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Chronicle AM: DC AG Talks Decrim, IL Gov Vetoes Medicare Heroin Treatment Funding, More (8/25/2015)

Another South Florida community moves toward marijuana decrim, GOP primary state voters want the feds to stay out of state marijuana policies, DC's top prosecutor hints at drug decrim, Illinois's governor vetoes Medicaid heroin treatment funding, and more.

Heroin users lining up to score in Chicago. The governor has vetoed heroin treatment funding. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: GOP Voters in Early Primary States Want Feds to Butt Out on Marijuana. Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire says states should be able to design their own marijuana laws without federal interference. The figure was 64% in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling and was commissioned by Marijuana Majority. "We put these polls into the field because we want presidential candidates to understand that the voters in these key states -- who they need support from to win -- overwhelmingly want the next occupant of the Oval Office to scale back federal marijuana prohibition," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Key West Latest South Florida City to Move Toward Decriminalization. Officials in Key West have given preliminary approval to municipal marijuana decriminalization; a final vote will come next month. The change comes on the heels of similar moves this summer in Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, and Hallandale Beach. Lawmakers in Palm Beach County are now considering a similar proposal, as are lawmakers up the Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Group Drops Legalization Initiative Plans; Will Instead Focus on Medical Marijuana Reforms. The Michigan Responsibility Council, which had been considering running a third legalization initiative campaign in the state, has decided to instead focus on an initiative aimed at improving the state's medical marijuana law. Two other groups are continuing with legalization efforts.

Reno's First Dispensary Opens Wednesday. Sierra Wellness Connections opens near downtown Reno tomorrow. It is the first one in the city and the third one in the state. One in nearby Sparks opened earlier this month, and one in Las Vegas opened Monday.

Drug Policy

DC's Attorney General Hints He Could Support Drug Decriminalization. DC Attorney General Karl Racine responded to a caller who argued that drug prohibition created the recent wave of new psychoactive substance use during a C-Span interview last Friday by largely agreeing with him. "Law enforcement and over-criminalization of drug laws can cause more harm to society than benefit… With respect to the legalization of other substances, including marijuana, I think the caller makes an excellent point… I think that the 21st Century policing is such that smart prosecution means less of an emphasis on criminalizing conduct, more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse. With respect to marijuana, you know, my position is very clear. I think it should be legal and I think that the District of Columbia, like the State of Colorado should be able to regulate it."

Heroin and Opiates

Illinois Governor Cuts Drug Treatment Funding From Heroin Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has partially vetoed a bill aimed at fighting heroin addiction and overdoses, cutting out a section that requires Medicaid coverage of all heroin treatment programs, as well as anti-overdose and heroin-treatment medications (methadone). Rauner said that he supports the efforts, but the state can't afford to pay for them. Bill supporters say the move is short-sighted, pennywise but pound-foolish, and that there is a real human cost to it. They also said they would fight to see the funding restored. The bill is House Bill 1.


Russian Censor Lifts Ban On Wikipedia for Marijuana Page. Russia's Internet censor, Roskomnadzor, said Tuesday it had lifted a ban on Russian-language Wikipedia after Wikipedia complied with a court order and edited an entry dealing with charas, a substance made from marijuana resins. Under Russian law, if a web site is banned via court order, as was the case here, the entire website is banned even if the offending material is only on one page. Russian Wikipedia was shut down for about 24 hours.

Chronicle AM: WA Gets Big Bucks From First Year Pot Taxes, Synthetic Drugs Now Banned in NH, More (7/6/15)

Marijuana sales tax revenues exceeded expectations in Washington state, New Hampshire bans new synthetics, Colombia's FARC rebels say they're ready to move on implementing drug provisions of the long-negotiated peace plan, and more.

You can't sell or possess this stuff in New Hampshire anymore. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Collected $70 Million in Marijuana Taxes During Its First Year of Sales. As its first year of legal marijuana sales came to an end, state officials reported that pot sales had generated $70 million in tax revenues and that sales are now topping more than $1.4 million a day. The state had originally forecast it would take in about $36 million in marijuana taxes in the first year. More much at the link.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Governor Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) today signed into law Senate Bill 106, which bans the sale and possession of new synthetic drugs. Businesses that sell the drugs could be hit with fines and civil violations, while people caught in possession will have their drugs seized and be hit with a fine. The new law goes into effect immediately.


FARC Says It's Ready to Move Forward With Implementing Drug Provisions of Colombia Peace Plan. FARC negotiators in peace talks with the Colombian government said they were ready to agree on procedures necessary for implementing that part of the peace plan. "To establish the basis for building a stable and lasting peace it is necessary, among other things, to find a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, including the cultivation for illicit use and the production and commercialization of illicit drugs. One step in that direction, accompanied by other gestures of de-escalation, which in a short time may lead the parties to definitively suspend armed actions, would not only restore the confidence and credibility of the process but would also put it in a new place, safe from pressures and provocations of its enemies," said a communique read by FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, whose real name is Luis Antonio Losada. The agreement on drugs includes three provisions: crop substitution programs, public health efforts toward prevention, and dealing with drug trafficking.

Call for Ecstasy to Be Sold Over the Counter in Australia. A leading Australian pharmacist and a drug policy expert are calling for ecstasy to be sold legally to make it safer. Pharmacist Joshua Donelly, former chair of the Victoria drug policy drug policy advisory committee, and Professor David Pennington said most of the risks associated with ecstasy are a result of users taking adulterated black market pills. "Australians are one of the highest consumers of MDMA in the world, yet we resolutely resist exploring the fact that most of the uncommon ill consequences of its use arise from impurities in the illicitly manufactured drug and the 'illicit', uncontrolled circumstances of its use," Professor Penington said. Donnelly added that ecstasy caused "negligible" harm to users and people around them and was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Chronicle AM: Putin Says "Nyet" to Legalization, KY Divvies Up Heroin Fight Dollars, More (6/17/05)

Marijuana's going to be legal in Oregon next month, and a new website will help explain things, the focus is on Gov. Cuomo now that an emergency access medical marijuana has passed the New York legislature, Vermont's top jailer comes out for decriminalization of drugs, and more.

Vladimir Putin says "nyet" to drug legalization. (kremlin.ru)
Marijuana Policy

With Legalization Looming, Oregon Regulators Launch Informational Website. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has launched an educational website laying out what is and isn't allowed under the state's marijuana legalization law, which is set to go into effect July 1. Check it out at the link.

Medical Marijuana

New York Early Access Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow early access to medical marijuana passed the Senate Monday night after already being approved in the Assembly. The move comes as a year has gone by since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, but not one patient has yet to be able to legally obtain any. This bill would provide expedited access to seriously ill patients.


Kentucky Legislators Ponder How to Spend $10 Million to Fight Heroin. Recently passed legislation allocated $10 million to fight heroin, and now legislators are trying to figure out where to put that money. Justice Secretary Michael Brown recommended spending it on jail treatment programs, mental health centers, transitional care for pregnant drug-using women, and faster prosecutions against heroin dealers. It will be up to the legislature to agree or not.

Drug Policy

Vermont Corrections Commissioner Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito has said that drug possession should be decriminalized and the war on drugs declared a failure. "Possession of drugs for personal utilization -- if somebody is not hurting anyone [else], that should not be a criminal justice matter," Pallito said. "I don't think anybody can say that putting somebody with an addiction problem through the corrections system is a good idea. We should go to the Portugal model, which is to deal with the addiction and not spend the money on the criminal justice system," Pallito said. "We spend so much money on corrections that could be done differently. The only way to do it is spend less on corrections and more on treatment." There's much more at the link.


Putin Opposes Drug Legalization. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he opposed drug legalization. "Of course, we must take into consideration in our current work that a range of governments have begun a true campaign on the legalization of certain types of narcotics, or so-called recreational drugs. We, of course, are against such approaches and this point of view needs to be more actively moved forward on all international platforms," Putin said during a government council meeting.

Chronicle AM: OH MJ Report, Colombia to Debate MJ Legalization, CDC Spice Warning, More (6/12/15)

There's a new report on the impact of marijuana legalization in Ohio, the CDC sounds the alarm on "Spice," a CBD cannabis oil for kids bill passes in Delaware, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Ohio Marijuana Policy Task Force Says Legalization Will Create 35,000 Jobs. A task force commissioned by ResponsibleOhio, which is leading a legalization initiative campaign, issued a 187-page report Thursday that estimated legalization would bring 35,000 jobs to the Buckeye State. Those jobs would provide wages of around $1.6 billion, the report said. The task force was led by Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Legislature Approves Youth CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The state Senate Thursday unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.

New Synthetic Drugs

CDC Sounds Alarm on Synthetic Cannabinoids. The number of phone calls to poison control centers and the number of deaths related to synthetic cannabinoids ("spice") has tripled this spring compared to last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. The CDC reported that 15 people had died in the first five months of this year, up from five during the same period last year. For perspective, the CDC reported in April, that there were 44,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2013, more than half of them from prescription drugs.

Drug Testing

ACLU Sues Indiana Town Over Mandatory, Suspicionless Drug Tests for Public Assistance. The ACLU of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against the town of Black Township on behalf of a woman who was denied public assistance because she failed to take a drug test. It's not that she failed a drug test; the woman suffers from physical disabilities and was unable to physically urinate into a specimen cup. She sought an alternative means of doing the drug test, but the town refused to allow it. While the ACLU is suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act on that count, it also asserts that the town's policy of mandatory, suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment, a position in line with federal court decisions.


Colombian Senator Will Push for Full Legalization During Looming Medical Marijuana Debate. Senator Roy Barreras of the coalition U Party said Thursday that he will attempt to amend a proposal to allow medical marijuana to turn it into a full legalization bill. That debate is set to take place next month. Barreras cited security issues, saying it is not drugs but "prohibition that is generating the mafias."

Chronicle AM: Senate Panel Wants DEA Out of MedMJ, MI Legalization Inits Approved, More (6/11/15)

The Senate is following the House's lead in telling the DEA not to interfere in medical marijuana states, two Michigan initiatives get the go-ahead for signature-gathering, a package of heroin bills passes the New York Senate, Vancouver gets tired of Cannabis Day, and more.

Cannabis Day in Vancouver. The city wants to shut it down. (cannabisday.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Bill Blocks DC Marijuana Sales for Two Years, But Doesn't Try to Roll Back Legalization. The House approved an appropriations bill today that would block legal marijuana sales in the District for the next two years. But, in what advocates called a victory, it does not attempt to undo Initiative 71, which allows for legal marijuana cultivation, possession, and consumption.

Michigan Legalization Initiatives Get Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. Two separate marijuana legalization initiatives are ready to start gathering signatures after the state Board of Canvassers approved the wording of their petitions Thursday. One is from the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and the other is from the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. Now, the groups must each gather 253,000 valid voter signatures in order to send the measures before the legislature. If the legislature fails to approve them, they would go before the voters in November 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana. Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

California Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act Wins Committee Vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.


New York Senate Approves Package of Heroin Bills. The state Senate Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at curbing the state's opiate addiction problem. The package is a mix of treatment and law enforcement measures, including a measure allowing police to charge dealers with murder in overdose deaths. The bills now head to the Assembly.


Vancouver Tells Marc Emery to Cool It With His Cannabis Day Festival. "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and his wife, Jodie, have been holding an annual July 1 Cannabis Day protest for nearly 20 years, but now Vancouver city officials have told them to cease and desist because "the city does not support or approve this event at this location as planned." But Jodie Emery said that people are going to show up regardless, and if there are any problems, "that's going to fall on the shoulders of the City reps who made this call."

Canada Supreme Court Expands Definition of Medical Marijuana to Include Edibles. The Canadian high court today ruled that medical marijuana is not limited to dried, smoked flowers, but also includes edibles, extracts, and derivatives. Read the opinion here.

Chronicle AM: AMA Wants Protection for Pot Docs, LA Marijuana Sentencing Reformed, More (6/9/15)

Another GOP presidential contender weighs in on marijuana policy, the nation's harshest pot laws are about to get a little better, the AMA sticks up for medical marijuana, er, cannabis, doctors, and more.

Carly Fiorina says marijuana legalization is a states' rights issue. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Carly Fiorina Says Marijuana Legalization a States' Right Issue. Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina said Tuesday that while she personally opposed marijuana legalization, it should be up to the states. "I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth," she said. "But I think Colorado voters made a choice, I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reforms Pass; Governor Expected to Sign. The state legislature Monday gave final approval to House Bill 149, which will make the state's draconian possession penalties somewhat less so. Gov. Bobby Jindal has signaled that he will sign the bill. For first offenders, the maximum penalty shrinks from six months to 15 days in jail; for second offenders, the penalty shrinks from a five-year felony to a six-month misdemeanor; for third-strikers, the penalty shrinks from a 20-year felony to a two-year felony. The bill also allows people charged with first-time possession to have their records expunged if they don't get busted again for pot within two years.

Oregon Legislators Have Tentative Pot Deal. Legislative negotiators have reached initial agreement on a way to move forward with implementing legalization. The deal foresees a possible 20% retail sales tax, with municipalities collecting up to 3%. The key question of whether municipalities can prohibit pot shops is being deferred to the courts or a work group charged with making recommendations for 2016. See this series of amendments for more details.

Medical Marijuana

AMA Calls for Protections for Medical Marijuana Doctors. Meeting at its annual convention in Chicago, the American Medical Association has passed a resolution called "Immunity from Federal Prosecution for Cannabis Prescribing." The resolution is "consistent with AMA policy to protect patient-physician communications about treatment options, supporting a public health approach rather than a law-enforcement focus, for individuals possessing cannabis for personal use and opposing government interference with the practice of medicine," the nation's largest doctors' group said.

Industrial Hemp

Nevada Governor Signs Hemp Research Bill. Gov. Bryan Sandoval last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 305, which will allow colleges, universities, and the state Agriculture Department to grow hemp for research purposes in a pilot program. But it doesn't allow commercial hemp production.

Law Enforcement

California School District Pays Out for Using Student as Drug Sting Bait. The Temecula Valley Unified School District will pay $200,000 to a family whose 14-year-old learning disabled son was recruited by an assistant principal to serve as bait in a drug sting. The sting took place even after the boy's mother objected. The boy's mother said the school's actions endangered her son, leading to him being labeled a snitch and to threats of physical violence against him. The sting was an effort to catch another student with marijuana.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

House Passes Seven Amendments to Rein in DEA [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is just the start, Riffle said.

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

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority was singing the same tune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington, DC
United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Legalization Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can It Win?

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

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

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

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

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

United States

Chronicle AM: Good New Pot Polls, State Dept. Drug Report Released, UN Iran Drug Aid Criticized, More (3/19/15)

A new national pot poll has good numbers and so does a Vermont poll, a Washington state home grow bill is filed, a Missouri hemp bill moves, the DEA warns on fentanyl, critics pounce on the UNODC over aid to Iran, and more.

UNODC is preparing a new drug aid package for Iran despite the country's resort to the death penalty. (handsoffcain.info)

Benenson Strategy Group Poll Has Support for Legalization at 61% Nationwide. The poll, which has a 3.5 +/- margin of error, also has 72% for decriminalization. A General Social Survey poll, the "gold standard" of polls, last week had support at 52%. Other recent polls have also found support above the 50% mark. In this week's BSG poll, Republicans were practically split, but 59% of GOP voters under age 50 supported legalization.

Massachusetts Initiative Group Warns Legislators on Excessive Taxation. The group Bay State Repeal, which intends to run a legalization initiative campaign next year, has released a statement saying it welcomed legislative efforts to legalize it, but cautioned against excessive taxation and fees. "A major aim of legalization is to limit access to minors by driving out the black market," the group said in its statement. "But inevitably, unlicensed producers will continue to supply consumers at the black market if legal marijuana is more expensive."

Vermont Poll Has Support for Legalization at 54%. A new Castleton Polling Institute survey has a majority for legalization, with 70% of respondents under 45 in favor and 61% of respondents over 65 opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill, but signs are the bill will not move this year.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Grows. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow home cultivation (except for medical), but a pair of bills introduced today would change that. Senate Bill 6083, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and House Bill 2196, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants and possess up to eight ounces of their harvest.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolinians Rally for New Medical Marijuana Bill in Raleigh. More than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol today in support of House Bill 317, which would allow for medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients. Rep. Kelly Alexander formally introduced it today.

Tennessee GOP Senator Says He Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is working on a bill that would allow for medical marijuana. He said he expected to have final details by Monday. A Democratic bill in the House has yet to make it out of committee.


Missouri Hemp Bill Heads for House Floor Vote -- Maybe. An industrial hemp bill, H.B. 830 has passed its final House committee hurdle and awaits a House floor vote. But it is unclear whether House Majority Leader Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will give it time for a debate and a vote.


DEA Warns on Fentanyl. Fentanyl is increasingly showing up in heroin, the DEA warned yesterday. The opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and dealers are using it to increase the potency of their products, but the result can be accidental overdoses. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.


State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "The two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments' efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing," State says. Click on the link to read the report.

UNODC Preparing New Iran Aid Deal Despite Drug Executions. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is planning a new five-year financial assistance deal with Iran, one of the world's leading executioners for drug crimes. Iran executed at least 350 drug offenders last year and about two a day so far this year. That has critics very unhappy. "Iran has hanged more than a hundred so-called drug offenders this year, and the UN has responded by praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal," said Maya Foa, strategic director of the death penalty team for Reprieve, a British advocacy group.

Israeli Marijuana Party Fails to Reach Threshold to Enter Knesset. Aleh Yarok, the Israeli political party pushing for marijuana legalization, failed to gain the 3.25% of the popular vote needed to give it representation in the Knesset. Aleh Yarok garnered only 38,000 votes, or 0.97% of the vote. The party may have lost some votes to Meretz, which appealed to youth voters by also embracing marijuana reforms.

New Report Shows How Western-Imposed Prohibition Policies Hurt Poor Countries [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with Alternet and first appeared here.

Wealthy Western countries are undermining good governance and social and economic development in poor, drug-producing countries by pressuring them to enforce prohibitionist policies that exploit peasant farmers and waste millions of dollars a year on failed crop eradication and drug interdiction programs. That's the conclusion of a recent report by the British advocacy group Health Poverty Action (HPA).

Afghan poppy fields (unodc.org)
In the report, Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World's Poorest, HPA shows how the West exports much of the harms of drug prohibition -- violence, corruption, environmental damage -- onto some of the world's poorest societies and weakest states. In fact, the report argues, by forcing these countries to devote scarce resources to trying to keep the West from getting high, the West makes them poorer and weaker.

Whether it's horrific prohibition-related violence in Mexico and Central America, the lack of funds for real alternative development in the coca growing areas of the Andes, or the erosion of public health services in West African countries tasked with fighting the trans-Atlantic drug trade, the policy choices imposed by these countries as conditions for receiving assistance have devastatingly deleterious consequences for local populations.

Here are five ways the report says global drug prohibition and rich countries' insistence that poor ones fight their battles for them hurts poor countries:

  1. Disintegrated and accountable states: Corruption and conflict stemming from current drug policies undermine democracy and make governments unable to adequately provide basic services. States can't function because they're stuck in a losing war against cartels.
  2. Lost resources: The global cost of enforcing anti-drug policies is at least US$100 billion a year. Dealing with the violence, environmental destruction, and health impacts caused by the War on Drugs costs poor countries much more and diverts both resources and attention away from essential services.
  3. Undermined economies: By making poor countries more unstable and tying up government funding in the global drug war, current policies sabotage economic growth and worsen inequality.
  4. Inequality: The War on Drugs disproportionately affects the poor, further marginalizing vulnerable populations and undermining efforts towards social and economic justice.
  5. Poor health: Current drug policies exacerbate health harms such as HIV and hepatitis, and have a serious impact on the social and economic determinants of health.

It doesn't have to be this way. Although changing the international drug prohibition regime is a glacially-paced ongoing project, the pace of change is picking up. The next UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is set for next year, and the prohibitionist consensus is crumbling. Perhaps one of these years, we will arrive at a better, less damaging, way of dealing with the global trade in mind-altering substances.

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