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Chronicle AM: Calls for Obama to Cut More Sentences, Iran Drug Death Penalty Moves, More... (11/29/16)

Scholars, advocates, and a US congressman are calling on Obama to ramp up the commutation process in the final weeks of his term, the CDC issues a report calling for expanded syringe exchange, Maryland moves to address racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in the medical marijuana business, and more.

There are new calls for Obama to ramp up the commutation process as the clock ticks down on his term. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Marijuana Victory Faces Certification Delay. Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that the November 8 election results may not be certified in time for marijuana legalization to go into effect on December 15, that date it is supposed to become legal. Ballot initiatives in the state do not become law until they are officially certified, and a December 14 meeting is the earliest date voting tallies on the initiative are likely to presented, Galvin said. But if not by December 15, certainly by early next year, he added: "All those tokers can hold their breath a little longer, but they'll be able to exhale" by early 2017, Galvin quipped.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Moving to Improve Diversity in Medical Marijuana Industry. The state Cannabis Commission announced Monday that it is hiring a consultant to advise it on steps it can take to improve racial diversity in the nascent industry. The consultant will decide whether a study can be conducted to determine whether minorities have been unfairly excluded. If such a finding is made, that would allow the state to consider race when awarding medical marijuana licenses.

Harm Reduction

Groundbreaking Report from CDC Calls for Expansion of Syringe Access Programs. In a report on HIV and injection drug use released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls strongly for expanding needle exchange programs. "Syringe services programs (SSPs) can play a role in preventing HIV and other health problems among people who inject drugs (PWID)," the report found. "They provide access to sterile syringes and should also provide comprehensive services such as help with stopping substance misuse; testing and linkage to treatment for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; education on what to do for an overdose; and other prevention services. State and local health departments can work with their lawmakers and law enforcement to make SSPs more available to PWID."

Sentencing

Calls Mount For Obama to Ramp Up Commutations as Term Nears End. A coalition of scholars and activists as well as a US congressman are calling on President Obama to expand clemency efforts in the final weeks of his administration -- including considering granting clemency to entire groups of people without case-by-case review. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than a thousand people sentenced under draconian drug war sentencing laws, but thousands more have applied for commutations without those applications yet being acted on.

International

Iran Keeps Moving Toward Ending the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Iranian parliament last week agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors." Iran is one of the world's leading drug executioners, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed last year.

Chronicle AM: Recovery Advocates Urge Funding Addiction Act, South Africa MMJ, More... (11/25/16)

Recovery advocates have organized a call-in to pressure Congress to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, Minnesota may tighten up on opioid prescribing, South Africa advances on medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana

Move Underway to Get Pot Deliveries in Washington State. Officials in Seattle are working on a draft bill to legalize marijuana delivery services. A similar effort failed in the last legislative session. "As Pete and the Mayor said last January, we support legislation allowing local jurisdictions to opt in to legal, regulated marijuana delivery," said Deputy City Attorney John Schochet, referring to City Attorney Pete Holmes. "We are actively working with the Mayor's office and stakeholders to craft legislation that would allow this."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Recovery Advocates Urge Calling Congress on Monday to Get $1 Billion to Address the Opioid Epidemic. The recovery community is urging its members and friends to call Congress Monday to urge it to come up with money to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed Congress this past summer. "We, the 95 member organizations of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery, urge Congress to authorize $1 billion to fight the opiate addiction crisis. We are on the ground in urban and rural communities across the nation fighting this epidemic and we see first-hand the devastation addiction causes to individuals, their children and families, and communities. Our work brings hope to solving this crisis by helping people find and maintain long-term recovery and rebuild their lives." The CARA would increase access to naloxone, provide increased treatment resources for prisoners and bar the Education Department from asking about drug convictions on student loan forms. It would also "improve prescription drug monitoring programs," something drug reformers tend to be wary about due to their potential impact on the availability of pain medications to patients.

Minnesota Attorney General Recommends Opioid Prescribing Changes. Attorney General Lori Swanson Wednesday issued a report on the opioid problem calling for requiring doctors to check state prescription drug databases before issuing new prescriptions and limiting controlled substance prescriptions to 30 days instead of one year. She also called for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. "Growing addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is devastating families from all walks of life across all parts of our state,"Swanson said. "We need all hands on deck to push forward solutions, which must involve those in health care, the criminal justice system, patients, families, and policymakers."

International

Swiss Canton of Zurich Moves to Issue Own Medical Marijuana Cards. Swiss citizens can already use medical marijuana if they have authorization from federal health officials, but that process has proven complicated and over-bureaucratized, so the cantonal government in Zurich has approved Green Party-sponsored legislation that would let the canton issue cards itself. But now the canton must get approval for the scheme from the federal government, so stay tuned.

South Africa Takes Another Step Toward Okaying Medical Marijuana. The government's Medicines Control Council has told parliament that the Department of Health is moving ahead with plans to recognize marijuana as a medicine. The council said that it could be ready by February to start issuing permits to allow the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. The proposed move would also reschedule marijuana from a banned drug to a prescription one.

Chronicle AM: More Obama Commutations, FL Face-Biting Killer Wasn't on Synthetics, More... (11/23/16)

The president continues to exercise his commutation power on behalf of drug war prisoners, the Florida face-biting killer was not on any new psychoactive substances, Montana activists want their medical marijuana program to restart now, not later, and more.

Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Montana Activists File Suit to Force Early Action on Patient Cards. In the wake of last week's vote to reinstate the state's medical marijuana program, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately begin processing and issuing medical marijuana cards. The language of the ballot measure means the state has until next summer to act, but the MCIA doesn't want to dally.

New Psychoactive Substances

Florida Face-Biting Killer Wasn't on Bath Salts, Flakka. Austin Harrouff, the Florida man charged in the face-biting slaying of a neighbor couple was not under the influence of new psychoactive substances, an autopsy report released Wednesday revealed. Early press and law enforcement commentary had suggested Harrouff was high on bath salts (methcathinone) or flakka (alpha-PVP), but the autopsy revealed only prescription medications and a "minimal" amount of THC in his system. "Austin is struggling with severe mental illness and the judicial process will bear all of this out in due time," his attorney, Nellie King said.

Sentencing

Obama Announces More Commutations, Total Now Over a Thousand. President Obama Wednesday announced that he was commuting the sentences of 79 more drug offenders sentenced under draconian drug laws dating back to the 1980s. That brings the total of commutations under Obama to more than one thousand, which is more than the list 11 presidents combined. Thousands more commutations requests filed in response to an Obama administration call in 2014 remain pending as the clock ticks down on Obama's time in office.

International

Cayman Islands Legalizes CBD Cannabis Oil. Gov. Helen Kilpatrick last week signed into law legislation allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil in the island nation. The oil can be used for the treatment of conditions including epilepsy and cancer and as a pain reliever for arthritis symptoms. The law does not allow for marijuana to be grown in the country, but the legislature last month passed a separate law allowing for the importation of CBD cannabis oil.

Medical Marijuana Update

State lawmakers in Arkansas and Montana are grappling with the results of popular votes allowing medical marijuana, and an Arizona dispensary operator eyes a 2018 initiative.

Arizona

On Monday, a dispensary operator announced plans for a 2018 medical marijuana expansion initiative. The owners of the Wellness Center, an Apache Junction dispensary, are moving toward an initiative to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The move comes a week after a legalization initiative was narrowly defeated. The initiative would expand the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana and it would allow people who live more than a mile from a dispensary to grow their own. The current law bars people who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own.

Arkansas

As of Tuesday,some lawmakers were eying changes and delays in implementing the new medical marijuana law. A week after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, some legislators are acting to delay implementation, saying they need more time for rulemaking. Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said he is preparing a bill to do that. And Sen. Bart Hester (R-Bentonville) wants to add an additional tax to medical marijuana to help pay for $105 million in tax cuts he is proposing.

Montana

As of Monday, medical marijuana bills were piling up at the state legislature. Montanans voted last week to restore their state's medical marijuana system, which had been gutted by the Republican legislature in 2011, and now the legislature faces at least 10 bills designed either to make the system more workable or to try to thwart the will of the voters once again. It's going to be a busy session in Helena.

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

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Address Coffee Shop Supply, Campaign Against Sessions as AG, More... (11/22/16)

Nashville blows off state attorney general and will continue marijuana decriminalization, time to give your senators your two cents worth on the Sessions nomination, the Dutch ruling party belatedly comes around on coffee shop supply, and more.

Dutch coffee shops may finally get a legal source of supply. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana

Nashville Will Cite and Release Marijuana Offenders Despite State Attorney General's Opinion. The city of Nashville and surrounding Davidson County will continue to allow police to ticket and release small-time marijuana offenders, even though state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has issued an opinion contending that the local ordinance is invalid because it is preempted by state law. Metro Law Director Jon Cooper: "We have reviewed the Attorney General's opinion and understand his position. However, we believe we have a good faith legal argument that the ordinance is not preempted by state law," Cooper said in a statement Monday. "At this point, we do not believe a change in the police department's enforcement practice is warranted."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Lawmakers Eye Changes, Delays in Implementing Medical Marijuana. A week after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, some legislators are acting to delay implementation, saying they need more time for rulemaking. Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said he is preparing a bill to do that. And Sen. Bart Hester (R-Bentonville) wants to add an additional tax to medical marijuana to help pay for $105 million in tax cuts he is proposing.

Drug Policy

Write Your Senator to Oppose the Sessions Nomination for Attorney General. Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is one of the worst drug warriors in Congress. He almost single-handedly blocked mild sentencing reform bills that members of Congress from both parties supported. He opposes marijuana legalization and has even claimed that "good people don't use marijuana." Sen. Sessions was rejected for a judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate because of racism and false prosecutions he brought against civil rights activists. He is not a likely leader for continuing the much-needed work that has begun on police reform; in fact he's more likely to worsen the divisions in our country, not improve them. Click on the link to tell your senator what you think.

International

Dutch Ruling Party Gets on Board With Cannabis Law Reforms. After 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference last weekend, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Stokes MJ Fears, Global Commission Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (11/21/16)

Donald Trump has nominated a harsh drug warrior to head the Justice Department, Montanans will see a slew of bills aiming at making their medical marijuana system more workable (and at least one that wants to kill it), the Global Commission on Drugs called for drug decriminalization, and more.

"Good people don't use marijuana," says Trump's attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Marijuana

Trump's Pick of Jeff Sessions as AG Raises Fears in Marijuana Industry. President-elect Donald Trump (R) has nominated anti-marijuana Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department, setting off alarms in the marijuana industry. As attorney general, Sessions would oversee federal prosecutors and the DEA and could move to undo the Obama administration's policy of largely allowing the states to set their own course on pot policy.

Colorado Bureaucrats Nix On-Site Pot Consumption for Bars. Just a week after voters in Denver approved a social use initiative allowing restaurants and bars to seek permits to allow on-site consumption of marijuana, the Department of Public Health and Environment has announced that it will not allow liquor license-holders to obtain such permits. The department said using alcohol and marijuana together increases impairment. But proponents of the measure said alcohol establishments already rely on the judgment of servers and that the move would allow consumers to use marijuana products without having to go outside or hide behind closed doors.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Dispensary Operator Eyes 2018 Expansion Initiative. The owners of the Wellness Center, an Apache Junction dispensary, are moving toward an initiative to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The move comes a week after a legalization initiative was narrowly defeated. The initiative would expand the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana and it would allow people who live more than a mile from a dispensary to grow their own. The current law bars people who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own.

After Initiative Victory, Medical Marijuana Bills Pile Up in Montana. Montanans voted last week to restore their state's medical marijuana system, which had been gutted by the Republican legislature in 2011, and now the legislature faces at least 10 bills designed either to make the system more workable or to try to thwart the will of the voters once again. It's going to be a busy session in Helena.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Legislator Files Bill to Limit First-Time Opioid Prescribing. State Rep. Jeff Taylor (D-Hopkinsville) has prefiled a bill, BR 202, that would limit first-time adult prescriptions for non-chronic pain relief to a seven-day supply. The bill does include an exception that would allow a doctor to prescribe a longer supply if deemed medically necessary.

Kratom

Still Ten Days Left to Comment on Proposed Kratom Ban. Anyone who wants to commit on the DEA's plan to schedule kratom has until December 1 to do so. Click on the link for more information.

International

New Report Calls on UK to Legalize Marijuana. A new report from the Adam Smith Institute says that Great Britain's drug strategy "has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world," and calls on the government to legalize marijuana. The report is winning support from a cross-party parliamentary group that includes former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Global Commission on Drugs Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. In its annual report, the Global Commission on Drugs has called for an end to criminal and civil penalties for drug possession and more research into alternative regulatory models. The report comes months after the commission sharply criticized the United Nations' refusal to embrace more radical drug reforms at its UNGASS on Drugs last spring. Commission member Richard Branson called the UN's status quo approach "fatally flawed" at the time.

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana went four for four on Election Day, the feds give up on trying to shut down the Berkeley Patients Group, and more. 

National

On Monday, a new report called marijuana a "promising option" for dealing with opioid addiction. A new report from the National Cannabis Industry Association finds that increasing legal access to marijuana can be a potent weapon in the fight against opioid addiction. The report finds significant progress in reducing addiction and overdose deaths in states that have legalized it.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court rejected a bid to reinstate a medical marijuana initiative. The state's high court Thursday denied a petition for a rehearing on its decision to disqualify Issue 7. Another medical marijuana initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot.

On Tuesday, Arkansas voters approved Issue 6.

California

Last Monday, the feds gave up on trying to shut down Berkeley's flagship dispensary. The Justice Department has given up on its efforts to shut down the Berkeley Patients Group. The three-year effort came to an end Monday, when federal prosecutors in San Francisco filed a motion to dismiss their civil forfeiture case against the dispensary. City officials had supported the dispensary in its battle with then-US Attorney Melinda Haag. The move is the latest sign the federal government is winding down efforts to go after marijuana businesses in states where they are legal. 

District of Columbia

Last Thursday, the DC council approved letting out of state patients purchase medical marijuana. The council has approved a measure to let medical marijuana users from other states use their registration cards to purchase their medicine in the District. The vote was unanimous.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative passed with 71% of the vote.

Montana

On Tuesday, the I-182 medical marijuana initiative passed with 57% of the vote.

New Mexico

Last Friday, a panel voted to allow medical marijuana for "opiate use disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.

North Dakota

Last Friday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign got a nice cash boost. North Dakota for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Measure 5 medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected last-minute donation of $15,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. The group will use the money for a final advertising push to get their message out to voters ahead of next week's elections.

On Tuesday, Measure 5 passed with 64% of the vote.

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

Marijuana Wins Big on Election Day, But Faces Uncertain Future Under Trump [FEATURE]

Donald Trump wasn't the only big winner on Tuesday. Marijuana law reform also had a stellar night, with medical marijuana winning in all four states it was on the ballot and marijuana legalization winning four out of five.

Pot legalization won in California (Prop 64), Maine (Question 1), Massachusetts (Question 4), and Nevada (Question 2), losing only in Arizona (Prop 205), where a deep-pocketed opposition led by a hostile sitting governor managed to blunt the reform thrust. Medical marijuana won overwhelmingly in Florida (Amendment 2), the first state in the South to embrace full-blown medical marijuana, as well as in Arkansas (Question 6), Montana (I-182), and North Dakota (Measure 5).

This week's election doubles the number of legal marijuana states from four to eight and brings the number of full-fledged medical marijuana states to 28. It also means some 50 million people just got pot-legal, more than tripling the number of people living in states that have freed the weed.

 "This is one of the most significant days in the history of marijuana prohibition and this movement," said Rob Kampia, long-time head of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which was behind the legalization initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada and which also backed the California initiative. "When four states legalize it, it's a big deal, and California is an even bigger deal. The next time we'll see a day as important as yesterday is when a president signs a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition."

A major question is whether Donald Trump might be that president. During the campaign, he suggested that he would follow President Obama's lead and not interfere with state-level marijuana legalization and regulation (roughly the same position as Hillary Clinton). But his political alliances leave some reformers less than sanguine about a Trump administration.

"Marijuana reform won big across America on Election Day - indeed it's safe to say that no other reform was approved by so many citizens on so many ballots this year," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which was involved in the California campaign. "But the prospect of Donald Trump as our next president concerns me deeply. His most likely appointees to senior law enforcement positions - Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie - are no friends of marijuana reform, nor is his vice president.

 "The momentum for ending marijuana prohibition took a great leap forward with the victories in California and elsewhere, but the federal government retains the power to hobble much of what we've accomplished," Nadelmann continued. "The progress we've made, and the values that underlie our struggle - freedom, compassion, reason and justice - will be very much at risk when Donald Trump enters the White House."

MPP's Kampia had a more optimistic take.

"The positions of Clinton and Trump were very similar," he said. "We have no reason to believe Trump would escalate the war on nonviolent marijuana users in states where it is legal. States will continue moving forward, and we will see a string of successes in the future, as well as being able to implement the laws passed yesterday."

That remains to be seen, as does the chance that a Republican Congress will move in a positive direction on marijuana. In a Wednesday tele-conference, marijuana reform stalwart Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), pointed to three areas where congressional action is needed: reforming the IRS's 280-E tax code provision that bars marijuana businesses from getting normal business tax breaks, reforming Treasury Department regulations that bar financial institutions from doing business with pot businesses, and removing barriers to research on marijuana's medical efficacy.

"I believe the next administration will follow the policy of the Obama administration," he said. "We had strong support for legalization in nine diverse states, with more support for these legalize, regulate, and tax policies than for either presidential candidate. The people have spoken, and that will make it easier for us in Congress to build bipartisan support for this legislation. There are now 28 states where there are state-legal businesses having to pay their taxes with shopping bags full of $20 bills. We have growing support in the House and Senate to stop this insanity," Blumenauer said.

"I believe we will see action within the next two years to stop this discrimination against state-legal marijuana businesses," he prophesied. "Now that the playing field has expanded dramatically, including that overwhelming vote in Florida, which will become the second largest state marijuana market in the country, there is even more incentive. Some representatives are ambivalent or even opposed to marijuana legalization, but will serve their constituents."

But, as DPA's Nadelmann noted, even if Congress is favorably disposed to move in a positive direction on marijuana, the Trump executive branch is likely to feature staunch foes of marijuana law reform. Will advisors and possible appointees such as Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Pence push Trump to try to undo the spreading marijuana legalization movement? And will Trump listen if they do? We will know the answer to these questions only in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, voters in initiative and referendum states and legislators in states without the initiative process can work to create more facts on the ground, more legalization states. National public opinion polls—and this week's elections—show that marijuana legalization is a winning issue. And the more states that legalize it, the more ridiculous, or as Obama put it this week, "untenable," federal marijuana prohibition becomes. Even a Trump victory, with all the frightening prospects that brings, may not be able to stop the marijuana juggernaut. 

Massachusetts Legalizes It, Arkansas Okays Medical Marijuana

The Associated Press has called Massachusetts, saying Question 4 will win. It's currently at 54% with 77% of the vote counted. 

And Arkansas media sources have reported that the Question 6 medical marijuana initiative will pass. It's currently leading 53% to 47%, with 81% of the vote counted. 

North Dakota Okays Medical Marijuana

It's leading 64% to 36% with 71% of the vote counted. 

“More than half the states in the country now have medical marijuana laws, thanks to the decisions tonight by North Dakota voters and those in Floridam," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "To be candid, very few people in our movement expected this result, and it happened with almost no coordination or major assistance from national organizations." 

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