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Chronicle AM: Ted Cruz Flip-Flops on Pot, Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Asset Forfeiture Action, More (2/27/15)

Ted Cruz sees the light (or at least, which way the wind is blowing), a new poll has a majority for legalization in Maryland, asset forfeiture reform gets killed in two states, The Washington Post rethinks drug testing, and more. 

Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican now says he is okay with states legalizing marijuana. (congress.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Changes His Mind on Marijuana Legalization. A year ago, the Texas Republican senator and possible GOP presidential candidate criticized President Obama for allowing Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana, but now he's singing a different tune. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative," he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). "I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right."

Iowa Bill to Reduce Marijuana Possession Passes Senate. Earlier this week, the Senate approved Senate File 219, which would reduce the maximum sentence for possessing up to five grams from up to six months in jail to up to 30 days. The bill now goes to the House.

Maryland Poll Has Narrow Majority for Legalization.A new Goucher College poll has support for legalization at 52%, with 44% opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill.

Pennsylvania Legalization Bill Filed. State Sens. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) have filed Senate Bill 528, the "Regulate Marijuana Act." But they don't expect it to go anywhere this year.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Issues Licenses for CBD Cannabis Oil Production. The Department of Agriculture this week issued two licenses for the cultivation of low-THC marijuana to be used to make CBD cannabis oil for patients. The licenses went to two St. Louis-area non-profits.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in Committee. A bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture in the case of joint state and federal asset forfeiture proceedings has been killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was Senate Bill 006.

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) Thursday filed Senate Bill 1534, which would bar civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction.

Wyoming Attempt to Override Governor's Asset Forfeiture Reform Veto Fails. The state Senate voted today not to override Gov. Matt Mead's (R) veto of bill that would have required a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture reform could take place. The Senate voted 23-7 to uphold the veto. The bill had passed both houses with veto-proof majorities, but some senators changed their minds after the gubernatorial veto.

Drug Courts

Under Federal Pressure, Kentucky Drug Courts Consider Allowing Opiate Maintenance. After federal drug czar Michael Botticelli said earlier this month that drug court programs that do not allow opiate maintenance therapy could lose federal funding, Kentucky drug courts are considering getting with the program. A court spokesperson confirmed the courts are looking into it, but that they haven't reached a firm decision.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) has filed Senate Bill 600, which would require people seeking government assistance to be screened for drug use. Those deemed at suspicion of using drugs after screening would have to be tested for drugs.

The Washington Post is Rethinking Its Employee Drug Testing Policy. "The Washington Post is reviewing its policy in light of the changes to DC law," the newspaper said Thursday without elaborating any further. It also ran an opinion piece by Gina Tron arguing that employers in general should quit such screening.

International

Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Most Wanted Drug Lord. Mexican authorities said today they had captured Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, head of the Michoacan-based Knights Templar cartel. The capture is a boon to the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which has been under fire for months for the disappearance and apparent murder of 43 teachers' college students by corrupt police in league with drug gangs. 

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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

Whew! There are medical marijuana bills all over the place, a leading Democratic politician gets targeted for her anti-medical marijuana stance, and the Kettle Falls Five (now Four) trial gets underway. Let's get to it:

National

Over the weekend, activists targeted Debbie Wasserman Schultz over her medical marijuana stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

California

Last Friday, Butte County hired six code enforcement officers to begin enforcement of Measure A, the voter-approved measure that restricts medical marijuana grows in the county. Code enforcement officers and deputies will go door-to-door in selected rural areas of the county to inform residents about the new restrictions.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, a bill to regulate medical marijuana got stripped down. Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crack down on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won a committee vote. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). The bill was amended to restore a maximum 5% THC level (up from 3%) and to limit the personal information police can access when verifying a medical marijuana authorization, but an amendment that would have reinstated illnesses removed at the request of law enforcement failed.

On Wednesday, the House passed the CBD cannabis oil bill. The House approved House Bill 1, which allows for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures and other major health conditions. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Kansas

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won a House committee vote. For the first time, a measure allowing some form of medical marijuana has won a vote in the state legislature. The House Health and Human Services Committee Monday approved House Bill 2282, which would allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Minnesota

On Monday, medical marijuana workers unionized. Workers at Minnesota Medical Solutions, which will operate four medical marijuana dispensaries, have signed a labor agreement with the company under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), Local 1189. The union is also in discussions about representing workers at the other four planned dispensaries in the state, which will be operated by LeafLine Labs. The UFCW has also organized marijuana workers in California, Colorado, and Washington.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was set for a hearing. Rep. Dave Hinson's (R-St. Clair) House Bill 800 would allow for medical marijuana for eligible patients.

New York

On Monday, there was talk of kosher medical marijuana coming to the state. Orthodox Jews in New York may soon be able to get kosher medical marijuana. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, head of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification agency said he has held "preliminary discussions" with several companies seeking to obtain a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana. Click on the link for more.

North Dakota

Last Wednesday, the House killed a medical marijuana bill. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill was delayed. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is delaying a bill that would legalize low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Lawmakers decided Tuesday to bump any action back by at least two weeks. The bill is House Bill 197.

Virginia

Last Wednesday, the legislature approved two CBD cannabis oil bills. The state Senate approved House Bill 1445, which would allow people suffering from epileptic seizures to use CBD and THC-A cannabis oils. It has already been approved by the House and now goes to the governor's desk. An identical companion bill introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 1235, has also already passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.

Washington

Last Thursday, the Kettle Falls Five became the Kettle Falls Four. Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 71-year-old Larry Harvey, elder member of the Kettle Falls Five, Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted despite pot being legal in the state and despite Justice Department policy guidance that would appear to preclude such prosecutions. The charges against Harvey were dropped because he's about to die of pancreatic cancer, which has spread to his liver. But his family members still face decades in prison for growing their own medicine. "I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a statement. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."

On Wednesday, the Kettle Falls Four trial got underway in Spokane. The trial of an Eastern Washington family accused of violating federal marijuana laws by growing their own medical marijuana legally under state law began today. The family is known as the Kettle Falls Five, but it's now the Kettle Falls Four after charges were dismissed against terminally ill patriarch Larry Harvey. The prosecution of the Harveys runs counter to Obama administration policy and congressional desire, but continues anyway.

West Virginia

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. On the last day to file Senate bills in the legislative session, Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley) introduced Senate Bill 546, the "Creating Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis." The bill would allow for medical marijuana for designated debilitating medical conditions and would require patients and caregivers to be registered with the state. The bill now goes before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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

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: Federal Marijuana Bills, CO Legal Marijuana Battles, VA Cannabis Oil Bills Pass, More (2/20/15)

It's all marijuana news today: Federal legalization bills are filed, battles break out over legalization in Colorado, the Kettle Falls Five is now the Kettle Falls Four, Virginia CBD cannabis oil bills head to the governor's desk, and more. Let's get to it:

Congress action
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced. Two congressmen from two states where marijuana is already legal under state law today filed two separate bills to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana without fear of federal intervention, while Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill that would tax marijuana at the federal level, in addition to any state taxes. The bills were not yet available on congressional web sites as of this afternoon. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

Democratic Congressman Calls on Holder to Reclassify Marijuana. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) this week sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. "I urge you to in your remaining time in office to take action, under existing federal law, to reclassify marijuana," Cohen wrote.

Marijuana Policy Project Calls for Holiday Inn Boycott Over Colorado Lawsuit. The group is calling for the boycott because one of two new lawsuits filed in an effort to undo Colorado's legalization of marijuana is in behalf of a Holiday Inn in the mountain town of Frisco. The suit claims that a marijuana shop scheduled to open nearby will damage its business. While the boycott targets the Intercontinental Hotels Group (Holiday Inn's parent company), the hotel is actually operated by New Visions Hotel Two. MPP points out that pressuring the corporate chain could help pressure New Visions to drop its lawsuit.

Former DEA Heads All Sign Brief Opposing Colorado's Legal Marijuana Law. All nine former DEA administrators have signed onto an amicus brief filed Thursday in support of the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma to try to kill legalization in the state. Colorado's legal marijuana "gravely menaces… the health, comfort, and prosperity of the people" of Nebraska and Oklahoma, the former administrators claimed.

Medical Marijuana

The Kettle Falls Five is Now the Kettle Falls Four. Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 71-year-old Larry Harvey, elder member of the Kettle Falls Five, Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted despite marijuana being legal in the state and despite Justice Department policy guidance that would appear to preclude such prosecutions. The charges against Harvey were dropped because he's about to die of pancreatic cancer, which has spread to his liver. But his family members still face decades in prison for growing their own medicine. "I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a statement. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."

Virginia Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. The state Senate Wednesday approved House Bill 1445, which would allow people suffering from epileptic seizures to use CBD and THC-A cannabis oils. It has already been approved by the House and now goes to the governor's desk. An identical companion bill introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 1235, has also already passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.

Chronicle AM: More CO Lawsuits, 2016 MI Inits, New Paid Med Rules a Pain for Vets, More (2/19/15)

An anti-crime group has filed a pair of lawsuits challenging Colorado's legal marijuana law, a decrim bill is moving in Hawaii, 2016 initiative plans are getting underway in Michigan, DEA rules on pain pills are causing problems for vets and others, and more. Let's get to it:

Recent DEA rules tightening access to prescription opiates are causing problems for veterans and others.
Marijuana Policy

Revised Alaska Marijuana Bill Removes It From Controlled Substances List; Adds New Misdemeanors. The legislature's effort to regulate legal marijuana has been revised to remove pot from the controlled substances list, according to an updated draft of Senate Bill 30. The bill would also create new crimes for misconduct involving marijuana, including selling it without a license, possessing more than six plants, transporting more than an ounce, providing it to minors, and making hash oil with a volatile or explosive gas. The bill got a hearing in committee yesterday.

California's Attorney General Not Opposed to Legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state's top law enforcement officer and Democratic front-runner for a 2016 US Senate seat has said she has no moral objection to legalizing marijuana, but worries about impacts on children and public safety. "I don't have any moral opposition to legalization," she said, "but I do feel a very strong sense of responsibility as a top cop to pay attention to the details... to make sure that if it were legalized... that vulnerable people are safe."

Private Group Sues Colorado Over Legalization. Two months ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's legal marijuana law, and now, two more lawsuits are being filed by a private group, Safe Streets Alliance, an anti-crime organization led by a former Reagan administration official. In one suit, two Colorado property owners are suing a handful of marijuana industry participants under federal racketeering laws and state and local officials under the charge that they are violating the constitution's supremacy clause by not enforcing federal law. In the other suit, Safe Streets joined with the Holiday Inn in Frisco to sue a number of marijuana industry participants on racketeering charges. That suit claims that a planned legal marijuana store is causing the hotel to "suffer injuries to its business and property." Pot supporters say the lawsuits are unlikely to go anywhere.

Hawaii Senate Committee Passes Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Health Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 596, which would decriminalize up to an ounce, replacing a petty misdemeanor with a civil infraction and a $100 fine.

Two Michigan 2016 Legalization Initiative Efforts Getting Underway. At least two different groups are eyeing a legalization initiative effort next year. East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank filed paperwork Tuesday for the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, while East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, a marijuana industry advocacy group, filed paperwork last month to create the Michigan Responsibility Council, which says it will soon transform itself into a ballot committee for 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Missouri Bill Would Free Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mirzanskey. Rep. Shamed Dogan this week filed House Bill 978, which would require the release of anyone serving life without parole for marijuana offenses. That means Jeff Mirzanskey, who is 21 years into his life sentence. Efforts have been afoot to persuade Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to commute his sentence, but he has yet to do so.

Medical Marijuana

Activists Target Wasserman Schultz Over Medical Marijuana Stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

Colorado Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Gets Stripped Down. The bill, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate Wednesday, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crackdown on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Defeated. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was defeated in the House Wednesday on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Rep. Zachary Cook (R-Ruidoso) has introduced a bill that would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill is supported by an ideologically diverse range of organizations including the Rio Grande Foundation, the Institute for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, and the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance. It does not yet have a bill number and is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Wyoming Legislators Prepare to Try to Override Governor's Veto of Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state Tuesday, but the bill passed by a veto-proof margin, and now legislators and bill supporters are angling for an override vote. The measure, Senate File 14, passed the Senate 26-3 and the House 54-6.

Undertreatment of Pain

New Federal Opiate Prescription Rules Are Causing Problems for Veterans. Restrictions on prescription opiates adopted last summer by the DEA are causing hardships for veterans, the Washington Post reports in a lengthy piece. And it's not just veterans, but they're being hit particularly hard. Click on the link for much more.

Sentencing

Former Federal Judge Regrets 55-Year Sentence for Pot Dealer. Utah resident Weldon Angelos has already spent more than a decade in federal prison after being convicted of three marijuana sales while he had a pistol in his sock. That pistol led to consecutive mandatory minimum sentences resulting in a whopping 55 years in prison for the aspiring rapper. Now, Paul Cassell, the then federal judge who sentenced him, wishes he had a do over. "I do think about Angelos," he said. "I sometimes drive near the prison where he's held, and I think, 'Gosh he shouldn't be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there... That wasn't the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it. I think that most of the time, our federal justice system succeeds," Cassell continued. "But there are some cases where it fails and the Angelos case is a prime example of that. I thought the sentence was utterly unjust to Weldon Angelos, but also unjust to the taxpayer," Cassell pointed out. "I think it's just a waste of resources to lock him up for 55 years, I don't really think anyone believes that's an appropriate sentence."

Utah Ready for Drug Defelonization, Poll Finds. Strong majorities of Utahns favor defelonizing drug possession offenses, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. Some 58% support defelonization, while 59% said probation and community-based drug treatment were more appropriate than jail for being caught with small amounts of drugs. The poll comes as a defelonization bill, House Bill 348, is introduced today.

International

UK Liberal Democrat Leader Supports Medical Marijuana. Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, has said people should be able to use marijuana to alleviate medical problems. "I strongly agree that where there is a proven medicinal use for cannabis for instance we should make that easier for those to have access to it in a straightforward legal way in order to alleviate the symptoms that you clearly have that you know as a user are alleviated by the use of cannabis," he said. "Let's take a more intelligent approach -- where there is a clear medicinal use, make sure you have access to that in a regulated way." This is yet one more way that the Lib Dems and the Tories are at odds on drug policy.

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: VT MJ Legalization Bill, Texas Pot Lobby Day, Federal Sentencing Softens, More (2/17/15)

There's now a marijuana lhttp://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/iowans-plead-for-expanded-medical-marijuana-program-20150216egalization bill in Vermont, an Ohio initiative decides to allow home cultivation, Attorney General holder touts a softening in federal charging and sentencing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

It's marijuana lobby day at the Texas capitol in Austin Wednesday. (texasmarijuanapolicy.org)
Marijuana Policy

Responsible Ohio Revises Initiative, Will Allow for Home Grows. "After extensive conversations with experts and concerned citizens across the state and nation, Responsible Ohio has decided to include regulated and limited home growing as a part of our amendment," Responsible Ohio Spokesperson Lydia Bolander said in a press release Monday. "Combined with a lower tax rate for consumers, these changes will make our communities safer by smothering the black market." The group's original proposal had called for only 10 grow sites in the state. At least one other group, Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, has a competing initiative campaign underway.

Texans to Lobby for Marijuana Reforms in Austin Wednesday. Texans will gather at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to urge elected officials to support House Bill 507, which reduces the penalties for possession, and for establishment of a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state. The lobbying effort is being led by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Click on the title link for event details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed. Sen. David Zuckerman has filed Senate Bill 95, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults, establish a regulatory system for marijuana commerce, and impose a $40 an ounce excise tax on marijuana sold in the state. Whether the bill will go anywhere remains to be seen; key legislative leaders said they did not plan to hold hearings on it this year.

Wyoming Legalization Study Bill Killed. A bill to study the impact of legalization in neighboring states was killed on the House floor late last week. House Bill 187 was defeated on a vote of 39-19. The governor's office has the money to do a study, and that may still happen, but it won't be tied to finishing before the next legislative session, as was the case with this bill.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Plead for Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program. A small number of Iowa patients and family members appeared before state legislators Monday to ask for expansion of the state's medical marijuana program, which they say is effectively useless as is. Each speaker called on legislators to expand the law to allow them to legally produce and obtain the high-CBD cannabis oils that could aid them. A law passed last year allows Iowans to use the cannabis oils, but not to produce or import them.

Sentencing

Attorney General Holder Touts More Flexible Federal Sentencing. The attorney general today said federal prosecutors are changing the way drug defendants are charged and sentenced, and he cited US Sentencing Commission statistics to back himself up. The new figures show prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum sentences in only 51% of their cases, the lowest rate on record, and down from 64% last year. Federal drug trafficking cases also declined by 6%. Holder said that showed prosecutors are being more selective in which cases they bring.

International

Uruguay's Medical Marijuana Will Be More Expensive Than Recreational Marijuana. As the country moves slowly towards rolling out its legal marijuana program, officials there are saying that medical marijuana will be more expensive than recreational because it will have to be grown separately from recreational, it will be grown by different companies, and it will be grown under stricter -- more expensive -- controls than pot for the recreational market.

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress [FEATURE]

(This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, last week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

"We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system," the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

  • restore proportionality to drug sentencing;
  • promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming;
  • make sentencing reductions retroactive;
  • expand BOP's Compassionate Release Program; and
  • expand time credits for good behavior.

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as the Obama administration and members of both parties have all shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth. Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I've expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing," he said earlier this year. "White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there's an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity."

"It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration," said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. "To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry."

"It's clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "It's important that legislation doesn't just paper over the cracks."

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Veterans Administration hints at coming changes around medical marijuana, California and Washington see state-wide regulation bills filed, both houses in Virginia have passed similar CBD bills, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, the VA told a House committee it is actively exploring medical marijuana for veterans. A top Department of Veterans Affairs official told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today "there are active discussions going on now" about how to deal with the growing number of vets seeking to use medical marijuana for their ailments. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA's interim under secretary for health, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday "there's an incredible opportunity for us to learn from some of those experiences, but I think that we have to be careful given the variation in legal issues."

California

Last Thursday, Santa Ana held a lottery for dispensary owners to obtain permits. More than 600 people had paid a $1,690 application fee for a chance to be chosen. Now, the lottery winners must pay $12,086 for the next stage of permitting. Dispensaries will only be allowed in two areas zoned for industrial use.

Last Friday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a forfeiture action against the Berkeley Patients Group. The federal government had sought to shut down the landmark dispensary in May 2013, but the dispensary, its landlord, and the city of Berkeley fought back. The city was struck from the lawsuit for lack of standing, but appealed. It then sought to stay the forfeiture action until its appeal was resolved. Last Friday, US District Judge Jon Tigar agreed.

On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill supported by cops and cities was introduced. Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) filed Assembly Bill 266 with the backing of the California League of Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The bill seeks to impose state-wide regulation on the Golden State's medical marijuana scene, but California NORML says it has some objectionable features, including too stringent transportation regulations, inadequate provision for the licensing of current growers, and a prohibition on licenses for people with prior drug offenses.

Florida

On Tuesday, a second state medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed House Bill 683, which would only allow people with eight specified medical conditions to use it and which bars the used of smoked marijuana. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) earlier filed another, less restrictive medical marijuana bill. "The big differences are, it doesn't allow for smokeable marijuana," Steube said Tuesday of his bill and Brandes' bill. "Brandes, in his bill, says a doctor could prescribe (medical marijuana) if you had severe and persistent pain. That was taken out. We kept it to specific diseases."

Virginia

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The Senate approved Senate Bill 1235, which would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil. A similar bill is before the House of Delegates.

On Tuesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the House. The House of Delegates approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Washington

On Monday, a statewide medical marijuana regulation bill was introduced. Reps. Luis Moscoso (D-Kirkland) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) have introduced House Bill 2058 to create a licensed and regulated medical marijuana system for the state. The bill is identical to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in 2011 only to be vetoed by then Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) over fears of federal intervention.

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

Chronicle AM: IA MJ Penalty Bill Moves, NM Hemp Bill Moves, MD Heroin OD Homicide Bill Filed, More (2/11/15)

Missouri's marijuana lifer may get a shot at freedom, Colorado is raking in the tax dollars from pot, the VA is pondering how to deal with medical marijuana for veterans, medical marijuana regulation bills pop up in California and Washington, and more. Let's get to it:

Dealers who sell dope that someone ODs on could be charged with murder under a Maryland bill. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Took in $76 Million in Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. The state collected $44 million in recreational marijuana taxes and another $12 million in recreational pot fees last year. Taxes and fees on medical marijuana added another $19 million, bringing the total revenues to $76 million. The recreational pot tax bonanza is less than what was estimated before legalization, but is still a hefty chunk of change.

Iowa Bill to Cut Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved Senate Study Bill 1121, which would make possession of less than five grams a simple misdemeanor with a maximum 30-day jail term. Currently, possession is punishable by up to six months in jail. Senators who approved the bill said it was an effort to address racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system. Iowa has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in pot busts of any state.

Missouri Governor Will Take "Hard Look" at Pardoning Marijuana Lifer. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said Tuesday he will review the case of Jezz Mizanskey, 61, who is serving life in state prison for a marijuana conviction. Mizanskey has been behind bars for 21 years already after being convicted of a third nonviolent pot offense. "It's a very serious amount of time," Nixon said. "If the laws change after someone is sentenced, then you want to give those things a close look." An online petition seeking Mizanskey's release has more than 386,000 signatures.

Medical Marijuana

VA Tells House Committee It is Actively Exploring Medical Marijuana for Veterans. A top Department of Veterans Affairs official told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today "there are active discussions going on now" about how to deal with the growing number of vets seeking to use medical marijuana for their ailments. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA's interim under secretary for health, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday "there's an incredible opportunity for us to learn from some of those experiences, but I think that we have to be careful given the variation in legal issues."

California Regulation Bill Supported by Cops and Cities Introduced. Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) Monday filed Assembly Bill 266 with the backing of the California League of Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The bill seeks to impose state-wide regulation on the Golden State's medical marijuana scene, but California NORML says it has some objectionable features, including too stringent transportation regulations, inadequate provision for the licensing of current growers, and a prohibition on licenses for people with prior drug offenses.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Filed; Would Not Allow Smoking It. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed House Bill 683, which would only allow people with eight specified medical conditions to use it and which bars the used of smoked marijuana. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) earlier filed another, less restrictive medical marijuana bill. "The big differences are, it doesn't allow for smokeable marijuana," Steube said Tuesday of his bill and Brandes' bill. "Brandes, in his bill, says a doctor could prescribe (medical marijuana) if you had severe and persistent pain. That was taken out. We kept it to specific diseases."

Washington State Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Introduced. Reps. Luis Moscoso (D-Kirkland) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) have introduced House Bill 2058 to create a licensed and regulated medical marijuana system for the state. The bill is identical to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in 2011 only to be vetoed by then Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) over fears of federal intervention.

Hemp

New Mexico Hemp Bill Advances. The Senate Conservation Committee Tuesday voted 9-0 to approve the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Senate Bill 94). Sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), the measure would allocate $100,000 for the regents of New Mexico State University, the state's land grant university, to establish a seed bank and seed certification program for hemp. An additional $50,000 would be appropriated under the bill for the state Department of Public Safety to train officers to identify industrial hemp. A similar bill has been filed in the House by Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque).

Heroin

Maryland Bill Would Allow Heroin Dealers to Be Charged With Murder in ODs. Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County) Tuesday filed House Bill 222, which would allow prosecutors to seek homicide charges in heroin or fentanyl overdose deaths that can be linked to a specific dealer. The maximum sentence would be 30 years in prison. The bill had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee the same day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Heroin Summit Tomorrow. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is hosting a summit on heroin in Raleigh tomorrow. "Together with law enforcement, members of the NC medical and public health community, NC legislators, and people who have used or been impacted by heroin, we will engage in a series of panel events focused on discussing legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related overdose in the state," the group says. Click on the title link for event details.

Maine Governor Won't Support Expanding Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Tuesday that he would oppose efforts to expand access naloxone. Rep. Henry Beck (D-Waterville) has introduced HP 98, which would allow friends of drug users to carry the overdose reversal drug and has a Good Samaritan provision. A similar bill last year allowed family members and law enforcement to carry the drug, but the friends and Good Samaritan provisions were stripped out at LePage's insistence. Now, legislators will try again.

International

Transnational Institute Brief on Reforming Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America. The Institute has made available "Fixing a Broken System: Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America," the latest of its series on legislative reform of drug policies. It argues that drug prohibition has mostly failed to reduce supply and demand while creating new problems and creating vast collateral damage. It has a number of recommendations; click on the link to read them.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Hemp

Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."

International

British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim a Step Closer, DC Legalization Battles, Pot and Driving, More (2/9/15)

The fight over legalization continues in DC, Jamaica is now one vote away from decriminalizing ganja, the NHTSA has a study out saying there is no evidence pot use increases the risk of crashes, and more. Let's get to it:

On Bob Marley's birthday, the Jamaican Senate passed decriminalization. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Czar Nominee Says DC Should Be Able to Legalize Marijuana. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli has said that the District of Columbia should be able to determine its own marijuana policy. "As a resident of the District I might not agree about legalization," Botticelli said, "but I do agree with our own ability to spend our own money the way that we want to do that." Federal law requires the drug czar to oppose marijuana legalization, but that didn't stop Botticelli from endorsing home rule for the District even if that meant legalization.

DC Council Cancels Hearing on Taxation and Regulation Bill in Face of Legal Threats. The DC council was supposed to hold hearing on a taxation and regulation bill today, but abandoned those plans after the District attorney general warned lawmakers they and their staffs could face fines or even jail time if they went ahead. Incoming DC Attorney General Karl Racine warned the council in a letter late last week that holding the hearing would violate a congressionally imposed spending restriction prohibiting the city from moving forward on legalization and regulation. Council members and invited witnesses, some of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to testify, instead held an informal roundtable discussion on the topic to avoid the risk of being found in contempt of Congress.

Idahoans Not Ready to Legalize Marijuana, Poll Finds. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll found that only 33% supported legalization, with 64% opposed -- and they mean it. More than half (53%) of respondents were "strongly opposed," while another 11% were "somewhat opposed." Only 17% said they "strongly supported" legalization, with another 16% "somewhat supporting" it.

Sentencing Policy

Kansas Bill Would Cut Marijuana Sentences. The Kansas Sentencing Commission is pushing a bill through the legislature that would end prison sentences for the first two marijuana possession offenses and allow for increased use of good-time sentence reductions. The bill has been endorsed by the Department of Corrections and many legislators and has passed out of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Passes House. The House last Friday approved House Bill 200, which would require applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for possible drug use. Those deemed to be suspected of drug use after screening would be subjected to drug tests.

Tennessee Welfare Drug Testing Scheme Yields Few Positives. Six months after the state rolled out its controversial law to drug test some people applying for public benefits, the first results are in, and they're not very impressive. Some 16,017 people applied for the Families First cash assistance program; only 279 were deemed to have provided reasonable suspicion that they were drug users, and only 37 of them tested positive for drugs. Eight people were disqualified for refusing to answer the drug questionnaire; another 81 were denied benefits after dropping out of the application process.

Driving

NHTSA Says No Evidence Marijuana Use Increases Crash Risk. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released last Friday found no evidence marijuana use increases the risk of getting in a traffic accident. While pot smokers are 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than non-users, NHTSA attributed that to factors other than marijuana use itself -- particularly that younger men are more likely to get in crashes. "Other factors, such as age and gender, appear to account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users," the study found. The study is the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use By Drivers.

Law Enforcement

Utah Town Pays Big for 2012 Drug War Killing of Danielle Willard. The city of West Valley City, Utah, will pay $1.425 million to the family of Danielle Willard to settle their wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers. Willard was shot and killed by Det. Shaun Cowley as she sat in her car in an apartment complex parking lot. When detectives approached her vehicle, she began to back up. Two opened fire, but only Cowley was on target, hitting her in the head and killing her. Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill found the shooting unjustified, but a district court judge threw out charges against Cowley. Cowley was later fired for mishandling evidence and dereliction of duty, and the West Valley Vice Narcotics Unit was disbanded. It has just been reconstituted.

Missouri Activists Issue Report on Drug Task Force Misconduct. Show Me Cannabis has released a comprehensive report on misconduct in the state's anti-drug task forces. The report is "Drug Task Forces in Missouri: Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable; A Thorough Exploration of Patterns of Gross Misconduct."

International

Jamaican Senate Approves Ganja Decriminalization. The Senate approved marijuana decriminalization last Friday after five hours of debate. Up to two ounces will be decriminalized, Rastafarians will be able to grow their own, and the country will begin to move toward setting up a legal marijuana industry. The measure must still pass the lower House, but is expected to do so.

Vancouver Looks to Regulate Marijuana Dispensaries. Even though they are illegal under Canadian law, at least 60 dispensaries operate in Vancouver, and the municipal government is now moving to come up with a way to regulate them -- not shut them down. Click on the link for more details.

Drug War Issues

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