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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. (whitehouse.gov)
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."

Chronicle AM: House Passes Opioid Bill Without $$, CA Drug Felonies Plummet, More... (7/11/16)

California felony drug arrests are down, Colombian coca production is up, the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative is trailing in a new poll, Congress moves toward final passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but there's a fight over funding, and more.

The House passes the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but spurns efforts to pay for it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Trailing. A new poll from O.H. Predictive Insights has the legalization initiative sponsored by the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol losing on election day. The poll found 52.5% opposed, with only 39% in favor. The initiative has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is expected to after supporters handed in 100,000 more signatures than needed, providing plenty of cushion for invalidated signatures. The campaign does have significant resources; it looks like it will need them to turn the numbers around.

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Mere Smell of Marijuana is Grounds for Search, Even Though It's a Medical Marijuana State. The state's high court ruled Monday that the mere smell of marijuana is sufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant, even though the state has legalized medical marijuana. But the court also held that the legal foundation for such a search can go up in smoke if police have evidence the suspected marijuana use or possession is legal under state law. The case is State v. Sisco.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. North Dakotans will not be voting on marijuana legalization this fall. Sponsors of the initiative conceded Monday they only had about 10,000 signatures, and they needed 13,452 valid signatures to qualify. Monday was the deadline for turning in signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Continue Climbing. The state saw $2.57 million in medical marijuana sales in June, up from $2.3 million in May, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture. Sales total $13.8 million since the first dispensaries started operating last November. The numbers should increase even further once two new qualifying conditions -- PTSD and terminal illness -- come on line. They've already been approved, but the Department of Health is in the midst of preparing new rules and application forms.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign handed in some 15,500 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday, the last day for handing them in. The campaign needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify, so there is very little cushion for invalidated signatures. Stay tuned.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Approves Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, But Without Requested Funding. The House last Friday gave final approval to S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), but beat back Democratic efforts to provide additional funding for it. The Obama administration had asked for $1.1 billion, and House Democrats tried in vain last week to $925 million in funding. The White House has suggested it may veto the bill if no extra funding is attached. House Republicans said funding was available elsewhere. The measure is a conference committee compromise, with the Senate set to give final approval this week.


California Drug Felony Arrests Plummet in Wake of Prop 47. What happens when you change drug felonies to misdemeanors? Drug felonies plummet. Felony drug arrests in California dropped between 68% and 73% between 2014 and 2015 according to new data from the California Attorney General. Marijuana felonies followed a similar curve, dropping from 13,300 in 2014 to 8,856 last year. On the other hand, misdemeanor drug arrests nearly doubled, from 92,469 in 2014 to 163,073 last year.


Poll Finds Majority of British MPs Favor Medical Marijuana. Some 58% of British MPs back the use of medical marijuana, according to the polling firm Populus. Only 27% were opposed. Support was strongest among Scottish National Party MPs (88%), followed by Labor (60%), and even 55% of Tories were on board.

Colombia Coca Boom Underway. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported last Thursday that coca cultivation had increased by 39% last year and nearly doubled since 2013. Some observers speculate that it reflects coca growers' belief that this could be the last chance to grow the cash crop before a peace deal between the government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC takes hold. Colombia government officials said the largest increases in cultivation are in areas controlled by the FARC.

Mendocino County Could Adopt Wine Industry-Style Marijuana Appellations [FEATURE]

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

Before too long, when you sit down to enjoy your 2014 vintage Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, you'll be able to pair your wine with a nice South Mendocino County Sour Diesel or maybe a Mendocino Covelo/Dos Rios OG Kush for a sip and smoke that hits all the high notes.

That's right, pot farmers in one of California's Emerald Triangle marijuana-growing counties are about to follow their brethren in the wine industry by seeking to capitalize on its reputation as a pioneer and still cutting-edge presence in American cannabis cultivation. As with Bordeaux in France or the Napa Valley nearby, the Mendocino Appellations Project wants the county's marijuana brand protected and promoted by designating denominations of origin that reflect both the county provenance and the distinct pot-growing microclimates that Mendo offers.

The first-of-its-kind project is riding a tide of local optimism not only about the future -- legalization is set to be on the ballot in California this year -- but also the present, now that the state legislature has belatedly passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). Twenty years after voters first approved medical marijuana, the act will finally bring some clarity to an endeavor that has operated with many grey areas. It defines marijuana cultivation as an agricultural activity, creates state licensing requirements, and also makes it a crime to label or sell medical marijuana as grown in a county if it actually isn't.

These rules are similar to the ones that protect the state's wine regions, whose global reputations for fine wines are jealously guarded. But unlike wine, which is regulated by the federal government, California's pot's regulation defaults to the state under federal marijuana prohibition.

"You have a product coming out of prohibition, essentially. Marijuana growers are caught in a very difficult situation. It's a bit of a 'catch-22'. Even though it's legal at the state level, it's not legal at the federal level. They can't operate in the normal way by creating bank accounts and the like. Appellations will help show the legitimacy of what they are doing," wine legal expert Richard Mendelson told The North Bay Business Journal

Mendelson has played a key role in the development of Napa County's wine appellations for more than 30 years, and he's now lending his expertise to the Mendocino Appellation Project.

"Appellations can be really powerful because they can be a means to protect everything from the intellectual property, to the labor force, to the culture and history. They can be very rich vehicles for promotion, protection, and rural development," he added.

"Mendocino is the Napa Valley of cannabis. It is by far the most conducive place for outdoor cultivation," said project founder Justin Calvino. "Mendocino is a growing culture you won't find anywhere else."

Calvino began the project last year with a topographical map of the county, then proceeded to listen to growers and others in the industry. After surveying local farmers last fall, he created the appellation map, with 11 different micro-regions based on ecological factors, such as watershed and microclimate.

The proposed appellations are: Spyrock-Bell Springs, Covelo-Dos Rios, Long Valley-Branscomb-Leggett, Willits, Comptche, Ukiah Valley, North Mendocino Coast, South Mendocino Coast, Anderson Valley South Mendocino, Potter Valley, and Mountainhouse South Mendocino County.

"I like the way he's gone about it, because he's factored in not just the natural elements, he's gone out and spoken to growers, asking the old-timers what they think, and is making revisions. He's being true to the history. This is a template for the future, creating a dossier of physical and human, historical factors -- I applaud him for that," Mendelson said.

There are issues yet to be resolved, including whether to brand the name "Mendocino" or focus on smaller areas, the setting of environmental standards, and the thorny philosophical question of whether marijuana grown indoors can lay claim to terroir, a wine term that means the specific environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, that give a wine its unique characteristics. Can a crop grown with hydroponics in a controlled indoor environment have a terroir?

In any case, the adoption of appellations should be good for consumers and good for the industry.

"This is what makes wine so much fun for consumers, to experiment and to be able to go from the larger country and regional levels all the way down to the specific vineyard designation, and see, as a consumer if you can spot those differences and understand the effect of terroir on the final product," Mendelson said.

"Tourism is big. We want people to come out and visit our tasting rooms. We want the debate and the talk about our appellations, and which one does it better than another," he said.

Calvino also sits on the board of the California Growers' Association and has been asked to lead a group working on developing appellations statewide. He said he is looking a neighboring Humboldt County next.

United States

Chronicle AM: House Blocks MJ Banking, No Prostitutes for DEA, Thai Meth Policy, More... (6/23/16)

House Republicans blocked an effort to open up banking for marijuana businesses, an Oregon worker fired for medical marijuana use wins his job back, DEA agents get new marching orders on hookers, the Thai government grapples with methamphetamine policy, and more.

Patronize a prostitute, lose your DEA badge.
Marijuana Policy

House Turns Back Effort to Give Pot Businesses Access to Banks. The Republican-led House Wednesday voted down an amendment to the FY 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would have blocked federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for working with state-legal marijuana businesses. A similar amendment had passed the Senate last week.

Nevada Legalization Effort Has Raised Nearly $300,000 This Year. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $285,000 so far this year, with more than half coming in a two-day period earlier this month when local marijuana companies made significant donations. The campaign's legalization initiative has qualified for the November ballot. Opposition groups made no reports of donations this reporting period.

Oregon Takes in Nearly $15 Million in Pot Taxes So Far This Year. As of May 30, the state Department of Revenue had processed $14.9 million in marijuana tax payments this year, the agency said Wednesday. Medical marijuana dispensaries authorized to sell to any adult 21 or over began collecting the tax in January.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Auditor Bemoans Delays in Processing ID Cards. The state auditor and the attorney general are investigating a backlog of medical marijuana ID card applications as requests for the cards surge. The state has 30 days to issue the issue the cards, but the Department of Health said it is taking 45-50 days, and the auditor's office said it had complaints of wait times of up to 90 days.


Oregon Worker Fired for Medical Marijuana Wins Jobs Back. An arbitrator has ordered Lane County to reinstate a worker it fired because he used medical marijuana to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment and it has ordered the county to give him nearly $22,000 in back pay. Michael Hirsh had been employed as a senior programmer for the county before he was fired in December after two employees reported smelling pot smoke on his clothing.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Governor Signs Heroin Bill Package. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Wednesday signed into law a package of bills aimed at the state's heroin and prescription opioid problems. The bills, which address prevention, treatment, and insurance coverage, should produce an additional 270 treatment beds and more than 2,000 slots for drug treatment programs. The bills also require insurance companies to wait 14 days before denying coverage to drug users deemed in need of drug treatment, and it limits initial prescriptions for opioids for severe pain to seven days.

Law Enforcement

No Prostitutes for DEA Agents. In the wake of scandalous behavior by DEA agents in Colombia during the 2012 Summit of the Americas, the DEA has instituted a one-strike policy for agents caught patronizing prostitutes. "Solicitation of prostitution on duty or off duty, whether you're in a jurisdiction where it is legal or illegal, first time offense -- removal," DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg told a Senate panel Wednesday.


UN Releases Annual Global Drug Report -- 250 Million Adults Used a Drug Last Year. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime has released the World Drug Report 2016, and notes that 5% of the adult population has used at least one drug in the past year. The UN also reported that the number of people classified as suffering from a dependency disorder climbed to more than 29 million, up from 27 million the previous year.

Thailand Won't Legalize Meth, But Will Remove it From List of Dangerous Drugs. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has walked back talk about legalizing the amphetamine, but now says the country will work to reform its drug laws by removing meth from its list of hard drugs like heroin and recognizing a distinction between traffickers and users, workers, and addicts.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Taxes Could Generate $1 Billion/Year, CVS Expands Narcan Program, More... (5/25/16)

There's a pot of gold waiting in California, a Republican congressman comes out of the closet on his medical marijuana use, CVS is expanding expanded access to naloxone to seven more states, and more.

CVS is moving to get the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone into the hands of more drug users. (gov.pa.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislative Analyst's Office Says Legalization Could Generate $1 Billion a Year in Taxes and Fees. In a report presented to state lawmakers, the Legislative Analyst's Office said the figure was a mid-range estimate. "Our best estimate is that the state and local governments could eventually collect net additional revenues that could range from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually," analyst Aaron Edwards told lawmakers. The analysts cautioned that legalization could also incur some costs, with likely increased marijuana use requiring additional money to be spent on drug treatment.

New Hampshire Legislature Balks at Decriminalization. The Granite State will remain the only one in New England that has not embraced decriminalization. House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a version of Senate Bill 498 that would lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of pot, but still leave it a criminal offense. The bill does lower the fine from $500 to $350, but possession remains a misdemeanor criminal offense. The House had voted twice in favor of decriminalization this year, but the Senate wouldn't go for it.

Medical Marijuana

GOP Congressman Steps Out of the Closet on Medical Marijuana Use. Long-time medical marijuana supporter Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has told marijuana reformers lobbying on Capitol Hill that he uses medical marijuana for arthritis pain. "I went to one of those hemp fests in San Bernardino," he explained, adding that a vendor showed him a topical preparation he could rub on his sore shoulder. "And you know what? I tried it about two weeks ago, and it's the first time in a year-and-a-half that I've had a decent night's sleep, because the arthritis pain was gone."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Bill Would Tax Prescription Opioids to Fund Drug Treatment Facilities. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Tuesday introduced the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (BOAT) Act, which would impose a one-penny fee for each milligram of opioid prescription drugs. That fee would generate $1.5-2 billion annually, Manchin said. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Harm Reduction

CVS Health to Expand Naloxone Access to Seven More States. CVS Health, the massive pharmacy chain, announced Wednesday that it will increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in the states of Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington this summer. CVS has already increased access to naloxone in 23 other states. The CVS program establishes a standing order with a physician in the state, allowing pharmacists to dispense naloxone to patients without an individual prescription.

911 "Bad" Samaritan Law Goes to Ohio Governor's Desk. The state Senate Tuesday approved House Bill 110, which was originally designed to save lives, but has been amended to the point where advocates say it will actually make people less likely to seek emergency help for overdoses. The amended bill limits the number of times people can seek overdose help to the first two times they call and it requires medical providers to give patient information to law enforcement. The bill also requires people to get mandatory treatment screening within 30 days or face arrest. Harm reduction advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich (R) to veto the bill.

Chronicle AM: Shocking Forfeiture Poll, Oakland Racial Balance in MJ Industry Bill, More... (5/18/16)

Organized opposition is trying to emerge in California, legalization in Oregon is creating jobs and payrolls, Oakland attempts to redress racial imbalance in the legal marijuana business but catches some flak, and more.

The New York Senate is focused on addressing heroin and prescription pain pill use. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Dems Tied to Law Enforcement Oppose Legalization Initiative. A pair of state Democratic lawmakers with "deep law enforcement ties" have come out in opposition to the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative. Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a former Sacramento County sheriff's official who regularly warns against drug liberalization, and Sen. Cathleen Gagliani (D-Stockton), "the Democratic senator most aligned with law enforcement," have joined with Republican colleagues to oppose the measure. The initiative is favored by many Democratic elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Oregon Legalization Creates Jobs, Payrolls. Retail cannabis employees will be paid nearly $46 million this year, and that number is set to increase in the future, according to a new report from local marijuana industry consulting firms. Legalization has also created at least 2,165 jobs, with more to come, the report said.

Medical Marijuana

Oakland Passes Marijuana Ordinance Designed to Encourage Minority Participation. The city council Tuesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana ordinance with an "equity program" that would reserve half of the city's new cannabis permits for people who live in a designated high-crime police beat in East Oakland or were imprisoned for marijuana-related crimes in Oakland in the past 10 years. But the plan is coming under fire from industry leaders who say it may actually be counterproductive to encouraging minority participation and could undercut a pot economy expected to boom if and when the state legalizes marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York State Senate Releases Heroin Report. The GOP-dominated body has released a report on heroin and prescription pain pill use that recommends 48 changes to state law and policy, including increased penalties for the sale and possession of opioids. The report also calls for increased prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures. The report includes a package of bills that were expected to be passed Tuesday night. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Southern California Poll Finds 10% Report Having Cash or Property Seized Without a Conviction. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling, looked at Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, and also found that 19%o of respondents said they knew someone who had experienced the same. The poll, sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, comes as a push is underway to get a civil asset forfeiture reform bill, Senate Bill 443, through the Assembly. The bill passed the Senate last year, but was blocked in the Assembly by law enforcement lobbying. It is still alive, though, and hopes are that it can get through the Assembly this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

Missouri looks poised to vote on medical marijuana this fall, Florida looks poised to pass it this fall, an Ohio medical marijuana bill advances, and more.


As of Monday, there will be medical marijuana issues on the June ballot in several localities. Two northern California counties and two northern California cities will be voting on medical marijuana-related issues in the June 7 election. In Nevada County, Measure W would prohibit all outdoor marijuana grows and limit indoor grows to 12 plants; in Yuba County, Measure A would allow limited outdoor marijuana cultivation and Measure B would authorize one dispensary for every 20,000 residents; in Sacramento, Measure Y would impose a 5% gross receipts tax on cultivation and manufacturing businesses (requires two-thirds majority); and in Davis, Measure C would allow the city to impose a tax of up to 10% on businesses selling marijuana, although it doesn't currently allow them.


On Tuesday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana and majority support for legalization. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for pot legalization at 56% and support for medical marijuana at 80%. Legalization isn't on the immediate horizon in the Sunshine State, but a medical marijuana initiative will be on the November ballot. A similar initiative was defeated in 2012 with 58% of the vote; it needed 60% to win because it was a constitutional amendment.


On Sunday, New Approach Missouri handed in signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. Supporters of the group's medical marijuana initiative handed in some 260,000 raw signatures. They only need 167,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Even if 30% of the signatures are disqualified, campaigners would still have enough to qualify.


On Tuesday, the House approved a medical marijuana bill. The House voted 71-26 approve House Bill 523. Patients under a doctor's supervision could use marijuana oils, tinctures, edibles, and vapors, but could not smoke it, nor could they grow their own.  The bill specifies 18 conditions for which medical marijuana could be used and now goes to the Senate.  Meanwhile, activists are working to get a more patient-friendly medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.


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

Obama's Effort to Free Drug War Prisoners Hits Bureaucratic Roadblocks [FEATURE]

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

With the sentence commutations announced last week, President Barack Obama has now cut more than 300 harsh drug war prison sentences, more than the previous six presidents combined. Thousands more could be eligible for commutations, but bureaucratic obstacles inside the Justice Department mean the clock could run out before Obama gets a chance to free them.

Thousands could go free with sentence cuts this year -- if bottlenecks are fixed. (nacdp.org)
As part of the Obama administration's emphasis on criminal justice reform and reducing the federal prison population, then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole called on nonviolent federal drug war prisoners to seek clemency in April 2014.

"In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine, but there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime -- and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," said Holder at the time. "This is simply not right."

Holder noted that Obama had granted commutation to eight people serving time for crack offenses the previous December.

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences," Holder said.

The mass clemency program is one of Eric Holder's sentencing reform legacies. (justice.gov)
Under Holder's criteria for clemency, low-level drug offenders who had served at least 10 years, had good conduct in prison, had no significant criminal history or connection to gangs, cartels, or organized crime, and who would probably receive a "substantially lower sentence" if convicted of the same offense today would be eligible for sentence cuts.

Of roughly 100,000 federal drug prisoners -- nearly half the entire federal prison population -- more than 36,000 applied for clemency. Many of them did not meet the criteria, but the Justice Department has reviewed nearly 9,500 that did. Of those, only the 306 have actually been granted clemency; applications are still pending for 9,115 more. (An additional 8,000 pending applications are being handled by a consortium of private attorneys, the Clemency Project.)

Many of those might not make it to Obama's desk before the clock runs out on his term because the Justice Department has stumbled in administering the program. Thousands of prisoners doing harsh drug war sentences could lose their chance for early freedom because Justice didn't get around to hiring enough people to handle the flood of applications it generated.

The situation so infuriated Office of Pardons attorney Deborah Leff, who was hired to oversee the project, that she quit earlier this year. Her resignation letter to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates made it clear why.

Despite her "intense efforts" to do her job, Justice had "not fulfilled its commitment to provide the resources necessary ffor my office to make timely and thoughtful recommendations on clemency to the president," she wrote. "The position in which my office has been placed, asking us to address the petitions of nearly 10,000 individuals with so few attorneys and support staff, means that the requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard."

It wasn't just that Justice wasn't adequately staffing the pardons office -- it had a total of 10 staff attorneys -- but Yates was overturning the pardon attorneys' recommendations and blocking the office's traditional access to the White House, Leff complained.

"I have been deeply troubled by the decision to deny the Pardon Attorney all access to the Office of the White House Counsel, even to share the reasons for our determinations in the increasing number of cases where you have reversed our recommendations," Leff wrote in her resignation letter to Yates.

US Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff resigned in frustration.
"It is essential that this groundbreaking effort move ahead expeditiously and expand," she wrote, implying that the Justice Department process was stalling justice.

The staffing problems had been apparent early on, which is why the Department turned to the Clemency Project to help out last year. But that effort, which involved some 4,000 attorneys from 30 law schools, 70 large law firms, and more than 500 small firms and solo practitioners doing pro bono work, has also been slow to get rolling.

Now, with the days slipping away and freedom for thousands in the balance, both the Justice Department and the Clemency Project are feeling the heat. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston told the Washington Post last week that many more petitions will be granted in Obama's final months and that the Justice Department has doubled the number of lawyers at the pardon office. And administration officials said that President Obama wants to see more petitions on his desk.

"The President is deeply committed to the clemency initiative. That is evident not only by the historic number of commutations he's granted to date, but by his wholesale approach to revamping the way the government approaches commutations," White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in a statement.

The Justice Department said it was working hard, too.

"The Justice Department has dedicated the maximum amount of resources allowed by Congress to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, and we have requested additional funds from Congress for each year the initiative has been in place," spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement.

But it may be too little, too late for the thousands of men and women behind bars who could see freedom being waved in front of them only to vanish when the clock runs out, if things don't change quickly.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: CT Opioids Bill Passes House, CA Drug Sentence Reduction Bill Killed, More... (4/26/16)

DC marijuana activists scored a White House meeting, Montana medical marijuana patients catch a temporary break, hemp states could be protected from federal interference, Canada just says no to decrim ahead of pot legalization next year, and more.

A Connecticut bill would provide broader access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

White House Staffers Meet With DC Marijuana Activists. Adam Eidinger and Nikolas Schiller of the DC Cannabis Campaign met with White House staffers Monday and urged them to commit the administration to a marijuana policy summit at the White House. They didn't get any answers from the staffers, but Eidinger said they did get "a lot of nods, a lot of smiles."

Nebraska and Oklahoma Try Again to Derail Colorado's Pot Legalization. After being turned away by the US Supreme Court in their bid to overturn marijuana legalization in Colorado, the two neighboring states have asked to be added to another case at the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver brought by opponents of legalization. The case consolidates two separate lawsuits brought by a group of county sheriffs and the owners of a rural property, and now, Nebraska and Oklahoma hope it will include them, too.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Killed. A Republican-backed bill to expand the number of ailments for which Iowans could use CBD cannabis oil was defeated in the House Monday. Democrats said the proposal did not go far enough, while some Republicans objected to any effort to legalize marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. The bill was defeated 61-36.

Montana Supreme Court Delays Enforcement of Medical Marijuana Rollback. The state high court said it will delay enforcement of its February ruling dramatically rolling back the state's medical marijuana program. The court said its ruling would now not go into effect until August 31. Montana activists and medical marijuana industry spokesman have said the rollback would force the closure of dispensaries and leave patients in the lurch. Supporters are also working on an initiative campaign to put a revamped medical marijuana system before the voters in November.


Senate Committee Approves Amendment to Block Federal Interference With Hemp. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) offered an amendment to the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill that would prevent the federal government from interfering with implementation of state hemp laws, and the Appropriations Committee passed it last Friday. More than half the states have laws allowing farmers to cultivate hemp, but they faced the prospect of the DEA taking action against them. That will end if the amendment survives the rest of the appropriations process.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Connecticut House Passes Comprehensive Opioid Bill. The House Monday unanimously approved House Bill 5053, which would widen access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, put a seven-day cap on first-time opioid prescriptions, strengthen the prescription monitoring program, provide a release from liability for Good Samaritans who administer naloxone, and add staffing for emergency medical care and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Council. The bill now goes to the Senate.


California Bill to Reduce Drug Sentences Fails. A bill to repeal sentencing enhancements for certain drug offenses died in the Senate Monday after some senators warned that it would favor drug dealers. The measure, Senate Bill 966, filed by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would have repealed a law that adds three years in prison for people convicted of drug distribution offenses if they have previously been convicted on similar charges. All Republican members voted against it, as did three Democrats, while five more Democrats abstained. The bill lost 18-16.


Canada Will Not Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Ahead of Legalization. The Liberal government has made it clear that it will not move to end marijuana possession arrests ahead of its push to legalize marijuana, which it said it will undertake next year. "The current provisions of the CDSA [Controlled Drugs and Substances Act] regarding marijuana will remain in place until they are replaced by new legislation that will legalize and strictly regulate marijuana, Ian McLeod, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said. "Marijuana will not be decriminalized prior to legalization."

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