Ballot Measures

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Chronicle AM -- January 14, 2014

Lots of activity on the marijuana and medical marijuana fronts today, and an academic study casts doubt on the utility of student drug testing. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Vote Tomorrow. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana goes for a vote before the city council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is expected to pass. The measure is also expected to get through a vote of the full council later.

Pennsylvania NAACP Backs Away from Legalization. The president of the Pennsylvania NAACP said Monday that even though one state branch supported marijuana legalization last year, that support was "illegal" and didn't reflect the state group's position. The Cheltenham branch had supported a legalization bill introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County), but state NAACP head Jerome Mondesire said that was a no-no. "That can't be done locally," he said. "They've been asked to back away from it and they have."

Colorado Marijuana Possession Cases Dropped Big-Time After Legalization, But Didn't Disappear. Figures from the Colorado judiciary show that marijuana-related cases dropped 77% between 2012 and 2013, and the number of simple possession cases has dropped from 714 a month in the first part of 2012 to just 133 a month a year later. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana only remains illegal for people under 21.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Activists with Wyoming NORML last week filed a proposed initiative with state officials that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow 12 plants and let all Wyoming adults 21 and over possess marijuana for personal use. Organizers are aiming at the 2016 ballot. The proposed initiative would decriminalize recreational use and public displays of 3 ounces or less of marijuana.

Project SAM to Help Fight Legalization in Alaska. Project SAM, the anti-marijuana legalization group headed by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and former drug czar's office employee and media go-to guy Dr. Kevin Sabet, will assist local efforts to defeat a proposed marijuana legalization initiative. The initiative has handed in signatures and awaits signature verification. Sabet said Monday he had been asked by a "handful of leaders" to help fend off legalization. Sabet also repeated his favorite frightening refrain -- that legalization would not lead to regulated marijuana sales, but to "Big Marijuana," supposedly something akin to Big Pharma or Big Tobacco.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Dispensary Initiative Filed. California's third largest city (sorry, San Francisco) could see a popular vote to block a ban on dispensaries after activists filed an initiative Monday with city officials. City officials have been moving to close them down, but initiative backers hope to get enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The city has been sending "cease and desist" letters to dispensaries and is set to vote on an ordinance that would effectively ban them in 99% of the city. The initiative would set a minimum of 50 dispensaries for the city. Organizers need 20,372 valid voter signatures by May 16 to qualify.

Alabama Medical Marijuana CBD Bill Filed. The Alabama legislative session begins today, and a medical marijuana bill awaits. The bill, House Bill 104, was pre-filed last week and is sponsored by Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), and Allen Farley (R-McCalla). It would provide a medical necessity defense for people seeking to be treated with cannabidiol (CBD).

Minnesota Governor Not Ready for Medical Marijuana, But Open to Study. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Monday he is not ready to allow medical marijuana in the state, but would be open to a study on the issue. "I've said since I ran for office that law enforcement has enough to contend with, and I am not going to support something that has the adamant opposition of law enforcement in Minnesota, and that is still the case," he said. "I'd be supportive of funding for an independent, objective study of what other states have done, what have the results been," he said.

Key Supporter Says New York Medical Marijuana Bill Not Ready for Senate Vote. State Sen. Diane Savino (D) said Monday that a pending medical marijuana bill "isn't ready" for a Senate vote. Medical marijuana bills have repeatedly passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and a handful of independent Democrats, including Savino. "We're not playing politics with this issue," Savino said. "There are patients whose lives are being affected by this issue. We're going to build support for this the way we build support for everything else. There is sufficient support in both conferences." But, she added, "...You can't force a bill to the floor until the bill is ready. The bill will be ready when I let you know it's ready."

Washington State Bill Would Protect Medical Marijuana Patients, Program. In the wake of legalized marijuana under I-502, medical marijuana supporters have filed a bill, House Bill 223, to keep some key medical marijuana provisions from being swept away in the legalization tide. The bill would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulating dispensaries and preserve patients' rights to grow their own medicine. I-502 legalized sales and possession of marijuana, but not home growing, and there have been some efforts within officialdom to wipe out or reduce personal cultivation for patients as well under its rubric. (The bill was not up on the legislative web site as of Tuesday.)

Drug Testing

Study Finds Student Drug Testing Ineffective; Positive School Environments Better. A study published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that school drug tests don't deter kids from smoking marijuana, but that creating a positive school environment may be more effective. Researchers tracked students from schools with and without drug testing policies and found no significant differences in the likelihood that students would try marijuana. "Even though drug testing sounds good, based on the science, it's not working," said study author Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center.

International

Kazakhstan MP Wants Marijuana Farms Leased to Pharmaceutical Companies. A Khazakh member of parliament -- who also just happens to be the president's daughter -- has suggested leasing broad swathes of land currently using for illicit marijuana farming to major pharmaceutical companies. MP Dariga Nazarbayeva suggested to parliament that "We review our attitude to cannabis." The interior minister, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, appeared receptive, saying, "You can't just seal off 140,000 hectares of land. Cannabis is spreading across our country." Decades of eradication efforts in Kazakhstan have proven ineffective.

DC Pols Move Toward Marijuana Decriminalization, But a Legalization Initiative Looms

The possession of small amounts of marijuana in the nation's capital could soon be no more than a ticketable offense. A decriminalization bill is set to move in the city council, with a committee vote set for tomorrow.

The council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will vote on Council Bill 20-409, the "Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013," which decriminalizes the possession of up to an ounce. The committee is expected to pass the measure.

It then moves to the full council, where it is also expected to pass.

Interestingly, the council's moves on decrim come just days after DC activists filed an initiative that would hop-scotch half-measures like decriminalization and move forward to full legalization. We are planning a feature article this week on the initiative campaign, and one thing we'll be asking people is how the politics of city council decrim intersects with the politics of legalization through the popular vote.

In the meantime, the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with DC functionaries and elected officials on the decrim effort, has a press release with more information. Stay tuned!

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 13, 2014

Marijuana legalization is one step closer in the nation's capital, even Georgia Republican legislators are getting on the medical marijuana bandwagon, Syria's civil war is being fueled by speed, and more. Let's get to it:

Captagon, Middle Eastern speed. Just what every brutal civil war needs. (wikimedia.org)
DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. Marijuana legalization activists filed an initiative with city officials last Friday to legalize the possession of up to two ounces and three plants by adults. Look for a Chronicle feature article on this later this week.

St. Louis Mayor Ask Residents to Weigh In on Marijuana Policy. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D) is asking residents what they think about marijuana legalization. His web site has the poll online (click the link above). The poll comes as activists organized as Show-Me Cannabis Regulation beat the bushes statewide in an effort to get legalization on the ballot in Missouri.

Maine US Senate Candidate Supports Legalizing Marijuana. Democratic Party US Senate candidate Shenna Bellow is making marijuana legalization a key plank in her platform. A former director of the ACLU of Maine, Bellow calls herself a progressive and a libertarian, and also supports bold action on climate change, less government surveillance, and raising the minimum wage. She also said she envisioned herself as a Senate leader on marijuana reform.

Maryland Republican State Senator to Cosponsor Legalization Bill. State Sen. Allen Kittleman (R-Howard) said last Friday he will cosponsor a marijuana legalization bill. The bill's other sponsor is Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), but neither has actually filed the bill yet, according to the legislature's web site.

Dane County, Wisconsin, to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Referendum. Dane County (Madison) supervisors voted last Thursday to put an advisory referendum asking "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?" on the spring ballot. In 2010, Dane County voters approved a medical marijuana advisory referendum with 75% of the vote. The spring election is set for April 1.

Medical Marijuana

New York Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Albany. Saying Gov. Cuomo's move last week to institute a limited medical marijuana program doesn't go nearly far enough, medical marijuana supporters rallied in Albany Monday to urge the state Senate and the governor to pass comprehensive pending legislation.

Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Oregon Later This Month. As Oregon prepares to enter the dispensary era, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference will be held January 30 and 31 to discuss issues surrounding dispensaries, ranging from banking problems to licensing and beyond. Click on the link for more details.

Georgia Republican Legislators Signal Openness to Medical Marijuana. Last Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) called for hearings on medical marijuana. Two days later, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he was open to the idea. The moves come after local activists with the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (Georgia CARE) met with state officials about the issue. Peachtree NORML has also been working the issue there.

Drug Testing

Texas Unemployment Beneficiary Drug Screening Delayed. Texans applying for unemployment benefits were supposed to start being screened for evidence of drug use beginning February 1, but that isn't going to happen just yet. The Texas Workforce Commission, which is charged with implementing the law, says the US Labor Department has not provided guidance on who should be screened. The state was able to implement the law requiring screening of first-time applicants in some professions, Senate Bill 21, after Congress passed a law allowing states to drug test people receiving unemployment benefits, but the Labor Department has yet to outline which occupations fall within the parameters of the federal law.

Alabama State Senator Will File Welfare Drug Testing Bill. State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) says he will sponsor legislation requiring drug testing of some welfare recipients. Pittman wants anyone convicted of a drug offense within the last five years to have to undergo a drug test. A similar Pittman bill got through the Senate last year, only to die without a vote in the House. While Pittman said he filed the bill already, it hasn't appeared on the state legislative web site. The Alabama legislative session begins tomorrow.

Tennessee Nurses Sue Over Drug Test Strip Searches. Four Nashville nurses who say they were forced to remove all their clothing and submit to drug tests after hospital officials said drugs were missing are now suing St. Thomas Hickman Hospital. No drugs were found and none of the nurses tested positive for drugs. Now, each is seeking $75,000 in damages. Click on the link for the gory details.

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Naloxone Pilot Program Getting Underway. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has selected 47 state agencies to participate in a one-year pilot program allowing all emergency medical responders to administer the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Some emergency personnel are already authorized to use naloxone, and is it being used with increasing frequency, from 2,900 times in 2010 to 3,700 in 2012.

Methamphetamine

Tennessee Controller Issues Report on Meth. The Tennessee Controller's Offices of Research and Education Accountability have issued an updated report on meth production that finds that two popular methods for curbing production have not been proven effective. Those measures are the electronic tracking of cold medication purchases, which has not resulted in a decline in the number of home meth labs in the state, and requiring prescriptions to purchase cold medicines, which has been associated in declines in some states, but other states have shown declines without imposing such laws. Click the link to read the report.

International

Speed Use, Production Cranking Up Amidst Syrian Civil War. Syria has become a major amphetamine exporter and consumer, Reuters reported Sunday. The county's brutal civil war is fueling demand, and the central government's loss of control over vast swathes of the country is creating opportunity for producers. The speed in question is Captagon, whose active ingredient, fenethylline, is metabolized by the body into the stimulants amphetamine and theophylline. Production has moved out of Lebanon and Turkey and into war-torn Syria, the report said. Captagon is a favored black market stimulant throughout the Middle East.

Fight Between Vigilantes and Knights Templar Cartel Continues in Mexico's Michoacan. Hundreds of armed vigilantes took over the Knights Templar Cartel stronghold of Nueva Italia Sunday. The vigilantes say they formed because the state and federal governments were not protecting their communities from the drug traffickers. Since the new year began, the vigilantes have taken over several other communities on the outskirts of Apatzingan, which is considered the Knights' stronghold. On Friday, masked men set fire to city hall there and burned and looted several local shops. The governor said he had asked for additional federal forces.

Second Singapore Drug Trafficker Escapes Death Sentence. Last week, the Singapore High Court resentenced a man to life imprisonment instead of death for a drug trafficking offense. The man, Subashkaran Pragasam, becomes the second person to escape the gallows since Singapore reformed its Misuse of Drugs Act in 2012 to allow judges to avoid a mandatory death sentence if the offender was low-level and cooperated with police.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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 -- January 9, 2014

Alaska appears poised to vote on marijuana legalization, New York's governor announces a half-step toward medical marijuana, the ACLU fights for our rights on a couple of fronts, and trouble could be coming to the coca fields of Peru. And more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has a new bully pulpit from which to crusade for coca. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. Supporters of an initiative to legalize marijuana in Alaska handed in 46,000 signatures Wednesday. The campaign only needs 30,000 valid signatures to qualify for the August ballot. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Alabama. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. An as yet unspecified fine would apply to offenders. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and will be scheduled for a hearing when the session gets underway next week.

Alabama Governor Rejects Legal and Medical Marijuana. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Wednesday he opposes legalizing marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, although he suggested he would be open to FDA-approved medical marijuana products. "I do believe there are medications out there that will do the same thing," Bentley said. "Now if someone wants to use the medicine that is in marijuana, go through the testing when you do that through the FDA, go through all of that -- that's fine. I have no problem with that."

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Announces Limited Medical Marijuana Program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will initiate a limited medical marijuana program through executive action. Advocates said the measure was not enough and that the state legislature needs to pass pending medical marijuana legislation.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Moving to Undo Asset Forfeiture Reforms. The Utah legislature moved late last year to roll back asset forfeiture reforms approved by state voters in a 2000 referendum. In unanimous votes, legislators approved a bill that will kill the provision requiring reimbursement for property owners who win in court and to require prosecutors to file such cases in a timely manner. Read Radley Balko's lengthy report by clicking on the link.

Drugs and Pregnancy

Experts File Brief Challenging Use of Child Abuse Law against Pregnant Women Using Methadone. Some 76 groups and experts in maternal, fetal, and child health, addiction treatment, and health advocacy filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the New Jersey Supreme Court, urging it to overturn a lower court ruling making the state's civil child abuse law applicable to women who received medically prescribed methadone treatment while pregnant.

Search and Seizure

Indiana ACLU Challenges Pain Medication Drug Test Rules. The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court challenging a new state rule that requires patients prescribed a certain level of pain medications to undergo annual drug tests. The rule concocted by the state Medical Licensing Board last month requires such patients to sign a treatment agreement that includes agreement to undergo the annual tests. The ACLU argues that the rule violates Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Massachusetts ACLU Sues to Block Drug Dog Sniffs of Prison Visitors. The ACLU of Massachusetts and a prisoners' rights group have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court seeking to block the state Department of Corrections from using drug dogs to search prison visitors. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to immediately stop the practice and allow for public comment on the policy, which the department instituted in November. A hearing is set for January 24.

International

Peru Coca Eradication to Target VRAEM for First Time, DEVIDA Head Says. The Peruvian government for the first time will attempt to eradicate large amounts of coca crops in the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro river valleys (VRAEM), the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA said Wednesday. The area is the most densely planted coca growing region in the world, accounting for more than half of all Peruvian production, and is the home of Shining Path guerilla remnants who got involved in the drug trade as their rebellion fizzled 20 years ago. DEVIDA wants to eradicate 37,000 acres of coca crops there, about 75% of total plantings in the region. Look for trouble when eradication efforts actually get underway, probably in August.

Bolivia to Use G-77 Post to Push for Legal Coca Leaf Internationally. Bolivian President Evo Morales has assumed chairmanship of the Group of 77 nations, and he said Wednesday that he would use his position to push for removing coca leaf from the 1961 UN Single Convention's list of internationally banned drugs. Bolivia briefly left the treaty in 2012 before returning last year with a reservation that it did not recognize the ban on coca leaf chewing. "Last year, we achieved recognition of traditional consumption of the coca leaf," he said. "Our next task will be to remove the coca leaf from the list of prohibited substances."

Germans Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization, Poll Finds. Only 29% of Germans said they favored legalizing marijuana in a new poll, while 65% were opposed. The only political party with a majority favoring legalization was the Greens, and just barely, with 51%. A Green politician, Monika Herrmann, is trying to open a Dutch-style cannabis coffee shop in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, but would need federal government approval. This poll isn't going to help.

France Approves Marijuana-Based Medicine for Multiple Sclerosis. France's health ministry announced Thursday it had approved the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray, to treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug is the first marijuana-based medicine to be made available in the country. Sativex is already approved in more than 20 countries.

Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Poised to Make Ballot

Alaska appears to be well-placed to become the third state to legalize marijuana after supporters of a proposed marijuana legalization initiative Wednesday handed in 50% more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot. Some 30,000 valid voter signatures are required to qualify for the ballot; organizers handed in more than 46,000.

Initiative and referendum experts assume that a certain percentage of gathered signatures will be deemed invalid, with a common metric being that 25% to 30% will be thrown out. But even if 30% of the signatures gathered in Alaska were thrown out, that would still have the initiative qualifying by a couple of thousand votes.

Still, it's not official until it's official. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures. If it indeed qualifies, it will appear on the state's August 19 election ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by the local group Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, which is working with the national Marijuana Policy Project.

The Act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana would allow adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and six plants (three flowering). Adults would be allowed to possess the harvest of their plants even in excess of one ounce as long as it remains on the premises where it was grown. The measure would also legalize the production, sale, and possession of paraphernalia.

The measure would allow for marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, infused product manufacturers, and testing facilities. It charges the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board with regulating marijuana commerce, but gives the legislature the authority to supersede it by creating a Marijuana Control Board. A $50 an ounce wholesale transfer tax would be imposed.

The measure does not change existing state laws banning public consumption, driving while impaired, or allowing employers to restrict marijuana use by workers.

It's an idea whose time has come, said proponents.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said Bill Parker, a former Department of Corrections deputy commissioner and one of the initiative's sponsors. "Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

The possession of small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of one's home is already legal in Alaska under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions. But voters have been loath to go further. A broadly-written 2000 legalization initiative got 41% of the vote, and a less expansive 2004 initiative got 44% of the vote.

Times have changed, said Parker.

"I think Alaska and the country are coming to grips with the fact that what we have isn't working," he said.

Juneau, AK
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Regulated dispensaries are coming to Oregon, it's looking increasingly likely that a medical marijuana initiative is coming to Florida, New York's governor sticks a toe in the water, and California battles continue. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a superior court judge upheld Los Angeles' medical marijuana ordinance limiting the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city. Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock ruled that Proposition D, which was approved by voters in May, does not violate the due process or equal protection rights of dispensary owners being forced out of business.

Last Friday, advocates asked the state Supreme Court to review a ruling that allows cities to ban all marijuana growing within in their boundaries. The court is being asked to review an appeals court decision in Maral v. City of Live Oak allowing the ban on personal patient grows. Advocates acknowledge that the Supreme Court decided in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Incthat localities can ban dispensaries, but argue that cultivation for personal medicinal use is specifically protected by statute.

On Tuesday, the Santa Rosa city council eased the rules on dispensaries. The changes, which included elimination of patient caps, expansion of hours of operation, and allowing dispensaries to sell pipes and other devices used to ingest marijuana, were approved by the council unanimously. Dispensaries had labored under a 500-patient cap that only served to lead competitors to open up shop outside the city limits. The number of dispensaries remains capped at two, but now the city manager has discretion to increase that number in the future.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council approved putting a dispensary sales tax on the ballot. The tax would start at 6% and could increase up to 10%. The measure also includes a tax of $15 to $50 per square foot for grow areas in dispensaries. The measure will go to votes on April 8.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors banned all marijuana cultivation in the county's unincorporated areas beginning next month. The move came over the strenuous objections of medical marijuana users. The unanimous vote includes fines of $1,000 per plant and $100 per plant per day for each day the plants remain after being discovered. Fresno becomes the first county to ban all medical marijuana cultivation.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative backers said they were near to a million signatures. It's starting to look like People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may actually qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would institute a limited medical marijuana program. The plan would allow a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana, but relies on the cooperation of federal agencies not known for cooperating with efforts to expand medical marijuana -- the DEA, the FDA, and NIDA. Advocates complained that Cuomo did not call for the passage of comprehensive legislation, which is pending in Albany.

Oregon

On Tuesday, state officials said draft dispensary rules would be posted within a week. The rules, which will be the basis of a statewide dispensary regulations system approved by the legislature, will next undergo public hearings and could be revised before being finalized. In the meantime, dispensary operators can seek temporary operating licenses under the draft rules beginning March 3.

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

Chronicle AM -- January 8, 2014

East Coast governors speak against marijuana legalization, but DC voters may get a chance to have their own voices heard; a new report on Obamacare's implications for drug reform is out; the DEA is reported to have talked to the Sinaloa Cartel; and details of a Mexico City marijuana legalization bill emerge. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists to File Marijuana Legalization Initiative This Week.The nation's capital could vote on marijuana legalization this year. Activists there plan to submit a legalization initiative to city officials by week's end. Because of quirks in District law, the initiative will not seek to allow retail marijuana sales -- that would require action by the DC city council -- but would allow adults to possess and consume marijuana and grow up to six plants.

DOJ Will Reportedly Issue Guidance on Marijuana Banking Soon. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department will soon issue a memo with guidelines for financial institutions dealing with legal marijuana businesses. Insiders said the current draft document emphasizes that federal enforcement priorities will be directed toward those who use legal marijuana sales as a front for other criminal activity, funnel it across state lines, or sell it as part of a broader drug dealing conspiracy. But how financial institutions are supposed to know which of their marijuana customers are drawing federal interest remains unclear, suggesting that, as it stands, the draft memo will not satisfy banks.

Rhode Island Governor Calls Marijuana Legalization "Premature." Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said Tuesday Rhode Island should wait to see how legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before trying it there. He added that it was premature to consider legalization before seeing how the state's 2013 decriminalization law is working out.

Maryland Governor Opposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday that while he was open to expanding access to medical marijuana, he opposed general legalization. "I'm not much in favor of it," he said. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."

Oregon Legislature Could Discuss Legalization Next Month. With plans afoot to field a marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon this year, legislators are hinting they may want to take a crack at it first. Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told a local meeting she expects legislators to take up the issue in the session that begins February 3.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Due in Days. State officials said Tuesday that draft rules for the state's newly-regulated dispensary industry should be posted within a week. Then will come a series of public hearings before the rules are finalized. In the meantime, dispensaries will be able to operate under temporary rules, with applications accepted beginning March 3.

New York Governor's Medical Marijuana Plan "Unworkable," MPP Says. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to announce an executive order allowing limited medical marijuana availability today, but the Marijuana Policy Project called Cuomo's proposal "unworkable," saying it would require the cooperation of the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA, none of which have been amenable to such projects. MPP says the solution is for the legislature to pass pending medical marijuana legalization.

Obamacare and Drug Policy

New DPA/ACLU Issue Brief Discusses Affordable Care Act's Impact on Drug Policy. A new issue brief from the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union reviews provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to drug policy, as well as how the ACA can help recast the drug policy debate. The brief is Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform.

International

DEA Met With Sinaloa Cartel Leaders, Mexican Newspaper Says. Members of the DEA and the Justice Department met secretly with leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to gain information about rival cartels, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Monday. The meetings took place without the knowledge of Mexican officials, although US authorities on some occasions provided Mexican authorities with information derived from the meetings. The newspaper identified the DEA or Justice Department employees present at the meetings as Steve Fraga, Manuel Castañon, David Herrad and Carlos Mitchem.

CuPIHD Publishes Study of Mexico City Drug Markets. Mexico's Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CuPIHD) has published a quantitative and qualitative analysis of Mexico City illicit drug markets, describing the size and characteristics of the drug markets, as well as how drug users perceive and interact with their legal, economic, institutional, and social environments. The English-language version of the study is Drugs DF: The Illegal Drug Markets of Mexico City.

Draft Reveals Details of Mexico City Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Mexico City web site Animal Politico has obtained a draft of a bill being worked on by a team of leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to advance marijuana reform in the federal district. The bill would completely decriminalize the possession of marijuana, make marijuana possession and distribution "zero priority" offenses for law enforcement, and create a system of dispensaries to sell marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The proposed bill would require changes in, or, at least, exemptions from, some existing federal laws.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

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