By Sari Horwitz April 8 at 8:32 PM
When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.
But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.
“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year.
The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.
Sessions has yet to announce specific policy changes, but Cook’s new perch speaks volumes about where the Justice Department is headed.
Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.
Crime is near historic lows in the United States, but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” in America that requires a tough response.
“If there was a flickering candle of hope that remained for sentencing reform, Cook’s appointment was a fire hose,” said Ring, of FAMM. “There simply aren’t enough backhoes to build all the prisons it would take to realize Steve Cook’s vision for America.”
Sessions is also expected to take a harder line on the punishment for using and distributing marijuana, a drug he has long abhorred. His crime task force will review existing marijuana policy, according to a memo he wrote prosecutors last week. Using or distributing marijuana is illegal under federal law, which classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin, and considered more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine.
In his effort to resurrect the practices of the drug war, it is still unclear what Sessions will do about the wave of states that have legalized marijuana in recent years. Eight states and the District of Columbia now permit the recreational use of marijuana, and 28 states and the District have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
But his rhetoric against weed seems to get stronger with each speech. In Richmond, he cast doubt on the use of medical marijuana and said it “has been hyped, maybe too much.”
Read more here.
By MATT RICHTEL MARCH 27, 2017
LOS ANGELES — Nine days after Nikolas Michaud’s latest heroin relapse, the skinny 27-year-old sat on a roof deck at a new drug rehabilitation clinic here. He picked up a bong, filled it with a pinch of marijuana, lit the leaves and inhaled.
All this took place in plain view of the clinic’s director.
“The rules here are a little lax,” Mr. Michaud said. In almost any other rehab setting in the country, smoking pot would be a major infraction and a likely cause for being booted out. But here at High Sobriety — the clinic with a name that sounds like the title of a Cheech and Chong comeback movie — it is not just permitted, but part of the treatment.
The new clinic is experimenting with a concept made possible by the growing legalization of marijuana: that pot, rather than being a gateway into drugs, could be a gateway out.
A small but growing number of pain doctors and addiction specialists are overseeing the use of marijuana as a substitute for more potent and dangerous drugs. Dr. Mark Wallace, chairman of the division of pain medicine in the department of anesthesia at the University of California, San Diego, said over the last five years he has used marijuana to help several hundred patients transition off opiates.
“The majority of patients continue to use it,” he said of marijuana. But he added that they tell him of the opiates: “I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back.”
Dr. Wallace is quick to note that his evidence is anecdotal and more study is needed. Research in rats, he said, supports the idea that the use of cannabinoids can induce withdrawal from heavier substances. But in humans?
A report published in January from the National Academy of Sciences on the health effects of cannabis “found no evidence to support or refute the conclusion that cannabinoids are an effective treatment for achieving abstinence in the use of addictive substances,” said Dr. Marie McCormick, a Harvard professor who was the chairwoman of the report committee.
The group’s research did find strong evidence to support that cannabis or its main psychoactive compound, cannabinoid, can be used to treat chronic pain in adults. But that is different from using it safely and effectively to wean people off drugs, and some experts in the addiction field are highly skeptical.
Read more here.
By Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker March 26 at 10:00 PM
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.
The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” Trump said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”
In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence. The 36-year-old former real estate and media executive will continue to wear many hats, driving foreign and domestic policy as well as decisions on presidential personnel. He also is a shadow diplomat, serving as Trump’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East.
The work of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has drawn considerable attention, especially after his call for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” But Bannon will have no formal role in the innovation office, which Trump advisers described as an incubator of sleek transformation as opposed to deconstruction.
The announcement of the new office comes at a humbling moment for the president, following Friday’s collapse of his first major legislative push — an overhaul of the health-care system, which Trump had championed as a candidate.
Kushner is positioning the new office as “an offensive team” — an aggressive, nonideological ideas factory capable of attracting top talent from both inside and outside of government, and serving as a conduit with the business, philanthropic and academic communities.
“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
The innovation office has a particular focus on technology and data, and it is working with such titans as Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk. The group has already hosted sessions with more than 100 such leaders and government officials.
“There is a need to figure out what policies are adding friction to the system without accompanying it with significant benefits,” said Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive of the investment firm Blackstone Group. “It’s easy for the private sector to at least see where the friction is, and to do that very quickly and succinctly.”
Some of the executives involved have criticized some of Trump’s policies, such as his travel ban, but said they are eager to help the administration address chronic problems.
“Obviously it has to be done with corresponding values and principles. We don’t agree on everything,” said Benioff, a Silicon Valley billionaire who raised money for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
But, Benioff added, “I’m hopeful that Jared will be collaborative with our industry in moving this forward. When I talk to him, he does remind me of a lot of the young, scrappy entrepreneurs that I invest in in their 30s.”
Kushner’s ambitions for what the new office can achieve are grand. At least to start, the team plans to focus its attention on reimagining Veterans Affairs; modernizing the technology and data infrastructure of every federal department and agency; remodeling workforce-training programs; and developing “transformative projects” under the banner of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, such as providing broadband Internet service to every American.
In some cases, the office could direct that government functions be privatized, or that existing contracts be awarded to new bidders.
The office will also focus on combating opioid abuse, a regular emphasis for Trump on the campaign trail. The president later this week plans to announce an official drug commission devoted to the problem that will be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). He has been working informally on the issue for several weeks with Kushner, despite reported tension between the two.
Read more here.
By David Garrick Contact Reporter
MARCH 24, 2017
Crafting comprehensive state marijuana regulations this year will likely be a turbulent process of trial and error, California’s top marijuana official told a few dozen San Diego industry leaders during a forum this week.
Lori Ajax, chief of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, also said that once new regulations are in place in January the state may crack down on illegal marijuana operations that local jurisdictions have struggled to close.
Ajax also expressed some optimism the state could help marijuana businesses get access to banks despite the drug still being illegal under federal law, but said any changes to local tax rates would need to start at the grass roots level.
On some issues unique to San Diego, such as U.S. Border Patrol agents possibly blocking transportation of marijuana that is allowed under state law, Ajax said she didn’t have any answers yet.
Ajax assured the audience, however, that her staff is moving full speed ahead despite recent comments from the Trump administration that enforcement of the federal marijuana ban could resume.
"We have so little time to wring our hands about that," she said. "We have to get this done so I'm focusing on what's in my control, and that's not in my control."
The main theme of her hour-long question-and-answer session at San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Thursday was that crafting regulations will be a work in progress followed by a period of awkward transition once they’re in place.
She’s facing time pressure because Proposition 64, which was approved by 57 percent of state voters on Nov. 8, requires the new regulations be in place by Jan. 1.
Her agency plans to unveil proposed regulations for medical marijuana in late April and then, after the state Legislature sorts out which of nearly four dozen proposed bills under consideration will become law, propose recreational regulations in late summer or early fall.
Ajax urged the group of local industry leaders, which included attorneys, dispensary owners, cultivators and operators of delivery services, to take an active role in commenting on the proposals during a 45-day period after they are unveiled.
"They are proposed regulations — not final," she said. "The whole reason we have a 45-day comment period is for you to comment, and we expect we may be changing stuff."
And even after the regulations become law, Ajax predicted there would be changes based on how the rules perform in real-world situations.
"This industry evolves very, very quickly so we have to be ready if some of our regulations aren't working the way we thought they would — we need to be ready to make changes,” she said. "Not everything is going to be OK on Day 1 — there's going to be a transition."
Her chief concerns, she said, are whether there will be enough licensed labs to test all of the marijuana — which will be a requirement under state law — and whether cities and counties will approve enough distributors to get the drugs to dispensaries.
Testing labs need expensive equipment and rigorous certifications, creating significant barriers to entry, she said.
Read more here.
A synthetic marijuana product could be available for commercialization after the DEA gave a newly approved drug a schedule II classification.
On Thursday, Insys Therapeutics announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an interim final rule that would put Syndros, their synthetic marijuana drug, on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“Insys is looking forward to bringing this new drug product to chemotherapy patients to help alleviate their nausea and vomiting and AIDS patients with anorexia associated weight loss, respectively,” Dr. Santosh Vetticaden, interim CEO, said in the announcement.
“We look forward to interacting with the FDA to finalize the labeling and subsequent launch of Syndros in the second half of 2017,” Vetticaden said.
Syndros is a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in the plant. In July 206, the company announced the FDA approved their liquid form of synthetic THC to treat anorexia associated AIDS patients, and nausea and vomiting induced by cancer patients going through chemotherapy.
The DEA approval placed Syndros and its generic formulations in schedule II of the CSA, which is reserved for drugs that have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
While some Schedule II drugs can be used for medical purposes, like Vicodin, oxycodone, Adderall, and many prescription painkillers, Schedule I drugs are all federally illegal. Non-synthetic marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
In 2011, Insys wrote a letter to the DEA, urging them to maintain the Schedule I status for non-synthetic marijuana, citing “a longstanding policy of the United States to disfavor domestic cultivation of narcotic raw materials because of concerns about the abuse potential from farming of this material."
Insys also opposed legalization in Arizona, donating $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group opposing Proposition 205, an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona.
In a statement, Insys said it opposed Prop 205, "because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children,” according to the Arizona Republic.
Read more here.
California lawmakers want to block police from helping federal drug agents take action against marijuana license holders
Patrick McGreevyContact Reporter
With federal authorities hinting at a possible crackdown on state-licensed marijuana dealers, a group of California lawmakers wants to block local police and sheriff’s departments from assisting such investigations and arrests unless compelled by a court order.
A bill by six Democratic legislators has drawn strenuous objections from local law enforcement officials, who say it improperly ties their hands, preventing them from cooperating with federal drug agents.
“It really is quite offensive,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., who said he objected to lawmakers “wanting to direct law enforcement how they want us to work.”
But proponents say the measure is needed to assure marijuana growers and sellers that applying for state licenses will not make them more vulnerable to arrest and prosecution under federal law, which designates cannabis as an illegal drug.
“Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces … the will of our state’s voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.
The act of resistance is similar to legislation that would prevent California law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration officials in the deportation of people in the country illegally. Senate Bill 54 would address that concern and make California a so-called sanctuary state for immigrants, while Jones-Sawyer’s legislation would similarly make the state a sanctuary for the marijuana industry.
The immigration and marijuana issues have been given new focus by the administration of President Trump, who state officials fear is breaking from the policy of former President Obama, who took a more hands-off approach to both issues.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has indicated in public comments that he thinks marijuana is a danger to society. Last month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer caused a stir when he said, “I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement” of laws against the sale and use of recreational marijuana.
Read more here.
Yesterday 11 senators sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter expressing concern about recent statements suggesting he plans to enforce the federal ban on marijuana against state-licensed businesses that serve recreational cannabis consumers. The senators, all of whom represent states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, urged Sessions to stick with the Obama administration's policy of leaving those businesses alone as long as their activities do not implicate the federal "enforcement priorities" listed in a 2013 memo from James Cole, then the deputy attorney general.
"On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump stated that despite his personal views regarding marijuana use, legalization should be left to the states," note Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and nine of their colleagues. "It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public's health and safety....We believe that the Cole Memorandum provides a strong framework for effectively utilizing the DOJ's resources and balancing the law enforcement roles of the federal government and the states."
Two Republican senators, meanwhile, say Sessions gave them the impression that he would not try to shut down the cannabis industry in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, or the four states where voters approved legalization last November. "He told me he would have some respect for states' rights on these things," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) toldPolitico, "so I'll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places." Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said he did not get the sense from administration officials that Sessions plans a big shift in policy. "Nothing at this point has changed," Gardner told Politico. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said Sessions, prior to his confirmation, told Gardner marijuana enforcement "wasn't worth rising to the top and becoming a priority." According to a Justice Department spokesman contacted by Politico, "the department's current policy is reflected in the 2013 Cole memo."
These assurance are not exactly rock solid, especially since the Cole memo leaves a lot of leeway to crack down on state-legal marijuana suppliers, depending on how the federal enforcement priorities are interpreted. Yet both Politico and the New York Post make it seem as if opponents of marijuana prohibition overreacted to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's prediction of "greater enforcement" and Sessions' criticism of legalization, which he coupled with a pointed reminder that "it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."
Read more here.
Virgil Grant, a longtime cannabis-industry player and co-founder of the Southern California Coalition (SCC), gets right to the point when I ask him about Proposition M.
“This is the most progressive and influential ordinance that I’ve ever been involved with in the history of this industry,” he says.
With Los Angeles residents set to vote March 7, Prop. M reflects the efforts of the SCC to finally bring comprehensive, sensible cannabis regulations to a city widely regarded as the No. 1 marijuana distribution market in the world. Should it prove successful, the measure may also serve as a blueprint for other cities and California — as well as other states.
“[Prop.] M is definitely going to be the model of what everyone will definitely want to take and plug into their localities, as well as their states,” Grant says. “It will lead the charge for how other cities, states, and counties will respond by taking that model and using it for themselves.”
Grant, who has been a part of the scene since California passed Prop. 215 in 1996, has seen the industry’s tumultuous history and says it’s time for the chaos to end.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “I’ve been through the Bush years, through federal intervention, DEA raids, and landlord threat letters — the whole nine. I was indicted by the federal government and served six years in federal prison for owning and operating a legitimate medical marijuana facility.
“When I came home, I saw that the industry was not progressing forward in the right way,” he adds. “I saw a lot of outside interests coming into L.A. and trying to dictate how L.A.’s market should run, and I said, ‘Not in our backyard.’ ”
That’s why Grant started the SCC, one of the driving forces behind Prop. M. Comprised of cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, lab testing companies, delivery services, and collective owners, the SCC offers an accurate reflection of the cannabis industry.
“We needed one unified voice instead of 15 different voices chanting 15 different things,” Grant says.
Now that those voices are joined, they are trying to raise awareness for M, a measure that promises to legitimize L.A.’s cannabis industry by creating regulations, establishing a licensing mechanism, and setting reasonable tax structures. In doing so, it will provide a transparent and fair rubric for law enforcement to crack down on so-called illegal operations.
As Adam Spiker, SCC’s executive director, explains, discussions with Grant and pivotal figures like Eric Holdstrom from the Cultivators Alliance and NAACP’s Donnie Anderson, laid the groundwork for Prop. M.
“Time will tell,” Spiker says, “but Prop. M is trying to account for all of the ancillary pieces that need to have their voices heard: the neighborhood councils, the stakeholder groups, certainly the city of L.A. and their elected officials and staff — and, of course, the industry.”
Spiker says it was imperative that the SCC highlight what made this legislation different from ones that came before.
“What’s different this time? I would say MCRSA [Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2016] is different,” he says. “Prop 64 is different. The city council’s opinions of it are different. That’s why the council voted unanimously to put Proposition M on the ballot.”
Another significant factor is the fact that M will finally do away with the 135-dispensary limit on the number of medical dispensaries allowed to have licenses under the auspices of 2013’s Prop. D. A lack of licensing was to blame when the passage of Prop. D immediately deemed over 1,000 local dispensaries illegal.
Under Prop. M, rogue shops like the ones affected by Prop. D will be given the chance to apply for licenses from the city. Not only will this drastically reduce the number of shops operating outside of regulations, but it will also ensure that all licensed shops operate under clearly stated safety and business guidelines.
Read more here.
Susan has been an entrepreneur all of her adult life. She had a clothing company for 10 years, Weeds & Doilies, opened a hair salon in Newport Beach, produced a feature film, created an alternative content program with a national theatre chain and currently is the Executive Director of C.A.R.E. (Cannabis Awareness, Research & Events). As a serial entrepreneur, she has worn many hats including expertise in digital media, marketing, social media, start ups, advertising, business development, public policy, market research, film production and cannabis cultivation.