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Medical Marijuana Update

Of course there is a challenge to California's new medical marijuana law, New York takes another step on the path to medical marijuana, North Dakota petitioners will have to go back to the drawing board, and more.

California

Last Wednesday, a collective operator filed suit over the state's new medical marijuana law. Collective operator David Armstrong has filed a lawsuit claiming the state's new medical marijuana law violates the state constitution because it amends a voter initiative, the 1996 Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215). Armstrong's attorney, Nicholas Emmanuel, said that although the full effect of the law signed this month is not clear, his client wanted to "get a jump on things."

Florida

Last Thursday,the state Supreme Court set a December hearing date for the medical marijuana initiative. The court said it will hear oral arguments on whether language for a medical marijuana initiative complies with state requirements on December 8. The initiative is sponsored by People United for Medical Marijuana, the same group behind last year's failed initiative. (It actually won a majority of the vote, but because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass). The group said it has already turned in nearly half the 683,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

New York

Last Thursday, the state unveiled a new medical marijuana training course for doctors. The state Health Department this week rolled out an online medical marijuana training course for physicians who wish to prescribe it. Doctors who want to register to prescribe medical marijuana must first complete the four-hour course. The state aims to have medical marijuana available for patients by next January.

North Dakota

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative language was rejected. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) Tuesday rejected an initiative from the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana, saying it had errors. Jaeger directed committee members to a petition drafting tool on state government web pages so they can get it right next time.

Washington

On Tuesday, calls came for signatures on a Change.org petition for the Kettle Falls Five. Prosecuted as marijuana traffickers for growing medical marijuana for their own use in a state where marijuana is legal, three of the Kettle Falls Five were sentenced earlier this month to federal prison. The petition here seeks "immediate orders of commutation and remission of jail time and fines for Rolland Gregg, his wife Michelle Gregg, and his mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey. We seek complete pardons of their convictions so that they are no longer considered felons. Allow them to return to being the productive members of society they were, before this ordeal began." Click on the link to add your signature.

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

Chronicle AM: VA Pot Arrests Up, Especially for Blacks; VT Organized Opposition Emerges, More (10/28/15)

Initiative proponents in Arkansas and North Dakota have to go back to the drawing board, Vermont legalization opponents get organized, Virginia pot arrests increase, especially for blacks, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Language Rejected. State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a marijuana legalization initiative, citing spelling errors and "ambiguities in the text." The proposal, from Marry Berry of Summit, must now be resubmitted with fixed language.

New York Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. At a forum in Buffalo today, two state legislators, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) and Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), called for marijuana legalization. They are supporting the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, Senate Bill 1747.

Vermont Anti-Legalization Group Organizes. There is now organized opposition to marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State. Opponents have formed a state affiliate of the national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group is hoping to block legislative efforts to legalize it, warning that it could result in a "public health crisis." Click on the link for more details.

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Increasing, Especially in Black Communities. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that marijuana arrests have increased by 57% over the past decade, but have more than doubled for black Virginians. Click on the link for much more.

Medical Marijuana

California Collective Operator Sues Over New State Medical Marijuana Law. Collective operator David Armstrong has filed a lawsuit claiming the state's new medical marijuana law violates the state constitution because it amends a voter initiative, the 1996 Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215). Armstrong's attorney, Nicholas Emmanuel, said that although the full effect of the law signed this month is not clear, his client wanted to "get a jump on things."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Rejected. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) Tuesday rejected an initiative from the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana, saying it had errors. Jaeger directed committee members to a petition drafting tool on state government web pages so they can get it right next time.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Legislature Again Ponders Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature's Virginia Crime Commission met Tuesday to take a second look at passing asset forfeiture reform. A bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture failed in the state Senate earlier this year. Any decisions on introducing bills on this issue have been held off until at least the next meeting in December.

Chronicle AM: One Week to OH Vote, DEA Raids Menominee Hemp Grow, Iranians for Legalization???, More (10/27/15)

Menominee tribal officials are scratching their heads after the DEA cut down their hemp crop, Ohio votes on legalization in one week, some new federal sentencing statistics are out, the Iranians may be thinking about legalizing marijuana and/or opium, and more.

Marijuana Policy

A hemp field. Someone needs to sit down and have a talk with the DEA. (votehemp.org)
DEA Raids Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, Cuts Down Hemp Plants. DEA agents swarmed the reservation last Friday and cut down 30,000 cannabis plants. The tribe says they were hemp plants; the DEA claims they were marijuana plants. Hemp has very low levels of THC, but it is not clear that the DEA actually tested THC levels. In any case, under a Justice Department policy announced last fall, tribes are supposed to be able to grow marijuana on tribal lands, provided they don't fall afoul of Justice Department concerns about out-of-jurisdiction trafficking, dealing to children, organized crime activities and the like.

Both Michigan Legalization Campaigns Have Money in the Bank. According to quarterly financial reports filed Monday, the state's two different marijuana legalization efforts are both pulling in cash, but still have a long way to go on signature gathering. MI Legalize has raised $308,000 and spent $249,000 so far as it seeks to gather some 252,523 valid voter signatures by December. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition has raised $351,000 and spent $284,000. The coalition has temporarily halted signature-gathering, even though it says it is roughly 50,000 signatures short, saying the move is a "strategic decision" and petitioning will soon resume. The coalition effort has until January to turn in signatures. MI Legalize would allow taxed and regulated marijuana sales with a 10% retail sales tax; the coalition effort also legalize, but would rely on the state legislature to set taxes and set licensing requirements.

Ohio Votes on Marijuana Legalization in One Week. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative is too close to call a week out from election day. The initiative would legalize marijuana, but only allow 10 commercial marijuana grows allotted to campaign backers. Polls in the past week have shown the race in a dead heat. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Change.org Petition for the Kettle Falls Five. Prosecuted as marijuana traffickers for growing medical marijuana for their own use in a state where marijuana is legal, three of the Kettle Falls Five were sentenced earlier this month to federal prison. The petition here seeks "immediate orders of commutation and remission of jail time and fines for Rolland Gregg, his wife Michelle Gregg, and his mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey. We seek complete pardons of their convictions so that they are no longer considered felons. Allow them to return to being the productive members of society they were, before this ordeal began." Click on the link to add your signature.

Sentencing

More Than Half of Federal Drug Prisoners Are Doing Time for Cocaine. A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that, as of 2012, 54% of federal drug war prisoners were sentenced for cocaine offenses. Then came meth at 24%, marijuana at 12%, and heroin at 6%. The vast majority (88%) of crack offenders were black, while more than half (54%) of powder cocaine offenders were Hispanic. More than half (59%) of marijuana offenders were Hispanic. Among meth offenders, it was 48% white and 45% Hispanic. One-quarter (24%) of all drug offenders were not US citizens. Click on the link to read the report.

International

Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalize Marijuana or Opium? A prominent Iranian official has suggested as much. Saeed Sefatian, who made the remarks, is head of the working group for drug demand reduction in the country's Expediency Council, which is largely influential in the country's drug policies. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: ME Legalizers Unite, OR Issues Rules for Marijuana Industry, More (10/26/15)

Two competing Maine legalization initiative campaigns will now work together, North Dakota will try again to get a medical marijuana initiative passed, the GAO has questions about National Guard drug war spending, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maine's Competing Legalization Initiatives Join Forces. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced today that it is suspending signature-gathering for its proposed legalization initiative, and will instead be joining forces with the group Legalize Maine, which agreed to have MPP spearheading the campaign to pass the similar initiative they had filed. This should end the threat of a splintered legalization movement losing next year, as well as the opposite-end threat of two legalizing initiatives passing, which would give the state legislature a chance to sort out conflicts between the two. Click on the title link for more details.

Oregon Sets Rules for Marijuana Industry. The state Liquor Control Commission last Thursday approved wide-ranging rules to guide the launch of the state's legal marijuana industry next year. The rules establish a seed-to-sale tracking system, two-tiered licensing for commercial grows, a home delivery system, standards for edibles packaging, a ban on felons working as budtenders, and much more. Click on the link to see it all.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakotans Will Try Another Medical Marijuana Initiative. Medical marijuana supporters intend to submit initiative language tomorrow for an initiative aimed at the 2016 ballot. The initiative would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system, complete with dispensaries. Past legislative and initiative efforts to bring medical marijuana to the state have all failed. The initiative will need signatures from 13,500 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Law Enforcement

GAO Says National Guard Drug War Spending Lacks Way to Evaluate Performance. Congress has been funding the National Guard Bureau's counterdrug budget to the tune of more than $200 million a year for the past decade, a new GAO report finds. It also finds that no one knows how effectively that money is being spent. GAO said the National Guard has performance measures, but doesn't use them to evaluate and inform funding levels. "Without collecting and using useful performance information to evaluate state-level programs and oversee the counterdrug schools, DOD and Congress cannot ensure that the counterdrug program is achieving its desired results and is distributing its funding most efficiently," the report says.

International

Third Jamaican Company Wins Marijuana Cultivation License. Herbal Health Care Ltd. has become the third entity granted permission to grow marijuana. Government officials granted the license last Thursday. "They were granted a permit this morning (Thursday) to cultivate marijuana/ganja for the purpose of research," said Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining. "They do have long-term objectives in terms of commercialization, but they certainly would be awaiting the Cannabis Licensing Authority's regulations to pursue that aspect. What I do know is that they are very keen on doing research on the essential oils and to do value-added products for the export market."

Chronicle AM: OH Legalizers Spend Big Bucks, CO Cops Now Carrying Naloxone, More (10/23/15)

Ohio pot legalizers are throwing millions of dollars into the effort, the Federal Reserve throws up another obstacle to marijuana banking, some Colorado cops will start carrying naloxone, and more.

The overdose reversal drug naloxone saves lives. Now, cops in Colorado are beginning to carry it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Hits Another Road Block. In a court filing in Denver Wednesday, the Federal Reserve made clear that it does not plan to accept money from the marijuana industry because pot remains illegal under federal law. Last year, the Treasury Department issued rules for how banks can accept marijuana money, but the Fed isn't interested. Colorado officials aren't pleased. "We're frustrated," said Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. "We tried to do the most with the building blocks of instructions they sent us, set up the most rigorous solution. And we still are left with confusion."

Ohio Legalization Campaign Outspending Opponents 16 to 1. The ResponsibleOhio legalization campaign has spent $15.4 million trying to get its initiative passed, while opponents have managed to raise only $712,000, most of it from the campaign arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. ResponsibleOhio is getting its money from investors, who stand to reap financial benefits by owning one of only 10 commercial marijuana grow sites. The figures come from campaign finance reports released Thursday. Two polls this week show the race to be dead even.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Sets December Date for Hearing on Initiative. The court said it will hear oral arguments on whether language for a medical marijuana initiative complies with state requirements on December 8. The initiative is sponsored by People United for Medical Marijuana, the same group behind last year's failed initiative. (It actually won a majority of the vote, but because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass). The group said it has already turned in nearly half the 683,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

New York Unveils Medical Marijuana Training Course for Doctors. The state Health Department this week rolled out an online medical marijuana training course for physicians who wish to prescribe it. Doctors who want to register to prescribe medical marijuana must first complete the four-hour course. The state aims to have medical marijuana available for patients by next January.

Harm Reduction

Colorado Springs Cops Become First in State to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in Colorado Springs are currently undergoing training on how to administer naloxone (Narcan), the opioid antagonist that reverses overdoses, and will begin carrying it once training is completed. That's the first police department in the state to do so. The state passed a law last year allowing people other than medical staff to carry and administer the drug.

Chronicle AM: Federal Sentencing Reform Advances, OH Legalization Init in Dead Heat, More (10/22/15)

It's nail-biting time for marijuana legalizers in Ohio -- and for different reasons in California -- the Obama administration rolls out new measures to deal with heroin and prescription opiates, a federal sentencing reform bill advances, and more.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Billionaire Philanthropist Sean Parker Circulating California Legalization Initiative Draft. Napster cofounder and early Facebook president Sean Parker has a team of lobbyists and political consultants circulating a draft legalization initiative this week. The move comes as the state's legalization effort is in turmoil, with state activists organized as ReformCA having drafted their own initiative, only to see national reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, drift away. Click on the link for all the juicy details.

Another Ohio Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A second poll this week has found the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative race "too close to call." A new Bowling Green State University poll has the initiative supported by 44.4% of "likely voters," with 42.9% opposed. Among "definite voters," the measure does a bit better, getting 46% support, with 45% opposed and 9% undecided. Earlier this week, a University of Akron Buckeye poll had voters evenly split at 46%.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Obama Announces New Steps to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. The administration announced Wednesday that it is moving to increase access to drug treatment and to expand the training of doctors who prescribe opiates in a bid to fight high levels of heroin and prescription opiate use. The plan includes doubling the number of doctors who can prescribe the maintenance drug buprenorphine. The administration has a "sense of urgency that we at the federal level can do more to address this issue," said ONDCP head Michael Botticelli. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The committee today voted 15-5 to advance the bill, S. 2123, which would reduce mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand the federal "safety valve," expand early release and reentry programming, and make other sentencing reforms retroactive.

International

Capture of Gulf Cartel Leader Sparks Weekend of Violence in Matamoros. The mayor of the Mexican border city just across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas, has warned residents to exercise caution and stay indoors after the arrest last Friday of a Gulf Cartel leader sparked a weekend of clashes between security forces and cartel gunmen. Prado "El Ciclon 7" Rodriguez, the cartel's Matamoros boss, was captured Friday morning, with traffic blockades and gunfights breaking out that same day and continuing through the weekend.

New Gallup Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 58%

A new Gallup poll released today has 58% saying marijuana should be legal in the US. That ties the 58% reported by Gallup two years ago after support declined to 51% last year.

The 58% figure is the highest ever recorded in a Gallup poll, and is consistent with majority support for marijuana legalization reported in other state and national polls in recent months. And Gallup says that figure is likely to continue to increase, thanks to both younger residents more likely to support legalization and the dying off of older Americans, who are more likely to oppose legalization.

"Americans' support for legalizing marijuana is the highest Gallup has measured to date, at 58%," the polling firm noted. "Given the patterns of support by age, that percentage should continue to grow in the future. Younger generations of Americans have been increasingly likely to favor legal use of marijuana as they entered adulthood compared with older generations of Americans when they were the same age decades ago. Now, more than seven in 10 of today's young adults support legalization. But Americans today -- particularly those between 35 and 64 -- are more supportive of legal marijuana than members of their same birth cohort were in the past. Now senior citizens are alone among age groups in opposing pot legalization."

The poll had majority support for legalization among every age group except those 65 and older. Support was at 71% among the 18-to-34 group, 64% for the 35-49 group, 58% among the 50-to-64 group, and only 35% among those 65 and older.

Despite public support for legalization and despite legalization already being the law in four states and the nation's capital, marijuana arrests remain near all-time highs. In 2014 there were 700,993 arrests for marijuana in the United States, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession. Black and brown people continue to be arrested for pot offenses at a disproportionate rate.

Drug reform activists like what Gallup was selling.

"The latest poll results point to the absurdity and even venality of persisting with harsh prohibitionist policies," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "No other law is enforced so harshly and pervasively yet deemed unnecessary by so many Americans. Spending billions of dollars and arresting 700,000 people annually for violating marijuana laws now represents not just foolish public policy but also an inappropriate and indecent use of police powers. More elected officials need to realize that legalizing marijuana is not just the right thing to do -- it's the politically smart thing to do too."

"It's pretty clear which direction our nation is heading on this issue. The status quo has shifted," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Marijuana prohibition has been a public policy disaster, and most Americans are ready to put it behind us and move on. The effects of 80-plus years of anti-marijuana propaganda are slowly wearing off. Once people realize that marijuana is actually safer than alcohol, they tend to agree that adults should not be punished just for consuming it. People can see that legalizing and regulating marijuana is going quite well in states like Colorado and Washington. They see the sky hasn't fallen and that regulation works, and they want to take similar steps forward in their states. We will likely see at least a handful of states pass these laws over the next year or so."

"These days it's not especially exciting to see yet another poll showing majority support for legalizing marijuana, but 58 percent is very strong share of the American people calling for change, and elected officials should listen," said Tom Angell, chairman of the increasingly aptly named Marijuana Majority. "The constant stream of surveys showing public support for ending prohibition is why we're seeing an increasing number of national politicians saying that it's time to at least let states implement their own laws without federal interference. And we're also seeing a growing number candidates endorsing legalization outright, which shows how mainstream this issue is now. As more states implement marijuana reforms and those laws continue to work as advertised, we're likely to see even more public support, which should soon spur Congress to formally end the criminalization of cannabis under federal law."

Ohio votes on marijuana in less than two weeks, and legalization initiatives are likely to be on the ballot next year in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. These kinds of polling numbers could encourage people in other states to climb on the bandwagon as well.

Chronicle AM: Canada Election Should Bring MJ Legalization, Ohio Init in Dead Heat, More (10/20/15)

Canada's Liberals have vowed to legalize marijuana, and now they've just won the election; the Ohio pot legalization initiative looks like it will be a squeaker, a federal judge rules in favor of marijuana businesses in legal states, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Ohio Legalization Initiative in Dead Heat. A University of Akron Buckeye poll released today has the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative at 46%, with 46% opposed and 8% undecided. But the poll also had 53% of respondents saying the initiative is a "bad idea" because it would grant an oligopoly on commercial marijuana growing (to the investors who funded the initiative). On Issue 2, an initiative aimed at invalidating initiatives that grant private inurement including by monopoly or oligopoly, 40% said they were in favor, 27% were opposed, and 32% were undecided. The election is two weeks from today. A Kent State University poll last week had the legalization initiative at 56%. Click on the link for more demographic and methodological information on today's poll.

Medical Marijuana

Brookings Institution Report Says Federal Government Stifles Medical Marijuana Research. Researchers at the think tank called on the federal government to eliminate obstacles to medical marijuana research in a strongly-worded report today. "The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety," the report, authored by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, says. "Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area." For a start, marijuana should be moved to Schedule II, they said.

California Federal Judge Rules Feds Can't Shut Down Legal Marijuana Businesses. US District Court Judge Charles Breyer ruled Monday that the Justice Department is barred from prosecuting marijuana operations that are in compliance with state laws. Breyer cited recent votes in Congress to prohibit such actions. The move came in the case of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which had been ordered closed by a permanent injunction in 2012. Attorneys for the alliance successfully argued that the congressional moves invalidated the injunction, and Breyer agreed. "The plain reading of [Congress's amendment] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extend that MAMM operates in compliance with California law," Breyer wrote. "To the Court's recollection," Breyer added, "the Government has yet to allege or even suggest that MAMM was at any time operating in violation of state law."

Asset Forfeiture

Former Dallas DA Accused of Misusing Asset Forfeiture Funds. Former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins is accused of spending asset forfeiture money for personal use, according to an audit expected to be released today. The audit shows that Watkins spent the money on everything from cell phone bills to travel expenses to the sponsorship of a football league. Seized funds paid for more than $50,000 worth of cell phone bills, and Watkins spent another $71,000 on public service announcements, other promotional activities, legal fees, and travel.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Senator Expresses Support for Drug-Testing Public Housing Residents. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) told the West Virginia Council of Churches Monday that he supported drug testing public housing residents. He said he got the idea from schoolchildren with addicted parents. Drug testing public housing residents is "something that we have to consider," he said. Courts have previously struck down similar testing programs, viewing them as illegal, warrantless searches.

International

Canada's Liberals Sweep to Victory -- With Marijuana Legalization in Platform. Led by Justin Trudeau, Canada's Liberal Party swept to a strong victory in Monday's elections. The Liberals won 184 seats. They only needed 170 seats to form a majority in the 338-seat lower chamber. The Liberal platform included, among other things, marijuana legalization: "We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," the platform states. Marijuana prohibition doesn't prevent youth use, causes socially disruptive and expensive arrests, and supports organized crime, the statement adds. "We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."

Will Ohio Legalize Marijuana Next Month? [FEATURE]

It's now less than three weeks until Buckeye State voters head to the polls in an off-year election, and they make make Ohio the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana. A poll this week that asked specifically if respondents supported the initiative on the ballot had 56% saying yes.

They will be voting on Issue 3, a controversial proposal sponsored by ResponsibleOhio that would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution. The measure would establish a 10-grower "monopoly" on commercial marijuana production (but not sales) and allow individuals to grow up to four plants for personal use if they pay a $50 license fee and if they keep the plants hidden from public view.

But despite the favorable poll numbers -- even better than the 53% approval of a generic marijuana legalization question in a poll two weeks ago -- victory is by no means a sure thing. It is an off-year election with traditionally low voter turnout among groups likely to be supportive, the effort is opposed by the state's political establishment, and even if it wins, it could be tangled up in court for years because that GOP establishment has placed an initiative on the ballot, Issue 2, specifically designed to invalidate Issue 3. That initiative would bar Issue 3 from taking effect, as a constitutional "monopoly," and would put similar questions on the ballot when other monopoly or oligopoly measures appear in the future.

If both initiatives pass, state officials say Issue 2 will supersede Issue 3, but other legal experts say it's not so clear, especially if the legalization initiative wins more votes than the anti-monopoly initiative, which the new poll suggests it could If both pass, legalization will, at best, be delayed until the mess is sorted out in the courts.

With the exception of NORML, national drug reform groups have kept their distance. The NORML board of directors endorsed Issue 3 last month, but neither the Marijuana Policy Project nor the Drug Policy Alliance, both of which endorse marijuana legalization in general, have made much noise about this initiative.

When it comes to in-state endorsements, ResponsibleOhio looks pretty isolated, with support from the Ohio ACLU, some UFCW locals, and a handful of elected officials, while those taking a stand against the measure include the state Green, Libertarian, and Republican parties, business groups, medical groups, law enforcement groups, children's advocates, and many state political figures, including Republican Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The initiative has also infuriated many Ohio marijuana activists, who see their years of work going up in smoke in the face of well-heeled investors in ResponsibleOhio, who have generally had little to do with marijuana reform, but who know a money-making opportunity when they see one. By buying into the campaign, those investors have secured their positions controlling the ten designated commercial grows.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told the Chronicle in August.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

It's also caused a split in Ohio NORML, with the state group throwing out its former leader, Rob Ryan, over his position in support of the initiative.

But the state's largest pro-medical marijuana organization, the Ohio Patients Group, endorsed Issue 3 this week. The group said that, given the lack of a viable alternative and the legislature's refusal to advance the cause, telling its members to vote against the initiative would be doing them a disservice.

"It wasn't a perfect plan, but politics is never the art of the perfect, it's the art of possible," Pardee said.

"Bring Addy Home." Screenshot from Heather Benton's ResponsibleOhio TV ad.
But when you've got money, you don't need that many friends. In a neat political and financial move, ResponsibleOhio and its chairman, Ian James, are using those investor dollars to finance their campaign advertising. The group has spent $3.1 million so far on TV ads, and has millions more where that came from to get them through the election.

The first ad, "Bring Addy Home," which began airing in late August, features Heather Benton, who moved to Colorado in order to obtain medical marijuana to treat her four-year-old daughter's seizures.

"We want to move back to Ohio, but we can't because her medicine is illegal there," says the exiled Benton. "It is time for marijuana reform. It is time to go home."

One of the latest ads takes on the charge from opponents that the initiative would create a monopoly in the state's Constitution. (Voters did something quite similar back in 2009, when they approved a constitutional initiative allowing a strictly limited number of casinos.). This initiative isn't a monopoly, the ad argues.

"Like most states that legalized marijuana, it initially limits the number of growers with strict regulation," a woman says in the ad. "That's a regulated industry without creating a monopoly."

Can ResponsibleOhio pull it off? We won't know until the votes are counted, but if marijuana legalization wins in swing-state Ohio in 2015, that could take the politics of legalization to a whole new level in front of the 2016 general election, where the issue is already likely to be on the ballot in several states -- Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada -- and maybe more.

Chronicle AM: Dems Debate Drugs, Detroit Regulates Dispensaries, Amsterdam Ecstasy Rules, More (10/14/15)

Democratic contenders briefly touched on marijuana and sentencing policy during last night's debate, Ohio's largest medical marijuana group switches sides to endorse the legalization initiative, Detroit moves to regulate dispensaries, and more.

Amsterdam takes an enlightened approach to Ecstasy use at electronic dance music festivals. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

In Democratic Debate, Sanders Says He Would Probably Vote "Yes" on Nevada Legalization. Sen. Bernie Sanders said "I suspect I would vote yes" when asked his stance on a marijuana legalization initiative in Nevada. Hillary Clinton said she wasn't ready to support legalizing marijuana, but supported medical marijuana. Both candidates also called for criminal justice system reforms and shorter drug sentences, as did the other contenders. Click on the link for more.

Ohio's Largest Medical Marijuana Group Endorses ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative. The Ohio Rights Group, the state's largest pro-medical marijuana organization, has shifted from opposing to supporting Issue 3, the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The group said it would never get the funding to pay for its own medical marijuana initiative campaign and that other legalization proposals also lacked the support to make the ballot. ORG President Jack Pardee said that to oppose Issue 3 while there is no available alternative would be a disservice to patients.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Passes Dispensary Regulations. The city council Tuesday approved regulations to govern the city's booming dispensary business. There are an estimated 150 dispensaries operating in the city. Now, dispensaries will have to get a license or be shut down, and operators will have to undergo a police background check. The regulations also bar drive-through service and bans dispensaries from staying open 24 hours a day.

International

Amsterdam Fends Off Critics, Allows Possession of Five Ecstasy Tabs at EDM Festival. As the city hosts the annual electronic dance music festival Amsterdam Dance Event, attended by over 300,000 music fans, it is allowing festival-goers to possess up to five Ecstasy tablets. The move is a harm reduction measure, with authorities hoping the lenient stance will encourage pill testing and responsible behavior if problems arise. In the rest of the country, you can only possess one Ecstasy tablet without fear of arrest, and conservative politicians have been complaining about Amsterdam's stance, but the city is ignoring them.

Canada NDP Leader Says Party Would Move Toward Marijuana Legalization. New Democratic Party head Tom Mulcair has said that his party would immediately decriminalize pot possession if elected and then move toward legalization. "We are on track to full legalization, but it is more complicated than snapping your fingers. We are not going to have weed being sold at the LCBO tomorrow morning," Mulcair said. That's a slight advance in the NDP position, which had been that it would study the regulation and legalization of marijuana. The NDP's Liberal Party competitors have staked out a full legalization positions, while the governing Conservatives are firmly opposed. The election is later this month.

(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.)

Drug War Issues

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