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.
Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives told the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states by approving a budget amendment barring the use of taxpayer funds to do so.
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority is liking what he's seeing:
"This historic vote shows just how quickly marijuana reform has become a mainstream issue," he said. "The last time a similar amendment came up it didn't come very close to passing but, since then, more states have passed medical marijuana laws and a couple have even legalized marijuana for all adults. More states are on this way later this year and in 2016, and it's clear that more politicians are beginning to realize that the American people want the federal government to stop standing in the way. If any political observers weren't aware that the end of the war on marijuana is nearing, they just found out."
It ain't a done deal just yet, though. If the Senate version of the bill doesn't contain similar language, it will be up to the House leadership to fight for the amendment (or not) in conference committee.
Still, this is historic. I like it when we make history like this. And it seems to be happening more often these days.
Angell also makes another astute point. While we can grumble about the spate of what I call "limited CBD medical marijuana bills," and how they are so extremely restrictive, they have also spread the medical marijuana meme to places where it hadn't thrived before, like the Deep South. And that could be paying off in congressional votes like this one.
"This year's huge vote increase can largely be attributed to the fact that lawmakers only recently began hearing the moving stories of the many children whose severe seizures are only relieved by marijuana. Being able to list these CBD states in the amendment text meant that more members of Congress that represent these states voted yes than otherwise would have. Counting these states, 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in a place where state law disagrees with federal law."
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.
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.
Good Golly, Miss Mary Jane! I've been watching marijuana legalization marches for a long time and I've never seen a crowd like this.
Now, maybe they're exaggerating. Maybe it was only 100,000. But this is humongous. I can recall seeing 70,000 turn out in Rome one year, and crowds in the tens of thousands sometimes in European capitals and major Canadian cities.
But just look at that mass of humanity in Buenos Aires! That's sending a very strong signal to the Argentine government that it needs to quit dilly-dallying and get down to freeing the weed.
And it wasn't just Buenos Aires. Organizers reported marches in numerous Argentine cities, with more than 15,000 showing up in Cordoba, 11,000 in Rosario, 7,000 in Mendoza, 2,500 in La Plata, 300 on the slopes at Bariloche, and even 200 way down Patagonia way in Comodoro Rivadavia.
The Argentine may be suffering from some legalization envy -- situated just on the other side of the Rio de la Plata estuary is Uruguay, where the government is formally announcing its legalization regulations this week. Whatever the reasons, congratulations to the Argentines, and may we all be inspired by their example.
Uruguay will formally unveil the regulations for its legal marijuana commerce next week, although the broad outlines are already known. The stuff will be genetically tracked from seed to sale and beyond, it'll see for less than a buck a gram, and registered consumers will only be able to buy 40 grams a month.
In that interview, Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who spent years in prison during the time of military dictatorship in the 1970s, made clear that he's no hipster.
"We don't go along with the idea that marijuana is benign, poetic and surrounded by virtues. No addiction is good," he said. "We aren't going to promote smoke fests, bohemianism, all this stuff they try to pass off as innocuous when it isn't. They'll label us elderly reactionaries. But this isn't a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness."
Well, with all due respect, Mr. Mujica, you sound like an elderly reactionary. This is a guy who has never smoked pot, and it shows. Referring to marijuana use as an addiction puts him in the company of mad scientists like NIDA head Dr. Nora Volkow and the professional prohibitionists of Project SAM, and spouting platitudes like "no addiction is good" manages to conflate being physically addicted to things like heroin and prescription opiates to habitually puffing a pot pipe or having a cup of coffee first thing every morning.
Mujica also took some gratuitous pot shots at Colorado's legalization regime and at medical marijuana in the US. Uruguay's system will be superior to Colorado's, he said, because Colorado doesn't track pot after it is purchased.
The AP quoted Mujica as saying "it's a complete fiction what they do in Colorado," which seems to be his way of claiming that legalization there is out of control because it doesn't track individual purchasers. Well, I find it kind of creepy to think the government is keeping track of my consumption habits (like with, say, a prescription monitoring database—oops, never mind), and I have to wonder why Mujica isn't pushing for something similar for alcohol purchases in his country.
And, Mujica said, the medical marijuana laws in US states are based on "hypocrisy" because they allow people with "fake illnesses" to obtain marijuana. Well, he has something of a point there, but only to a degree. California is by far the most wide open medical marijuana state, and people do take advantage of the loosely-written law to obtain and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest.
California can remedy that by recognizing reality and just getting on with legalization, as it will almost certainly do in 2016. But the other medical marijuana states are much more restrictive, and, perversely, the more public support grows for medical marijuana, the tighter the restrictions seem to be.
So, why is Mujica being such a grumpy old man about marijuana legalization? After all, he's the guy who pushed it through in Uruguay. I think there are a couple of things going on.
First, he's a square. He's a straight, old leftist, a former revolutionary, with no experience with marijuana and no connections to the cannabis culture. He really sees this as a public health and public security problem, not as a step toward human liberation. In that sense, he's your grandpa.
But he's also moving forward with legalization in the face of strong public opposition to it in Uruguay. In a poll last week, nearly two-thirds remained opposed to the new law, although 51% said it was better to give it a chance than to kill it at birth. I suspect many of Mujica's comments were made with that domestic audience in mind. In that sense, he's a smart politician.
And grumpy old man he may be; he's still the guy who is leading the first country to break with global pot prohibition. Adelante, companero.
Watch Attorney General Eric Holder's video speech about it, posted this morning.
Phil is driving home from Denver at this time, but will be doing a feature story on this, as well as on marijuana legalization in Colorado (he visited on 4/20), later this week.
Denver is pot city this weekend, with the High Times Cannabis Cup, the 4/20 rally downtown, and dozens of related musical and cultural events.
On East Colfax Avenue this morning, people wearing their Sunday attire for Easter services are outnumbered by people wearing tie-dyes, 4/20 t-shirts, and pot leaf caps heading down to today's session of the 4/20 rally (it went on yesterday as well, with thousands in attendance.
The Cannabis Cup is massive! Organizers estimate more than 30,000 people attending each day, and for blocks around the expo hall, there are masses of stoned humanity wandering to and fro. Inside, the commodification of marijuana continues at a dizzying pace, with hundreds of vendors and exhibitors hawking their wares.
I visited the Walking Raven retail outlet yesterday and interviewed the owner. Look for some of that interview to appear in a feature article later this week on the state of play in Colorado.
I also made my first legal marijuana purchase in the United States. It was a proprietary 30% THC strain called Hong Kong Diesel. It wasn't cheap, and prices are something I want to address in that coming feature.
The parking lot at Walking Raven was notable for the plethora of out of state license plates. People are coming from all over the country to take part in and celebrate the new reality of legal weed.
I'm off to the 4/20 rally in a bit; may post something later tonight. Then I basically disappear for a couple of days as I head off across Colorado, Utah, and Nevada on my way to Northern California. Look for regular Chronicl action to recommence by Wednesday.
I'm driving from eastern South Dakota to Denver Friday in preparation for the 4/20 weekend there.
The High Times Cannabis Cup is going on, and there's the 4/19-4/20 event at the civic center. Pot is legal in Colorado, but smoking it in public isn't. It'll be interesting to see how the Denver PD responds.
I expect to interview a retail outlet owner, among other people, too. I'll be writing about this next week, but first I have to drive from Denver to Northern California. I should be back in the regular swing next Wednesday.
With Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature today on two bills passed by the legislature, Maryland decriminalized marijuana possession and becomes a full-fledged medical marijuana state.
Senate Bill 364 makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Third-time offenders and individuals under 21 years of age will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1.
The Marijuana Policy Project was among groups pushing for both bills, but it isn't resting on its laurels.
“It’s time for legislators to take a long, hard look at replacing marijuana prohibition with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed,” said MPP legislative analyst Rachelle Yeung. “Marijuana should be sold by licensed businesses, not criminals in the underground market.”
I predict that will happen in 2017, after the next two rounds of legalization initiatives start to convince legislators that they need to hop on the bandwagon.
It was a banner day in Annapolis Monday, where legislators, working against an end-of-session deadline, managed to pass both marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana expansion bills.
The bill decriminalizes up to 10 grams of marijuana for adults 21 and over. A first offense will result in only a $100 citation. A second offense will result in just a $250 fine, but a third offense would require an appearance in court and possibly drug treatment.
Also on Monday, the House and Senate reached final agreement Monday on a bill that would create 15 licenses for medical marijuana growers. The measure is Senate Bill 963. It also would allow dispensaries to operate and let growers sell the medicine directly. Passage of the bill into law would make Maryland a full-fledged medical marijuana state.
Two marijuana reform measures pass in one session. Too bad legalization didn't. But it is coming.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart told a congressional committee today her agency is "fighting back" against Justice Department policies tolerating marijuana in states where it is legal. The president needs to dump her, or at least remind her who the boss is.
DEA Administrator Tells Congress Her Agency Is “Fighting Back” Against Administration’s Tolerance of Marijuana Legalization
At a Wednesday House subcommittee hearing, DEA director Michele Leonhart publicly opposed Department of Justice position on legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington and warned of dangers of marijuana legalization … to pets.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), repeatedly criticized the Obama administration at a hearing Wednesday on the DEA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
In a memo released in July 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would not interfere with the effective implementation of laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington. When asked by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) during a Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing whether the Obama administration’s tolerant views toward legal marijuana had affected morale at the DEA, which is a branch of the DOJ, Leonhart replied that “our agents are fighting back against those messages. It makes us fight harder.” She had earlier criticized the DOJ for a perceived delay in issuing a response to Washington and Colorado’s new laws, claiming there was “a lot of confusion in those 296 days.”
Leonhart also claimed that public opinion in Colorado is turning against the initiative making marijuana legal, yet two recent polls suggest Colorado residents are more supportive of the law than ever before. A Public Policy Polling survey from March showed that 57% of Colorado voters think marijuana should be legal, and a Quinnipiac poll from February showed 58% support for the state’s legalization law. It was supported by 54.8% of voters in 2012. Finally, Leonhart claimed legalization would be dangerous to pets in Colorado and warned of a surge in veterinary clinic visits due to dogs consuming marijuana.
The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a Change.org petition calling on the president to fire Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology. The petition currently has more than 29,000 signatures and is available at https://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-fire-anti-marijuana-dea-administrator-michele-leonhart.
"Administrator Leonhart’s comments were shocking," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies. "The DEA is not simply ignoring the administration’s policies with respect to regulating marijuana, but actively undermining them. Publicly criticizing and questioning the competence of your supervisor would get anyone fired in the private sector. It’s frankly astounding to me that Ms. Leonhart is still employed and American taxpayers continue to foot her $165,000 salary to publicly campaign against the president’s policies. As more Americans recognize that marijuana is safer than alcohol, more think we need to start treating it that way. Michele Leonhart is standing in the way, and it is time for her to go."
Yes, it is time for Michele to go. I would nominate someone like Ethan Nadelmann or Eric Sterling to replace her, but honestly, Zippy the Pinhead would do as well.
The Maryland Senate today overwhelmingly approved a marijuana decriminalization bill with bipartisan support. It now heads to the House of Delegates.
The bill's next stop is the House Judiciary Committee, where a similar bill last year died without a vote. If you are a Maryland resident, contact your members of the House of Delegates to tell them to fight for this bill.
Kudos to the Maryland senators who did the right thing on decrim--even if they couldn't get a legalization bill through--and to the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland and the Marijuana Policy Project for helping show them the way.
Yep, you read that right. The global anti-drug bureaucracy doesn't think it's a good idea to criminalize drug use.
Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.
DPA was happy to hear it:
"There is simply no good basis in science, health or ethics for bringing someone into the criminal justice system solely for drug possession," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "Hopefully the UN’s recommendations will help accelerate the global trend toward ending the criminalization of drug use and possession. That certainly would make an enormous difference in the United States."
And so are we. While decriminalizing drug use does not remove all the harms associated with drug prohibition (especially since it would still leave a huge black market in drug production and sales), it would be a huge step toward recognizing the humanity of drug users. In the US alone, it would also save about 1.5 million each year from being saddled with arrest records.
As many as a thousand people marched through the streets of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, Wednesday in support of arrested Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
They called for his release from a Mexican prison and for him not to be extradited to the United States. Many of them said he provided employment in poor areas of the nearby Sierra Madre mountains and that his group had provided security for residents.
Many were dressed in white, holding signs with messages that included "Don't Extradite El Chapo," "We Want Chapo Freed," and "Sinaloa Supports You, Chapo."
"The government doesn't give any job opportunities," said Daniel Garcia, an unemployed 20-year-old. "The situation is, honestly, really difficult and he helps out the young people, giving them jobs."
"We support 'Chapo' Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains," said Pedro Ramirez, who was part of a group of 300 who had travelled from Badiraguato, a town in the Sierra Madre where Guzman was born 56 years ago.
Another demonstrator said he trusted Guzman more than any elected official.
The obvious question, of course, is how did this demonstration come about? Going back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, drug traffickers have sought and won popular support by providing jobs, services, and facilities to communities where they operate. Mexican traffickers have done the same thing, hosting children's parties and building soccer stadiums and the like.
Was this a spontaneous outpouring of support for Sinaloa's most famous son? Or did El Chapo's buddies buy themselves a demonstration? In either case, the power of the cartels to mobilize popular support should not be underestimated.
Reports are coming out that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the elusive head of the Sinaloa Cartel has been captured in a joint operation by US and Mexican forces.
But in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez would say only that police have "captured an individual" whose identity has not yet been confirmed.
If they actually have El Chapo, this will be a huge victory for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which, like its predecessors, has been criticized for its inability for years to track down the head of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization.
Many, many Mexicans (and others) believe it was not the lack of ability of the government to find Guzman, but the lack of will -- that his huge narco-wealth had protected him from capture for more than a decade since he bought his way out of prison in Mexico.
Somewhere around a hundred thousand people have died in the multi-sided Mexican drug wars in which Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel battled rival drug trafficking organizations, and the cartels fought the police and the Mexican military. (Or, sometimes, the military or the police fought for the cartels, especially Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.)
A bill that would have legalized marijuana in the Aloha State died in a state Senate committee Thursday, but a decriminalization bill still lives.
But a decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 2358, still lives.
The AP reported that decrim got a much less frosty reception than the legalization bill, so stay tuned.
Italy's constitutional court today struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, treating pot possession like heroin possession. Thousands of prisoners will go free.
The Giovanardi-Fini law had been passed in 2006 by the rightist government of Silvio Berlusconi, pushed by reactionary social conservative and neo-fascist elements within the regime. It undid an earlier distinction between "soft" drugs like marijuana and hash and "hard" drug like heroin and cocaine, subjecting cannabis users to sentences three times longer than under the old law.
The law is reported to be the primary cause of prison overcrowding in the country, which has the worst overcrowding problem in all Europe. Prison rights groups estimate that up to 40% of Italian prisoners are doing time for drug crimes.
"The so-called drug war as conceived in North America has been lost and it's time to return to rational rules that distinguish between substances," Franco Corleone, of the human rights group Society of Reason, told Reuters.
Senator Carlo Giovanardi, arch-conservative architect of the law revealed the he is still an idiot with his reaction to the high court decision, which struck down his handiwork as "illegitimate."
The ruling was a "devastating choice from a scientific viewpoint and in the message it sends to young people that some drugs are less dangerous than others," he said, somehow missing the scientific fact that some drugs are less dangerous than others.
President Obama this afternoon signed into law the omnibus farm bill, which includes an amendment allowing for research into hemp production in states that have authorized it.
“With the U.S. hemp industry estimated at over $500 million in annual retail sales and growing, a change in federal law to allow colleges and universities to grow hemp for research means that we will finally begin to regain the knowledge that unfortunately has been lost over the past fifty years,” says Vote Hemp President Eric Steenstra. “This is the first time in American history that industrial hemp has been legally defined by our federal government as distinct from drug varieties of Cannabis. The market opportunities for hemp are incredibly promising—ranging from textiles and health foods to home construction and even automobile manufacturing. This is not just a boon to U.S. farmers, this is a boon to U.S. manufacturing industries as well.”
Read Vote Hemp's press release here.
The Maryland Senate today moved to undo a restriction in existing state law that prevents injection drug users from picking up more clean needles at the Baltimore needle exchange than they turn in.
The bill doesn't include a specific limit on the number of needles can pick up at one time, but one of the bill's supporters, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D-Baltimore), said 50 might be a good number, and that the bill may be amended to get specific.
The bill is supported by the entire Baltimore Senate delegation as well as the city of Baltimore. The health department there says the city's needle exchange program serves about 2,500 people a year and exchanges about 200 needles for each one.
Needle exchanges are a proven means of reducing the transmission of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne illnesses among injection drug users.
Good on the Maryland Senate for moving to get rid of this mindless restriction.
Alaska election officials have certified that a marijuana legalization initiative there has qualified for the ballot. Alaskans will go to the polls in August.
The initiative is sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska with the help of the Marijuana Policy Project.
It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults and the cultivation of up to six plants. It would also allow people to keep the fruits of their harvest in excess of an ounce as long as they keep it at home. It would create a system of state-regulated and -taxed retail marijuana sales.
Alaska appears to be in line to be the third state to legalize marijuana.
Also positive is that drug testing legislation for food stamp recipients, included in the House's first Farm Bill passed last summer, is absent. Two victories!
The District of Columbia city council today approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, but a second vote is needed for final approval.
If approved again then, it will then have to get the okay from the mayor.
If that happens, Congress then has a limited opportunity to block it.
But it's on it's way
The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
The Oglala Sioux are considering legalizing marijuana, Phil noted in yesterday's Chronicle AM roundup. A proposal to take the idea to a vote by residents of the reservation passed the Tribal Council's business development committee, according to South Dakota's Rapid City Journal. The Sioux would be the first Native American body to take up legalization.
In 1998, the Tribal Council approved hemp growing, prompting well-known activist Alex White Plume and his family to plant hemp growing crops from 2000 through 2002. Federal authorities wiped out the crops, however, and the federal courts rejected White Plume's appeal.
Meanwhile, a French legislator has filed a legalization bill. Esther Benbassa, a member of France's Green Party, said that France has rising marijuana use despite one of the most restrictive drug laws in Europe, according to UPI.
Things are looking for good for a vote for marijuana decriminalization in the DC city council this afternoon. From Phil's "Chronicle AM" drug policy roundup yesterday:
DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
At $25 per violation -- less than most parking tickets, and less than the $100 fine originally proposed for the bill, the legislation would be a really nice step forward. (On the other hand, if one counts the value of the marijuana that police will still seize, the net cost might still be more than a parking ticket.)