival of the new year in California brought with it broad legalization of marijuana, a much-anticipated change that comes two decades after the state was the first to allow pot for medical use.
The USs most populous state joins a growing list of other states, and the nations capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
Pot is now legal in California for adults 21 and older, and individuals can grow up to six plants and possess as much as an ounce of the drug.
But finding a retail outlet to buy non-medical pot in California wont be easy, at least initially. Only about 90 businesses received state licenses to open on New Years Day. They are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Palm Springs area.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the many cities where recreational pot will not be available right away because local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing city licenses needed to get state permits. Meanwhile, Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside are among the communities that have adopted laws forbidding recreational marijuana sales.
Just after midnight, some Californians were raising blunts instead of champagne glasses.
Johnny Hernandez, a tattoo artist from Modesto, celebrated New Years Eve by smoking Happy New Year blunts with his cousins.
This is something weve all been waiting for, he said. It is something that can help so many people and theres no reason why we should not be sharing that.
Hernandez said he hoped the legalization of recreational marijuana would help alleviate the remaining stigma some still believe surrounds marijuana use.
People might actually realize weed isnt bad. It helps a lot of people, he said.
For those who worked for this day, the shift also offered joyful relief.
Were thrilled, said Khalil Moutawakkil, founder of KindPeoples, which grows and sells weed in Santa Cruz. We can talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the specific regulations, but at the end of the day its a giant step forward, and well have to work out the kinks as we go.
The state banned loco-weed in 1913, according to a history by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the pot advocacy group known as NORML. The first attempt to undo that by voter initiative in 1972 failed, but three years later felony possession of less than an ounce was downgraded to a misdemeanor.
In 1996, over the objections of law enforcement, President Clintons drug tsar and three former presidents, California voters approved marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twenty years later, voters approved legal recreational use and gave the state a year to write regulations for a legal market that would open in 2018.
Today, 29 states have adopted medical marijuana laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, five more states have passed recreational marijuana laws, including Massachusetts, where retail sales are scheduled to begin in July.
Even with other states as models, the next year is expected to be a bumpy one in California as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect on the strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin.
The California Police Chiefs Association, which opposed the 2016 ballot measure, remains concerned about stoned drivers, the risk to young people and the cost of policing the new rules in addition to an existing black market.
Theres going to be a public health cost and a public safety cost enforcing these new laws and regulations, said Jonathan Feldman, a legislative advocate for the chiefs. It remains to be seen if this can balance itself out.
At first, pot shops will be able to sell marijuana harvested without full regulatory controls. But eventually, the state will require extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants. A program to track all pot from seed to sale will be phased in, along with other protections such as childproof containers.
Attorney general to end lenient enforcement of federal marijuana laws, days after new legalization measure took effect in California
The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is rescinding an Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, creating new confusion about enforcement and use just three days after a new legalization law went into effect in California.
Instead of the previous policy of lenient federal enforcement begun under former attorney general Eric Holder in 2013, Sessions new stance will instead let federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce longstanding federal law prohibiting it. Guidance issued on Thursday depicted the change as a return to the rule of law.
It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission, Sessions said in a statement.
Sessions plan drew immediate strong objection from the Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Gardner said in a tweet that the justice department has trampled on the will of the voters in Colorado and other states. He said the action would contradict what Sessions had told him before the attorney general was confirmed and that he was prepared to take all steps necessary to fight the step including holding up the confirmation of justice department nominees.
The move by Trumps attorney general is sure to add to confusion about whether its OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where the drug is legal. It comes just after shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the worlds largest market for legal recreational marijuana.
This instability will only push consumer dollars away from these state-sanctioned businesses and back into the hands of criminal elements. With nearly two-thirds of Americans, including an outright majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents supporting marijuana legalization, this is not just bad policy, but awful politics and the Trump administration should brace itself for the public backlash it will no doubt generate, said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Altieri also noted that the announcement throws the jobs of more than 150,000 Americans employed in the budding legal marijuana industry into limbo.
For politicians who purport to believe in small government and states rights, this is a wildly incongruous move, said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union.
While Sessions has been mostly been carrying out a justice department agenda that follows Trumps top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to marijuana policy reflect his own long-held concerns. Trumps personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.
Bradley Tusk, a former political operative who helps companies launch political-style campaigns, runs several businesses. One of them, Tusk Ventures, has been working with startups for a couple of years and until recently, accepted its payment in equity only.
That changed in early 2016 when the outfit began raising money from outside investors looking to get into the some of those deals. Now, says the firm, it has officially closed that debut fund with $36 million, from 22 individual and institutional investors.
According to Jordan Nof, a former Blackstone director who joined Tusk in 2015 and largely oversees the fund’s day-to-day operations, the new fund already has stakes in seven companies, and the team plans to fund up to 25.
Some of its current holdings include positions in the daily fantasy sports operator FanDuel (which called off a merger with competitor DraftKings back in July); the insurance company Lemonade; Nexar, a company whose app aims to keep cars from colliding; and a startup that sends out personalized daily vitamin packs on a monthly basis, called Care/of.
The outfit — which features both the venture capital fund and that political and regulatory advisory business — employs 30 people altogether.
In addition to Tusk and Nof, Uber’s former New York manager Josh Mohrer joined Tusk Ventures as a managing partner back in May.
We had an email exchange with Nof earlier today and we asked about signaling risk — not every startup the fund advises will receive a check from the venture fund. Nof dismisses it as a concern, however, calling the fund and advisory business ” separate but highly synergistic.”
He also tells us the fund has a “distinct investment strategy” and that investments have to “satisfy a different set of criteria than the startups that the advisory firm engages with.”
If you’re curious, a typical first check size is between $750,000 and $2 million, depending on a company’s stage, though Nof says that many of the firm’s institutional LPs like to co-invest alongside the fund, giving it the ability to write even larger checks. (Like most VCs, Tusk Ventures also reserves capital to participate in follow-on rounds when it wants.)
Altogether, Tusk Ventures has more than 20 companies in its portfolio, including medical marijuana delivery company Eaze; the marketplace for household service providers, Handy; the fast-growing digital asset broker Coinbase; and AltSchool, a network of for-profit schools that is reportedly shuttering one location in New York and struggling more broadly to sell its software to other schools.
A adviser on marijuana policy to Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to see doctors make drug testing a routine part of primary-care medicine and force some users into treatment against their will, he told The Daily Beast.
DuPont, 81, is one of the most influential drug warriors of the past century. He began his career as a liberal on drug control in the 1970s, calling then for the decriminalization of marijuana possession and launching the first U.S. methadone treatment program for heroin in Washington, D.C. in 1971. By the 1980s, he shifted to the right, popularizing the claim marijuana was a gateway drug.
A national model bill he helped write in 2010 called on law enforcement to test anyone stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence for all controlled substances, and arresting them if any trace at all shows up in their systemregardless of the amount. While the bill includes an exemption for drivers who consumed a drug pursuant to a prescription, it would not apply to medicinal-marijuana users because doctors are not currently allowed to prescribe pot, only offer a recommendation for its use.
The bills language makes clear that these people will still face sanction even if they live in a state in which medical marijuana is legal.
[The] fact that any person charged with violating this subsection is or was legally entitled to consume alcohol or to use a controlled substance, medication, drug, or other impairing substance, shall not constitute a defense against any charge, it reads.
But even thats not the worst of it.
The bill includes a section prohibiting the Internal Possession of Chemical or Controlled Substances.
Any person who provides a bodily fluid sample containing any amount of a chemical or controlled substance… commits an offense punishable in the same manner as if the person otherwise possessed that substance, it reads, adding in a footnote: This provision is not a DUI specific law. Rather, it applies to any person who tests positive for chemical or controlled substances.
Asked to comment on whether Sessions was aware of DuPonts proposal to penalize drug users who may not even be under the influence behind the wheel, and if he supports it, a Justice Department spokesperson chose to focus on the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
"The Controlled Substances Act was enacted by Congress to comprehensively restrict and regulate numerous drugs, including marijuana, said DOJ spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam, in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. Further, the attorney general agrees with the Centers for Disease Control that driving while impaired by marijuana is dangerous as it negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving.
Futile for Addicts to Help Themselves
On closer inspection, DuPonts proposal is part of a plan to expand the use of drug-testing technology to root out users, and the threat of prosecution to compel them into treatment, where they will be tested even more.
Early last year, The Daily Beast conducted a lengthy interview with DuPont as he was shopping around a radical proposal called the New Paradigm for Long-Term Recoveryto address Americas festering overdose crisis. It would include a massive expansion of drug testing in addiction medicine.
Drug testing is the technology of addiction medicine, but its underutilized, he said. We want [drug screens] to be routine in all medicine. The health-care sector in general should approach addiction in the same way as diabetes, and that includes monitoring. Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar. Why not test for illicit drugs?
Calling his platform the opposite of harm reduction, DuPont said the goal of his plan is to promote long-term results… and greater accountability in the treatment sector.
Among other things, he proposed giving doctors the authority to compel suspected substance abusers into treatment against their will. Once in treatment, patients could face as much as five years of monitoring, including random drug tests.
People dont understand that referral to treatment is futile for an addict on their own, DuPont told The Daily Beast. Right now, the public really thinks that if we provide treatment the addicts will come and get well… thats not true. So lets use the leverage of the criminal-justice system, thats what the programs in the New Paradigm want to do.
Turning a Profit Off Drug Testing
DuPont presents his proposal as evidence-based, but its hard to separate his strong promotion of drug testing from his close personal and financial connections to the drug testing industry.
In the 1970s he was the nations drug czar under Nixon and Ford, and was the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, until his increasingly radical views (he called for drug testing all parolees and sending them back to prison if they failed) forced his resignation in 1978.
After leaving federal service, DuPont joined the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Pete Bensinger, to cash in on urine testing. The firm they founded, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, provided drug testing services to some of Americas largest corporations.
Doctors already check for things like cholesterol and blood sugar, why not test for illicit drugs.
Dr. Robert DuPont
In 1991, while running the firm, DuPont introduced the idea of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients in a policy document published by the Heritage Foundation. DuPont recommended not only testing the adults on public assistance but also their children.
Later that decade, DuPont co-authored research with the founder of a firm called Psychemedics promoting the companys new hair testing technology.
In 2000, while he was a shareholder and a paid consultant for the company DuPont testified before a Food & Drug Administration panel on drug testing where he advocated for expanding hair testing into federal workplaces. Dismissing the appearance of a conflict of interest DuPont told the panel: I don't think of myself as an employee or an advocate particularly for Psychemedics, but for drug testing generally.
The FDA approved the companys first hair follicle test two years later, and today Psychemedics is a multi-million dollar a year business that's in the process of a profitable expansion into South America.
This is a running theme for DuPont. For instance, Stephen Talpins, an attorney who helped DuPont author his model drugged driving bill, formerly was a vice president at Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., which makes the SCRAM alcohol and location monitoring system used by many courts.
Now DuPont is listed as a scientific adviser on the website of global drug-testing startup called CAM International Ventures. That company was founded in 2013 by David Martin, former president of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, and includes among its staff other prominent members of the drug testing industry.
Still, DuPont rejects the idea that there is any financial motivation behind his fixation drug testing.
I find it bizarre to think that my interests after all these years were financial, he told The Daily Beast. I just think, there is a financial incentive in drug testing, but the reason Im interested in drug testing is that there is an interest from the disease standpoint.
With a dozen more states expected to consider legal marijuana measures in 2018, and even Republican lawmakers like Trey Gowdy questioning the federal governments hard stance on the drug, its unlikely even a die hard anti-pot crusader like DuPont can turn back the tide, but that doesnt mean he cant make a few more bucks trying.
LOS ANGELES ― California is now the largest state in the nation to have legal and regulated recreational marijuana. And while that alone is a blow to the prohibitionist policies of the failed war on drugs, a lesser-known provision in the state’s new law, along with efforts in a few local jurisdictions, aims to repair some of the damage that the criminalization of marijuana has done to so many communities.
“California’s Proposition 64 ballot measure was not only about marijuana legalization, it was one of the most progressive sentencing and criminal justice reforms in the entire country,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at Drug Policy Alliance, a leading drug policy reform group.
A year ago, voters approved Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes and reduce criminal penalties for various marijuana-related offenses for adults and juveniles. It also authorized a new process for individuals in the state to get previous marijuana-related convictions retroactively reduced, reclassified as lesser offenses or dismissed altogether.
The process could end up helping hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted or derailed over activities that became legal as of Jan. 1. Criminal convictions can havedevastating consequences long after the offense was committed, making it difficult to obtain employment, bank loans and housing.
“In many ways, Proposition 64 has already been a success because we’ve ended the unnecessary and arbitrary criminalization of Californians around this issue, and helped tens of thousands of people who were unjustly unable to seek career and education opportunities due to prior non-violent marijuana offenses,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told HuffPost.
But relief is not automatic under the new law. Individuals who want their marijuana convictions reclassified or cleared must submit an application to a court. They may also need to hire an attorney to help them through the process. About 5,000 people have so far applied to have marijuana sentences reviewed for possible relief, according to data compiled by the Judicial Council of California. And while it’s encouraging that some are taking advantage of the new process, it’s an extremely small fraction of the number of people who have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the state.
California produces vast amounts of marijuana and has done so for years. In 1996, it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. And despite the passage of more permissive laws, there were still thousands of marijuana-related arrests annually. From 2006 to 2015, there were nearly 500,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses, a recent DPA report found. And Rodney Holcombe, a legal fellow at DPA, said that there may be close to 1 million people in the state who have convictions that could now be eligible for relief.
“Creating a safe, legal and tightly regulated system for adult-use marijuana is, at its core, about criminal justice reform and fixing a broken system that has disproportionately harmed low-income Californians and communities of color,” said Newsom, a proponent of Prop. 64.
Beyond sentencing, some local governments are making efforts to further repair damage from criminalization by enacting “equity programs” that allow for victims of the war on drugs to have application priority during the marijuana business licensing process.
“As we know, communities of color have been most negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition throughout the years ― folks have been incarcerated for activity that is now completely legal ― and you have a new demographic now coming in taking over these spaces making millions of dollars through this industry,” Holcombe said. “These programs can provide a tremendous opportunity for low-income folks, folks of color, folks who have lived in neighborhoods that have been over-policed, especially during the height of the war on drugs.”
To that end, Oakland launched the nation’s first equity permit program earlier this year. It sets aside half of all medical and recreational marijuana business licenses for applications by individuals hit hardest by marijuana criminalization. In their research during the development of the program, Oakland City Council found that over the past two decades, the black community has been extraordinarily over-represented in marijuana-related arrests in the region. In 1998, up to 90 percent of marijuana arrests involved a black suspect. By comparison, just 3.9 percent of those arrested were white.
To qualify as an equity applicant, individuals must be an Oakland resident whose annual income is less than 80 percent of the average in the region and either have a previous marijuana conviction or have lived in over-policed areas of the city for 10 of the last 20 years. For those who qualify, the application fee is also waived.
City councils in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento are also considering equity programs.
Holcombe hopes that local jurisdictions ― and other states that may legalize one day ― give a leg up in the industry to even more people, especially those who don’t have the funds to start a business and who may have a marijuana conviction that makes getting a bank loan difficult. Holcombe said cities could address this through allocating a portion of marijuana sales tax to fund these equity applicants’ start-up businesses while also prioritizing women and minority business applicants.
The state’s marijuana industry already has a projected value of $7 billion, and, as more marijuana retailers obtain permits, state and local governments are expected to collect $1 billion annually in tax revenue. With such an enormous marketplace, California should prioritize access for those who had been targeted by anti-marijuana laws, Erik Altieri, executive director of marijuana policy reform group NORML, told HuffPost.
“As states start dialing back their war on marijuana consumers,” Altieri said, “it is important that those who were most negatively impacted by our oppressive prohibition are able to see previous harms remedied as best as possible and be given the opportunity to participate in the benefits that come along with legalization and regulation.”
LOS ANGELES ― Adults who are at least 21 years old can legally purchase recreational marijuana from select retail shops in California beginning Monday, a milestone that instantly makes the state the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace.
Sales begin just after 6 a.m. local time at shops that obtained a temporary adult-use retail license from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state agency that oversees the industry. Many more retail outlets will open in the months to come.
“This was another milestone in California’s voter-approved efforts to be smarter and more cost-effective about preventing real crime,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told HuffPost. ”Now it’s time for California to transition a billion-dollar industry largely existing in the shadows of the black market into a tracked, traced, taxed and tightly regulated system.”
California, the most populous U.S. state, began the nation’s medical marijuana trend in 1996, and holds an outsized influence in national policy as it begins recreational marijuana sales under an initiative approved by voters in 2016. The state’s new recreational marijuana industry has a projected value of as much as $7 billion ― enough to make it the world’s largest legal marijuana market ― and is predicted to eventually generate $1 billion annually in local and state tax revenue.
One of the few shops to obtain a permit to begin Jan. 1 sales of recreational marijuana was Berkeley Patients Group, in Berkeley, the oldest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation.
“We are thrilled to be one of the first recipients of a state license and are thankful for the opportunity to now serve quality cannabis to a larger community in a safe and welcoming environment,” Étienne Fontán, vice president and director of the company, told HuffPost.
Fontán, a longtime advocate of marijuana legalization, said his shop has been adding inventory for what will likely be a busy day of sales.
California produces vast amounts of marijuana, and has done so for years. Now, more than 20 years after the state legalized medical marijuana, 28 other states allow cannabis for medical purposes. Eight states, including California, and the District of Columbia, have also legalized the plant for adult recreational purposes.
“California is going to have a major impact on the public’s view of cannabis, not just in the U.S., but around the world,” Mason Tvert, a proponent of progressive drug laws and a partner at VS Strategies, a communications and government relations firm focused on marijuana policy, told HuffPost. “California is our country’s number one tourism destination, with millions of people from around the country and hundreds of thousands from around the world visiting each year. A whole lot of people are going to witness this system. They will see that it works, and they will share their experiences with others back home.”
California’s new recreational marijuana law allows adults 21 and older to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults can also grow up to six cannabis plants at home for personal use. It remains illegal to openly use marijuana in public, and smoking pot is banned anywhere that tobacco smoking is banned, so recreational consumers will have to enjoy their new rights in private.
The law goes beyond the regulation and taxation of marijuana, and aims to repair damage from the country’s failed war on drugs. Individuals with prior marijuana-related convictions that wouldn’t have been a crime under the new law, or would have resulted in a lesser punishment, can petition courts to have their record reclassified, or cleared altogether.
As of September, some 4,500 people had petitioned courts to change their marijuana-related sentences.
In addition, some local jurisdictions are giving priority or other assistance to marijuana business license applicants previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses, or who come from low-income communities hit hard by harsh drug-war policies.
California’s regulated recreational marketplace begins as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, continues to suggest that a federal crackdown of state-legal marijuana may be in the works.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but states have pressed ahead with their own laws under Obama administration guidance that urges federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. That policy could be reversed or altered by Sessions, who hinted as recently as last month that the Justice Department is looking to make changes.
President Donald Trump, as a candidate for office, said he would respect states’ rights on the issue.
“Federal officials have been engaging in more cannabis-related dialogue than ever with state officials, and it seems like they recognize the catastrophe that would be caused by significantly interfering in state regulatory systems,” Tvert said. “These state laws are working, and it would be very difficult to justify disrupting them.”
A recent Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans favor making marijuana legal ― the highest since the pollster first posed the question almost five decades ago. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all voiced support for legal marijuana.
Newsom said he expects some turbulence as California’s new regulatory system kicks in. Still, he said, “This moment presents an opportunity to separate responsible actors from the bad, crack down on cartels and abusers of the environment, and provide law enforcement greater resources and a clearer focus.”