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DEA's Marijuana Rescheduling Rejection Is Disappointing, But Doesn't Have Much Impact [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and an earlier version appeared here.

The DEA's decision Thursday not to move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) ended months of speculation about whether the agency would finally act in accordance with an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility and either schedule it less restrictively or deschedule it altogether.

Supporters of more enlightened marijuana policies were disappointed, but not surprised. After all, the DEA has a long history of rejecting and impeding science when it comes to marijuana. But even had DEA acted (it did ease the University of Mississippi's monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes), the most likely move would have been grudgingly incremental, shifting marijuana from a schedule where it is grouped with heroin down to Schedule II, where it would be grouped with cocaine and methamphetamines, and still not prescribable absent FDA approval.

Or the agency could have taken some other largely unpalatable stance, such as making cannibidiol a Schedule III substance (like synthetic Marinol) while leaving the whole plant Schedule I. In any case, any move short of descheduling it entirely and treating it like alcohol and tobacco, would have left marijuana medicalized, but not normalized.

The article below was written days before the DEA's decision, but we think the discussion remains germane for understanding the issues around rescheduling and why most reformers are disappointed, but not devastated by the agency's stubborn refusal to budge.

While the DEA may move to reschedule marijuana to a lesser schedule, keeping it within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act means that it would still be illegal, even for medical use in the absence of FDA approval. Even with FDA approval, a years-long process, it would still require a prescription to obtain, which would do nothing to address legal adult marijuana sales, production, or possession in the states. Removing it from the CSA, or descheduling, is what consumers and the industry are calling for, but that is the unlikeliest outcome, even though that's how we deal with the two most commonly used recreational drugs in the United States, alcohol and tobacco.

Schedule I is reserved for substances that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," the DEA notes. "Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." Those drugs include heroin, Ecstasy, LSD, peyote…and marijuana.

For more than 40 years, the DEA has blocked efforts to have marijuana placed in a more appropriate schedule, one that reflects the plant's medicinal uses as well as its relative harmlessness compared to other scheduled substances. But that stance has grown increasingly untenable in the face of state-level medical marijuana programs and in the face of an ever-larger mountain of research that fails to find significant serious health consequences from marijuana use.

Now, the DEA is considering a decision on the most recent rescheduling petition. Earlier this year, the agency told lawmakers it "hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016," but that clearly didn't happen. Late in June, DEA spokesman Russ Baer said the agency is "in the final stages" of making its determination. And just last week, Baer said, "We're closer than we ever were. It's a very deliberative process."

If the DEA decides not to keep marijuana in Schedule I, the most obvious incremental move would be for it to bump it down one step to Schedule II, placing pot in the same category as morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That could pave the way for eventually allowing doctors to prescribe it, and would remove some roadblocks to further research. It might open the way for broader changes in financial and business regulations, although a shift to Schedule III or greater would be needed to address the debilitating 280E tax provision, which prevents cannabusinesses from deducting ordinary expenses like rent or payroll.

The DEA still doesn't see the "medical" in "medical marijuana." (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
But Schedule II, or any of the lesser schedules, would require that marijuana be approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a lengthy and expensive process that could bankrupt businesses attempting to overcome those regulatory hurdles. And until that happens, there is no approved marijuana for doctors to prescribe. It's also unclear whether the FDA would ever approve smoked marijuana.

Members of the marijuana industry, medical marijuana advocates, and marijuana consumer advocacy groups alike expressed skepticism about the DEA's willingness or ability to respond to the scientific evidence, uncertainty about what the agency was likely to do, and a demonstrated a pronounced -- if not unanimous -- preference not for rescheduling, but for descheduling.

Matthew Huron is a founder and former board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and founder and current CEO of Good Chemistry Colorado, a vertically integrated cannabis company, as well as the co-founder of the Wellspring Collective, which caters to seniors with health challenges. Huron isn't exactly enthused by the prospect of Schedule II.

"Just to move it to Schedule II is more complicated than we're reading about," he said. "It might just be the molecule that gets rescheduled -- not cannabis. I don't think moving it to Schedule II would really have much effect on the states. It wouldn't hurt, but it wouldn't really help. Most of us in the industry would like to see it descheduled."

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is pushing for Schedule II, but it's not relying on the DEA to make it happen.

"We don't have a crystal ball, and we don't know what the DEA will do, but based on past history, we don't have high hopes they will reschedule," said ASA spokesperson Melissa Wilcox. "It's possible they will de- or reschedule CBD and leave whole plant cannabis at Schedule I. Who knows? The DEA tends to ignore the science."

Schedule II "would remove barriers to scientists wishing to do research, so we know best how to use cannabis -- targeting, dosing, all the questions we haven't been able to study because it is such a pain to get research done now," said Wilcox.

But with little faith in the DEA, ASA is instead pushing for a legislative solution, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States' Rights (CARERS) Act, also known as S. 683, which is currently bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by octogenarian prohibitionist Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

The CARERS Act would move marijuana to Schedule II, as well as deschedule CBD, open up access to marijuana business banking, and end the NIDA monopoly on growing marijuana for research, among other provisions.

"We're pretty sure this could pass, but Grassley is the gatekeeper, and we're pushing hard to get him to schedule a vote," said Wilcox.

"Moving marijuana to Schedule II is not a solution," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has played -- and continues to play -- a major role in advancing both medical marijuana and legalization at the state level. "It would certainly remove barriers to research, but it would still treat marijuana as if it were as harmful as cocaine and other illegal substances, when it is objectively less harmful than alcohol. We fully support removing marijuana from the schedules and treating it like alcohol," Tvert emphasized.

"We think marijuana should be removed entirely from the Controlled Substances Act," said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML, representing consumers and small growers in the nation's most populous state. "As a fallback position, we've been litigating since 1972 to get it rescheduled to Schedule II. If they do that, that would be good -- they'd only be 45 years overdue," he noted.

"From the standpoint of states that have state-legal suppliers, Schedule II doesn't accomplish a whole lot," Gieringer said. "Those state-legal suppliers wouldn't become federally legal; they'd have to first obtain FDA approval. Until that happens, everybody is an illegal producer of a scheduled drug under federal law," he said.

"Schedule II would allow doctors to write prescriptions -- but nobody could fill them," Gieringer noted. "There are international prescriptions and international suppliers, though. But the main impact would be doctors would feel better and cops couldn't argue that marijuana isn't a medicine. If they're trying to create a niche for existing legal medical marijuana state, putting it in Schedule II is like creating a square hole for a round peg."

Marijuana patients, consumers, and the industry are all waiting for the DEA to act, but aren't really holding out much hope it will do the right thing. And even the half-steps it might take, such as moving it to Schedule II or separating out CBDs for lower scheduling, aren't going to substantially alter marijuana's legal status or resolve the conflicts between state-level legality and federal marijuana prohibition. When it comes to rescheduling marijuana, there's just not that much there there.

DEA Once Again Refuses to Reschedule Marijuana, But Does Offer One Sop [FEATURE]

The DEA today again refused to reschedule marijuana, arguing that its therapeutic value has not been scientifically proven. The move rejecting a rescheduling petition from two governors comes despite medical marijuana being legal in half the states and in the face of an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility.

"DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)," the agency said in a press release. "In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."

Today's action marks at least the fourth time the DEA has rejected petitions seeking to reschedule marijuana. The effort to get the DEA to move marijuana off the same schedule as heroin has been going on since 1972, and once again has garnered the same result.

The move comes despite the expansion of state medical marijuana laws at least three more states will vote on it this year -- and a growing clamor for change, including from members of Congress. Just yesterday, the National Conference of State Legislatures adopted a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off Schedule I.

The agency did announce one policy change that could make it easier to conduct marijuana research. It said it would end the University of Mississippi's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes by granting growing licenses to a limited number of other universities.

But that was not nearly enough for marijuana reform advocates, who scorched the agency for its continuing refusal to move the drug off of Schedule I, if not outside the purview of the Controlled Substances Act altogether.

"This decision is further evidence that the DEA doesn't get it. Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach -- leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

The DEA again refuses to acknowledge marijuana's medicinal utility. (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
"The DEA's refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I is, quite frankly, mind-boggling. It is intellectually dishonest and completely indefensible. Not everyone agrees marijuana should be legal, but few will deny that it is less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs. It is less toxic, less addictive, and less damaging to the body," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"We are pleased the DEA is finally going to end NIDA's monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes. For decades it has been preventing researchers from exploring the medical benefits of marijuana. It has also stood in the way of any scientific inquiries that might contradict the DEA's exaggerated claims about the potential harms of marijuana or raise questions about its classification under Schedule I," Tvert continued.

"The DEA's announcement is a little sweet but mostly bitter. Praising them for it would be like rewarding a student who failed an exam and agreed to cheat less on the next one. Removing barriers to research is a step forward, but the decision does not go nearly far enough. Marijuana should be completely removed from the CSA drug schedules and regulated similarly to alcohol," he concluded.

"For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML.

"While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis' therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol," he continued. "Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.

It is time for Congress to step up, Armentano said.

The DEA's approach. (DEA)
"Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis' criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government's 'Flat Earth' position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana's therapeutic efficacy," he said.

He wasn't the only one.

"It's really sad that DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "President Obama always said he would let science -- and not ideology -- dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value. This unfortunate decision only further highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation curtailing the ability of DEA and other federal agencies to interfere with the effective implementation of state marijuana laws. A clear and growing majority of American voters support legalizing marijuana outright and the very least our representatives should do is let states implement their own policies, unencumbered by an outdated 'Reefer Madness' mentality that some in law enforcement still choose to cling to."

Given that the DEA and the executive branch have proven -- once again! -- unwilling to remove the ideological blinders from their eyes, it is now indeed up to Congress. Perhaps after this coming election cycle, in which we are likely to see more states vote to approve medical marijuana and even more vote to just legalize it, Congress will see the writing on the wall.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Gallup Finds MJ Users Nearly Double in Three Years, MO MedMJ Fights On, More... (8/8/16)

A Gallup poll shows a dramatic increase in admitted marijuana use by adults, a Barna poll shows little support for drug prohibition, Garden State needle exchanges are scrambling for money after their funding was vetoed, and more.

Marijuana use is becoming more acceptable. (Darren Frisby Harris/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup: Number of American Adult Marijuana Users Nearly Doubles in Three Years. A new Gallup poll reports that the number of people who smoke pot has nearly doubled since 2013. That year, 7% of adults said they were current marijuana users; this year, the number jumped to 13%. It's not clear whether or to what degree the reported sharp increase is attributable to an actual increase in regular marijuana users or whether it's because people are more willing to admit their pot use in an era of growing acceptance of marijuana and spreading legalization of the herb.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Initiative Campaign Asks Court to Overturn Invalidated Signatures. New Approach Missouri announced Monday that it will go to court this month to overturn invalidated signatures so that its medical marijuana initiative can appear on the November ballot. The campaign has enough valid signatures to qualify in every congressional district except the state's second, where local election officials invalidated more than 10,000 signatures, leaving the campaign roughly 2,200 short of the 32,337 required in that district.

Drug Policy

Poll: Only One-Third Thinks All Drugs Should Be Illegal. A new poll from Barna, a firm that surveys on religious issues, finds that only 32% of respondents think all drugs should be illegal. Some 40% think hard drugs should be illegal, but not marijuana, while another 13% think all drugs should be legal and regulated and another 3% believe all drugs should be legal and should not be regulated. If you add those all up, it's 56% for marijuana legalization and 16% for legalizing all drugs.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Needle Exchanges Are Strapped for Cash. The operators of the state's five needle exchange programs have launched an online fundraising drive this week with a GoFundMe account after a one-time federal grant has run out. Lawmakers had allocated $95,000 to cover program costs, but Gov. Chris Christie (R) line item vetoed that funding in June. "Our governor claims to be fiscally conservative and pro-life. So, how is it that he refuses to fund a simple, inexpensive, effective intervention that saves lives at significantly lower cost than the cost of medical care after a person has been infected with HIV or Hepatitis C or both?" said Diana McCague, the founder of the first underground needle exchange program in the mid-90s called The Chai Project. "Can it be that he's willing to risk the lives of human beings because they use drugs? I think 'pro-life' means pro-all-life."

Chronicle AM: WA Legal MJ Sales Top $1 Billion, AR Welfare Drug Testing Flop, More... (8/5/16)

Arizona legalizers fight a lawsuit aimed at knocking them off the ballot, Washington rakes in the tax revenue from legal pot, asset forfeiture is in the news in California and New York, and more.

Arkansas forced 800 welfare applicants to do drug screens, one came up dirty. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Campaign Wants Lawsuit Tossed. The group behind the state's legalization initiative has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by foes seeking to keep the measure off the November ballot. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argued that the effort is more about politics and ideology than ensuring state law is followed. Foes argued that the ballot measure's summary language does not describe everything the initiative would do. Both sides will be in court a week from today.

In Face of Uproar, Oregon US Attorney Drops Federal Marijuana Charge Against Teen for One Gram of Weed. Rather than prosecute Devontre Thomas, 19, for possession of a gram of marijuana, federal prosecutors have agreed to enter him into a pretrial diversion program. The move comes after Oregon elected officials said the prosecution was overkill.

Washington State Sees Legal Marijuana Sales Push Past Billion Dollar Mark. After a sharp jump in adult sales last month as medical dispensaries were shut down, the state has now seen pot sales edge past a billion dollars, if revenue from processors and producers is included. The state has collected $273 million in excise taxes on the sales since they began two years ago.

Asset Forfeiture

California Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Set to Move After Compromise. After discussions with law enforcement groups, state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) has amended her asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 443, so that only property seizures worth less than $40,000 would require a criminal conviction before permanent seizure. Seizures higher than that amount would not require that standard of proof. Mitchell said the compromise would allow police to preserve their ability to go after large criminal enterprises. The police groups have now dropped their opposition to the bill.

NYPD Sued for Failure to Release Asset Forfeiture Data. NYPD collected more than $6 million in asset forfeiture revenues in 2013, but is ignoring records requests for information on how it collects and distributes the cash it seizes, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by a legal aid group representing low-income people. The group, Bronx Defenders, had submitted a public records request nearly two years, but NYPD has been unresponsive, the lawsuit alleges.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Test Program Finds Hardly Any Drug Users. According to data released this week by the Department of Workforce Services, exactly one welfare applicant out of 800 has failed a drug test. Another four refused to take it, rendering them temporarily ineligible for benefits. All five taken together constitute 0.63% of welfare applicants. The one failed drug test means 0.125% of all applicants tested positive. Arkansas and other states that have enacted such laws have done so on the unspoken assumption that welfare applicants are using drugs at the taxpayers' expense, but, once again, that has proven not to be the case.

Chronicle AM: UN Agencies Condemn Philippine Killings, Huge Danish Consumption Room Opens, More... (8/4/16)

UN drug agencies join civil society in condemning Philippine drug war killings, the world's largest drug consumption facility opens in Copenhagen, the California marijuana legalization initiative sues to have "false and misleading" ballot arguments removed, and more.

The Copenhagen drug consumption room covers a thousand square meters. (Nanna Gotfredsen, Sune Kehlet)
Marijuana Policy

California Prop 64 Campaign Sues to Disallow "False, Misleading" Ballot Arguments. The Prop 64 marijuana legalization campaign filed a lawsuit in state superior court in Sacramento Thursday seeking to have what it calls false or misleading statements submitted by opponents removed from ballot arguments. Ballot arguments appear in the voter information guide. The campaign wants the judge to reject or amend a number of arguments, including one that claims children will be exposed to edibles advertising and one that claims Prop 64 will remove consumer protections, among others. All legal questions around ballot arguments must be settled by August 15.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Poll Has Support for Medical Marijuana at 58%. A new poll of likely voters has a healthy majority for medical marijuana, with 58% saying they support it. Voters will have a chance to signal that support at the polls in November, when the Arkansans for Compassionate Care initiative will appear on the ballot. A second medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Amendment, is still trying to qualify for the ballot and has received an extension to gather more signatures after coming up just short last month.

New Jersey Legislature Passes Bill to Make PTSD a Qualifying Condition. The Senate Tuesday gave final approval to Assembly Bill 457, which would allow people with PTSD to use medical marijuana. The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto it.


UN Drug Agencies Join Chorus of Critics of Philippines Drug Killings. In a statement Wednesday, UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Yuri Fedotov said he joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in "condemning the apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings" of alleged drug users and dealers in the country under the new administration of President Rodrigo "Death Squad" Duterte. "[Extrajudicial killing] is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms," he said. "Such responses contravene the provisions of the international drug control conventions, do not serve the cause of justice, and will not help to ensure that 'all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity,' as agreed by governments in the outcome document approved at the UN General Assembly special session on the world drug problem," he said. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) likewise expressed its concern later the same day. In a written statement, the self-described "quasi-judicial" agency that monitors compliance with the drug conventions wrote that "should these reports prove accurate, this would constitute a serious breach of the legal obligations to which the Philippines is held by the three UN drug control conventions and by the corpus of international legal instruments to which the country has adhered."

World's Largest Drug Consumption Room Opens in Copenhagen. The drug consumption room is 1,000 square meters and includes space for both drug injecting and smoking. It is partially funded by the city of Copenhagen. Users at the site will also be able to engage with medical and social welfare services.

Chronicle AM: Filipino Drug War Killings Raise Global Alarm, Legal Pot for Deficit, More... (8/2/16)

Civil society responds as the death toll mounts in the Philippines, Massachusetts politicians endorse pot legalization, a new study finds national legalization could bring in $12 billion a year for the feds, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (
Marijuana Policy

Study: Legal Marijuana Could Bring $12 Billion a Year to Federal Tax Coffers. A new study from the American Economic Association says the federal government could harvest up to $12 billion annually in tax revenues if marijuana were legalized nationwide. The revenue estimate is based on a 25% federal tax on retail pot sales.

Alaska Pot Board Member Fired, Alleges Governor Trying to "Subvert" Legalization. Gov. Bill Walker (R) has fired Marijuana Control Board member Bruce Schulte, and Schulte says it's because Walker and allies are trying to delay implementation of a voter-approved marijuana industry. "There's an underlying agenda to subvert the process, to delay the implementation of a legalized marijuana industry," Schulte said. "It doesn't look like the State of Alaska is really serious about making this happen." A replacement for Schulte has not been announced. Alaska approved marijuana legalization in November 2014.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects 2018 Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected an initiative proposed by Mary Berry of Summit to legalize marijuana in the state. Rutledge said there were ambiguities in the text that need to be addressed. That initiative was aimed at 2018. A 2016 initiative from Berry, the Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, was approved for signature gathering, but failed to make the ballot.

Boston City Council President to Endorse Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. City Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Tito Jackson will formally endorse the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's legalization initiative at a press event at the state capitol tomorrow. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse endorsed the initiative Monday, becoming the first mayor in the state to do so. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker (R), and other high state officials oppose the initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Foes Get Big Bucks Donation from Publix Heiress. Carol Jenkins Barnett, heir to the Publix supermarket fortune, has donated $800,000 to Drug Free Florida to fight the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative. Jenkins Barnett also donated big time to defeating the medical marijuana initiative in 2014, handing out $500,000 to Drug Free Florida that year.


As Philippines Drug War Death Toll Mounts, Rights Groups Demand UN Denounce Killings. More than 700 suspected drug users or dealers have been killed by police or vigilantes since Rodrigo Duterte took office as president less than three months ago, and now civil society is responding. More than 300 human rights and other organizations have signed letters to the International Narcotics Control Board and UN Office on Drugs and Crime urging them to speak out against the extra-judicial violence. "We are calling on the UN drug control bodies to publicly condemn these atrocities in the Philippines. This senseless killing cannot be justified as a drug control measure," said Ann Fordham, executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), which coordinated the letter. "Their silence is unacceptable, while people are being killed on the streets day after day."

Australia's New South Wales Now Allows Doctors to Prescribe Medical Marijuana. As of Monday, New South Wales doctors can write prescriptions for medical marijuana. "People who are seriously ill should be able to access these medicines if they are the most appropriate next step in their treatment," NSW Premier Mike Baird said yesterday.

Chronicle AM: Greece Moves Toward MedMJ, Italy to Debate Marijuana Legalization, More... (7/21/16)

There's a job opening for an experienced marijuana activist in DC, Libertarian Gary Johnson endorses California's legalization initiative, three European countries are making marijuana policy moves, and more.

It looks like medical marijuana is coming to Greece. (
Marijuana Policy

Libertarian Presidential Candidate Endorses California Legalization Initiative. Former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who heads the Libertarian Party presidential ticket, has endorsed California's Prop 64 legalization initiative. "Why do I support it?" Johnson responded to a question while leaving the Republican National Convention. "Whether you agree with marijuana legalization or not, you have friends, family, coworkers that use marijuana," the former New Mexico governor said. "Are they criminal? No, they're not criminal." California Democrats have already endorsed the measure, and the national Democratic Party recently adopted a "pathway to legalization" as part of its platform. The Republicans, on the other hand, recently rejected supporting even medical marijuana.

Job Opening: NORML Seeks a New Director. In the wake of the resignation of long-time executive director Allen St. Pierre, the nation's largest marijuana consumer group is seeking a new leader. Click on the link for information about job requirements and more.

Drug Testing

New OSHA Rule Warns on Blanket After-Injury Drug Testing. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule for the electronic submission of injury and illness data for certain employers, and in doing so, the agency warns that "OSHA believes the evidence in the rulemaking record shows that blanket post-injury drug testing policies deter proper reporting." Policies mandating automatic post-injury drug testing can discourage reporting of accidents and injuries, OSHA said, adding that blanket testing may be inappropriate: "Although drug testing of employees may be a reasonable workplace policy in some situations, it is often perceived as an invasion of privacy, so if an injury or illness is very unlikely to have been caused by employee drug use, or if the method of drug testing does not identify impairment but only use at some time in the recent past, requiring the employee to be drug tested may inappropriately deter reporting. To strike the appropriate balance here, drug testing policies should limit post-incident testing to situations in which employee drug use is likely to have contributed to the incident, and for which the drug test can accurately identify impairment caused by drug use."

Law Enforcement

Maryland Gives Up on Plan to Ban Letters to Prisoners to Fight Drug Smuggling. State corrections officials have withdrawn a proposed ban on sending letters to prison inmates in an a bid to stop the smuggling of drugs that can be soaked into photos and paper. Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer had proposed the idea last month, but has now folded in the face of opposition from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, who called the ban extreme and unconstitutional.


Italian Parliament Takes Up Marijuana Legalization on Monday. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to debate a legalization bill on Monday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 15 grams at home and five grams outside the home, the cultivation of up to five plants for personal use, the creation of cannabis social clubs, and a regulated and licensed marijuana industry in the country.

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Ireland. An opposition member of the Dail has introduced a medical marijuana bill. Deputy Brid Smith of the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit Party filed the measure, which envisions a Cannabis Regulation Authority and a licensing regime. The bill will be debated later as a private member's bill.

Greece Moving Forward on Medical Marijuana. The Health Ministry this week announced the formation of a working group of academics, psychiatrists, and scientific and legal advisers for the prime minister, the health ministry, and the justice ministry to begin examining issues around medical marijuana. The group's task is to propose feasible regulations for medical marijuana, and it is charged to submit its proposals by the end of October.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, the 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: IL Gov Signs "Bath Salts" Ban, AZ Legalization Battle Heats Up, More... (7/20/16)

Voters in Arizona can now read arguments for and against the marijuana legalization initiative, legalization opponents don't want to let them have a chance to vote on it, "bath salts" will be banned in Illinois, and more.

"Bath salts" (synthetic cathinones) will be banned in Illinois. (MN Dept of Health)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Pro-Con Arguments Pamphlet is Available. The secretary of state's office has made available online the arguments for and against the legalization initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Anyone willing to cough up the $75 fee to comment could do so. Eight people turned in arguments on the "pro" side, while 40 turned in "con" arguments. Registered voters will also receive a paper copy of the arguments in the mail before election day.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce Joins Lawsuit Against Legalization Initiative. The state Chamber of Commerce and Industry has joined with the anti-legalization group Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy in attempting to block the legalization initiative via a lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the materials used to get voters to sign petitions were fraudulent and misleading. In a hearing today, a judge gave the initiative campaign several weeks to respond.

New Psychoactive Substances

Illinois Governor Signs "Bath Salts" Ban Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) Monday signed into law Senate Bill 210, the Bath Salts Prohibition Act, to go into effect January 1. The new law makes it a class 3 felony to sell or offer for sale "any synthetic or natural material containing any quantity of a cathinone chemical structure." The law also will allow local governments to revoke the licenses of retailers who are convicted of a violation.


New Zealand Treasury Documents Suggest Annual Pot Tax Revenues of $150 Million. The documents from an informal Treasury report obtained under the Official Information Act reveal that the government spends about $400 million annually enforcing prohibition and that reforming drug policies would "ease pressure on the justice sector, and lead to fewer criminal convictions for youth and Maori." Treasury estimated legalizing marijuana alone could generate annual tax revenues of $150 million.

California: What Will Marijuana Legalization Look Like? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it's already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.

Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country's legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.

It's not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 million collected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest poll showing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.

It's also that the surfer's paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the "normalization" of the pot business that emerged out of California's wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor's recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn't fall.

At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.

California isn't the only state riding the wave this year -- legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts -- but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.

But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let's look at what Prop 64 does:

  • Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
  • Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
  • Bars commercial "mega-grows" (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed "microbusinesses" (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
  • Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or "cannabis cafes."
  • Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
  • Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.

In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.

Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.

"The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.

California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.

"Those marijuana arrests will stop," said Lyman. "And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to file a petition, but like Prop 47 [the sentencing reform initiative passed in 2014], unless there is a compelling reason to deny it, the court must grant it. Similarly, all those people who have had marijuana offenses will be eligible to have their record reclassified."

To be clear, it will still be possible to be arrested for a marijuana offense in California after Prop 64. Possession of more than an ounce (or more than four grams of concentrate) will be a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and possession of less than an ounce can be a misdemeanor offense if it is on school grounds during school hours.

Similarly, cultivation of more than six plants without being a permitted medical marijuana patient or without a license is still a crime, but typically only a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail. There are some exceptions: Illegal growers could be charged with a felony if the person has prior violent offenses or violates state water or environmental laws.

Minors get special treatment. Kids under 18 who get caught with pot are hit with an infraction punishable by drug education, counseling, or community service, but no fines. People between 18 and 21 get an infraction with a maximum $100 fine. And while adults who possess pot on a school grounds during school hours get a misdemeanor, kids under 18 will only be hit with an infraction.

"We want to reduce the number of young people getting into the system, and this will really dial down the firehose into mass incarceration," said Lyman.

The state's largest marijuana consumer group, California NORML, certainly likes those provisions, but it only gives Prop 64 one thumb up and foresees some issues down the road.

"We're supporting the AUMA with reservations," said the group's long-time head Dale Gieringer. "It's not the best initiative ever written -- it has some problems that will have to be addressed -- but it is an important step. The huge thing it does is legalize adult possession of an ounce and adult cultivation of up to six plants. That's big. And it turns cultivation and possession with intent felonies into misdemeanors, or at worst, wobblers," meaning prosecutors could only in limited cases charge them as felonies.

"The AUMA is very long and complicated, with unnecessary hang-ups and restrictions," Gieringer complained, citing bans on public smoking and vaping as examples.

"In places where there are bans on smoking in apartments or residences, in public is about the only place you can smoke. If it's illegal to smoke pot in a public place, people will be hard-pressed to find any place," he said. "You can't even vaporize in a public place, and that's totally out of line with the existing science. They just caved in to the powerful anti-smoking lobby on that, and we can't endorse that."

The CaNORML membership also includes pot farmers, of which the group estimates there are some 30,000 in the state. They are nervous, Gieringer said.

"We have a lot of small growers and they have a lot of issues," he explained. "They are concerned about regulatory provisions they fear could quickly push small growers out of the business. AUMA requires you to be an in-state resident, and we're already growing more than we need, yet we have out-of-state sponsors lining up behind in-state sponsors."

Indeed, earlier this month, the state industry's largest membership group, the California Growers Association, voted to remain neutral on Prop 64 -- or least for now -- after its membership split almost down the middle on whether to support it. Growers, including association head Hezekiah Allen, worried that big-money investment and consolidation of the industry impelled by huge "mega-grows" could wipe out the now generations-old traditional pot farming scene in the stat's North Coast.

Allen warned in a report to the group's board that such consolidation could "result in a catastrophic economic collapse for huge swathes of California," including the North Coast's Emerald Triangle.

Stoners may have to fight for the right to toke and pot farmers for their place in the market, but some of the communities most buffeted by drug prohibition should see benefits. Prop 64 contains language that will direct revenues to minority communities, and also opens the door for localities themselves to take proactive steps toward racial justice.

"The AUMA has a community reinvestment fund with the first revenues available in 2019," said DPA's Lyman, adding that it will be $10 million the first year and up to $50 million a year in the futre. "This is going to communities most impacted by the drug war, black and brown communities, and will include everything from legal services, to public health and economic development. The communities will be able to decide."

Localities will also be deciding on how to implement regulation of the legal market, and that is another opportunity, Lyman said.

"Hopefully, we will see things like what happened in Oakland, where under the new regulations, 50% of the new licenses have to be from the community," she said. "We hope other cities will do that to mitigate racial discrimination and the injustice of the past by prioritizing people of color and women, so we don't end up white a bunch of white men getting rich off what black and brown people have endured. DPA will be very involved in this."

Somebody is going to be making money, though. The state's marijuana market, estimated at $2.7 billion for medical last year, could quickly hit $7 billion under legalization.

"I see tremendous potential for a blossoming of cannabis opportunities," said veteran California marijuana activist, author, and historian Chris Conrad, who has become a pro-Prop 64 spokesman under the rubric of Friends of Prop 64. "Of course, the size of the industry will be impacted by the need to limit the market to intra-state rather than national or international. Given that California is the world's sixth largest economy and has the largest appetite for cannabis in the world, the state's nonmedical market is going to be sizeable."

Legalization will bring changes from price reductions to changing product lines, he said.

"Overall marijuana production is expected to soar, prices to come down and probably a lot more cannabis will be converted into extracts and expand or open new markets for personal hygiene products, topical remedies and essential oils," Conrad predicted. "There will be large-scale cannabis production that is homogenized with relatively low to medium potency, but still of better quality than Mexican brick weed. But we will never replace the boutique markets any more than Budweiser has eliminated microbreweries or 'Big Wine' has wiped out California's family vintners."

And it's not just marijuana, but pot-related businesses that will boom, said DPA's Lyman.

"Formalizing regulations for the first time will expand the industry, and there will be lots of ancillary industries, such as marketing, packaging, and tracking, that should all thrive in post-legalization California," she said.

"There will be new ancillary markets for products such as locking stash boxes for people to carry their cannabis while driving, toking stations near entertainment venues and discrete, low-wattage, six-plant cultivation tents specialized for use in condos and apartments," added Conrad.

Conrad said he expected counties and cities will opt in to the revenues from allowing pot commerce instead of locking themselves out with bans.

"The distribution around the state will likely be porous, some areas more saturated and others with less access," he said. "Since towns will be licensing lawful businesses and no longer will be at the mercy of the county prosecutors' discretion, I expect to see a general spread of retail sites and onsite consumption shops around the state. Not in every town, not as obnoxious and omnipresent as liquor stores, but not too far away, either."

We shall see.

"You can't predict the future," said Gieringer. "It will be a new situation. Medical marijuana here evolved through several different stages, and I expect the same process to unfold here with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. On balance, the AUMA is an important step, but it's not the end game, and it leaves us with unresolved problems."

You may not be able to predict the future, said Lyman, but you can influence it.

"This will be a work in progress," she said. "The long-term work of implementation starts on November 8. We have to be there. To continue to be engaged will be critical."

But even under state level legalization in California, as long as there is pot prohibition somewhere in America, there will be Golden State growers ready to supply the market.

"The one thing everyone needs to recognize is that this does not end the problem of illegal marijuana growing in California," said Gieringer. "The industry has been well-entrenched for generations and is currently supplying the rest of the country, too. That market isn't going to disappear. The more expensive and difficult it is to become legal, the more people will likely participate in that black market."

Chronicle AM: Obama to Sign Opioids Bill, CO Legal MJ Fueling Economic Growth, More... (7/15/16)

A new report finds legal marijuana has been good for Colorado's economy, the White House announces President Obama will sign CARA, and more.

The president will sign the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act despite the lack of adequate funding. (
Marijuana Policy

Report Finds Legal Marijuana Bolstering Retail, Manufacturing in Colorado. In a new report, the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business finds that the state's marijuana industry is bumping up retail sales and hiring in manufacturing. Recreational cannabis sales began in 2014. That year, "We had a 3.5% increase in employment. In 2015, a 4.9% increase in food-manufacturing employment," the report said. "The data doesn't allow us to slice and dice to say, 'These are indeed edibles or not,' but the recognition is this is where they would be classified." Likewise, chemical manufacturing jobs vanished at a rate of 2.2% a year from 2002 to 2012, but increased 2.1% in 2013, 1.4% in 2014, and 3.9% last year. Chemical manufacturing includes producing cannabis oils.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Will Sign Opioids Bill Despite Lack of Funding. President Obama will sign into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) even though Congress failed to adequately fund it, the White House said Wednesday. The bill "falls far short" of necessary funding, but Obama will sign it "because some action is better than none." More funds could be appropriated in the future, but that's by no means a done deal.


Peru Takes Aim at Coca Cultivation in the VRAEM. The country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Thursday in is ready to eradicate coca plants in the remote and lawless Valleys of the Rio, Apurimac, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) region of south-central Peru. The government has held off on eradication in the region, a major coca producer and home to a remnant of the Shining Path rebels. About three-quarters of the country's coca is grown there, and DEVIDA is ready to go after it. "Today I can say that the conditions are now entirely there for a drastic reduction in the coverage of coca in the VRAEM," Devida chief Alberto Otarola said in a news conference. "No part of Peru should be exempt from the rule of law."

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