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The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

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

Chronicle AM: Activists Block Bad MI MedMJ Bills, Jeb Bush Now Open to Decrim, More (12/14/15)

San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization, a Kentucky state senator wants it there too, Ohio legalizers spent millions losing last month, a federal drug and mental health treatment bill passes the Senate, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Jeb Bush Now Supports Decriminalization, But Still Calls Pot a "Gateway Drug." GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush last Friday said he could live with decriminalization. "It's one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that," he said in an interview with Joe Mathieu of Boston' WBZ NewsRadio. While that is an advance for the former Florida governor, he added that he rejected legalization and brought out the discredited gateway theory for support. "Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug," Bush continued. "Of course it is, every study shows that."

Kentucky Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) announced last Friday that he has pre-filed the Cannabis Freedom Act, which would repeal pot prohibition and replace it with a regulatory framework that would "promote public safety and responsible cannabis consumption by persons over 21 years of age." The bill will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts January 5.

Michigan Supreme Court Okays Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The state high court has rejected a challenge to the ordinance's legality from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, makes possession or sharing marijuana a civil infraction, punishable only by fines. Forsyth had argued that the ordinance was an illegal restriction on his power to enforce state drug laws, but he lost in circuit court and the Court of Appeals. And he lost again, and finally, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Ohio Legalizers Spent Nearly $22 Million in Failed Initiative Campaign. Ouch, that's gotta hurt! ResponsibleOhio and its deep-pocketed backers, who hoped to win monopolistic marijuana concessions, spent more than $21 million in their campaign, only to get trounced last month. The campaign spent $12 million between July and October and had burned through nearly another $10 million just getting on the ballot.

Eyeing Looming Legalization, San Francisco Creates Marijuana Task Force. Last week, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted to appoint 11 people to a task force aimed at helping to guide the city's policies in the face of seemingly inevitable marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Stop Dispensary Bills. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

Heroin

New Hampshire Attorney General Will Seek Murder Charges in Heroin Overdoses. Attorney General Joe Foster (D) says he plans to aggressively seek murder charges against dealers of drugs involved in overdose deaths. "The message to dealers is: If you sell this stuff here and we can (figure) the facts out, you will be going to jail for a very, very long time," Attorney General Joe Foster said. Overdose deaths are expected to top 400 in the state this. Foster also said he is seeking $115,000 for a new prosecutor for drug cases and exploring a federal grant to hire another drug prosecutor.

Drug Policy

Federal Synthetic Drugs Bill Filed. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) has filed HR 4229, which seeks to "address the continued threat posed by dangerous synthetic drugs by amending the Controlled Substance Act" to make it easier to go after drug analogs. It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentences for violations are "appropriately severe."

Drug Treatment

Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act Passes Senate. The act, S 993, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), passed the Senate last Thursday. It is aimed at facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, veterans treatment services, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Medical Marijuana. In a plenary session last Friday, the Colombian Senate approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. President Santos had said he would do it through an executive order, but the Senate decided not to wait. The bill now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will be debated early next year.

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

Chronicle AM: Autopsy Claims Hogtied Man Was Killed By LSD, MA Init Hands in Sigs, More (12/1/15)

With signatures handed in today, Bay Staters should be voting on legalization next year. (www.regulatemassachusetts.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol today turned in more than 103,000 signatures to advance its initiative to legalize marijuana. The campaign only needs 64,750 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Go Ahead for Signature Gathering. An initiative campaign led by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care has been approved for signature gathering. Organizers will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Drug Policy

Bernie Sanders Returns to Criminal Justice, Marijuana Legalization Themes. At a campaign speech in New Hampshire Monday night, the Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender reiterated his concerns about drug and criminal justice policy, saying the country needs "major reforms in a very broken criminal justice system." Sanders called for investing in jobs and education, "not more jails and incarceration, removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and treating substance use "as a serious health issue, not a criminal issue."

Law Enforcement

Mississippi Man Hogtied By Police Died of "LSD Toxicity," Autopsy Says. The Mississippi State Medical Examiner has ruled that Troy Goode, who died after being hog-tied and arrested by police in Southaven after a concert, was not killed by police action. Instead, he ruled the death an "accident," related to "complications of LSD toxicity." That he actually died of "LSD toxicity" is extremely unlikely. His family attorney says the family is "shocked and surprised" by the finding.

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

Chronicle AM: AZ & MA Legalization Inits Progress, SD MedMj Init Turns in Signatures, More (11/10/15)

Initiatives aimed at next year are advancing, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana access bill, Mexico's marijuana debate is about to heat up, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona said Monday it had collected 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign needs 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot; it says it is aiming for 230,000 raw signatures.

ReformCA Releases Revised Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA) has filed its revised initiative. The group says the revisions protect small and medium businesses, are stronger on environmental protection, remove the "snitch clause," and include a means for people with non-violent drug offenses to work in the industry. The ReformCA initiative is one of at least ten seeking to legalize weed in California next year. Click on the link to see the revised initiative.

Another California Legalization Initiative is Cleared for Circulation. Secretary of State Alex Padilla Monday cleared the California Cannabis Legalization Act of 2016 for signature gathering. The proponent is Arcata-based Sam Clauder III, CEO of the California Cannabis Unity Campaign 2016. The campaign has 180 days to gather 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Monday it had gathered more than 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign only needs 64,750 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Signatures must be turned in by the end of this month. Another reform group, Bay State Repeal, is also gathering signatures for a competing legalization initiative.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Signs Medical Marijuana School Access Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York Medical Marijuana Patients Demand Governor Sign Emergency Access Bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Petitioners Hand in Signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it to the ballot.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court to Take Up Cocaine Sentencing Weights. The state's high court is to decide whether prosecutors must test seized cocaine for purity and use the results to determine cocaine weight for sentencing purposes. Under current law, a pound of 40% pure cocaine is considered a pound of cocaine; if the high court upholds an appellate court decision, that same batch of cocaine would be only 6.4 ounces. "Ninety-nine grams of sugar mixed with one gram of cocaine is not 100 grams of cocaine," said Andrew Mayle, who represented defendant Rafael Gonzales during his trial and is now representing him on the appeal. "The more cocaine, the higher the penalty. It's not the more sugar or baking soda the higher the penalty."

International

New Canada Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 59%. A new Forum Research poll has support for legalization at 59%, up six points from a similar poll in August. The election of pro-legalization Liberal Justin Trudeau as prime minister helped, the pollster said. "Now that marijuana legalization is a likelihood rather than a vague promise, Canadians are considering the issue more closely than in the past," Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said in a press release. "They are just as much in favor of legalization as they were before the election, if not more, but they want to see it strictly licensed and controlled, not grown in basements and sold in corner stores."

Mexico President Promises Marijuana Legalization Debate. In the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision affirming the human right of Mexicans to use marijuana, President Enrique Pena Nieto has promised a major national debate on the topic. He also said that he personally opposed legalization, but that he could be persuaded to change his mind.

Mexico Poll Finds Two-Thirds Oppose Marijuana Legalization. A poll from El Universal finds that two-thirds (66%) of Mexican oppose marijuana legalization, with 60% also opposing last week's Supreme Court ruling saying marijuana use is a human right. But 63% supported President Pena Nieto's call for a national debate on the topic.

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

Chronicle AM: Dem Candidates on MJ Policy, IL MedMJ Sales Begin, Ecstasy Q&A, More (11/9/15)

Democratic presidential contenders stake out positions on marijuana, a South Dakota Indian tribe suspends its pot operations, Illinois medical marijuana sales began today, Maine's Tea Party governor threatens to call out the National Guard to fight heroin, and more.

ecstasy tablets, courtesy of a German police Dark Web bust
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a campaign speech in South Carolina Saturday, the Democratic presidential contender called for marijuana to be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, which would allow for federally-sponsored research on its effects. "What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana," she said in Orangeburg, "so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now."

Bernie Sanders Criticizes Clinton's Half-Step on Marijuana. The Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender responded to Clinton's call for rescheduling, noting that he has filed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition: "I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed," he said, "but her approach ignored the major issue. Secretary Clinton would classify marijuana in the same category as cocaine and continue to make marijuana a federally regulated substance. If we are serious about criminal justice reform and preventing many thousands of lives from being impacted because of criminal convictions for marijuana possession, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and allow states the right to go forward, if they choose, to legalize marijuana without federal legal impediments," Sanders added.

South Dakota Tribe Cuts Down Plants, Suspends Marijuana Resort Plans. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said Saturday it has cut down its marijuana plants and is temporarily suspending its plan to open a pot resort. A lawyer for the tribe said leaders seek clarification from the federal government. The tribe is also running into harsh opposition from state elected and law enforcement officials, who are threatening to arrest people leaving the reservation under the state's unique "internal possession" marijuana law, which allows people to be convicted of having marijuana metabolites in their bodies.

New Jersey Senate to Hold Hearing on Legalization Next Week. Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) today announced that he will hold a hearing of the committee next week on the issue of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey. The committee will hear from invited guests, including health professionals, law enforcement, clergy, civil rights organizations and policy experts. "There is no question that we need to update our archaic drug laws in this country and the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana," said Senator Scutari. "This is a fact-finding hearing that we hope will help to continue to inform the committee and the Legislature as we take up this very important issue. This is a first step in the process of finally reversing our punitive marijuana laws that have caused harm to our residents and our communities." The hearing is set for next Monday at 1:00pm at the state house.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Begin Today. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Maine Governor Threatens to Call in National Guard to Fight Heroin. In his ongoing feud with the legislature over his demand for more anti-drug agents, Gov. Paul LePage (R) has now threatened to deploy the National Guard to fight heroin in the state. LePage said there is a "dire need" for a tougher response, and "You either work with me and give me some agents, or I will call the Guard up." Legislators last session approved funding for six additional drug agents, two judges and two drugs prosecutors, but that isn't enough for LePage.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Further Criminalize New Psychoactive Substances Heads for House Floor. A bill that attempts to criminalize a whole list of new psychoactive substances has passed out of committee and now awaits a House floor vote. The measure is HR 3537, sponsored by Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA).

Harm Reduction

DPA and EMA Provide Q&A on MDMA. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Electronic Music Alliance have teamed up to provide a brief, harm reduction-related Q&A on ecstasy. "In order to minimize risk and focus on harm reduction, EMA and DPA suggest providing education to drug users, creating safe environments that include cool down spaces, and access to water. Lastly, they suggest testing your drugs so you know what you are ingesting." There's more at the link.

International

Georgia High Court Rules That Imprisonment for Marijuana Is Unconstitutional. Late last month, Georgia's Constitutional Court declared that imprisoning people for possessing marijuana for personal use is cruel and inhuman punishment. The ruling came in the case of a man arrested for possession of 70 grams (less than three ounces), and the court noted that the law makes no distinction between possession for personal use and possession for sale. The court suggested that the legislature address the issue.

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

Chronicle AM: State Dept OK With Legalization Elsewhere, IL MedMj Sales Monday, More (11/06/15)

It's all marijuana-related news today, with medical marijuana sales starting Monday in Illinois, the State Department saying it can live with pot legalization in other countries, the Houston DA implementing a marijuana diversion program, and more.

medical marijuana -- coming next week to Illinois (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders' Measure to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Has Bill Number Now. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which the Democratic presidential contender filed Wednesday, now has a Senate bill number. It is S. 2237.

Wyoming Legislators Want to Make Possession of a Pound of Edibles a Felony. The Joint Judiciary Committee will sponsor a bill that would make possession of more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony. The bill originally aimed to make possession of three ounces a felony (as is the law with marijuana), but lawmakers were persuaded to up the limit to a pound. The bill comes after at least two judges have thrown out cases of edibles possession because they read state law as only addressing felony pot possession in plant form.

Houston DA Offers Diversion Instead of Arrest for Small-Time Marijuana Offenders. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday that as of January 1, people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program instead of being arrested and jailed. The program could include classes or community service. In the past year, police have been arresting and booking people, then offering them diversion, but now, they will forego the arrest and booking steps.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales to Start Monday. Eight dispensaries have been licensed and will be able to sell medical marijuana to registered patients beginning Monday, state medical marijuana program director Joseph Wright said Friday. Some 3,000 Illinoisans have already registered for the program.

New Hampshire Lung Cancer Patient Sues to Get Medical Marijuana Card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients Who Have Been Fired Can Get Unemployment. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

International

US State Department Says Other Countries Can Legalize Marijuana If They Want To. My, how times have changed! Responding to a press question about moves toward marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, a State Department spokesman said Thursday they were free to do so. "It's up to the people of each nation to decide policies," spokesman John Kirby said. "And in this case, it's up to the people of Mexico to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law." Kirby added that the US is "firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions," but added that "the conventions allow for a degree of flexibility on how member-states implement their obligations, particularly with respect to drug use, and the conventions anticipate variations in national legal frameworks." The openness to marijuana reform is a marked contrast to the US's historical opposition to such moves, but is consistent with the policy enunciated last year by the head of the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield.

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

Chronicle AM: Sanders End MJ Prohibition Bill, MX Supreme Court Protects MJ Use & Growing, More (11/5/15)

Bernie Sanders makes Senate history with the first bill in that chamber to end federal marijuana prohibition, the DEA head badmouths medical marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court issues a historic ruling on the human right to use and grow marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana. The bill, the Ending Federal Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Nebraska's Omaha Tribe Voices Support for Legal Marijuana Operations. Members of the Omaha tribe voting in a referendum Tuesday supported moving toward legal marijuana operations on the reservation. Some 78% said they supported medical marijuana, 67% said they supported industrial hemp, and 59% said they supported recreational use. The Omaha tribal council will now vote on all three questions, using the referendum as guidance.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Head Calls Medical Marijuana "A Joke." DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Wednesday rejected smoking marijuana as a medicine. It's "a joke," he said. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Waters Down Reform Effort. The Joint Judiciary Committee Wednesday rejected a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in favor of another bill that would require a judge to decide within 30 days whether a seizure was appropriate and to hold a hearing within 120 days. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill ending civil asset forfeiture, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead (R).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin to Start Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Monday. Drug testing for some welfare recipients begins next week after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed off on a rule from the Department of Children and Families requiring able-bodied adults to be screened for drug use before seeking benefits. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Mexican Supreme Court Rules People Have the Right to Grow and Use Marijuana. In a decision that could open the door to pot legalization south of the border, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that individuals have the right to use and grow the plant. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten.

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

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (wikipedia.org)
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (wikimedia.org)
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

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

Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (responsibleohio.com)
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.

International

Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Says Let States Legalize, Mexican Villagers Go Vigilante on Crooked Cops, More (10/30/15)

A leading Republican presidential contender favors letting the states decide on pot policy, another Indian tribe wants to get in on the action, Mexican villagers turn the tables on crooked federal cops, and more.

Donald Trump says let the states decide on marijuana. (wikimedia/gage skidmore)
Donald Trump Would Let States Decide on Legalization. The Republican presidential contender said at a campaign rally Thursday that he supports letting states decide whether to legalize marijuana or not. "I really believe we should leave it up to the states," he said while taking questions at an event at the Nugget Convention Center in Sparks, Nevada.

North Carolina Indian Tribe to do Feasibility Study on Legalizing Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a resolution Thursday calling for a feasibility study to look into "the issues and impacts associated with legalization of cannabis." The resolution was submitted by tribal members who are part of Common Sense Cannabis.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Proposed. State Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) said Thursday he will introduce a bill to end civil asset forfeiture reform. "Essentially, what [the bill] does is ensure that in order for anybody to lose their property through a forfeiture proceeding, they must first be charged with a crime and then subsequently convicted of that crime," McColley said. "Now, under Ohio law, there is something called provisional title, which essentially means that the state can hold temporary title to the property during the course of legal proceedings if that property is subject to forfeiture. That is still in place, but in order for the final transfer of title to occur, there must be a conviction of the underlying crime that is the basis for the forfeiture."

International

Mexican Villagers Detain Eight Federal Police They Say Work With Drug Cartels. At least 200 residents of a small mining town in Guerrero state have captured and are holding eight federal police officers they say work for the Guerreros Unidos drug gang. The federal police chief said talks were underway with locals to win their release. The incident occurred in Carrizalillo, where the police had arrived on a mission to arrest a local cooperative farming commission leader. They came accompanied by local alleged drug trafficker, and when the cops tried to arrest the local leader, the locals arrested the cops. Click on the link for more sordid details.

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

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