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Seven States That Are Next in Line to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Written in partnership with AlterNet and published first here on AlterNet.

President Obama is taking a pretty much laissez-faire approach to legalization experiments in the states. (whitehouse.gov
During a series of YouTube interviews Thursday, President Obama demonstrated a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana legalization experiments in the states. And he signaled strongly that the Obama administration wouldn't be taking to the hustings to try to beat back legalization efforts, as previous administrations had been wont to do.

"What you're seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they're experimenting with legal marijuana," the president said in response to a question from YouTube host Hank Green. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you're gonna see other states start looking at this."

Indeed. Legalization bills are already popping up in state legislatures around the country, and while it's unlikely—though not impossible—that any of them will pass this year, 2016 looks to be the break-out year for freeing the weed. One state is going to be the first to legalize it through the legislature, and next year seems reasonable. And the presidential election year is also likely to see successful legalization initiatives in several more.

Currently four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—and the District of Columbia have ended pot prohibition. But that's only about 18 million people. By the time they quit counting the votes on Election Day 2016, that number is likely to triple, and then some.

So, where's it going to happen? Here's where:

California

That California is the only state on the West Coast to not yet have legalized pot is an embarrassment to Golden State activists. They were first with medical marijuana in 1996, and they tried to be first to legalize it with Prop 19 in 2010, but came up short, garnering 46% of the vote on Election Day despite leading in the polls up until the final weeks. In 2012, with the big players sitting on their cash stashes, none of the competing initiative efforts even managed to make the ballot.

It will be different in 2016. The actors with deep pockets are all ready to get involved next year, the polling is good (if not great, hovering in the mid-50s), and the state's disparate and fractious cannabis community is already working to forge a unified front behind a community-vetted initiative. The main vehicle for activists is the California Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform, which has already started holding meetings statewide to try to a unified marijuana reform community.

California activists are laying the groundwork for 2016. (cannabispolicyreform.org)
With 38 million people, California is the big prize. It's also an expensive place to run an initiative, with the cost of getting on the ballot alone at around a million dollars. And it'll take several million more to pay for advertising in the key final weeks of the campaign. But the money is lining up, it'll take fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot (thanks to the dismal turnout in last year's mid-terms), and once it qualifies, it will have momentum from (by then) four years of legalization in Colorado and Washington and two years of it in Alaska and Oregon. California will go green in 2016.

Nevada

Nevada is the state that is actually furthest down the path towards legalizing it next year. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has already qualified a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Under Nevada law, the legislature now has a chance to approve the initiative. If it does so, it would become law; if it rejects it or fails to act on it, it then goes to the voters on Election Day 2016.

Nevadans approved medical marijuana in 1998 (59%) and again in 2000 (65%), but voted down decriminalization in 2002 (39%) and legalization in 2006 (44%). But it has since then effectively decriminalized possession of less than ounce, and it's now been a decade since that last legalization initiative loss at the polls. Either marijuana will be legal by Election Day 2016 thanks to the legislature or the voters will decide the question themselves at the polls.

Arizona

In Arizona, possession of any amount of pot is still a felony, but polling in the last couple of years shows support for legalization either hovering around 50% or above it. Those aren't the most encouraging polling numbers—the convention wisdom is that initiatives want to start out at 60% support or better—but a serious effort is underway there to put the issue before the voters in 2016.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is teaming with Safer Arizona and other state activist groups for the 2016 initiative campaign and has formed a ballot committee to begin laying the groundwork for a Colorado-style initiative.

The initiative language is not a done deal, and there are some signs that local activists aren't completely happy with MPP's proposed language, but that's why there are consultations going on.

Maine

The Marijuana Policy Project has been laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016 with local initiative campaigns in some of the state's largest cities in 2014 and 2013 and is working on final initiative language now. But it is also seeing competition from a state-based group,Legalize Maine, that says it is crafting its own initiative and is criticizing both MPP and Maine politicians for advancing "out of state corporate interests" at the expense of Mainers.

Whether MPP and Legalize Maine can get together behind a single initiative remains to be seen. If they can, good; if they can't, well, Maine is a small and relatively inexpensive state in which to run a signature-gathering campaign. There could be not one, but two legalization initiatives in Maine next year.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Diane Russell has filed a legalization bill in the legislature this year. Maine is one of the states where the looming presence of legalization initiatives could actually move the legislature to act preemptively to craft a legalization scheme to its own liking.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is another. As in Maine, but to a much greater degree, Bay State activists have been laying the groundwork for legalization for years. Groups such as MassCann/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have run a series of marijuana reform "public policy questions" in various state electoral districts each election cycle since 2000—and they have never lost! The questions are non-binding, but they're a clear indicator to state legislators where voter sentiment lies.

The state has also seen successful decriminalization and medical marijuana initiatives, in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In both cases, the initiatives were approved with 63% of the vote. And again as in Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project is organizing an initiative, but local activists with similar complaints to those in Maine are threatening to run their own initiative. Organized as Bay State Repeal, which includes some veteran Massachusetts activists, the group says it wants the least restrictive legalization law possible. Whether the two efforts can reach a common understanding remains to be seen.

Show Me Cannabis may pull off a surprise in Missouri.
Meanwhile, the issue could move in the legislature in the next two years. New Republican Gov. Charlie Baker says he's opposed to legalization, but is praising Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's decision to appoint a special Senate committee to examine issues around legalization. Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) isn't waiting. He's filed a legalization bill, and while previous such bills have languished in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, incoming committee head Sen. Will Brownberger (D-Boston) has said he will give it a hearing. Something could happen this year, although it's more likely next year, and the voters doing it themselves on Election Day 2016 is more likely yet.

Vermont

Vermont could be the best bet for a state to legalize it this year and for the first state to legalize it through the legislative process. There is no initiative process in the state, so that's the only way it's going to happen. And the state has already proceeded well down that path.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has endorsed legalization in principle—the devil is the details—and the legislature last year approved a RAND study on the impacts of legalization, which was just released earlier this month. That study estimated that freeing the weed could bring the state $20 to $70 million in annual pot tax revenues.

Other state officials have expressed openness to the idea, and a May 2014 poll found 57% support for legalization. There's not a bill in the hopper yet this year, but one could move quickly in this state where a lot of the legislative groundwork has already been laid.

The Marijuana Policy Project has formed the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana to help push the process along. Stay tuned; this is one to watch.

Missouri

And there's a dark horse in the heartland. The Missouri activist group Show Me Cannabis has been running an impressive educational campaign about marijuana legalization for the past few years. The group tried to get an initiative on the ballot last year, but came up short.

They've already filed paperwork for 2016 for a constitutional amendment to make it legal to grow, sell, and use marijuana for people 21 and over.

One reason Show Me Cannabis came up short in 2014 was the lack of support from major players outside the state. Given the lack of polls showing strong support for legalization, the big players remain sitting on their wallets, but that could change if good poll numbers emerge. And there's still plenty of time to make the 2016 ballot. 

Chronicle AM: WY Decrim Bill Killed, More MedMJ Bills, CDC Warns on Women and Pain Relievers, More (1/23/15)

Marijuana-related activity is ratcheting up at statehouses across the land, Massachusetts' governor rejects legalization, and the CDC issues a warning on opiate pain reliever use among women of childbearing age. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Governor Rejects Legalization. New Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Thursday that while he supported Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's decision to create a special Senate committee to examine issues around marijuana legalization, he is "always going to be opposed to legalizing" the drug for recreational use. His stance and his veto power make a 2016 effort to legalize through the initiative process more likely.

Push for Virginia Decriminalization Bill. Supporters of a bill that would decriminalize pot possession in the Old Dominion held a press conference Thursday to rally support. The bill is SB 686, prefiled back in October by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria). Decrim bills have been a perennial feature of the legislature in recent years, but have never gone anywhere. But those bills were all in the House of Delegates, while this one is in the Senate.

Wyoming House Kills Decriminalization Bill. The House voted 38-22 to kill HB 29, which would have replaced criminal penalties for small-time pot possession with a civil fine. The measure had passed the House Judiciary Committee 7-2 last week.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Opponents Testify. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard from opponents of pending medical marijuana legislation Thursday. Eric Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, said marijuana is harmful and legalization measures would threaten public health, while a spokesman for the Kansas Association of Police Chiefs said marijuana has caused problems wherever states have reformed marijuana laws. Supporters of the bill testified earlier this week.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) last week formally introduced a full-blown medical marijuana bill, H3140, that he had prefiled back in October. It would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana for "a debilitating medical condition," and patients or caregivers could possess up to six plants and two ounces of usable marijuana. It is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Texas CBD Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Ft. Worth) and Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) today introduced identical bills that would allow children with epilepsy to be treated with low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils. The House version is HB 892.

Opposition to Messing With Washington Medical Marijuana System. Some patients and patient advocates, including Sensible Washington are not happy with efforts to fold the state's existing medical marijuana system into its new recreational marijuana system. Some spoke out against pending legislation at a hearing yesterday, while Sensible Washington said in a release that it believes the proposed changes "will increase prices, decrease access and ultimately put a heavy, unnecessary burden on patients." Click on the link for more.

Opiates

CDC Warns of High Number of Women of Childbearing Age Taking Opioid Pain Relievers. Too many women of childbearing age are using narcotic pain relievers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Thursday. The CDC reported that 39% of women age 15-44 who were enrolled in Medicaid filled a prescription for opioids each year between 2008 and 2012, while 28% of privately insured women did so. "Taking opioid medications early in pregnancy can cause birth defects and serious problems for the infant and the mother," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "Many women of reproductive age are taking these medicines and may not know they are pregnant and therefore may be unknowingly exposing their unborn child. That's why it's critical for health care professionals to take a thorough health assessment before prescribing these medicines to women of reproductive age." Taking opioid pain medications during pregnancy can also expose mothers in some states to criminal liability if they have bad pregnancy outcomes.

Chronicle AM: VA Forfeiture Reform, Jamaica to Decriminalize, Supreme Court Drug Dog Case, More (1/22/15)

There's medical marijuana action in the states, the Supreme Court hears a case about drug dogs, Jamaica is about to decriminalize ganja, an asset forfeiture reform bill is moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

South Dakota Highway Patrol drug dog and trainer. How long can you be detained waiting for them to show up? (dps.sd.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State "Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act" Filed. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is filing this week legislation designed to bring the state's existing medical and recreational marijuana systems into agreement. "The main intent of my bill is to simplify and unify the two systems so that complex gray areas and dangerous illicit markets will eventually cease to exist," she said. The bill would eliminate unregulated dispensaries and collective gardens, but it would also direct the state Liquor Control Board to increase the number of retail outlets by and adopting a competitive, merit- and experience-based licensing application system.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Parents Get Senate Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard Wednesday from parents of chronically ill children were speaking in support of pending medical marijuana legislation, SB 9, introduced by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City). Click on the title link for hearing details.

Maine Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana in Hospitals. State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) has filed LD 35, which would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals. It does so by adding hospitals to list of eligible primary caregivers, the list of places where patients can store and use medical marijuana, and barring hospitals from prohibiting the use of smokeless marijuana by patients.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Tommy Garrett (D-Bellevue) has filed LB 643, a full-blown medical marijuana bill that allows patients or caregivers to grow up to 12 plants and possess up to six ounces, envisions a dispensary system, and allows the plant to be used for a specified list of diseases and conditions.

Opiates

New Jersey Legislators Tackle Package of Heroin and Pain Pill Bills. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodridge), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, announced Wednesday that legislators from both parties had introduced a package of 21 bills aimed at confronting widespread heroin and prescription pill use. The bills are designed to increase access to treatment and recovery. Click on the link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia House Panel Approves Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has passed the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Committee for Courts of Justice. HB 1287, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) now heads for a full committee vote.

Criminal Justice

Vera Institute for Justice DC Event Next Week Features Sen. Cory Booker. The Vera Institute is hosting "Justice in Focus: The Path Forward," in Washington, DC, next Tuesday. The event will feature a keynote interview with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as panels with other major figures in criminal justice reform. Click on either link for more information and event details.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Public Benefits Drug Testing Scheme. Republican Gov. Scott Walker today announced more details of his plan to require drug screening and testing of people seeking public benefits, including food stamps and unemployment benefits. He said that those who fail the drug test would get a chance for free drug treatment and receive job training. More details will come when he unveils his budget proposal on February 3.

Search and Seizure

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Roadside Detentions While Awaiting Drug Dogs. How long can a police officer detain you on the side of the highway while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to come sniff your vehicle? That was the question before the Supreme Court Wednesday. The case is that of a man pulled over in Nebraska. He was issued a warning ticket and asked to consent to a search of his vehicle. He refused, but rather than allow him to go on his way, the officer detained him for eight more minutes until a drug dog arrived. From their questions, it doesn't appear the justices are inclined to side with the defendant; click the link to get the flavor of their comments. The case is Rodriguez v. US.

International

Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja. The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries. The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday. It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries.

Rastaman has a reason to smile. (wikimedia.org)
The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday.

It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

While Jamaica is home to the Rastafarian religion, whose sacrament is marijuana, and has high usage rates (9.8% of the adult population, ranking it 10th worldwide, according to the UN), it has been slow to move forward on marijuana law reform.

It's been 14 years since a government-appointed National Commission on Ganja recommended decriminalization. At the time, Jamaican politicians were able to point to baleful threats coming from Washington as a reason not to move forward.

But things have changed. The United States is no longer wielding international drug control treaties as clubs with which to beat down reform efforts and, in fact, is moving unevenly toward marijuana legalization itself. Four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized it, and 14 more have decriminalized it.

The situation in the hemisphere is similar. Uruguay has already legalized it, while Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico have decriminalized the possession of small amounts. The land of the legendary Lamb's Bread pot strain and the home of ganja icon Bob Marley is in danger of being left behind when it comes to bringing marijuana laws into the 21st Century.

Groups such as the Ganja Law Reform Coalition, the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association, and the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force have been urging the government to loosen the island's pot laws not only for the sake of social justice, but also for fear that failure to act will hurt Jamaica's competitiveness in what is foreseen to be an emerging international legal marijuana market.

Now, while they're not getting full legalization, they are getting decriminalization and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a legal marijuana industry.

"The development is long overdue and comes after years, and, in recent times, heavy pressure from what is now a diverse and broadening group of stakeholders on human rights, social, economic, scientific and medical grounds," cannabis taskforce director Delano Seiveright said in a statement.

For Prime Minister Michael Golding, it's less about social justice than economics. Marijuana law reform could boost the island's already significant tourist industry, he said.

"We need to position ourselves to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities offered by this emerging industry," Golding said.

Kingston
Jamaica

Medical Marijuana Update

California localities continue to deal with medical marijuana, bills are showing up in the states, the Kettle Falls Five want their prosecutions ended, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

On Monday, a member of the Kettle Falls Five sought dismissal of his federal marijuana case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "CRomnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

California

On Monday, Berkeley began accepting applications for a fourth dispensary. The deadline for applications is March 20. Click on the link for more details.

On Tuesday, the San Diego city council tightened dispensary rules. The council approved requiring employee background checks and testing of products for mold and pesticides, but didn't move to regulate deliveries or create stricter rules for edibles or concentrates. The rules come as the city's first permitted dispensary is supposed to open in the spring. Numerous un-permitted ones exist, but the city has been trying to shut them down.

Also on Tuesday, the Rancho Cordova city council approved a ban on outdoor grows and indoor grows if children are present. The measure was approved 5-0 and will take effect in 30 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Redding city council decided not to try to prohibit outdoor grows. Councilmembers said they wanted to wait for the state and the federal government to figure out their medical marijuana policies first.

Florida

On Monday, the state chose its medical marijuana rulemakers. The state Office of Compassionate Use has selected a 12-member panel to craft rules for growing and distributing low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a state law passed last year. The panel will meet during the first week of February to set up a regulatory structure for five nurseries that will be selected to grow, process, and distribute the medicine.

Georgia

Last Friday, a CBD medical marijuana bill died. Rep. Allen Peake's House Bill 1, which would have allowed for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children, has died before even being introduced. The bill died after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced his support for another CBD bill, which is yet to be written.

Hawaii

On Wednesday, the Health Department took over the medical marijuana program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Kansas

Last Friday, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Topeka. Several dozen medical marijuana supporters were joined by a pair of Democratic lawmakers at a statehouse rally to call for legalizing the medicinal use of the herb. The two legislators, Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) and Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), filed medical marijuana bills prior to the start of this year's legislative session. Similar measures have been filed since 2009, but none of them have made it to the discussion stage in committee.

Minnesota

Last Thursday, a Minnesota Indian tribe okayed a study on medical marijuana. The tribal council for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians has approved a study what economic benefits could accrue to the tribe by allowing the production of medical marijuana and hemp. Tribal leaders weren't interested in recreational marijuana, but saw job growth and economic development opportunities in producing medical marijuana or hemp. The federal government cleared the way for Indian reservations to participate in marijuana business last month, but so far, only one tribe, the Pinole Pomos in Northern California, has announced plans to move forward.

Rhode Island

On Saturday, the state's first vapor lounge opened. Rhode Island patients can now have a place where they can gather and enjoy their medicine together. The Elevated vapor lounge opened in Providence Saturday.

Virginia

As of Wednesday, there were at least three medical marijuana or CBD bills before the legislature. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington

Last Monday, a state law banning medical marijuana advertising was ruled unconstitutional. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A veteran cop gets caught with his hands in the cookie jar, jail guards go wild, and two different ex-cops go to prison for growing marijuana. Let's get to it:

In Prescott Valley, Arizona, a Prescott Valley police commander resigned last Friday as he was being investigated for stealing prescription drugs that had been turned in by the public. Commander Arthur Askew is accused of stealing pills from the drug storage fault in the evidence room, and police had video of him doing it. The department has asked local prosecutors to conduct a criminal review of the case.

In East Madison, Maine, a Somerset County Jail guard was arrested last Friday after an investigation into contraband at the jail. Alexender Jordon, 21, went down after a search warrant executed at his home turned up evidence he had supplied Suboxone strips to one inmate and tobacco products to two others. He is charged with trafficking Suboxone, a felony, and trafficking tobacco, a misdemeanor. At last report, Jordon was residing at his former place of employment.

In Michigan City, Indiana, an Indiana state prison guard was arrested last Saturday after he aroused suspicions during a routine shakedown as he arrived at work. Officer Gordon Dennis's car was then searched, and investigators found two cell phones, a cell phone watch, and a substance that appeared to be synthetic marijuana. He is charged with attempting to traffic with an offender. At last report, he was in the LaPorte County Jail.

In Lutz, Florida, a former Florida state prison guard was arrested Tuesday on charges he allowed inmates on outside work crews to drink, use drugs, and have "conjugal visits in the woods" with prostitutes. Henry Blackwelder went down after one of his favored inmates escaped. Blackwelder didn't report the escape for three hours, but investigators still found empty cans of margarita drinks and malt liquor and empty packages of synthetic marijuana, as well as a blanket used for hook-ups. Blackwelder resigned after the escape, but it later emerged that he was using his work crews and a pair of strippers to smuggle the contraband into the prison. He now faces charges of official misconduct, unlawful compensation for official behavior and smuggling contraband into a state correctional facility. He was released on bail Wednesday.

In Buffalo, New York, a former Buffalo police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to five years in federal prison for running a marijuana-growing operation while he was an officer. Jorge Melendez oversaw a pot-growing operation of more than a thousand plants and sometimes visited it while in uniform. Prosecutors said he made about $80,000 in the two years the grow was in operation, and he agreed to forfeit a Chevy Suburban, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a speedboat, and seven firearms. He had copped to one count of conspiracy to grow more than 99 marijuana plants.

In Hagatna, Guam, a former Guam police officer was sentenced last Thursday to eight years in prison for growing marijuana while employed as a cop. Roy Pablo had been arrested as part of an investigation into a grow ring in November 2013 and was convicted on cultivation charges in October.

Chronicle AM: DEA Settles Facebook Suit, WY Decrim Bill Advances, More (1/21/15)

The DEA will pay for using a woman's identity (and photos) to make a fake Facebook page, a Wyoming decrim bill is moving, Virginia is seeing CBD and medical marijuana bills, there's a hemp bill in Florida, the Vera Institute releases a report on New York sentencing reforms, and more. Let's get to it:

A faked Facebook page will cost the DEA $134,000. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Bill 29, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot. Fines would be $250 for less than a half ounce and $500 for more. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Defendant Seeks Dismissal in Federal Medical Marijuana Case. The widely watched case out of Washington state has been proceeding despite passage of the "cromnibus" appropriations bill barring the use of federal funds to pursue medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. Now, Larry Harvey, 71, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, with his attorney arguing that "federal prosecutions take away Washington's authority to determine for itself whether someone is in compliance with its laws or not."

Hawaii Health Department Takes Charges of Medical Marijuana Program. A 2013 law transferring control of the state's medical marijuana program from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health is now in effect. Although the program officially became part of the Health Department on January 1, it took until now for the transfer to be complete. For more detail on other program changes, as well as times for public hearings on new regulations, click on the link.

Virginia Legislature Sees CBD, Medical Marijuana Bills. There are at two new bills aiming to make the use of high-CBD, low-THC medical marijuana legal in the Old Dominion. Filed by Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), Senate Bill 1235 would legalize CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil. Delegate David Albo (R-Fairfax) has filed House Bill 1445, which would also legalize CDB cannabis oil. A third bill, House Bill 1605, filed by Delegate Kenneth Plum (D-Reston) would legalize marijuana.

Washington State Law Banning Medical Marijuana Advertising Unconstitutional, Court Rules. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin has ruled unconstitutional a state law that prohibits the advertising of medical uses of marijuana. The law was both vague and overly broad, she ruled, concluding that it violated both the state and federal constitutions. The case is Havsy v. Department of Health.

Hemp

Florida Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasalinda (D-Tallahassee) has introduced a bill that would legalize hemp production in the state. The bill is House Bill 363. Activists with the Florida Cannabis Action Network (CAN) are seeking a Senate sponsor.

Sentencing

Vera Institute of Justice Report on New York Sentencing Reforms. The report examines 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that removed mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and expanded eligibility for treatment instead of incarceration. The report found a 35% percent increase in the rate of diversion to treatment; lower rates of re-arrest in such cases; which was associated with lower rates of rearrest, and fewer defendants sentenced to jail, time served, or "split sentence" -- a combination of jail and probation. However, most drug arrests still did not lead to diversion, and implementation varied widely across boroughs.

Law Enforcement

DEA Will Pay $134,000 to Woman It Used in Fake Facebook Page. The Justice Department has settled a civil suit brought against the DEA by a Watertown, New York, woman whose identity and photos were used by a DEA agent to create a fake Facebook page in her name to catch drug fugitives. Sondra Arquiett's phone had by seized by the Agenty Tim Sinnigen during a 2010 drug arrest, and the agent posed as her on Facebook without her consent. "The photographs used by Sinnigen included revealing and/or suggestive photographs of (Arquiett), including photographs of (her) in her bra and panties. Sinnigen also posted photographs of (Arquiett's) minor child and her minor niece to the Facebook page." The Justice Department will pay $134,000 to make this go away.

International

Vietnam Sentences Eight to Death for Heroin Trafficking. Eight people have been sentenced to die for trafficking 416 pounds of heroin in Vietnam. The trial in People's Court in Ho Binh province ended Monday. Six other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and 17 others jailed for terms ranging from six to 20 years. Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws.

Stratfor's Mexico Cartel Map. The private, Austin-based intelligence concern has released its latest map of Mexican cartel activity. Despite constant changes in the organized crime scene, Stratfor says, cartel activity remains based in three geographic locations: Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and the Tierra Caliente in Michoacan and Guerrero. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: ME Mj Bills, OH Mj Init, VA Heroin Bills, WY Drug & Asset Forfeiture; More (1/20/15)

State legislative sessions are getting underway, and drug policy-related bills are popping up all over. There's good, bad, and ugly. Let's get to it:

Heroin is on the legislative agenda in a number of states, including Virginia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Delay Regulations for Marijuana Concentrates. Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) last Friday filed House Bill 59, which would delay regulations for concentrates by up to a year. That conflicts with the language of the marijuana legalization initiative, and has legalization supporters unhappy. Click on the story link for more details.

A Big Batch of Pot Bills in Maine. There are at least 15 marijuana-related bills pending before the state legislature, including one that would legalize, tax, and regulate the weed. Rep. Dianne Russell (D-Portland), sponsor of the legalization bill, is also sponsoring four medical marijuana bills. Another bill, sponsored by the Department of Public Safety, would set a limit on the amount of THC drivers could have in their systems. Click on the link for more detail.

Nebraska Bill Would Make Pot Concentrates a Felony. The state decriminalized pot possession in the 1970s, but a bill being pushed by the state attorney general's office, LB 326, would begin to undo that by making possession of marijuana concentrates not just a misdemeanor, but a felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison. It's been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Responsible Ohio Lays Out its Vision for Legalization. The group wants to put a constitutional amendment to legalize pot on the November 2015 ballot, and today announced details of its proposal. The initiative would create a Marijuana Control Commission, allow for 10 licensed commercial grows, allow for marijuana manufacturing facilities that would sell only to retailers, allow for nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, and would tax marijuana at a 15% rate. Click on either link for more.

Heroin

Virginia Legislature Sees Heroin Bills Filed. At least four bills have been filed that seek to address the toll of heroin addiction and overdoses. House Bill 1638 would make people who provided drugs that resulted in a fatal overdose liable for a second degree murder charge; House Bill 1500 is a limited 911 Good Samaritan bill; House Bill 1458 would expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and Senate Bill 817 would expand the state's prescription monitoring program to allow probation and parole officers to access the database.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances to Senate Floor. A bill that would bar police from seizing people's property unless they are charged with a felony drug crime passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and now awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate File 14 drew late opposition from the offices of Gov. Matt Mead (R) and Attorney General Peter Michael (R), which claimed they would have to charge more people with felonies if they couldn't just take their money, but legislators expressed irritation at the late objections when the bill has been in process for months.

Drug Policy

Wyoming Bill Would Lighten Up on Repeated Drug Possession Punishments. Under current law, people convicted a third time in their lives for misdemeanor drug possession face felony penalties. House Bill 109 would change state law to make the felony penalties apply on the forth conviction, and the previous convictions would have to have happened in the past five years, instead of throughout the convict's lifetime, which is current law. There are at least three other bills relating to drug possession before the legislature; click on the title link to read more.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Randy Pinocci (R-Sun River) Monday filed House Bill 200, which would require all applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamps program) to be screened for evidence of drug abuse. Those whose screening suggests a possible issue would be required to undergo a drug test. People who test positive for drugs wouldn't be allowed to receive benefits unless they agreed to complete a 30-day drug treatment program.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Cops Start Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Deputies in Oakland County have begun carrying naloxone opioid overdose reversal kits in a bid to reduce overdoses. That was made possible by the passage last year of Senate Bill 1049, which allowed law enforcement agencies to distribute the drug to police who have been trained to use it.

International

German Cops Tired of Messing Around With Small Time Drug Crimes. The country's police union is calling for "soft" drug offenses and other minor crimes to be decriminalized so police can focus on serious crime and terrorism. German police are also faced with shrinking numbers due to mandatory retirement of officers.

Chronicle AM: NY Pot Legalization Bill, DEA Gathered Metadata, Indonesia Executions Reaction, More (1/19/15)

New York has a marijuana legalization bill, New Hampshire ponders a study of legalization, Rhode Island patients get a vapor lounge, the DEA has another means of surveilling Americans, Indonesia's resort to the death penalty for drugs stirs controversy, and more. Let's get to it:

The beach at Bali. Indonesia is a major tourist destination, but also has the death penalty for drug offenses. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New York Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) has filed a bill to legalize marijuana. SO1747 would allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce. Notably, it also sets the age for legal marijuana use at 18, instead of the more common 21.

New Hampshire Hearing on Legalization Study Committee. A bill that would establish a study committee on marijuana legalization got a hearing today. The bill is HB 150.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Chooses Medical Marijuana Rulemakers. The state Office of Compassionate Use has selected a 12-member panel to craft rules for growing and distributing low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana under a state law passed last year. The panel will meet during the first week of February to set up a regulatory structure for five nurseries that will be selected to grow, process, and distribute the medicine.

Rhode Island's First Vapor Lounge Opens. Rhode Island patients can now have a place where they can gather and enjoy their medicine together. The Elevated vapor lounge opened in Providence Saturday.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Bill Would End Civil Forfeiture. Freshman state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada) has filed a bill that would stop police from seizing assets unless the owner is convicted of a crime. Senate Bill 2015-006 would end civil forfeiture without a conviction unless there is a settlement with all parties, including the owner, to agree to give up the property. Woods said the bill is an effort to block "policing for profit."

Law Enforcement

DEA Kept Secret Metadata Database. The DEA kept a secret database of telephone metadata -- entirely separate from the NSA program revealed by Edward Snowden -- covering calls between parties in the US and ones in other countries. The information, contained in a three-page,partially-redacted affidavit from a top DEA official, was revealed in a court filing last week in a case involving trade with Iran. The DEA used "administrative subpoenas" authorized under a federal drug trafficking statute to collect the data. The program was ended in 2013. Click on the link for much more detail.

International

Fury as Indonesia Executes Six Drug Traffickers, Including Five Foreigners. As promised by President Joko Widodo, Indonesia put to death six convicted drug traffickers Sunday, including citizens of Brazil, Malawi, Nigeria, the Netherlands, and Vietnam. Brazil and the Netherlands reacted angrily, with both countries recalling their ambassadors from Jakarta. Brazilin President Dilma Roussef said she was "distressed and outraged" after Indonesia ignored her last minute plea for clemency. "Using the death penalty, which is increasingly rejected by the international community, seriously affects relations between our countries," the Brazilian government said in a statement. The Dutch government called the executions "terribly sad" and emphasized that it remains opposed to the death penalty. But President Widodo defended the executions in a Facebook post: "The war against the drug mafia should not be half-hearted measures, because drugs have really ruined the good life of the drug users and their families," he said.

Utah Man Killed in Drug Bust Scuffle

A man was shot and killed by a West Valley City, Utah, police officer who was attempting to arrest him on drug charges Wednesday. Jeffrey Nielson, 34, becomes the first person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

This is the fifth year the Drug War Chronicle has tallied drug war deaths. There were 54 in 2011, 63 in 2012, 41 in 2013, and 39 in 2014.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, citing police sources, a West Valley City police officer on his way to work Wednesday morning noticed a "suspicious" black SUV with a man slumped over the wheel. The officer called Draper police for backup, and two more officers arrived minutes later.

The officers were about to arrest Nielson on suspicion of a narcotics violation when he broke free and produced a butcher knife while still inside in the SUV.

"When the struggle ensues inside the cab of the [SUV], there's [four] officers on the driver's side attempting to take the gentleman back out of the car," Draper Deputy Police Chief John Eining said. "And that's when the knife is produced."

One of the officers then fired multiple shots, killing Nielson.

Eining said that while an investigation is ongoing, the officers "did everything they could do in this situation" and acted appropriately.

"We have an officer that recognized a threat and within seconds, he had to identify the threat, and the danger that that person posed to the other officers involved, and had to act on that threat," Eining said. "And again, this is an incident that involved deadly force by a suspect, and was met by deadly force by an officer."

Eining said drugs were found, but he did not say what kind or in what quantity.

Nielson had a lengthy criminal record, including previous drug convictions.

Draper, UT
United States

Chronicle AM: Major Asset Forfeiture Reform Move, NCAA Drug Policy Review, Indonesia Executions, More (1/16/15)

Attorney General Holder announces a major civil asset forfeiture reform move, the NCAA will review its drug policies, a Vermont report on the impact of pot legalization has been released, and more. Let's get to it:

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit thanks to Attorney General Holder. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

No Marijuana Stores in Alaska's Capital Until October. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has approved a moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until October 19. City officials will not consider any land use or other permits until the moratorium expires, meaning pot businesses won't be able to grow crops or prepare for retail sales until then.

Report on Impact of Legalization in Vermont Released. Vermont could make tens of millions of dollars in marijuana revenues a year, according to a new comprehensive report released today. The report was commissioned by the state legislature and serves as a policy guide as the state considers legalization. It lays out various options for legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Dead. Rep. Allen Peake's House Bill 1, which would have allowed for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children, has died before even being introduced. The bill died after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) announced his support for another CBD bill, which is yet to be written.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Topeka. Several dozen medical marijuana supporters were joined by a pair of Democratic lawmakers at a statehouse rally today to call for legalizing the medicinal use of the herb. The two legislators, Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) and Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), filed medical marijuana bills prior to the start of this year's legislative session. Similar measures have been filed since 2009, but none of them have made it to the discussion stage in committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Blocks Federal Asset Forfeiture Sharing Program. In the boldest civil asset forfeiture reform move in years, Holder has barred federal agencies from participating in the Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture program, under which state and local police seeking to circumvent state asset forfeiture laws would let federal agencies "adopt" the seizures. Under the program, the police agency got up to 80% of the proceeds, while state laws typically require them to be deposited in designated accounts, such as the general fund or education funds. Click on the link for the full story.

Drug Policy

NCAA to Consider Revamping Its Drug Policy. In the wake of criticism for suspending a University of Oregon football player for pot smoking just before the collegiate national championship game, and after its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports informally recommended it, the NCAA will examine proposed changes to its policies for testing both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs. The NCAA's standard for marijuana, for instance, it 10 times that used for airline pilots.

International

Stratfor Report on Mexican Drug Trafficking. The Austin-based private intelligence group has released a free, condensed version of its annual Mexican drug cartel report. Check it out at the link.

Indonesia Set to Execute Six Drug Convicts Sunday. New President Joko Widodo appears to be living up to his vow to not grant clemency to death row drug prisoners. The Indonesian Attorney General's Office announced Friday that it will execute six convicted drug traffickers Sunday. Widodo signed off on the executions last month.

Justice Department Limits Seized Asset Sharing With State, Local Cops [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet.

Attorney General Eric Holder (justice.gov)
Attorney General Eric Holder this morning issued an order that will bar federal agencies from participating in "adoptions" of assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies. "Adoptions" occur when state or local law enforcement agencies seize cash or properties under state laws, but then ask that a federal agency takes the seized property and forfeit it under federal law.

State and local law enforcement agencies routinely resort to "adoption" as a means of circumventing state laws that mandate seized assets go to designated programs, typically a state's general fund or education fund. When a seizure is "adopted" by the feds, the seizing agency gets to keep 80% of the proceeds, with the federal government getting the rest.

"With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons," Holder said in a statement. "This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program. Asset forfeiture remains a critical law enforcement tool when used appropriately -- providing unique means to go after criminal and even terrorist organizations. This new policy will ensure that these authorities can continue to be used to take the profit out of crime and return assets to victims, while safeguarding civil liberties."

While much asset forfeiture activity is related to drug cases, they are not included in the list of exceptions to the new policy barring "adoptions." Those public safety exceptions include firearms, ammunition, explosives, and materials related to child pornography.

The new policy does not impact asset forfeitures conducted by federal law enforcement, nor does it bar state and local law enforcement from conducting civil asset forfeiture under state law.

"Policing for profit" just took a big hit. (wikimedia.org)
Under the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing asset forfeiture "adoption" program, state and local law enforcement has made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property with a value of more than $3 billion since 2008.

Holder's move Friday is the boldest step to roll back sweeping police powers to seize goods and property since federal asset forfeiture began as tactic in the war on drugs in the 1980s. The Justice Department adopted the Equitable Sharing program in 1993.

Civil asset forfeiture -- the seizure of goods or property without having obtained a criminal conviction -- has come under increasing fire in recent years. Several asset forfeiture reform bills were filed in the last Congress, one has already been filed in the new Congress, and members from both parties are working jointly to draw up a bill to reform civil asset forfeiture.

The issue brought together libertarian-leaning groups like the Institute for Justice, which produced the highly critical study "Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture," and left-leaning groups like the ACLU to press for reforms. They met with congressional staffers to seek changes last fall.

Just last Friday, a bipartisan group of legislators including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to Holder calling on him to end the Equitable Sharing program.

Pressure mounted after a Washington Post investigative piece published in September found police had seized nearly $2.5 billion in cash from motorists without search warrants or indictments since September 11, 2001. In that investigation, the Post found that police routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic violations, then intimidated them into agreeing to warrantless searches and seized cash without evidence of criminal misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is working on civil asset forfeiture reform legislation. (house.gov)
Holder's move is likely to exacerbate already strained relations between the Obama administration and law enforcement agencies. Police groups have expressed unhappiness with remarks both Holder and Obama made about controversial police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

And now, the administration is in effect taking money out of their pockets. More than 7,500 of the nation's 18,000 state and local police departments and joint task forces have participated in the Equitable Sharing program. And hundreds of departments and sheriff's offices have seizure proceeds accounting for more than 20% of their budgets.

The move will also hurt federal agencies that have been "adopting" the seizures, particularly the DEA and ICE. Federal law enforcement has pocketed $800 million under Equitable Sharing seizures without arrests or convictions since 2001.

This is the second major asset forfeiture reform at the federal level. Spurred by reports of abuses of asset forfeiture in the late 1990s, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000. That bill originally contained a provision "ending the sharing of seizure proceeds between local police and federal agencies," but it was removed in the face of fierce opposition from police and prosecutors.

Since 9/11, with calls by federal officials for state and local law enforcement to surveil the nation's highways looking not only for drugs, but now for terrorists, the program only expanded. It didn't help that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security paid out millions to private companies to teach police officers aggressive highway interdiction techniques emphasizing the importance of seizing cash.

The Equitable Sharing program and the aggressive interdiction techniques created what lawmakers a decade-and-a-half ago called "a perverse incentive" for police to concentrate more on seizing cash than seizing drugs. Now, Holder has butchered the cash cow.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: OR Marijuana Moves, No More UMass Snitches, Suboxone Bottlenecks, More (1/15/15)

Oregon marijuana regulators are going on a listening tour while consumers get organized, a Minnesota Indian reservation ponders producing medical marijuana, UMass ends its student snitch program, and more. Let's get to it:

This opiate maintenance drug could be in wider use. (bluelight.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Liquor Control Board on Pot Policy Listening Tour. The board, which is charged with regulating marijuana as well as liquor, has set the first two stops on its statewide listening tour designed to elicit public comment on proposed rules and regulations. The first two stops will be next Thursday in Baker and Pendleton. Click on the link for event details.

NORML Forms Portland Chapter to Lobby for Marijuana Consumer Interests. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has formed a Portland, Oregon, chapter to lobby for the interests of pot smokers as the state begins drafting rules for legal marijuana there. The Portland chapter is headed by radio host and long-time marijuana activist "Radical" Russ Bellville. The group will push to ensure that pot smokers are "provided the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as adult alcohol and tobacco consumers, whenever practical."

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Indian Tribe Okays Study on Medical Marijuana, Hemp. The tribal council for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians has approved a study what economic benefits could accrue to the tribe by allowing the production of medical marijuana and hemp. Tribal leaders weren't interested in recreational marijuana, but saw job growth and economic development opportunities in producing medical marijuana or hemp. The federal government cleared the way for Indian reservations to participate in marijuana business last month, but so far, only one tribe, the Pinole Pomos in Northern California, has announced plans to move forward.

Harm Reduction

Obstacles to Wider Use of Suboxone. The Washington Post has a nice piece on bureaucratic bottlenecks blocking the wider use of the opiate maintenance medication suboxone, which is safer than methadone. Only doctors who have been trained and approved by the DEA can prescribe it, and only to a limited number of patients. Click on the link for much more.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Hears Deportation Case Hinging on Whether a Sock is Drug Paraphernalia. The US Supreme Court Wednesday held a hearing in the case of Moones Mellouli, a legal permanent US resident, who was ordered deported after being caught with four Adderall pills and eventually accepting a deal to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia -- the sock in which the pills were hidden. His is the fourth case in which the high court has looked at deportations for minor drug offenses; in the first three, the court ruled against the government. Given the incredulous tenor of the questions from the justices, it looks like the government may lose this one, too. Click on the link for more.

UMass Amherst Will Quit Using Student Snitches. The school's chancellor has ended its program allowing campus police to use students as confidential informants. The move comes after a student used as a snitch by campus cops died of a heroin overdose. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said using students as snitches is "fundamentally inconsistent with our core values."

Medical Marijuana Update

The battle over a CBD medical marijuana bill is heating up in Georgia, the Florida medical marijuana initiative returns, California localities continue to deal with dispensary issues, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, Kern County sued to shut down five more dispensaries. That's makes a least a dozen lawsuits filed against dispensaries by the county. Those hit this time are Genuine Empathy, Greenery Lounge, Organic Caregivers Center, Medical Alternative Supply House Corporation, and Platinum Wellness.

On Tuesday, the San Diego city council moved forward on dispensary applications. The council rejected appeals of a staff finding that dispensary applications are exempt from provisions of the state's Environmental Protection Act. This will allow some 40 permit applications to move forward, although it's unlikely more than a few will be granted. The city does not yet have a legal dispensary, but it has shut down dozens of unpermitted ones.

Also on Tuesday, the Vallejo city council voted to ban dispensaries, then voted to regulate them instead. The council first voted 5-2 to ban all dispensaries, then voted 4-3 not to. It then approved a measure to begin the process of regulating dispensaries. The city has about 30 dispensaries now operating, but only 12 are complying with tax and licensing requirements. It's unclear how many would be allowed under the regulation scheme, but one council member said the proper number was two.

Connecticut

On Wednesday,the medical marijuana program's Board of Physicians recommended expanding the list of qualifying medical conditions. The board voted to include sickle cell disease, chronic back pain after surgery, and severe psoriasis as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, but not Tourette's Syndrome. The recommendations now go to the Consumer Protection Commissioner, who would then decide whether to accept the recommendation, then draft a new regulation that would go to another public hearing before going to the General Assembly's regulation-review committee for a final decision. It could take months or even years.

Florida

On Monday.the Florida medical marijuana initiative returned. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Georgia

Last Friday,a poll found that Georgians back allowing CBD cannabis oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

On Monday,the fight over a CBD medical marijuana bill continued. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has said he will modify his CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) objected to a provision that would allow production of the group in the state. That has supporters of the bill unhappy. They say that because federal law prohibits transporting medical marijuana between states, their medicine will remain out of reach if it cannot be grown in-state.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Posted in:

A Massachusetts prosecutor swaps info for pain pills, more jail guards get in trouble, a Georgia cop gets busted for slinging Ecstasy, a San Antonio cop get nailed for stealing cash and weed from a couple, and more. Let's get to it:

In Americus, Georgia, a Sumter County jail guard was arrested January 2 for allegedly smuggling liquor, drugs, and weapons into the jail. Sgt. Anthony Bernard Walker, 49, is charged with violation of oath by public officer and giving inmates contraband without consent of the warden. He's now on paid suspension.

In Savannah, Georgia, a former Savannah-Chatham police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges he was involved in an Ecstasy distribution ring. Derrick Andre Fullmer pleaded not guilty in federal court to conspiracy to possess and distribute Ecstasy. He is accused of being active in the ring while an officer in the department. He resigned in April while under investigation. At last report, he was being held on $25,000 bond. He's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In Boston, a Middlesex Assistant DA was arrested last Thursday on charges he gave confidential information from his office in return for oxycodone. Stephen Gilpatric, 35, is accused of leaking a probation report, police reports, a photograph, and other identifying information about a man in exchange for the pills. He is also accused of accepting a $1500 bribe to help a woman get her son's commercial drivers' license reinstated. He is charged with unlawfully communicating criminal offender record information, receiving unlawful compensation, and unlawful gratuity. Prosecutors said Gilpatric was spending hundreds of dollars a week on his pill habit at the time of the events in 2011.

In San Antonio, a San Antonio police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he stole marijuana, thousands of dollars, and a rifle from a couple during a disturbance call. Officer Konrad Chatys, 32, was dispatched to a reported disturbance involving a man and a woman on New Year's Eve, and the couple reported that he took the cash, gun, and drugs before releasing them. A search of Chatys' home resulted in an arrest warrant for him. He is now on administrative leave.

In Lexington, Kentucky, a Blackburn County jail guard was arrested Monday for allegedly bringing small amounts of marijuana into the Blackburn Correctional Complex. David Michael Bailey, 26, went down in a random search when officers found weed, cell phones, and two pieces of paper with phone numbers on them in his lunch box. He is charged with promoting contraband.

In Titusville, Florida, a former Titusville police officer was convicted Wednesday of taking a bribe to be a look-out for what he thought were drug traffickers. Richard Irizarry, 45, had been arrested in March after a DEA sting. He had befriended a man who turned out to be a DEA informant and had offered to go into business with him dealing drugs. He was convicted of possession with the intent to distribute more than one kilo of cocaine and using a cell phone to commit a drug trafficking offense. He's looking at up to 40 years in federal prison.

In Buffalo, New York, a former Erie County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Tuesday to three months in jail for smuggling an ounce of weed and a cell phone into a county detention facility in August. Charles Hunt, Jr., 49, also admitted smuggling drugs into the jail on two other occasions in exchange for cash. A second former deputy, Eric Stevens, 33, was also arrested at the same time on the same charges. His case goes to court next month.

Chronicle AM: DC Challenges Congress on Pot Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Plan Approved, More (1/14/15)

The District of Columbia is challenging Congress on marijuana legalization, Sens. Feinstein and Grassley complain about administration drug policy, a plethora of pot bills have bill filed in Oregon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Sends Legalization Measure to Congress. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) Tuesday sent to Congress the District's voter-approved Initiative 71 legalization measure, in effect challenging the body to either block it or let it stand. Mendelson's move starts a 30-day clock during which time Congress must act or the measure becomes law. In December, Congress voted to block funds to implement the measure, but DC maintains that that move does not stop the District from enacting it. Stay tuned.

Anchorage Mayor Wants to Ban Public Consumption. Mayor Dan Sullivan has proposed an ordinance that would ban pot use in public places. But his plan is running into opposition, with opponents claiming it is too broad. Click on the link for more details.

Oregon Legislature Sees a Bundle of Marijuana Bills. You'd think legalizing marijuana would quiet the issue at the statehouse, but you would be wrong. At least 16 marijuana-related bills were introduced Monday, ranging from limits on physician prescribing to limitations on retail sales locations to warnings to pregnant women, and more. Click on the link for a fuller rundown.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Program Recommends Expanding List of Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians voted today to include sickle cell disease, chronic back pain after surgery, and severe psoriasis as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, but not Tourette's Syndrome. The recommendations now go to the Consumer Protection Commissioner, who would then decide whether to accept the recommendation, then draft a new regulation that would go to another public hearing before going to the General Assembly's regulation-review committee for a final decision. It could take months or even years.

Drug Policy

Senators Feinstein and Grassley Criticize Obama's Policy on International Drug Control Treaties. Senate octogenarians Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have teamed up to express their dismay over the Obama administration's "flexible interpretation" of UN drug control treaties and their concern over whether allowing states to legalize marijuana puts the US in conflict with the treaties. They sent one letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and another letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control complained that administration forbearance in the face of state-level legalization could let states "implement policies that legalize other, even more harmful drugs, without recourse" and that administration approaches to the issue may "weaken US standing as an international leader on drug control issues."

Drug Testing

Maine Governor Gets Go-Ahead for Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Paul LePage's (R) plan to begin drug testing some welfare applicants has won final approval from the state attorney general, his office said Tuesday. The state will begin drug-testing convicted drug felons who are applying for or receiving welfare benefits. Those who fail will lose benefits unless they enroll in a drug treatment program. Civil rights and poverty activist groups have criticized the measure as an intrusion on privacy and an attack on poor people.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Cops Now Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in the Volunteer State are now beginning to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. The first training seminars for law enforcement personnel began last Friday. The move comes after the legislature last year passed a law allowing for broader distribution of the drug, including law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

International

Walid Jumblatt Again Calls for Lebanese Hash Legalization, Cites Terror Fight. Senior Druse leader and Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt has reiterated his call to legalize the hash trade in the country and he has tied it the country's fight against terrorism. The government needs to increase security and stability in the Bekaa Valley, a leading hash cultivation area, he said. "The treatment cannot be a security one only, but it should be backed by development (projects), and thus I still believe that the cultivation of hashish should be legalized because the theory of alternative crops has failed," Jumblatt said.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law.

Last November, District voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not the regulated sale and taxation of it. That's because DC law forbids voter initiatives from addressing tax issues.

The city council, which already approved decriminalization last year, has been prepared all along to consider a taxation and regulation bill to turn Initiative 71 into full-blown legalization. And despite the move by some Republicans in Congress to try to erase November's District election results, the council is undeterred.

Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

An earlier version of the bill, the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2013, got as far as a public hearing in October, before the election. But it has now been superseded in part by Initiative 71 and by the new bill.

With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, efforts to quash the District's efforts to end pot prohibition are bound to continue -- even though even some Republicans are now leery of blocking the democratic expression of the will of District voters. But like the District's new mayor, Muriel Bowser, who is vowing to push ahead with Initiative 71, the DC council appears ready to take the fight wherever it leads.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Flurry of Federal Drug Reform Bills, AZ Legalization Demo, Heroin ODs Up Sharply, More (1/13/15)

Marijuana legalization battles start to heat up in the states, a flurry of federal drug reform bills are filed, heroin overdose deaths are up sharply, Mexican cartels seem to be switching from pot to meth and heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Foes Get Organized. Maine isn't going to legalize weed without a fight. Two groups with "grave concerns" about legalization kicked off a year-long campaign to "educate" Mainers about the dangers of the herb. The two groups are Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse. The move comes as Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) said she will reintroduce her perennial legalization bill, and as state activists work toward a legalization initiative in 2016.

Arizonans Rally to Protest Pot Prohibition, Call for Legalization. More than a hundred people gathered outside the state capitol in Phoenix Monday to urge marijuana law reforms. They were led by Safer Arizona, which says it will protest on the first day of the legislative session until marijuana is legal. A legalization bill will be before the legislature this year.

Medical Marijuana

Fight Over Georgia CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has said he will modify his CBD medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1, after Gov. Nathan Deal (R) objected to a provision that would allow production of the crop in the state. That has supporters of the bill unhappy. They say that because federal law prohibits transporting medical marijuana between states, their medicine will remain out of reach if it cannot be grown in-state.

Hemp

Federal Hemp Bill Reintroduced. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkley (D) and Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell (R) and Rand Paul (R) have re-filed their bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The bill, SB 134, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Heroin Overdose Deaths Jumped in 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Monday showing that 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, up 39% from the 5,924 deaths the previous year. The number of overall drug overdose deaths also increased, to 43,982 in 2013 from 41,340 the year before. That's an overall increase of 6%.

LSD

First LSD Study in Decades Shows Promising Results. LSD can alleviate anxiety in terminally ill patients, according to the first clinical study of the drug in 40 years. The research was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The research results were published here.

Criminal Justice

Houston Congresswoman Files Trio of Criminal Justice Reform Bills. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) has filed several criminal justice reform bills: HR 46 would increase the evidentiary standard required to convict someone for a drug offense and require screening of police participating in drug task forces; HR 51 would provide for collection of data on racial profiling in traffic stops; and HR 71 would provide earlier releases for certain nonviolent offenders.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Medical Marijuana Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has filed HR 262, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt from civil forfeiture real property seized because of medical marijuana-related conduct in states where it is legal. The bill currently has no cosponsors.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Group Delivers Urine Specimen Cups to Legislators in Welfare Drug Test Protest. The Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) protested Gov. Scott Walker's (R) plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients Monday by delivering urine sample cups -- unused -- to the offices of Republican legislators. The group says the plan won't achieve anything except demonizing the poor and that it may be unconstitutional.

International

Mexican Drug Traffickers Switching to Meth and Heroin. Marijuana legalization and decriminalization north of the border is having an impact south of the border, if US drug seizures are any indication. The amount of marijuana seized by state, local, and federal law enforcement has dropped 37% since 2011, while heroin seizures have increased three-fold and meth seizures have increased five-fold. Farmers in Mexico have reported switching from marijuana to opium in response to market trends.

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A high-ranking DEA agent in Mexico is in trouble, so is a former North Carolina SBI narc, an Alabama police officer and a West Virginia jail guard. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, the DEA's resident agent in charge in northeastern Mexico was arraigned last month on charges he took reimbursements for doing "favors" on behalf of unnamed Mexican nationals. Agent Leonardo Silva is accused of abusing his position by advising the State Department to cancel the US visa of a Mexican national at the behest of a friend. Silva allegedly falsely said the woman was a cocaine user and trafficker, and then bragged about it. He is also accused of taking nearly a hundred private plane trips that he didn't pay for or report, as well as taking a $3,000 payment for obtaining a job for the son of a US consulate worker. He is charged with fraud and making false statements.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a former State Bureau of Investigation narcotics agent was arrested early last month on federal charges he was involved in a major cross-country marijuana trafficking conspiracy. Fredrick Tucker is accused of transporting more than a thousand of pounds of marijuana from California to North Carolina via South Dakota, where he now lives, in a conspiracy with his son Ryan. Tucker had resigned his SBI position "while under investigation for improprieties." He is now charged with conspiracy to traffic more than 50 kilos of marijuana and money laundering. He's in jail in Charlotte pending a March court date.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a Huntsville police officer was arrested last Tuesday on charges he conspired to make cocaine trafficking charges against a person go away. Officer Lewis Hall, 45, allegedly conspired with another person to pay another police officer $5,000 to claim a search he made that resulted in a drug trafficking arrest was unlawful. The officer who they hoped would help make the charges vanish instead turned them in. Hall faces charges of conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to investigators.

In Exxon, West Virginia, a Western Regional Jail guard was arrested last Wednesday carrying 74 grams of marijuana. Preston Chase Thacker, 20, is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. It's not clear whether the weed was destined for the jail or not. 

Medical Marijuana Update

All the medical marijuana news this week is from the West and Midwest. There's good news from Iowa, Montana, and South Dakota, but things are going slowly in Illinois. Let's get to it:

Illinois

Last Wednesday, the state missed its own deadline on issuing medical marijuana licenses. State officials admitted Wednesday afternoon that they had missed their self-imposed deadline to begin issuing dispensary and cultivation licenses before the end of 2014. But they didn't say why or when they would be ready. Here is the statement from the Department of Health: "We are strongly committed to bringing relief to thousands of people across the state and ensuring Illinois is the national model for implementing medical cannabis. We are working hard to make sure this is done right. We are conducting a comprehensive review of every cultivation center and dispensary applicant to ensure that only the most qualified are approved for this important program. We will announce the recipients when this important review is finished."

Iowa

On Monday, the Iowa Pharmacy Board voted to reschedule CBD, but not marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Montana

Last Friday, a district court judge blocked some restrictions on medical marijuana. A state district court judge dealt a death blow to provisions of a restrictive state medical marijuana law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature seven years after Big Sky voters approved a more open initiative allowing for medicinal use and a wide open dispensary scene. District Judge James Reynolds in Helena permanently enjoined the implementation of certain key provisions in the law. Those provisions have never actually taken effect because Reynolds blocked them with a temporary injunction back in 2011. Click on the title link for more details.

South Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana billboards began going up in Sioux Falls. Billboards pushing for medical marijuana and paid for by the Sioux Falls Free Thinkers are going up this week in South Dakota's largest city. The move comes as advocacy groups, including South Dakota Against Prohibition, work to get a medical marijuana bill through the legislature this session. South Dakota legislators have consistently rejected medical marijuana, and so have the state's voters. Past efforts to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box failed in 2006 and 2010.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visitMedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Foes Busted, VT Pot Legalization Coalition Forms, KY to Hand Out Naloxone Kits, More (1/7/15)

DC pot legalization foes get nailed for campaign finance violations, Vermont activists are joining forces to legalize it this year, the Congressional Black Caucus is going to concentrate on criminal justice reform, Kentucky is spending money to prevent opiate overdoses, and more. Let's get to it:

Kentucky is spending $100,000 to give naloxone overdose reversal kits to drug users. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Says Legalization Off to Good Start, But He's Worried About the Kids. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told reporters Tuesday that despite his initial concerns, the state's marijuana industry is well-regulated and staying within the law "in almost every case." Still, said Hickenlooper, "The concern that we still have — that I still have — is whether young people will view this legalization as in some way saying to them that marijuana is safe."

DC Legalization Opponents Violated Campaign Finance Laws. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has concluded that the anti-Initiative 71 group TIE DC ("Two is Enough, DC") violated several campaign laws in its effort to defeat the successful legalization initiative. It failed to register as a political committee, failed to file a financial report, and failed to include proper language in its campaign literature, according to the campaign finance office report. The office is recommending that the group be fined $2,000.

Oregon Liquor Commission Seeking Public Comment on How to Proceed With Legal Marijuana. The commission, which is charged with implementing legalization, wants to hear from interested parties. It has posted a survey on its website asking the public for its input on how best to move forward. The commission is planning a series of "listening sessions" later this month.

Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Forms. Groups of Vermont legalization supporters have come together to form the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana with an eye toward getting a legalization bill passed this year. Coalition members include the Vermont ACLU, the state Libertarian and Progressive parties, other state groups, the Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). A legalization bill last year morphed into a study bill, whose report will be released next week, but Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) said he plans to introduce a legalization bill this session.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky to Pay For 2,000 Take-Home Overdose Reversal Drug Kits. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced Tuesday that the state will provide $105,000 for three urban hospitals to buy 2,000 naloxone kits to send home with heroin overdose patients. "This project will allow us to get this medicine into the hands and homes of the people who need it most: heroin users and their families," Attorney General Jack Conway said at a Capitol news conference, standing with Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear. "They will be walking out (of the emergency room) with a medication that could save their lives." At least 723 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in the first nine months of 2014; 27% of those cases involved heroin.

Criminal Justice

New Head of Congressional Black Caucus Promises Focus on Criminal Justice Reform. Incoming caucus head Rep. GK Butterfield (D-NC) said at his swearing in ceremony Tuesday that the group will focus on criminal justice reform this session. "Thjere is a well-founded mistrust between the African American community and law enforcement officers," Butterfield said. "The statistics are clear. Video clips are clear. We recognize that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. Unfortunately, there are some officers who abuse the sacred responsibility to protect and serve by using excessive and sometimes deadly force when a less severe response is warranted. The CBC will seek legislative action to reverse this terrible trend." The caucus will also work to reform sentencing laws, he said.

International

At White House, Obama Pledges to Support Mexico in Fight Against Drug Violence. Meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Tuesday, President Obama said the US will stand alongside Mexico as a "good partner" in its fight against violent drug traffickers and related problems. "Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and drug cartels that are responsible for so many tragedies inside of Mexico," he said. Despite calls from groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Center for International Policy's America's Program for the US to hold Mexico's feet to the fire over human rights violations, corruption, and impunity, Obama did not publicly address those issues. 

Chronicle AM: Seattle Pot Vapor Lounges, VA Pot Poll, Here Comes California, Iran Drug Executions, More (1/6/15)

Seattle's city attorney wants a place for marijuana users to congregate, California activists start moving toward 2016, Dr. David Nutt criticizes British Ecstasy policy, Iran starts the New Year with a bakers' dozen drug executions, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic executed more than 300 drug offenders last year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants Marijuana Vapor Lounges. In a new memo on marijuana policy, City Attorney Peter Holmes is calling for the legalization of pot vapor lounges in the city. "Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options," he noted in the memo. "You can enforce that law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand," Holmes said. The lounges would be open only to those 21 and over, require customers to bring their own weed, and would only allow vaping, not smoking. Such a move would require the approval of the city council and the city health department.

Virginia Poll Finds Majority Support for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that 74% of respondents supported allowing medical marijuana and 60% supported decriminalization. The poll also had a near-majority for legalization, with 49% in favor and 44% opposed.

California Activists Set First Meeting for 2016 Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will kick off the effort to legalize pot in the state in 2016 with a meeting in Oakland this Friday. The meeting will be a seminar examining lessons from the successful initiative efforts in Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the roll-out of marijuana commerce in Colorado. Click on the link for meeting details.  

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Votes to Reschedule CBD, But Not Marijuana. The state Board of Pharmacy voted Monday to move cannabidiol (CBD) from Schedule I to Schedule II, but not marijuana. The board was acting on a petition from long-time activist Carl Olsen, who sought to have the whole plant rescheduled. But the board wasn't ready to do that. Olsen says while it isn't what he was asking for, it is a step in the right direction.

Sentencing

Washington State Defelonization Bill to Get Hearing. A bill that would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony will get a public hearing in the House Public Safety Committee on January 16. The bill is House Bill 1024, introduced by Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), and is estimated to save the state millions in incarceration costs each year if passed. Fourteen other states have defelonized drug possession, with California being the most recent. Voters there approved a defelonization initiative in November.

Law Enforcement

Rolling Stone Exposé on Crooked Texas Border Drug Task Force. Rolling Stone has published an in-depth look at a South Texas drug task force, the infamous "Panama Unit" of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and the Mission Police Department. The extent of the thievery and corruption is mind-blowing. Well worth the read.

International

"Illogical and Punitive Drug Policy" to Blame for British Ecstasy Deaths, Prominent Critic Says. Dr. David Nutt, the former head of the Advisory Commission on the Misuse of Drugs who was fired for failing to toe the government's hard line of drug policy, has blamed that hard-line policy for the drug overdose deaths of four men in the past few days. The men thought they were taking Ecstasy, but a British government crackdown on the drug has led to it being substituted by a more lethal substance, PMA. That's the "illogical and punitive drug policy," Nutt was referencing. "The emergence of the more toxic PMA following the so-called ‘success’ in reducing MDMA production is just one of many examples of how prohibition of one drug leads to greater harm from an alternative that is developed to overcome the block," he added.

Mexican Army Kills Nine Civilians in Cartel-Plagued Michoacan. Nine civilians have been killed by Mexican soldiers in the town of Apatzigan, Michoacan, after the army tried to take control of city hall, which had been held for days by armed civilians. It's not clear who exactly was involved, but the western Mexican state has been plagued for years by violent drug trafficking organizations, and more recently, by armed vigilantes fighting the cartels.

Iran Greets New Year By Hanging 13 Drug Offenders. New Year's Day saw 13 drug offenders hanged in Iranian prisons, including four women. All had been convicted of drug trafficking. Iran hanged hundreds of drug traffickers last year, and it looks like it's off to a quick start this year, too. 

Chronicle AM:MT MedMJ Court Victory, DC Mayor Will Fight for Legalization, Thai Drug Sentences, More (1/5/15)

DC's mayor will fight for legalization, a Montana judge blocks most of a restrictive medical marijuana law, a New York county's misdemeanor drug bust asset forfeiture law gets vetoed, Thailand will review drug sentences, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Says She Will "Explore Every Option" to Get Legalization Enforced. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, new Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser stuck up for the District's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. In the face of opposition in the Republican Congress, Bowser said the city will "explore every option," up to and including a lawsuit against Congress, to ensure that the will of the voters is respected. She said the city would send the measure to Congress this month.

Washington State Bill Would Make Old Pot Convictions Go Away. People convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses in the past could have a chance to clear their records under a bill pre-filed for this year's legislative session. House Bill 1041, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Vashon Island), would allow for the vacating of past pot offenses, but only if there are no pending criminal charges or any new charges since the misdemeanor pot conviction. Neither would people with a history of DUI charges, violent or obscene offenses, or domestic violence charges be eligible.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Billboard Go Up. Billboards pushing for medical marijuana and paid for by the Sioux Falls Free Thinkers are going up this week in South Dakota's largest city. The move comes as advocacy groups, including South Dakota Against Prohibition, work to get a medical marijuana bill through the legislature this session. South Dakota legislators have consistently rejected medical marijuana, and so have the state's voters. Past efforts to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box failed in 2006 and 2010.

Montana Judge Blocks Some Restrictions on Medical Marijuana. A state district court judge last Friday dealt a death blow to provisions of a restrictive state medical marijuana law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature seven years after Big Sky voters approved a more open initiative allowing for medicinal use and a wide open dispensary scene. District Judge James Reynolds in Helena permanently enjoined the implementation of certain key provisions in the law. Those provisions have never actually taken effect because Reynolds blocked them with a temporary injunction back in 2011. Click on the title link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Orange County, NY, County Exec Vetoes Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus has vetoed an asset forfeiture law that would have allowed for the seizure of cash and property from people arrested for misdemeanor drug offenses. "While the legislation's concept to punish criminals who threaten public safety is something I am supportive of; still, the measure's final result leaves open the possibility of affecting innocent individuals," he said last Friday. "Moreover, the fact that revenue would largely go toward the general cost of government, rather than exclusively preventing future criminal activity is troubling to many."

Sentencing

Obama's Plan for Mass Commutations of Drug Sentences Hitting Roadblocks. President Obama's announced goal of commuting thousands of federal drug sentences is running into problems. Although some 25,000 prisoners have applied for sentence cuts, only eight were handed out last month when Obama announced Christmas pardons and commutations. The Justice Department is struggling to determine which sentences have been influenced by the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity and it lacks the lawyers to make a significant dent in the backlog. Advocacy groups have formed the Clemency Project 2014 to recruit private attorneys to help, but that is creating its own sets of issues. Much, much more at the link.

Methamphetamine

Meth Pouring Across California-Mexico Border. US Customs and Border Protection reports that meth is coming across the Mexican border into California at unprecedented levels. Agents seized more than 14,000 pounds of the drug in FY 2014, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all meth seizures at the US border or points of entry. Seizures in California have increased nearly five-fold since 2009, when a US federal law made the procurement of precursor chemicals in this country more difficult.

International

Thailand to Review Drug Sentencing. The country's Narcotics Control Board is meeting this week to consider revising drug sentences. Board Secretary-General Pempong Koomchaya said the laws are too stiff in many instances. "The imprisonment term for drug smugglers across the board is between 10-20 years although many smugglers are found with only 12 pills in their possession. About 60-70% of the arrested drug offenders have in possession less than 50 pills. Jailing them causes overcrowding at prisons also," he said. Pempong said some sentences must be made more lenient and that revisions in the law should be ready by the end of the month.

Israeli Farmers Eye Expanded Medical Marijuana Opportunities. The Health Ministry is expected to announce later this month it will open bids for additional medical marijuana providers. The tender is set to be published January 31, with results expected in March. Some farmers see new opportunities for profit—and for lower prices for patients. Click on the link for more. 

Montana Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana Restrictions

A state district court judge last Friday dealt a hard blow to provisions of a restrictive state medical marijuana law passed by the Republican-dominated legislature seven years after Big Sky voters approved a more open initiative allowing for medicinal use and a wide open dispensary scene.

District Judge James Reynolds in Helena permanently enjoined the implementation of certain key provisions in the law. Those provisions have never actually taken effect because Reynolds blocked them with a temporary injunction back in 2011.

Reynolds blocked provisions that ban medical marijuana advertising, forbid the commercial sale of marijuana to authorized patients, restrict caregivers from growing for more than three patients, and require the state to report the names of doctors who recommended more than 25 patients for medical marijuana in a 12-month period to the state Board of Medical Examiners. That final provision would have triggered at automatic review of the doctor's practices—at his own expense.

It wasn't a total wipe-out for the legislature. Reynolds let stand a provision that allows police and the Department of Public Health and Human Services to inspect medical marijuana providers unannounced during regular business hours, and he also left intact a provision barring prisoners, parolees, and probationers from being able to obtain medical marijuana cards.

The Montana medical marijuana scene exploded in 2009, when it appeared the Obama administration would not interfere in medical marijuana states, resulting in a case of severe backlash after some players pushed the envelope with open public pot smoking and loosely-regulated "cannabis caravans" crisscrossing the state and offering recommendations over the Internet. 

In 2011, the legislature moved to rein in the state's Wild West medical marijuana industry. It first voted to repeal the medical marijuana law entirely, but that was vetoed by then Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D). The legislature then passed the bill tightly restricting medical marijuana; that bill became law without Schweitzer's signature.

The Montana Cannabis Industry Association and some individuals sued to block the law. Now, they have succeeded in striking down key provisions—unless and until the state appeals and wins on appeal.

This is the second time Judge Reynolds has thrown out key provisions of the law. The first time, the state Supreme Court sent the case back to him, saying he should rule on it under "a rational basis" instead of the "strict scrutiny" he had applied earlier. Now he has.

"It is not the goal of this court to interfere with the Legislature’s slow and careful opening of the door to the use of medical marijuana," Reynolds wrote. "It is the goal of this court, however, to ensure that everybody who could benefit from medical marijuana, and especially those with the most serious medically debilitating conditions, are able to travel through that door equally."

Helena, MT
United States

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