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Chronicle AM: Federal VA MedMJ Bill, CRS Report on Federal Pot Tax, Swiss Cannabis Clubs, More (11/21/2014)

Some Alaska officials are proving recalcitrant when it comes to legal marijuana, there could be a Senate hearing on pot legalization with DC in the cross hairs, congressional researchers release a report on a federal pot excise tax, asset forfeiture could play a role in hearings for the new attorney general nominee, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Who Will Chair DC Oversight Committee Wants Hearing on Legalization. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, said Thursday he wants to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization. He told reporters such a hearing would focus on how legalization has worked in other states. He also said he generally supports more autonomy for the District, but didn't say whether he thought DC should be able to legalize marijuana.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on Federal Marijuana Taxation. Congress's non-partisan research arm has released a comprehensive report on the federal government setting an excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. The report suggests that under nationwide legalization, a $50 an ounce federal excise tax would raise about $7 billion a year, and that under legalization, prices could drop to as low as $80 a pound. Click on the link for more.

Washington State Pot Tax Revenues Exceed Expectations. State officials said Wednesday that they expect legal marijuana to generate $694 million in revenue through the middle of 2019. That's up from a September estimate of $636 million. The state expects to collect nearly $43 million in pot taxes by the middle of next year, $237 million more in the 2015-2017 budget biennium, and $415 million more in the 2017-2019 budget biennium.

Key Alaska Prosecutor Says Marijuana Prosecutions to Continue. John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's criminal division, said prosecutors will continue to move on marijuana cases despite the voters' approval of legalization earlier this month. "We are not blind or oblivious to the fact that there is a change coming, but the change is not here yet," he said. "We did communicate to our folks that right now it is business as usual. We are evaluating what to do in the future." After Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, many prosecutors quashed pending marijuana cases, and some prosecutors have done the same in Oregon this year.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Wants to Ban Pot Sales. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has prepared an ordinance to prohibit marijuana cultivation, production, testing and sales in Anchorage. Such a move would be legal under the provisions of Measure 2, which allows local option. She said she doesn't want the state's largest city to be "a guinea pig" for the rest of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Files Federal Bill to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Doctors Can't Be Charged for Medical Marijuana Referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Could Be Issue for New Attorney General Nominee. President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, bragged back in January about how her office seized nearly a billion dollars through civil asset forfeiture. But with the issue in the limelight now, it may come back to bite her during her confirmation hearings. Asset forfeiture reform bills have been filed in the Congress, newspapers across the country are editorializing about abuses, and congressional Republicans are sure to use any ammunition they can to try to damage the president's nominee.

International

Cannabis Clubs Coming to Switzerland? Officials in Geneva are exploring whether to allow marijuana social clubs, while the city has joined Bern, Basel, and Zurich in creating an expert working group to craft details for a potential pilot project. Marijuana is not legal in Switzerland, but possession of less than 10 grams is effectively decriminalized. Click on the link for an informative overview.

Chronicle AM: Congress Unlikely to Mess With DC Marijuana Legalization, Guatemala Could Legalize Next Year, More (11/17/14)

Congress may "just say meh" to DC legalization, Washington state's first pot auction was a success, it's back to the drawing board for Florida Charlotte's Web regulators, Lebanese hash farmers have an unusual problem, Guatemala's president said pot legalization could be coming soon, and more. Let's get to it:

There's too much hash in the hash fields of Lebanon. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Republicans Not Too Interested in Blocking DC Legalization. Congressional Republicans, eager to wage battle against President Obama and the Democrats on immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, don't appear that interested in trying to block the District of Columbia from implementing the marijuana legalization initiative voters approved on Election Day. The Washington Post quoted several senators who said they had other things on their minds. "That's pretty far down my list of priorities," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC). "I haven't given it one thought," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The Post also quoted a Heritage Foundation analyst as saying trying to block DC legalization could cost valuable political capital and expose a rift between GOP social conservatives and libertarians.

Washington State's First Pot Auction Brings in $600,000. In the first auction of legally licensed and produced marijuana in the state, Fireweed Farms sold more than 300 pounds of pot Saturday at an average price of $2,000 a pound. That's a $600,000 payday for the growers.

Pot Smoking Tickets Up Nearly Five-Fold in Denver. Through the first three quarters of this year, Denver police have cited 668 people for public pot smoking, compared to just 117 during the same period last year. That's a 471% increase. Even under legalization, public display and consumption of marijuana remains a no-no. Some advocates said public consumption will be an issue until the city allows for it to be consumed in bars or pot clubs.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Growers Lottery Plan, Sends Health Department Back to Drawing Board. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Scranton Times-Tribune Calls for Asset Forfeiture Reform. One of Pennsylvania's mid-level newspapers has jumped on the asset forfeiture reform bandwagon. In a Monday editorial, The Scranton Times-Tribune called for federal civil asset forfeiture reform. Citing "pervasive abuses" by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies, the newspaper called on the Congress to pass pending asset forfeiture reform legislation, and for Pennsylvania officials to examine whether the state's asset forfeiture law needs reform as well.

Prescription Drugs

DEA Pays Visit to NFL Teams Over Use of Pain Relievers. Spurred by reports of widespread use of prescription pain relievers in a recent lawsuit filed against the NFL, DEA agents Sunday visited several NFL teams to question medical staff members about their prescribing practices for drugs used to energize players before games and relieve their pain afterward. The DEA characterized the visits as "administrative," and nothing was seized and no one detained. "Our role is law enforcement, and we have the regulatory authority to make sure anyone who has a license operates within the law," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Recovery Alliance's Harm Reduction Gets Work Some Notice. The DePaul University newspaper The DePaulia has profiled the Windy City's Chicago Recovery Alliance and the harm reduction work in which it is engaged. The newspaper calls harm reduction "a small movement in the United States meant not to stigmatize drug users, but to safely educate and assist drug users with the ultimate purpose of reducing risk and eliminating drug-related complications and deaths." It's actually a pretty good overview of the harm reduction field.

International

With Lebanese Army Busy with Syrian Civil War, Hash Farmers Are Cursed By Oversupply. For the second year in a row, the Lebanese Army has been too concerned with the fighting on its borders to get around to eradicating marijuana crops in the Bekaa Valley, but the hash farmers can't win for losing. Now they face a flooded market and falling prices. Before the Syrian civil war and the glut, farmers were getting $1,500 for 1.2 kilos of hash; now that price has fallen to $500. Not only is the glut the problem, but political and military insecurity have made smuggling more difficult as well, feeding further downward price pressures.

Guatemala President Says County Could Legalize Marijuana Next Year. In an interview with TeleSur TV on Saturday, President Otto Perez Molina said Guatemala would decide early next year whether to follow Uruguay on the path to marijuana legalization. Perez Molina has also made similar noises about legalizing opium poppy production. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a quiet week on the medical marijuana front, perhaps a post-election lull. But there is news from California, Colorado, and Rhode Island. Let's get to it:

California

On Tuesday, activists complained that California veterans were being denied pain medications over their medical marijuana use. California NORML reported that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from Canorml and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado reported another $30 million month in medical marijuana sales. September sales were at $31.6 million, down slightly from August's $33.4 million. The all-time high was in February, when medical marijuana sales totaled $36 million. Recreational sales are also running about $30 million a month.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over medical marijuana employment discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a pain internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana initiative won in Guam, but the one in Florida lost despite winning a majority of the votes. There's other news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday,nine Lake County patients filed a $600,000 claim for damages for warrantless raids on their gardens. The move comes two weeks after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring such warrantless raids. The patients claim Lake County law enforcement entered their properties and seized their goods without their consent or a search warrant. They seek recompense for their stolen goods, as well as punitive damages.

On Tuesday, Election Day was a mixed bag for local medical marijuana initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 initiative won a solid majority, but fell short of victory. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Guam

On Tuesday, Guam voted approved medical marijuana. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Illinois

Last Saturday, the state began a second round of patient registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Iowa

On Tuesday, the Board of Pharmacy announced it would hold a hearing on medical marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

New York

Last Thursday, New York US Representatives asked the Justice Department to let the state import high-CBD medical marijuana for sick kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

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

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Council Ponders Pot, NJ Cops Get Naloxone, Denmark Funds MedMJ Research, More (10/31/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 is getting big bucks and using innovative outreach techniques in the final days, the DC council ponders how to implement pot legalization, NYC councilmembers demand the cops quit targeting minority men for pot busts, Denmark funds research on medical marijuana (but not underground trolls!), and more. Let's get to it:

Opioid overdose reversal kit handed out to police in Mercer County, NJ. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy       

Last Minute Contributions Boost Oregon's Measure 91. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed another $250,000 to the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative campaign as the clock ticks down toward election day. That means Drug Policy Action has now donated $1.74 million of the $3.9 million raised by the campaign. The campaign is also getting a boost from pot legalization supporter US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has made an in-kind contribution of $40,020 to help pay for TV ads.

Oregon's Measure 91 Campaign Using Innovative "Did They Vote?" Website. The campaign is using DidTheyVote.org, a web site that allows voters in the state to log on and see if their Facebook friends have voted. If the friends haven't voted, people using the web site can "nudge" them to do so. "Check to see if your Facebook friends turned in their ballots! It takes 60 seconds. If it appears the elections office hasn’t received your friends’ ballots yet, you can give them a little nudge by sending them a reminder message," the web site explains. The web site is a project of the progressive non-profit group Our Oregon.

Sacramento Federal Court Hearing on Marijuana Scheduling Ends. In a groundbreaking federal court hearing, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento has heard five days of evidence around whether marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors and scientists made a strong case that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I. The judge issued no immediate ruling, but instead requested extensive briefs from the parties involved. She could rule on the issue two months from now or more. Click on the link to get some flavor of the discussion.

Five NYC Councilmembers Accuse NYPD of Continuing to Target Minority Men for Pot Arrests. Five black or Latino city council members today sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton charging that the NYPD continues to single out young men of color for marijuana arrests. "This is not an abstract issue for us," the letter said. "We approach this issue not just as lawmakers but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices. The NYPD continues to target people who look like us, and we know from our own experiences and those of our peers that these racially skewed arrests create distrust between young men of color and the police." The letter was signed by Councilmen Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), and Donovan Richards (D-Queens). While arrests have declined from the 50,000 in 2011 to some 29,000 last year, minority men are still the primary target, the councilmen said.

DC Council Holds Hearing on Moving Toward Legalization. With the marijuana possession and cultivation initiate Measure 71 heading for an apparent victory at the polls on Tuesday, the DC city council is moving to address how to tax and regulate legal marijuana in the District. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and its Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint hearing Thursday to begin to lay the groundwork. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New York US Representatives Ask Justice Department to Let State Import High-CBD Medical Marijuana for Sick Kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

Harm Reduction

Every Cop Car in Mercer County, New Jersey, To Be Armed With Overdose Reversal Drug. Police departments in Mercer County (Trenton) are now armed with 600 naloxone (Narcan) opiate overdose reversal kits. Beginning tomorrow, every patrol vehicle in the county will have one, as will every detective vehicle and detention center. Police in the state have begun carrying the drug since Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered it made available throughout the state following successful pilot programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Officials said naloxone had saved 325 lives in the state so far.  

International

Britain's Cameron Stands Firm: No Drug Policy Review. Facing an insurrection over drug policy from the junior partners in his governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, after a Home Office report found no obvious link between tough drug laws and drug use levels, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is stubbornly refusing to consider any changes to Britain's drug policy. "I don’t think anyone can read that report and say it definitely justifies this approach or that approach, but the evidence is what we’re doing is working," Cameron said, citing falling levels of drug use. "I don’t believe in decriminalizing drugs that are illegal today. I’m a parent with three children; I don’t want to send out a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe." In a sign of the depth of the discord between the coalition partners, Cameron's statement also included a zinger aimed at the Lib Dems: "The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs."

Denmark to Fund Medical Marijuana Research. The Danish government agreed Thursday to distribute at least $6 million for health research that will include research on medical marijuana. The funding is part of a broader agreement to fund socially relevant research. Strangely enough, the Danish newspaper article linked to above ends by noting that "no additional funds were set aside for the study of underground trolls."

Chronicle AM: Cops for Pot Legalization, British Drug Policy Squabble, Afghan Opium Warning, More (10/30/14)

Cops raise their voices in support of marijuana legalization initiatives, the US government's Afghanistan watchdog slams our drug policies there, Louisiana bans a synthetic cannabinoid and Russia wants to do the same, Britain's Lib Dems and Tories are going at each other over drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Synthetic cannabinoid products (Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals)
Marijuana Policy       

Cops Come Out in Support of Oregon Measure 91. Some 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges have come out in support of the Measure 91 legalization initiative. The campaign held a press conference with some of them yesterday and released a letter from them. "Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,"they said. "Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels."

Former Seattle Police Chief Campaigns for Alaska's Measure 2. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is hitting the hustings up north to garner support for the Measure 2 legalization initiative. The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member has also been making the rounds in Anchorage, appearing on talk radio shows and other media in support of the measure. He is attempting to counter opposition to the measure from the likes of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs.

Vermont Sets Public Hearing on Marijuana Policy. The state government has set a November 12 date for a public hearing that will "provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont." The hearing comes ahead of a mandated January report to the legislature on issues related to marijuana legalization from Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. Click on the link for more event details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans New Synthetic Cannabinoid. After more than 125 people got sick in Baton Rouge this month, state officials Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. The state has twice before banned other synthetic cannabinoids, once in March and again in July. The compound has been sold in products with names like "Mojo," "Spice," and "Scooby Snax." Read the emergency rule here.

International

US Afghan Watchdog Warns on Opium. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has warned that the country's opium economy is threatening reconstruction efforts and that the US is not adequately addressing the problem. Anti-drug efforts have "largely fallen off the Afghan agenda," he said in a quarterly report released today. Sopko also criticized the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for "wasting" more than $7 billion on failed drug control policies. "There is nothing that they have said to me or my staff that would indicate that there's any idea of how to improve the situation," he said in an interview ahead of the release of the report. "Has anyone had their job performance -- in the State Department, Department of Defense or [US]AID -- affected by the fact that they failed over the past 13 years to do anything on counternarcotics? No." The report itself is worth a read.

British Drug Policy Squabble. The junior and senior partners in Britain's governing coalition are going after each other in an increasingly nasty fight over drug policy occasioned by a new Home Office report on new synthetic drugs. The report found "there is a lack of clear correlation between tough drugs laws and levels of abuse." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hammered the Tories as being "frightened" of drug reform and having "a totally misplaced, outdated, backwards-looking view" on drug policy. Conservatives shot back that the Lib Dems were using the report for "naked political posturing" and accused the party of pursing "a dangerous and irresponsible" agenda of decriminalization. Get more details by clicking the links.

INCB Meets in Vienna. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) began its 111th session today in Vienna. At the opening, board President Dr. Lochan Naidoo stressed his concerns about insufficient access to medicines containing narcotic or psychotropic drugs and noted the obligation of treaty parties to ensure access to such medicines to ensure treatment and prevent pain and suffering.

Russian Government Submits Bill to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids. President Vladimir Putin today submitted to the State Duma a bill to ban the sale and use of synthetic cannabinoid products. The bill names the cannabinoids as dangerous substances, bans their use, and gives the Federal Drug Control Agency authority to create a registry of such banned substances. The agency reports that more than a thousand users of the drugs have been hospitalized in the last year and 40 have died.

Austrian Neos Party Supports Marijuana Legalization. A neoliberal political party that has just won its first seats in parliament has come out in support of legalization. The Neos (or New Austria) Party embraced the position at its party conference this past weekend.  "We support self- responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense", party leader Mat Strolz said Tuesday. The Neos are the first part to embrace legalization in the wake of a parliamentary citizens' initiative that has so far gathered more than 27,000 signatures, making it the third most popular in Austrian history. It's not just new fringe parties that are considering the issue. The leaders of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats, will vote on legalization at their party convention next month. 

Medical Marijuana Update

A bad court ruling in Arizona, a good court ruling in Michigan, trouble for Florida's Measure 2, actions against dispensaries in California, and more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, a state appeals court held that medical marijuana users can be charged with DUI even if they're not actually impaired. Arizona has a zero-tolerance drugged driving law, and the state Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state's medical marijuana law does not provide immunity from prosecution, even if they are not impaired and only test positive for the presence of marijuana metabolites. The case is Darrah v. City of Mesa.

California

Last Wednesday, four San Diego dispensaries were shut down by court order. San Diego authorities won court orders earlier in the week to close four dispensaries they said were operating illegally in the city. All four had closed their doors by Wednesday. The city has just adopted a permitting process for dispensaries and the first permit was handed out recently, but a number of dispensaries are operating in the city without permits. The city has shut down more than 200 unpermitted dispensaries since 2009, the city attorney's office said.

Last Thursday,the DEA raided two Los Angeles dispensaries. DEA agents raided two Los Angeles dispensaries that staffers claim were fully compliant with state laws. Raiders hit two locations of The Farmacy, one in West Hollywood and one in Westwood, seizing cash, computers, and medical marijuana. No arrests were made. The Farmacy's Venice Beach location wasn't hit, but staffers said they thought that was because it had recently moved and the DEA couldn't find it.

On Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors approved a more restrictive cultivation ordinance. Saying they were trying to reduce neighborhood nuisances caused by excessive cultivation, supervisors voted unanimously to limit outdoor grows to 100 square feet on plots under five acres and 200 square feet on plots larger than that.

Also on Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors directed planning officials to review the county's cultivation ordinance. Currently, people can grow up to 30 plants or up to 100 square feet. Supervisor Shirley Zane tried two years to tighten the rules, but had to back down in the face of loud opposition. Now, she wants to try again.

Florida

On Monday, another poll suggested that Measure 2 is in danger. A Gravis Marketing poll has support for the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative at 50%, with 42% opposed and 8% undecided. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to win. Gravis had the initiative with 62% in August and 55% early this month. On the other hand, the United for Care campaign sent an email to supporters last night claiming its internal polling had the initiative at 61%. Click on the poll link for methodological details.

Also on Monday, news came that Republican money man Sheldon Adelson had put up another $1 million to defeat Measure 2. Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson has thrown another million dollars into the battle to defeat the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative. Opponents of the initiative have raised $5.8 million to defeat it; Adelson is responsible for $5 million of that. Overall, opponents have spent $5.5 million, pretty much matching supporters, who have so far spent $6.5 million.

Michigan

Last Friday, the state court of appeals held that medical marijuana users are entitled to unemployment compensation. State-approved medical marijuana patients are eligible for unemployment compensation if the only reason they were fired is that they tested positive for the drug, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision was based on the courts' reading of the state's medical marijuana law, which prohibits penalties for those who legally use medical marijuana. The series of consolidated cases in which the court ruled begins with Braska v. Challenge Manufacturing Company.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, a state senator urged DAs to not prosecute medical marijuana cases. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), sponsor of a medical marijuana bill stalled in the House after passing the Senate, called on prosecutors to not go after patients. Leach made the call in a letter to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "Given the likelihood that using lifesaving medical cannabis will not be a legal issue in Pennsylvania for much longer, I ask that you consider using your prosecutorial discretion," he wrote. "I ask that you perform an act of compassion."

Washington

Last Thursday,Seattle warned dispensaries they will need state licenses. The city of Seattle has sent letters to 330 dispensaries operating there that they will need to be licensed by the state. The only problem is there is no such license for medical marijuana businesses. The city council had placed the requirement on hold until the state legislature decides whether and how to license dispensaries, but the letter warns that as of January 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016 if the legislature doesn't act before then), dispensaries must have state licenses or close their doors. Click on the title link to see the letter.

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

Chronicle AM: Latest AK & OR Polls, AZ & MI MedMJ Rulings; Ireland Naloxone, More (10/27/14)

It's nail-biting time for the Alaska and Oregon legalization initiatives, appeals courts in Arizona and Michigan rule on medical marijuana cases, Chuck Schumer (again) wants more money to fight drugs, the acting drug czar opens the harm reduction conference (!), naloxone is coming to Ireland, and more. Let's get to it:

Ireland has approved a pilot program making the opiate overdose reversal drug available. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Latest Poll Has Oregon Measure 91 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. The latest SurveyUSA Oregon poll has the Measure 91 legalization initiative leading 44% to 40%, with 16% undecided. All recent polls have shown the measure leading, but as election day draws near, the gap is tightening and support is hovering under 50%. That means it's going to come down to two things: turn-out and how the undecideds break.

Latest Poll Has Alaska Measure 2 Under 50%, But With Four Point Lead. A new Hellenthal and Associates poll has the Measure 2 legalization initiative leading 46.5% to 42.2%, with 11.3% undecided. Those supporting Measure 2 included 29.7% who "strongly favor" and 16.8% who "somewhat favor." Among foes, 35.0% "strongly oppose" and 7.2% "somewhat oppose." Like Oregon, it looks like this one is going down to the wire, and turnout and undecideds will make the difference. Click on the title link for full poll results.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Be Charged With DUI Even if Not Impaired. Arizona has a zero-tolerance drugged driving law, and the state Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state's medical marijuana law does not provide immunity from prosecution, even if they are not impaired and only test positive for the presence of marijuana metabolites. The case is Darrah v. City of Mesa.

Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Medical Marijuana Users Can Get Unemployment Compensation. State-approved medical marijuana patients are eligible for unemployment compensation if the only reason they were fired is that they tested positive for the drug, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The decision was based on the courts' reading of the state's medical marijuana law, which prohibits penalties for those who legally use medical marijuana. The series of consolidated cases in which the court ruled begins with Braska v. Challenge Manufacturing Company.

Pennsylvania State Senator Urges DAs to Not Prosecute Medical Marijuana Cases. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), sponsor of a medical marijuana bill stalled in the House after passing the Senate, has called on prosecutors to not go after patients. Leach made the call in a letter to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "Given the likelihood that using lifesaving medical cannabis will not be a legal issue in Pennsylvania for much longer, I ask that you consider using your prosecutorial discretion," he wrote. "I ask that you perform an act of compassion."

Harm Reduction

Acting Drug Czar Opens National Harm Reduction Conference. It wasn't so long ago that top US government officials wouldn't even say the words "harm reduction," but things have changed. Acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Michael Botticelli opened the 10th Annual National Harm Reduction Conference, which took place in Baltimore over the weekend. "It really is no coincidence that I'm here,"Botticelli said. "I hope that my presence here reflects the Obama administration's commitment to continuing drug policy reform." Botticelli announced no great initiatives, but he did say that he wanted to ensure that "federal policy reflects the needs of people on the ground," and also expressed the hope that his working relationship with the Harm Reduction Coalition will "continue to grow."

Heroin

Kentucky Republican Lawmakers Vow to Push Legislation Targeting Heroin Dealers. Two GOP legislators have pre-filed the Kentucky Heroin Impact Act (BR 164), which would increase criminal penalties for heroin trafficking. "Unless we take action now, our streets will be lined with dead bodies," said bill cosponsor Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Fort Thomas). The bill also calls for increased public education and more funding for drug treatment. Similar legislation died this year in the legislature.

Law Enforcement

Schumer Wants More Federal Dollars to Fight Online Drug Sales. New York US Sen. Charles Schumer (D) wants the Justice Department to turn up the heat on illicit online drug sales, he said today. He said in a statement he would fight to get more money for the department to fight "drug-related cybercrime." "These websites, by allowing users to rate the delivery services of sellers and by offering any drugs imaginable under the sun, are nothing less than an all-you-can order buffet of contraband that need to be investigated and targeted with more intensity,"he added.

Sentencing

Bail Reform Question is on New Jersey Ballot. New Jersey residents will be voting on a measure that could usher in comprehensive bail reform in the Garden State. Public Question No. 1 asks voters to change the state constitution to give judges the ability to deny bail to dangerous suspects, but it also would enact groundbreaking legislation to comprehensively reform the state's broken bail system. That legislation only goes into effect if the question passes. A recent found that on any given day, nearly 75% of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence. The average length of pretrial incarceration for these individuals is more than ten months. Nearly 40 percent of the total jail population has the option to post bail but lacks the financial resources to do so and more than 10 percent of individuals could secure their release pending trial with $2,500 or less.

International

Irish Heroin Users to Get Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. Beginning early next year, some 600 Irish heroin and methadone users and their families will be supplied with naloxone (Narcan), the overdose reversal drug. It's a pilot program from the Health Service Executive, and follows the success of a similar project in Wales. Ireland has suffered around 200 opiate overdose deaths a year in recent years.

Chronicle AM: GOP Rep. Tackles Forfeiture, OR Measure 91 Support, CA Dispensary Troubles, More (10/24/14)

James Sensenbrenner is on the asset forfeiture case, Oregon's Measure 91 picks up some big name endorsements, dispensaries get shut down in San Diego and raided by the DEA in LA, fallout continues in the case of the missing Mexican student teachers, and more. Let's get to it:

Leading academic marijuana policy expert Mark Kleiman grumbles, but says "yes" on Oregon Measure 91 (ucla.edu)
Asset Forfeiture

Key GOP Lawmaker Questions Asset Forfeiture Seizures. US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to provide documents and data related to the Justice Department's role in more than 60,000 cash and property seizures under the department's Equitable Sharing Program with state and local law enforcement agencies. "While we must ensure law enforcement is properly equipped, they should not be funded by slush funds accrued by violating Americans' civil liberties," Sensenbrenner said in a statement today. "The implications on civil liberties are dire," he said in the letter. "The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I also believe that it is a human right." Sensenbrenner sent similar letters to the DEA and Department of Homeland Security last week, after a Washington Post investigation that found that 61,998 cash seizures of more than $2.5 billion have been made since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through Equitable Sharing.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Expert Mark Kleiman Says Yes on Oregon's Measure 91. He grumbled, but in the end, academic marijuana policy expert and Washington state legalization implementation maven Mark Kleiman has come down in favor of Oregon's Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative. Even though he says the initiative doesn't reflect "a sophisticated understanding of the problems of illegal markets or a nuanced view about substance abuse disorder" and says that claims that legalization will reduce youth access to marijuana don't pass "the giggle test," "the choice Oregon voters face isn't between what's on the ballot and some perfectly designed cannabis policy; it's between what's on the ballot and continued prohibition at the state level, until and unless a better initiative can be crafted, put before the voters, and passed into law." Bottom line? "It's not an easy choice; as a Californian, I'm glad I don't have to make one like it (yet). But if I had to vote in Oregon, I'd vote 'Yes.'" Click on the link to read the whole piece.

Oregon US Senator Jeff Merkley Says He Will Probably Vote Yes on Measure 91. US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has said he is inclined vote in favor of the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative. "I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case," Merkley said. "And there is concern about a series of new products -- and we don't have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure." If he does vote yes, he will become the first US senator to support legalizing marijuana in his home state.

Medical Marijuana

Four San Diego Dispensaries Shut Down By Court Order. San Diego authorities won court orders earlier this week to close four dispensaries they said were operating illegally in the city. All four had closed their doors by Wednesday. The city has just adopted a permitting process for dispensaries and the first permit was handed out recently, but a number of dispensaries are operating in the city without permits. The city has shut down more than 200 unpermitted dispensaries since 2009, the city attorney's office said.

DEA Raids Two Los Angeles Dispensaries. DEA agents Thursday raided two Los Angeles dispensaries that staffers claim were fully compliant with state laws. Raiders hit two locations of The Farmacy, one in West Hollywood and one in Westwood, seizing cash, computers, and medical marijuana. No arrests were made. The Farmacy's Venice Beach location wasn't hit, but staffers said they thought that was because it had recently moved and the DEA couldn't find it.

Drug Testing

Key West Job Offer Drug Test Case to Go to Jury. A Florida woman who sued the city of Key West for rescinding a job offer after she refused to take a pre-employment drug test will have to seek damages before a jury, a federal judge has ruled. Karen Voss had sued, arguing that all suspicionless, pre-employment drug tests were unconstitutional, and she won a summary judgment holding the city liable. She then filed a second motion seeking financial relief for her losses. US District Judge James Lawrence King ruled that a jury must determine what damages, if any, will be awarded, but he did not address whether mandatory, pre-employment drug testing was constitutional.

International

Irish Report Finds Drug Law Enforcement Has Little Impact on Drug Availability. In a study commissioned by the Irish government's drug advisory body, the National Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, researchers have found that the availability of drugs is "largely unaffected" by law enforcement anti-drug operations and recommended that police focus on drug markets causing the most community harm. Both police and dealers agreed that police operations had "no impact on availability" other than temporary reductions because of stiff competition, massive profits, and a steady demand for drugs. The 328-page report is Illicit Drug Markets in Ireland.

Mexico Missing Student Teacher Scandal Forces Guerrero's Governor to Resign. Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre Thursday said he was taking a leave of absence. He is not expected to return to office. Aguirre becomes the highest ranking politician yet to fall victim to the festering scandal over the case of 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month after being seized by local police forces and Guerreros Unidos drug gang members working hand-in-hand with them. The mayor of Iguala, the city where they were seized, and his wife, also face arrest, but they have fled. Several mass graves have been found in the search for the students, but the bodies in them don't appear to be the students. The case has seen mass protests in Mexico City, as well as violent protests in the Iguala and Chilpancingo, the capital of the state.

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