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House Moves to Rein in DEA--Cuts Budget, Bars Spy Program, Interference With Hemp, Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated.

The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) offered the amendment barring the DEA and the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to do bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It passed on a voice vote yesterday.

"Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."

Last night, members voted to slash $23 million from the DEA's budget and reallocate the money for most cost-effective programs. One amendment, from Rep. Ted Liew (D-CA) shifted $9 million from the agency's marijuana eradication program to youth programs; another, from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) cut $4 million from the DEA budget for rape test kits; while the third, from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) shifted $9 million from the DEA to a program to try to reduce police abuse by procuring body cameras for police officers.

In today's votes, an amendment offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) would bar the DEA and Justice from interfering in medical marijuana states. It passed 242-186. Similar legislation passed Congress last year, but was set to expire.

The House also passed an amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) to protect state laws allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil. It passed 297-130. A third amendment, from Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), to protect state laws allowing industrial hemp also passed on a vote of 282-146.

But the most far-reaching amendment, which would have barred federal interference in states where marijuana is legal for either medical or general purposes, failed on a vote of 206-222. It was sponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"Votes in support of rolling back the federal government’s war on medical marijuana are beginning to become routine. Last year, passing this amendment was unprecedented. This year, it was predictable. Medical marijuana has gone from ‘controversial’ to ‘conventional’ on Capitol Hill," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But this is just the start, Riffle said.

"This is an important amendment because it addresses the tension between state and federal marijuana law," he noted. "We welcome it as a temporary fix, but what we really need is a comprehensive and more permanent solution. It’s time for Congress to pass legislation that ends prohibition at the federal level and allows states to determine their own marijuana policies."

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority was singing the same tune.

"Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law," he said. "That's what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well. Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer.”

"There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said DPA's Piper.

Despite the narrow failure of that last amendment, the votes are just the latest indicator of rising congressional dissatisfaction with the scandal-plagued agency. Former Administrator Michele Leonhart was forced to resign earlier this year after a disastrous performance before congressional overseers over the agency's latest scandal, which involved DEA agents using taxpayer (and sometimes, drug baron) funds to consort with prostitutes in Colombia.

But the agency's problems with Congress go deeper than mere scandals—of which there are plenty—and reflect rising congressional concern that the DEA is not only ineffective, but downright obstinate, especially when it comes to marijuana policy. Leonhart herself epitomized the culture problem in the DEA when she was unable to bring herself to admit to Congress last year that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin.

The House has now shown it isn't very keen on the DEA's mass surveillance programs, either. Knowledge of their extent first appeared with a Reuters expose in 2013 that outlined collaboration between the DEA, NSA, CIA and other agencies to spy on Americans in the name of the drug war, including the creation of false investigative trails to disguise the fact they were getting information from secret surveillance programs. Then, this April, USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program, the first known US effort to gather bulk data on citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime, was the precursor of the post-9/11 spying programs.  

"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. "From spying on Americans to busting into people’s homes the DEA doesn’t fit in well in a free society and the time is now to reverse these harms."

DPA recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about the campaign to rein in the DEA are available at www.drugpolicy.org/DEA.

 "The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Deportation for Pills, Texas Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (6/2/15)

Massachusetts politicians start to figure out that marijuana is going to be legalized, Congress is set to take up measures to protect legal marijuana states, Texas becomes the 15th CBD cannabis oil state, the Supreme Court nixes deportation of an immigrant for drug paraphernalia, and more.

The US Supreme Court rejects deportation of immigrant who had pills in a sock. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Getting Ready to Vote on Measures to Protect State Marijuana Laws. The US House is set to vote this week -- perhaps as early as tonight -- on a series of amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would limit federal government interference in states that have legalized marijuana production and consumption. Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are sponsoring an amendment that would halt the federal prosecution of people involved in marijuana-related activities legal under state law. Last year, the Congress passed a similar measure barring the Justice Department from prosecuting people in medical marijuana states, but this year's amendment covers both legal and recreational states.

Massachusetts Senate President Floats Notion of 2016 Nonbinding Legalization Question. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said Monday that lawmakers should consider putting a nonbinding question about marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot. He said that would give lawmakers the political cover to craft their own legalization bill. But they may not get the chance: two separate groups are planning legalization initiatives for 2016, and if either makes the ballot and passes, Massachusetts will have legal weed without the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota's CBD Cannabis Oil Program Now Taking Registrants. As of Monday, patients can sign up for the state's CBD cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up.

Texas Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

Law Enforcement

US Supreme Court Rejects Deportation for Drug Paraphernalia. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that an immigrant could not be deported for possession of drug paraphernalia -- in this case, a sock that was used to hold Adderall pills. The immigrant in question was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and served a probated sentence, but was then targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Board of Immigration appeals upheld his deportation, ruling that his paraphernalia possession triggered deportation even though the drug his paraphernalia (the sock) contained was not federally scheduled. The Supreme Court found this untenable: "The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for using a sock to contain that substance. Because it makes scant sense, the BIA's interpretation, we hold, is owed no deference…" The case is Mellouli v. Lynch, Attorney General.

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Reg Bill Moves, IL Heroin Bill Passes House, Brits to Ban Legal Highs, More (6/1/15)

California could finally end up with statewide medical marijuana regulation as a compromise bill moves, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, an omnibus heroin bill moves in Illinois, and more.

Illinois is the latest state to try to legislate a response to heroin. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Bill Rejected in Committee. The Criminal Justice Committee last Thursday rejected Rep. Diane Russell's legalization bill, LD 1380, but the bill is not yet dead, and supporters say the real battle will be on the House floor. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Assembly Appropriations Committee has approved a compromise regulation bill that combines features of two competing bills, Assembly Bill 34 and Assembly Bill 266. The bill would create a Governor's Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation, with three divisions. The Agriculture Department would handle cultivation, the Public Health Department would handle product safety and labeling, and the Board of Equalization would be responsible for licensing. The compromise bill is AB 266. A floor vote is expected later this week.

Illinois Bill to Add PTSD Moves Ahead. The House last Saturday approved a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The bill has already been approved by the Sentate, but will have to go back there for approval after the House added language clarifying that patients are not prohibited from having a state firearms owner ID card.

Oklahoma Initiative Campaign Began Saturday. Hundreds of people showed up at the state capitol Saturday for the launch of a medical marijuana initiative campaign led by Oklahomans for Health.

Heroin

Illinois Heroin Bill Passes House. The House last week approved House Bill 1, a comprehensive bill aimed at combating heroin use. Sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, establish a prescription drug return program, expands Medicaid services to include rehabilitation, and expands the use of drug courts for people charged with simple possession. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Committee Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. The House Judiciary Committee has passed a package of bills aimed at reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws. The package raises the standard of proof before goods can be seized and mandates increased reporting of seizures by law enforcement agencies. One of the bills would bar asset forfeiture in cases involving less than an ounce of pot.

Drug Testing

California Assembly Committee Rejects Uber Driver Drug Testing Bill. The Appropriations Committee has voted down Assembly Bill 24, which would have required drug testing of Uber and Lyft drivers.

Law Enforcement

Silk Road Mastermind Gets Life in Prison. Ross Ulbricht, founder of the Dark Web's first widely-known drug sales website, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday, the harshest possible sentence he faced. With no chance at parole, Ulbricht will die in prison unless his sentence is overturned.

International

British Ban on Psychoactive Substances Could Cripple Brain Research. Last week, the British government announced it would ban all unregulated psychoactive substances via a new act, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, but some scientists are now saying the bill would cripple research on the brain. The bill would ban laughing gas, salvia, "poppers," and synthetic cannabinoids, among other things. Dr. David Nutt, the former top drug advisor to the government, said that such efforts could bring some areas of scientific research to a standstill. "It's going to end brain research in this country. It will be disastrous," he said.

British Lib Dem Leadership Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Norman Lamb, who is seeking to lead the Liberal Democrats after their poor showing in the last election, is calling for Britain to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce. Lamb said he is seeking immediate legalization for medical use and a swift, evidence-based policy change regarding recreational use.

Chronicle AM: ME Pot DUID Bill Dies, SC MedMJ Bill Dies, OR Senate Restricts MedMJ Grows, More (5/28/15)

The Maine legislature kills a pot DUID bill, the Arizona Supreme Court will take up the issue, Florida's CBD cannabis oil program will finally roll out, the Dutch crack down on grow shops, Australia's Greens want to ban drug dogs, and more.

Marijuana and driving remains a contentious issue. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Marijuana DUID Bill Stalls in Legislature. An effort to pass a per se marijuana impaired driving law has stalled in the legislature after experts said that, given the state of the science, any specified limit would be "arbitrary." Under per se impaired driving laws, merely testing positive for the specified amount is sufficient to get you convicted of drugged driving. The legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday not to advance LD 1320, but instead to convene a working group to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Will Review Ruling on DUID Immunity for Patients. The Supreme Court Tuesday agreed to review a state Court of Appeals ruling issued last November that said medical marijuana patients can still be prosecuted under laws against drugged driving. Arizona has a zero tolerance per se DUID law under which all that is necessary to convict if the presence of inactive metabolites in the blood.

Florida Judge Clears Way for CBD Cannabis Oil Program. A judge in Tallahassee Wednesday dismissed the final challenge to the state's CBD cannabis oil law passed last year, clearing the way for the long-delayed program to actual get underway. Now, growers should be able to provide CBD cannabis oils to patients within a few months.

Oregon Senate Passes Bill Restricting Medical Marijuana Grows. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill widely opposed by patients and growers that limits the number of plants caregivers could grow. The measure, Senate Bill 964, also requires regular reporting by growers and allows localities to prohibit dispensaries.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for This Year. A bill that would have allowed for the use of medical marijuana is dead in the state legislature this year, senators said. Senate Bill 672, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), will, however, get more hearings before the legislature begins the second year of its two-year session in January.

International

Dutch Police in Massive Raid on Grow Shops. Dutch police enforcing a new law cracking down on people aiding or promoting illicit marijuana cultivation raided 27 grow shops across the country Tuesday, arresting 11 people. Under the new law, it is now illegal to deliberately supply equipment for illicit marijuana cultivation. Violators face up to three years in prison.

Australia Greens File Bill to Ban Drug Dogs from Festivals. The Greens have filed a bill to end the use of drug-sniffing dogs at music festivals, bars, on public transport, and in Sydney's Kings Cross neighborhood. The bill is part of a broader Green campaign against the use of drug dogs. The Greens say the drug dogs program doesn't work, but does subject thousands of young people to humiliating searches. The Greens also argue that the dogs program doesn't target major suppliers, but people carrying small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Chronicle AM: IL Senate Approves Decrim, MedMJ Extension; Ex-Cincy Police Chief Endorses Pot Init, More (5/22/15)

Midwest marijuana news dominates today, with the Illinois Senate approving decriminalization and medical marijuana extension bills, a prominent Ohio law enforcement figure endorsing a legalization initiative and the state attorney general rejecting another one, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Senate Passes Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday approved House Bill 218, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana, replacing the possibility of jail time and a criminal record with a maximum $125 fine and no criminal record. The bill has already cleared the House, but will not go to the governor's desk until sponsors get some additional cleanup language approved.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has come out in favor of the controversial ResponsibleOhio pot legalization initiative. "Our state spends over $120 million per year to enforce marijuana prohibition, even though we all know these laws do not work," Streicher said. "Law enforcement should instead be able to spend their time and their resources cracking down on the real criminals." ResponsibleOhio is the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. It needs more than 300,000 approved voter signatures to qualify, but says it has 320,000 raw signatures right now and aims to gather 800,000 by the July deadline.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Language for Third Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine Thursday rejected the ballot summary language for a third statewide legalization initiative, the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment from Ohioans to End Prohibition. Two other initiatives, from ResponsibleOhio and Better for Ohio, have already been approved and are in the signature-gathering phase. Now, Ohioans for Prohibition will have to gather another 1,000 signatures and resubmit modified language if it wants to move forward.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Senate Approves Extension of Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate voted 33-16 Thursday to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.

Nebraska Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Study Bill. The state Senate Thursday gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on the bill.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Local Collective Garden Bans. The state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

Drug Testing

Maine Committee Rejects Governor's Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill. The legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 on party lines to reject LD 1407, Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bid to impose drug testing on food stamp recipients. That doesn't mean the bill is dead, though; it is still likely to be debated in the House, and the question will be whether the Democrats can hold their caucus together in opposition.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Jail Becomes First in South to Offer Naloxone to Released Inmates. The Durham County Detention Facility last month began distributing overdose reversal kits to inmates being released in a bid to cut the overdose rate among the newly freed whose tolerance to opiate drugs has been reduced by the jail stays. The formerly incarcerated are more than a hundred times more likely to die of drug overdoses in the first two weeks after their release than the general population.

International

Iceland Support for Marijuana Legalization Doubles, But Still Low. Nearly one quarter (24.3%) of Icelanders now support marijuana legalization, up from 12.7% in 2011, a new survey finds. Men were more supportive than women (31% v. 16%), and the youth were more supportive than older cohorts, but even among people under 30, support was only at 43%.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders on Marijuana Policy, LA Reform Bill Advances, New DEA Head Nominated, More (5/21/15)

Marijuana continues to dominate the drug policy news, plus public benefits drug testing bills move in Maine and Wisconsin, the NYPD decides not to bust middle-aged dopers, and more.

Bernie Sanders (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Mellow on Marijuana. The Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination hinted at support for marijuana legalization during a Reddit question and answer session Tuesday, although he did not explicitly call for it. "I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana [when I was mayor]," Sanders said. "Our police had more important things to do." He said he supported decriminalization in Vermont and was watching Colorado closely. "Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,"Sanders said. "I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the state's draconian marijuana possession sentencing. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Maine Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday heard testimony on a pair of marijuana legalization bills. Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), LD 1380 and its companion bill in the Senate would craft a regulatory structure for pot commerce and then put it before voters. If the legislature fails to act, the state could see two legalization initiatives next year.

Second Ohio Pot Legalization Initiative Certified for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office has certified a legalization initiative from Better for Ohio, which means the group can now commence trying to gather the 306,000 signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot. Another group, ResponsibleOhio, is already in the signature-gathering phase.

No Decriminalization Initiative for Nashville. An effort by TN-NORML to put a marijuana decriminalization on the municipal ballot this year has apparently fallen short. Monday was the deadline day for handing in signatures, and TN-NORML didn't hand any in. Earlier, the group said it had only 4,000 signatures; it needed nearly 7,000 to qualify.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Limiting Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Monday signed into law a bill that will limit medical marijuana caregivers to growing no more than 99 plants. The bill is Senate Bill 15-014. The bill also allows parents to have someone other than themselves grow medical marijuana for child patients and allows school districts to consider allowing medical marijuana use on campus.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates Chuck Rosenberg to Head DEA. FBI senior official and former US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg has been nominated to replace Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. For the last 18 months, Rosenberg has served as chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey. He previously served as US Attorney for Southern Texas and US Attorney for Eastern Virginia and has won support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and health coverage through the state-sponsored program to be assessed for drug use passed the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday. People whose assessments suggest they may be using drugs would have to take and pass a drug test to win benefits. A provision to include food stamp recipients was stripped out because it would likely be challenged by the federal government. The measure is Assembly Bill 192.

Maine Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients Gets Hearing. The Health and Human Services Committee heard Monday from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage (R) about its bill that would require people on the food stamp program to take a written screening test to see if they are using drugs. If the assessment suggested they may be using drugs, they would have to submit to a drug test. People who tested positive could keep their benefits as long as they sought and completed drug treatment. The bill would also bar people with drug felonies from getting food stamps.

Law Enforcement

NYPD To Not Bust Middle-Aged Drug Offenders. The NYPD last week issued a memo instructing its narcs not to bust drug offenders over age 40 and instead concentrate on younger dealers. The department considers younger drug suspects to be more dangerous.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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: TX MJ Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote !); Decrim Advances in DE, IL, More (5/7/15)

Holy Cow! A marijuana legalization bill wins a committee vote in Texas! Also, decrim bills are moving in Delaware and Illinois, welfare drug testing gets shot down by Democrats in Iowa, but advances thanks to Republicans in Wisconsin, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fourth California Legalization Initiative Filed. Busy, busy. Jason Porter and Lara Marie Collinsworth have filed the 2016 California Bipartisan Decriminalization of Cannabis Act. That's the fourth so far this year, and we're still waiting for the big one to drop. This one would legalize up to five pounds for personal possession and allow a 500 square foot garden. It would also force medical marijuana into a pharmacy system. There is a handy spreadsheet on the various proposals here.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot has passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee after its sponsor, Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington), said she would revise to address law enforcement concerns. It now includes language making public pot smoking or smoking in a vehicle a misdemeanor with a maximum $200 fine. The cops still oppose it, though. The bill is House Bill 39.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of pot passed the Senate Criminal Law Committee Wednesday. House Bill 218 has already passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Texas House Committee Approves Legalization Bill. In a surprise move, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved an outright legalization bill on a 5-2 vote. The bill, House Bill 2165 now awaits a chance at a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Extension Heads for Senate Floor Vote. A bill to extend the state's long-delayed medical marijuana pilot program is now headed for a final Senate vote. House Bill 3299 passed the House last month. It would extend the program for four years after the first dispensary opens.

Texas Senate Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate today approved Senate Bill 339, the "Texas Compassionate Use Act," which would allow people with severe epileptic conditions to use CBD cannabis oil. The bill now goes to the House. The House is considering a companion bill, but it has not had a floor vote yet.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire House Approves Synthetic Drug Bill. The House voted Wednesday to restrict synthetic drugs. The bill, Senate Bill 106, would impose fines on persons who sell synthetic drugs and fines and other penalties on businesses that sold them, but would not penalize personal possession of the substances. The bill has already passed the Senate, but was amended in the House, so it needs to go bac for a final Senate vote.

Texas Senate Approves Synthetic Drug Bill. The Senate Wednesday passed Senate Bill 1582, which would allow the state health department to designate new synthetics as "hazardous controlled substances" until the legislature has time to ban them. The bill now goes to the House.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) today filed Senate Bill 838, the "Personal Asset Protection Act." The bill would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture can be undertaken. Although the bill is being filed late in the session, Loveless said it was an important issue and that he would hold an interim study to examine the issue.

Drug Testing

Iowa Welfare Drug Testing Defeated. Senate Democrats stood firm to defeat a welfare drug testing amendment proposed as part of a health and human services budget bill Wednesday. The amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, 26-23. The Senate also rejected an amendment that would have required drug testing for lawmakers.

Wisconsin Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moves. A bill that would require some public benefits recipients to undergo drug testing was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform Wednesday. The Republican-backed measure is Assembly Bill 192

Chronicle AM: AZ AG Lets Officials Flout Election Laws, MT Gov Signs Forfeiture Reform Bill, More (5/6/15)

Lots of marijuana policy at the statehouse today, a Texas CBD cannabis oil bill moves, Montana's governor signs asset forfeiture reform into law, Vermont heads in the opposite direction on asset forfeiture, and more.

The pro-legalization billboard that went up in Providence this week.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Attorney General Says Elected Officials Can Campaign Against Legalization. Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) says elected officials can engage in "public education campaigns" against looming marijuana legalization initiatives as long as they don't go as far as telling voters not to vote for them. That's an idiosyncratic interpretation of the state's electioneering laws, and the Marijuana Policy Project, which is backing an initiative there, is threatening to sue.

Iowa Senate Approves Marijuana Bill With Multiple Provisions. The Senate voted Tuesday to approve a bill originally designed to go after synthetic drugs, but which was amended to lessen penalties for possession of five grams or less and to reclassify marijuana from Class I to Class 2. The bill, House File 567, already passed the House, but has to go back for members to vote on the changes made in the Senate.

Louisiana Bill to Lessen Marijuana Penalties Moves. A bill that would decrease maximum sentences for repeat marijuana possession offenders was approved by the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee today. House Bill 149, from Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) would make a second offense punishable by only two years in prison instead of five and a third offense punishable by only five years instead of 20. Passage of the bill would move Louisiana's marijuana sentencing from the insanely draconian to the merely harshly draconian. It now heads to the House floor.

Rhode Island House Approves Bill to Bar Disclosure of Minor Marijuana Offenses. With no debate, the House voted 67-1 Tuesday to bar the public disclosure of the names of people who had been busted only once or twice for marijuana possession. The move addressed two conflicting provisions of the state's 2012 decriminalization law, one of which said records would be sealed 18 months after the payment of fines and another of which said they were to stay sealed.

East Lansing, MI, Votes to Legalize Marijuana. Voters there approved a local legalization initiative with 65% of the vote. The initiative legalizes up to an ounce for people 21 and over on private property. It also allows for the transfer of up to an ounce. Marijuana possession remains illegal under state law.

Rhode Island Activists Put Up Billboard. As the legislature contemplates legalization, Regulate Rhode Island has unveiled a billboard aimed at getting solons' attention and showing them legalization could bring jobs and cash to the state.

Medical Marijuana

Texas CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Bills that would allow people suffering from epilepsy to use CBD cannabis oil won committee votes in both chambers Monday. Senate Bill 339 passed out of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services on an 8-1 vote, while its companion measure, House Bill 892, was approved by the House Public Health Committee, also on an 8-1 vote. A Senate floor vote come could next week.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Steve Bullock (D) Tuesday signed into law HB 463, which would require police to win a conviction before undertaking asset forfeiture proceedings. It also raises the bar for seizures, requiring police to show "clear and convincing evidence" that the property was not legally obtained. Civil asset forfeiture reform has also become law this year in New Mexico.

Vermont House Approves Bill Making Asset Forfeiture Easier. Going against the asset forfeiture reform grain, the House Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that makes it easier for prosecutors to seize the assets of those involved in drug crimes. The bill is S.102 and is supported by law enforcement. The bill was set for a third reading today, and if approved, it would go back to the Senate for approval of changes, or the Senate could call for a conference committee.

Drug Testing

California Roadside Drug Testing Bill Killed. A bill that would have let police use a device similar to a breathalyzer to test drivers for the presence of drugs died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. The bill, Assembly Bill 1356, was supported by law enforcement, but opposed by defense attorneys and the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Surprising State That Could Be the Next to Legalize Weed [FEATURE]

[This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.]

It's looking more and more likely that voters in a key battleground state will be voting on marijuana legalization in November, and recent polling suggests it could win. That's this November, not November 2016.

The state is Ohio, where a controversial legalization initiative is already well on the way to qualifying for the ballot, and its backers -- or should we say investors? -- have the cash on hand to make sure it does.

There are marijuana legalization bills pending in any number of states, and early on, there were hopes this would be the year a state legislature would get around to legalizing it. New England states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont looked like the best bets, but it now doesn't seem like it's going to happen.

2016 promises to see a wave of legalization initiatives -- think Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts, for starters, with Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio also likely to see serious efforts emerge.

But that's next year. The group ResponsibleOhio is well on the way to putting the issue before Buckeye State voters this year. They've already had their proposed constitutional amendment approved for signature gathering and, thanks to paid signature-gatherers, are cruising toward qualifying for the ballot.

To qualify in Ohio, initiatives need 305,000 valid voter signatures; ResponsibleOhio collected 180,000 raw signatures in its first three weeks and still has more than two months to gather the rest. And the campaign is still expanding.

Veteran initiative watchers will tell you campaigns want a cushion of excess signatures to account for ones that are thrown out, maybe 25% to 30% above the requirement at a bare minimum. In Ohio this year, that would be 400-450,000 raw signatures. The campaign says they are aiming for 700,000.

Given the progress so far, and the organization and money behind it (see below), ResponsibleOhio's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot.

A New Legalization Model

This is not legalization like we've seen anywhere else. Yes, it allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and yes, it calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. And it even has provisions for medical marijuana.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state, and those sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have already kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and who are prepared to spend up to $20 million convincing the public to vote for it.

The Big O in his NBA heyday. (wikimedia.org)
The investors include a number of Ohio business interest-real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- but also some home state big names that could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

The ResponsibleOhio plan has raised a lot of hackles among movement veterans such as NORML founder Keith Stroup, who voices widely-held worries about the impact of big money in the movement and Ohio activists, some of whom have their own initiative plans, but they may not matter as much as suburban Columbus soccer moms when it comes to election day.

And while this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem that strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

Can It Win?

Initiatives need to have money, momentum, and votes to win.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending up to $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging to donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. A Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

The conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling 60% or more at the beginning of the campaign because they are bound to lose some support in the face of organized opposition. But when it comes to marijuana, these hardly seem like conventional times. National polls show an upward trend, and Ohio polls show an upward trend. Whether it can win at the polls in an off-off-year election remains to be seen (the casino initiative did), but it certainly looks like it's going to be on the ballot, and it's got a very good shot on Election Day.

Ohio isn't the West Coast or New England. It's a mid-sized Midwest swing state critical in presidential politics. If Ohio legalizes it this year, the politics of pot is going to get very, very interesting next year.

OH
United States

Chronicle AM: Mexico Drug War Flares Up, Colombia Coca Crops Up, Global Call to UN, More (5/5/15)

Mexico drug war flares, Colombia coca production jumps, a Texas decrim bill is moving, so is a Hawaii dispensary bill and a Louisiana medical marijuana bill. And more.

Coca production is up in Colombia. It could end up as cocaine, like this haul seized by Spanish police.
Marijuana Policy

Texas Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. After failing in a close vote last week, a bill to decriminalize marijuana advanced Monday night. House Bill 507, sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) passed the House Jurisprudence Committee on a 4-2 vote. It would make possession of up to an ounce a civil infraction with a maximum $250 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins Final Committee Vote. A bill to finally bring dispensaries to the Aloha State has passed its final committee vote and now heads for a final legislative vote. House Bill 321 would allow for eight dispensaries statewide, with each allowed two retail locations and two grow sites.

Illinois Advisory Board Expands List of Qualifying Illnesses. The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board Monday recommended adding PTSD and seven other illnesses and conditions to the list of those for which medical marijuana can be used. The decision isn't final; the Department of Public Health must approve.

Louisiana Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Monday approved Senate Bill 143, which would allow people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, and cerebral palsy to use the herb. It would create a single grow site and medical marijuana would be distributed through 10 pharmacies. The bill now heads to the House.

Missouri CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill Wins Committee Vote. The bill, SB 386, passed unanimously out of the House Emerging Issues Committee Monday. It now goes to the Select Committee on General Laws.

Tennessee Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Monday signed into law House Bill 1097, which will expand access to CBD cannabis oil.

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. The bill, HB 830, which would legalize hemp production in the state, passed the Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee on a 6-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor.

Drug Policy

Carly Fiorina: "Drug Addiction Shouldn't Be Criminalized." Newly-announced GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina said Monday that the country needs to find a new way to deal with drug addiction. "Drug addiction shouldn't be criminalized," Fiorina said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. "We need to treat it appropriately." She added that "decriminalizing drug addiction and drug use" is good public policy.

Law Enforcement

Gloucester, Massachusetts, Police To Stop Arresting Addicts If They Seek Help. Police in Gloucester say that if drug users come to them and turn in their drugs and/or paraphernalia, they will not be charged with criminal offenses, but will instead be offered treatment in partnership with two local medical centers. "We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this disease," Chief Leonard Campanello said. The new policy goes into effect in June.

International

Reform Groups Release Letter Calling on UN to Respect Drug Policy Reforms. More than a hundred human rights, public health and drug and justice reform groups have released an open letter calling on the UN to respect countries' moves to end drug prohibition and to emphasize human rights over harsh law enforcement responses. The move is part of the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs next year. And check out that website where the letter is. [Disclosure: We organized the letter.]

Coca Production Up Dramatically in Colombia. Coca production jumped 39% last year, according to a new White House report. The report comes as pressure mounts on Colombia to end its US-backed program of aerial herbicide spraying on coca crops after the WHO called glyphosate a carcinogen. The reported increase came after six years of declining or steady production.

Mexican Government Declares War on Jalisco New Generation Cartel. In the wake of a violent week that saw presumed cartel gunmen shoot down a military helicopter, killing six soldiers, along with shootouts, blockades, and vehicle-burnings, the Mexican government says it is going to war against the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which it blames for the violence. "The full force of the Mexican state will be felt in the state of Jalisco," an official vowed Monday. "Satisfactory results will start to be seen very soon."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays 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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