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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: USVI Decriminalizes, NJ Methadone Pregnancy Ruling, A Good Year for Hemp, More (12/23/14)

Decrim comes to the US Virgin Islands, Anchorage starts planning for pot, California starts looking toward 2016, it was a good year for hemp, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejects criminalizing a pregnant woman for using prescribed methadone, and more. Let's get to it:

California prepares for 2016. (CCPR)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Decriminalization. Lawmakers voted Friday to override a line-item veto of a decriminalization provision in the territory's FY 2015 budget. That means the territory has now decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

Anchorage Forms Committee to Handle Legalization. Last week, the city council shot down a plan to ban pot sales in the state's largest city. This week, it has formed a committee to handle local implementation of legalization. The first meeting is today. Click on the link for more details.

Oakland Meeting Next Month to Look at Lessons of Successful Legalization Campaigns. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and its grassroots organizing arm, ReformCA, will be hosting a "debriefing" with leaders of the successful initiative campaigns in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, next month. The meeting is set for January 9 in Oakland. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

Hemp

A Good Year for Hemp. The industry lobbying group Vote Hemp reports that, largely inspired by passage of American Agricultural Act's provision allowing for hemp research, 10 states legalized hemp production this year. They are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Utah. Two other states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, passed hemp study bills.

Harm Reduction

Drug Policy Alliance Issues New Guide for Tackling Drug Use at Music Events. The guide, Managing Drug Use at Your Event, is aimed at event producers and focused on improving the health and safety of festival attendees. It is designed to give event producers a harm reduction-based alternative to a police and enforcement-heavy approach. The guide is part of DPA's Music Fan campaign aimed at stimulating discussion about drug use in club and festival setting and promoting policy reforms to improve clubber health and safety.

Pregnancy

New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects Child Abuse Charge Against Pregnant Mom Over Prescribed Methadone Use. The court ruled unanimously Monday that a woman dependent on opioid pain relievers could not be charged with child abuse and neglect for using prescribed methadone during her pregnancy. Her healthy infant was treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency used that diagnosis as the basis for charging her with child abuse. The case is Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. Y.N.

International

Uruguay Has Registered 1,200 Marijuana Growers. The head of the National Drugs Board, Julio Calzada, said Monday that there are 1,200 registered marijuana growers. "It is encouraging to have 1,200 growers after three or four months since the law came into effect," Calzada told reporters. He added that about 500 cannabis clubs have registered. Each club can have up to 45 members and grow up to 99 plants.

Chronicle AM--May 30, 2014

Yesterday was a bad day for the DEA as the House thrice voted to slap its hands, an anti-marijuana initiative in Montana gets okayed for signature-gathering, the New York Senate releases a report on heroin and opiate addiction and calls for more drug war, marijuana legalization supporters rally in Tel Aviv, and more. Let's get to it:

The DEA had a bad day on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Marijuana Policy

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. An initiative that would repeal Montana's already severely scaled-back medical marijuana law and ban anything listed as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana, has been approved for signature-gathering. But Billings car dealer and initiative sponsor Steve Zabawa has only three weeks to get the 24,175 signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Medical Marijuana in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted 219-189 last night to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

Hemp

In Historic Vote, House Bars Justice Department, DEA from Using Taxpayer Funds to Interfere with Hemp Production in States Where It Is Legal. The US House of Representatives voted last night to bar the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using taxpayer dollars to interfere with industrial hemp production in states where it is legal. Hemp production for research purposes in states that have laws allowing it was approved by the Congress as part of the omnibus farm bill earlier this year. A dozen states have such laws.

Law Enforcement

In Historic Vote, House Takes Funds from DEA, Shifts Them to Addressing Rape Kit Backlog. In addition to barring the DEA from going after hemp and medical marijuana in states where they are legal, the House also approved an amendment from Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) to take $5 million from the DEA's appropriation and shift the money into grants for state and local law enforcement to address backlogs of untested rape kits. The House voted down another Cohen amendment that would have taken $15 million from the DEA and allocated it instead to the Legal Services Corporation. The House also approved an amendment that would block additional staffing for the Pardon Attorney's Office in a bid to thwart President Obama's call for drug war prisoners to seek clemency.

Heroin and Opiates

New York Senate Task Force Proposes Massive Package of Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement Bills to Fight Increased Heroin, Prescription Pill Use. The state Joint Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction issued its final report Wednesday. The report, Solutions to New York's Heroin Epidemic, calls for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures, but the 25-bill package it includes is heavy on law enforcement. Thirteen of the 25 proposed bills would ratchet up the drug war. There is a complete list of the bills in the package in the report.

International

Colombian Government Releases Outline of Drug Accords With FARC. The Colombian government has released a document laying out the points agreed to with the FARC guerrillas on dealing with drug cultivation and the illicit drug trade. The two sides, meeting at peace talks in Havana a couple of weeks ago, reached the agreement a couple of weeks ago. Colombia Reports has the details at the title link.

Despite Drug Decriminalization, Colombia Continues to Arrest, Hassle Drug Users, Researcher Finds. In a report from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law, researcher Diane Guzman found that Colombia continues to rely excessively on punishing drug users, even though drug use is decriminalized there. Guzman blames police enforcement strategies and their focus on arrest, and reports that drug users detained by police are often let go after they pay bribes. She also found that Colombia's goal of reducing drug addiction suffers because the country doesn't devote sufficient resources to improving health care and rehabilitation for drug users. The report, En Busca De Los Derechos: Usuarios De Drogas Y Las Respuestas Estatales En América Latina, also examines drug policies in seven other Latin American countries. Guzman wrote the Colombia chapter.

Thousands March for Marijuana in Tel Aviv. An estimated 2,000 people marched and rallied for marijuana legalization in Tel Aviv Thursday night. The march comes as the Knesset prepares to debate a bill easing restrictions on medical marijuana next week and a bill from MK Tamar Zandberg to legalize marijuana a few weeks from now.

There Were Several Drug Policy Amendments to the CJS Bill

Reformers have mostly been talking about the Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment that passed last night. I looked at the vote a little while ago, and realized that nearly 50 Republicans voted yes on the amendment, making it an even more historic occurrence than I'd realized.

There were three several other votes, though, that are important to know about. One of them, which passed, is a mean-spirited amendment to block the clemency initiative that Pres. Obama and AG Holder are taking. If it becomes law it will seek to prevent the administration from transferring staff temporarily to increase the Pardon Attorney Office's capacity. There was another good amendment that passed, though, by Rep. Steve Cohen, which shifts $5 millions of DEA funding, to spend it instead on grants to state and local police agencies to help them reduce the backlog in rape testing kits. Cohen sponsored another amendment that didn't get passed, which have shifted three times as much money from the DEA to the Legal Services Corporation.

We have info, including how every member of Congress voted, online here. There's a zipcode lookup form you can use, a the top of the page, to identify your own US Representatives and how they voted.

Update: There were more relevant votes than I'd realized when I wrote this. One of them had to do with hemp. We'll add them as able.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Kentucky Gets its Hemp Seed as DEA Backs Off

It's a done deal. A UPS truck delivered more than 250 pounds of hemp seed to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture this afternoon. It took a lawsuit and a lot of political pressure on DEA head Michele Leonhart, but the agency has backed away from its initial refusal to allow the seeds to be imported.

Hemp seeds will soon be sprouting in Kentucky (votehemp.org)
As the Associated Press reported this afternoon, the seeds arrived at the department's headquarters in Frankfort, the state capital. They had been being held hostage at a US Customs warehouse in Louisville after being imported from Italy. At the last minute, the DEA had refused to issue an import license for the seed, which was destined for research authorized under the omnibus farm bill passed earlier this year.

That prompted an intense and angry reaction from state officials, who promptly sued the DEA, the Justice Department, and Customs in federal court, and from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just happens to be from Kentucky. It's not clear exactly what went down, but after two Wednesday meetings, the DEA started singing a different tune.

One meeting brought together lawyers for the federal government and the state of Kentucky before a federal judge; the other was face-to-face between McConnell and Leonhart. By the end of the day Wednesday, the DEA had backed down.

The DEA just ain't getting no respect these days. Leonhart was recently chastised by her boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, over her remarks before Congress dissing the administration's moves to reduce the reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for her head, and drug expert Mark Kleiman is  suggesting maybe it's time to disband the agency. Couldn't happen to a more deserving set of folks. 

Location: 
Frankfort, KY
United States

DEA Backs Down; Kentucky Will Get Its Hemp Seeds

Kentucky agricultural officials told the Associated Press Thursday evening that the DEA had approved a permit allowing the state to import a 250-lb shipment of hemp seed to be used for research purposes. The DEA had originally balked at issuing the permit, only to be hit with a firestorm of criticism, including sharp words from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just happens to be from Kentucky.

It's sunrise for hemp in the Bluegrass State. (votehemp.org)
Although the omnibus farm bill passed earlier this year included an amendment allowing for research into hemp in states that had authorized it, which Kentucky has, the seeds imported from Italy were held up at a US Customs warehouse in Louisville. Kentucky sued the DEA last week over the issue after the agency refused to issue a permit.

But state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said late Thursday that the seeds would be released Friday and that the hemp could be in the ground as early as this weekend. Officials had worried that the DEA's obstructionism would stall planting until it was too late in the season, a date they pegged at around June 1.

"There was no sense to this," Comer said.

"This is a historic day," he continued. "We've done something that no one thought we could do a year-and-a-half ago. We legalized industrial hemp and we've proven that it's an agricultural crop and not a drug."

A Justice Department spokeswoman told the AP that the DEA had indeed issued the permit Thursday. Justice, the DEA, and Customs were all named in the suit filed by the Kentucky Agriculture Department. Attorneys for the federal government and the state met with a federal judge Wednesday.

But that wasn't the only meeting going on. Sen. McConnell sat down with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Wednesday to urge her to reconsider.

"It was the intent of my provision in the farm bill to allow states' departments of agriculture and universities to explore the commercial use of industrial hemp as a means for job creation and economic development," McConnell said.

Whether it was a federal judge or a powerful home-state political figure, or a combination of the two, somebody got the DEA's attention. Now, the agency is getting out of the way, and Kentucky can get down to the business of planting its first hemp crops in decades.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 15, 2014

An evangelical pollster has support for marijuana legalization at 58% (but not among Christians), the Senate Minority Leader takes on the DEA over hemp, a California defelonization sentencing initiative hands in signatures, we have a fascinating look at meth culture in Tehran, and more. Let's get to it:

When Mitch McConnell is criticizing the DEA, you know you're living in a different century. (senate.gov)
Evangelical Pollster Finds Majority for Legalization, But Not Among Practicing Christians. A new poll conducted by the evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group finds that marijuana legalization is supported by 58% of respondents nationwide. But when it comes to "practicing Christians" (people who attended church in the past month), only 32% of evangelicals, 39% of Catholics, and 45% of mainstream Protestants favored legalization. Still, those numbers are trending up. "There is a clear trend toward greater cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana, even among many practicing Christians. National surveys are a great way to find out what people think and how their perspectives have changed over time. But why those changes are happening is more difficult to pin down through conventional polling," said a Barna spokesman. "What we can conclude is that America continues to shift from a culture that values abstinence to one that focuses on experience. Marijuana use fits within a larger trend of liberalizing views and behaviors when it comes to activities like gambling, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and drinking. As attitudes toward temptations shift, Americans increasingly define the 'pursuit of happiness' to include personally invigorating or even escapist experiences." There's a lot more demographic information at the link, too.

Missouri "Decriminalizes" Marijuana Possession. A new sentencing reform law that has now gone into effect without the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (R) eliminates the possibility of jail time for the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less. Senate Bill 491 also reduces sentences for the sale and cultivation of marijuana, including changing current law to allow probation or parole for third offenders. But it doesn't go into effect until January 2017, the "no jail" provision only applies to first offenders, and it's still a criminal misdemeanor, with all the related consequences. Still, the Marijuana Policy Project is calling Missouri the 19th decrim state.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana, and Now. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) has added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

Rhode Island Health Department Falling Way Behind on Patient Applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Moving Toward Passage. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy appears headed for passage. House Bill 4803 has already passed the House and was approved by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee today. It should get a final floor vote next week.

Hemp

Mitch McConnell Rips DEA over Kentucky Hemp Seed Fiasco. The state of Kentucky has already filed a lawsuit against the DEA over its cat and mouse games surrounding the state's effort to import 250 pounds of Italian hemp seeds for use in research projects okayed by an amendment to this year's omnibus farm bill. Now, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who just happens to be from Kentucky, has weighed in. "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds," McConnell told Politico last night.

Prescription Drugs

New Oklahoma Law Requires That Names of Overdose Victims Be Reported to Narcs. Under a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the state medical examiner is required to report the names of overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The stated purpose is to use the information to more closely monitor the state's prescription drug issue and to identify "problem" prescribers. Senate Bill 1183 is part of a broader legislative effort supported by Fallin to tackle non-medical prescription drug use. But the heart of that plan, language that would create a statewide prescription monitoring system and require doctors to check patients' drug histories before writing new prescriptions for opioids and other dangerous drugs, remains stalled as legislators argue over details.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Heading for Passage. A bill that bans new synthetic drugs not approved by the FDA and that have effects similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances passed the House Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. House File 2446 also gives the state Board of Pharmacy emergency regulatory power to stop shops from selling any newer new synthetics.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers Want to Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws. The state legislature's Joint Judiciary Interim Committee Tuesday voted to order staff to draft two bills to reform the state's asset forfeiture laws. One bill would eliminate civil asset forfeiture and would allow police to seize property only when someone has been convicted of a crime. The second bill would keep civil forfeiture, but would create a higher standard of proof before allowing assets to be seized. That bill would also require that most proceeds of seizures go into a general account at the state attorney general's office instead of being returned to the seizing agency.

Harm Reduction

Delaware Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would make the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) available without a prescription to anyone who completes a training program passed the Senate Health and Social Services Committee Wednesday. Senate Bill 219 now heads for the Senate floor.

Sentencing Reform

California Defelonization Sentencing Initiative Hands in Signatures. Campaigners for an initiative that would make certain felony drug and other crimes misdemeanors has handed in signatures. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act initiative handed in more than 638,000 signatures earlier this month; it needs 504,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Of signatures checked so far, the validity rate is 78%. The measure's proponents are San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne.

International

Tunisia's Prime Minister Says Marijuana Laws Are Too Harsh. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at a press conference Wednesday that his country's tough penalties for marijuana possession are "out of sync" with changing times. Possession can currently earn you up to five years in prison, but Jomaa vowed to "amend the law to adapt it to the new reality" in Tunisia, which overthrew its old regime in the most successful of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Iran Breaks Bad as Crystal Meth Arrives. The Guardian has a lengthy analysis of the rise of methamphetamine in Iran, and particularly in its capital city, Tehran. Meth is exploding there, according to the piece's author, Ramita Navai, author of the newly released "City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran." It's a very interesting read. Click on the link for the whole thing.

DEA Playing Games with Kentucky's Hemp Seeds -- State Sues

After being misled by the DEA about whether it would release imported heed seed destined for the state's hemp research projects, the state of Kentucky is now suing the federal anti-drug agency, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told The Huffington Post Wednesday.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.org)
This comes just one day after Comer said the DEA told him the seeds would be released.

"I hated to do that, but we've been misled and it's obviously a stall tactic," Comer told HuffPost. "We have farmers who wanna grow it. We have processors who wanna process it. We have researchers who wanna research it. We bought and paid for the seeds," Comer said. "Here in Kentucky there's a desperate need to find an alternative to tobacco."

And the clock is ticking, with Mother Nature paying no attention to bureaucratic power plays. Hemp crops need to be in the ground this month for this year's season.

Research on hemp is now legal for state agriculture departments and universities in states that have passed laws allowing for it. A groundbreaking amendment allowing for the research was approved as part of the omnibus farm bill signed into law earlier this year. And Kentucky ordered 250 pounds of Italian hemp seed to do research this year.

But the DEA now says the state ag department must apply for a permit to import the seeds because they are a Schedule I controlled substance. That's a change of tune from the anti-drug agency.

"We were told yesterday in multiple phone calls that we wouldn't have to do this Schedule I import permit," senior Kentucky ag official Holly Harris VonLuehrte told HuffPost. She noted that agreeing to the DEA demand would be an implicit acceptance of the DEA's position that hemp is in fact a Schedule I drug.

"Industrial hemp is not a Schedule I controlled substance. We're not going to execute a document that violates federal and state law," she said.

The seeds are currently stuck in a US Customs warehouse in Louisville.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the sponsors of the hemp amendment to the farm bill, ridiculed the DEA's position.

"I think I have a copy of the Congressional Record lying around my office that shows that Congress just debated this issue and voted overwhelmingly to allow research institutions to grow and study industrial hemp," Blumenauer told HuffPost. "I'd send it over to the DEA, but I'm worried they would classify it as rolling papers and seize it. With every move, the DEA is showing that they are incredibly out of touch with mainstream America. We need serious self-evaluation and shakeup over there if they ever want to be taken seriously."

But the DEA may have managed to knock Kentucky's hemp research schedule back by a year.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Chronicle AM -- May 14, 2014

The NFL is about to adopt a more sensible marijuana policy, the DEA will unblock imported hemp seeds so Kentucky can do some research, Minnesota legislators try to reach a compromise on medical marijuana, the rate of prescription overdose deaths is up, and more. Let's get to it:

People are dying of prescription drug overdoses at a rate three times that of a decade ago, says the CDC. (wikimedia.org
Marijuana Policy

NORML PAC Endorses a Florida Congressional Candidate. NORML PAC, the campaign and lobbying arm of NORML, has endorsed Democrat Wes Neuman for Congress in Florida's 7th District. NORML says it believes "Wes will be a great champion for marijuana law reform in Washington, DC." Neumann says he will advocate for marijuana legalization.

NFL Reportedly Will Cut Marijuana Punishments. ESPN.com is reporting that when the NFL's new player drug policy is announced, punishments handed out for marijuana use will be reduced. ESPN also reported that the new drug policy will have a higher threshold for the amount of marijuana needed to trigger a positive test result. At least one current NFL player, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, is facing a season-long suspension for running afoul of the league's marijuana policy. The NFL Players Association had suggested the league review its policy on marijuana and drug testing in general.

Medical Marijuana

Competing Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bills Head for Conference Committee. The state Senate voted Tuesday not to concur with the medical marijuana bill passed by the House, Senate File 2470, which is more narrowly tailored than the bill that has passed the Senate, Senate File 1641. That means a conference committee will have to try to hammer out an acceptable compromise.

Hemp

DEA Will Allow Hemp Seeds to Enter US for Kentucky Research Project. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Tuesday that the DEA will quit trying to block the import of Italian hemp seeds to Kentucky for research purposes now permitted under the hemp amendment to the recently passed omnibus farm bill. The seeds are being held by US Customs at a warehouse in Louisville. Cromer was ready to go to federal court today, if the DEA had not yielded. The state Agriculture Department and several universities are planning hemp research projects this year, but they need to get the seeds in the ground. The clock is ticking.

Drug Treatment

Massachusetts Drug Treatment Bill Being Debated Today. A bill that would ease access to drug treatment, by forcing insurance companies to cover treatment that's provided without prior authorization from them, is being heard in the state Senate today. The measure is Senate Bill 2133, which was developed by a special legislative committee on drug addiction. There are 37 amendments to get through, too.

Prescription Drugs

Rate of Prescription Drug Overdoses Increased More Than Threefold in a Decade, CDC Report Says. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health, United States, 2013, finds that the rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the US increased from 1.9 per 100,000 residents 15 and over in 1999-2000 to 6.6 per 100,000 in 2009-2010.

International

No Safe Injection Rooms for Brighton after UK Government Warns Health Workers of Risk of Arrest. Last year, the Independent Drugs Commission for Brighton and Hove suggested that Brighton and Hove establish drug consumption rooms, saying they could take drug use off the streets and reduce overdose deaths. But those plans have now been shelved after the Home Office warned that health workers working in such facilities might be subject to arrest. The idea also got a mixed reception from the public.

In Face of New Zealand's Renewed Ban on Synthetic Weed, Auckland Deputy Mayor Says Decriminalize the Real Thing. Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who had previously opposed decriminalizing marijuana, has had a change of heart. She told an Auckland Council meeting Tuesday that it didn't make sense to regulate synthetic marijuana without considering safer alternatives -- like real marijuana.

Jamaica Marijuana Conference Coming Later This Month. The inaugural Jamaica Cannabis Conference is set for May 22-24 at the University of the West Indies campus in Mona. The theme is "Wake Up, Jamaica; Our Opportunities Are Slipping Away." Click on the link for more details.

Jamaican Musician and Poet Mutabaruka Tells Gambia to Legalize It. On a visit to Gambia to perform at the 11th annual International Roots Homecoming Festival, famed Jamaican poet and reggae singer Mutabaruka said Tuesday that Gambia should legalize marijuana and that "no youth should be in trouble over marijuana," citing the international movement toward marijuana legalization.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- May 12, 2014

Elderly senators grumble about new-fangled rules allowing legal marijuana businesses to use the financial system, there are more legalization polls, an Oklahoma US Senate candidate is talking marijuana reform, there is medical marijuana initiative news, Minnesota passes asset forfeiture reform and the governor signs it, and more. Let's get to it:

Oklahoma state Sen. Constance Johnson (D) is running for the US Senate and talking marijuana reform. (oksenate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Feinstein, Grassley Try to Thwart Normalized Marijuana Banking. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) aren't happy with the Obama administration's efforts to find a way to let marijuana businesses in states where it is legal have access to the financial system. They sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) complaining about the guidance it was offering banks "on providing financial services for drug traffickers," in Grassley's words. FinCen responded here, but that wasn't good enough for the crusty drug warriors. Now, Grassley has responded to the response, maintaining that "unless federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal" and that "FinCEN's guidance to financial institutions is absolutely contrary to the mission of the agency." Click on the title link to read the rest.

Connecticut Poll Has 52% for Legalization. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 52% among Connecticut voters, who also said overwhelmingly that alcohol was a bigger health problem than pot. A whopping 80% of voters under 30 supported legalization. Voters also supported having medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns by a margin of more than two-to-one. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2012.

New Mexico Poll Has Only 40% for Legalization, But… an Albuquerque Journal flash poll had support for marijuana legalization at 40%, with 47% opposed. The poll only asked only if marijuana should be legalized, however, without specifying what legalization might look like. A poll done last year for the Drug Policy Alliance got 53% support for legalization when it asked whether marijuana should be legalized for adults so that it could be taxed and regulated, like alcohol, with restrictions on where it could be bought and consumed.

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues Top $20 Million So Far This Year. The state Department of Revenue released figures last Thursday showing that revenues from adult and medical marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees were at nearly $22 million for the first three months of the year. The state reported that March adult marijuana sales hit $19 million, up $5 million over February, while medical marijuana sales were about $34 million.

Push Underway to Decriminalize Toledo. A petition drive is underway for a municipal initiative to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession in the Northwest Ohio city. The initiative is sponsored by the Toledo NORML chapter, which says it has already collected 2,800 signatures. It needs 3,800 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Oklahoma's Leading Democratic US Senate Candidate Pushes Marijuana Law Reform. State Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), the leading candidate for the state's Democratic Party US Senate nomination, is the author of repeated failed medical marijuana bills in the state legislature and is currently working to get a legalization initiative on the November ballot. A Democrat winning a Senate seat in Oklahoma is a long shot, but Johnson says she hopes marijuana will drive voters to the polls. "This whole issue, to me, is not about smoking marijuana. It's about criminalizing it. That's where these young people stand to be hurt the most. They get that," said Johnson. "Unless we change who's voting, things will stay the same," she said. "It's time to send a message -- not only to the policymakers... but to the people -- that we can change this." You can do that by putting marijuana on the ballot, she said.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Governor Says He Will Sign House Bill. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) sent a letter Friday to lawmakers saying he could sign the medical marijuana bill passed by the House. Senate File 2470 was filed by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) after her earlier, full-fledged medical marijuana bill, House File 1818 was blocked by law enforcement and the governor. A stronger bill, Senate File 1641, has passed the Senate, but Dayton didn't say he could sign that one. Now, the Senate must accept the House version or try to reach a compromise in conference committee.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign in Midst of Signature-Gathering. The Ohio Rights Group is leading a signature-gathering campaign to put a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative on the November ballot. They need to collect 385,000 valid voter signatures by July 5. They had 50,000 signatures on March 1 and haven't reported any more recent figures, but the campaign has been ramping up this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Again Rejects Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has once again rejected the proposed wording for a medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis. This is about the sixth time he has rejected proposals from the group. Meanwhile, another initiative, this one from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, is in the signature-gathering phase. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs some 65,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Governor Signs Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law Senate File 874, which forces authorities to actually convict someone of a criminal offense or get a guilty plea before seizing his property. The bill also forces the government to prove the property was the instrument or proceeds of crime. Previously, it had been up to the victim of the seizure to prove it was not connected to crimes.

Drug Testing

Federal Judge Rejects City of Key West Prospective Employee Drug Testing. A US district court judge has ruled that Key West's policy of drug-testing prospective employees is illegal. The ACLU of Florida had brought suit on behalf of a woman who was offered a job as the city's recycling coordinator, but had the job offer rescinded after she refused a drug test. The city failed to demonstrate "a special need or important government interest which justifies the policy's Fourth Amendment intrusion," Judge James Lawrence King held. And while the city argued that the tests should be allowed because job applicants were forewarned, King wasn't buying it. The law doesn't allow a government entity "to violate a person's rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given," he ruled.

International

Heroin Maintenance Coming to Norway? The Norwegian city of Bergen has proposed undertaking a program of heroin maintenance, or heroin-assisted treatment (HAT). Norway has long been skeptical of opioid maintenance therapies, allowing the use of methadone only in 1998. Dr. Ola Josendal, director of addiction medicine at Haukeland University Hospital proposed HAT clinical trials in December, but the national health minister rejected them. Now, however, the Labor Party, the largest bloc in parliament, is in favor, so it could happen. Stay tuned.

Bermuda Cannabis Reform Collaborative Says Decriminalize It. A panel tasked with examining Bermuda's marijuana laws issued its report last Friday, and it calling for the decriminalization of small-time pot possession, allowing people to grow a small number of plants, and allowing the medical use of the plant on the island. Marijuana prohibition is not working, the report said.

Mexico's Plan to Demobilize Anti-Cartel Vigilantes Hits Snags. Anti-cartel vigilantes in the state of Michoacan were supposed to begin laying down their arms and integrating into a new rural police force Saturday, but The Washington Post reports that the process isn't exactly going smoothly. The vigilante groups formed more than a year ago with an apparent wink and nod from the government and managed to drive the Knights Templar cartel out of parts of the state, but now, the government fears they may get out of control. Click the link for a full report.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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