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Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

President Obama Commutes Sentences of Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners

President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences.

President Obama commutes drug sentences. (whitehouse.gov)
Many had been imprisoned since the 1990s. Some were doing life sentences for drug offenses. Most were cocaine offenders, but the commutations also included people doing time for marijuana, meth, and heroin.

This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

Recent Republican presidents have tended to be stingier with the commutation power than recent Democrats. Jimmy Carter commuted 29 sentences and Bill Clinton commuted 61, but Ronald Reagan only commuted 13 and the Bush father and son team only commuted 14 between them.

Commutations apply to prisoners who are still serving their sentences, while pardons apply to those who have already completed them. The prisoners whose sentences were commuted today are set to walk out of prison next April.

"Most of the commutations the President has granted have been to nonviolent offenders sentenced under those unjust -- and now outdated -- drug crime sentencing rules," the White House said as it announced the commutations today. "If these individuals had been convicted for the exact same crime under today's laws, nearly all of them would have already finished serving their time."

The president sent a personal letter to each of the 95 people receiving a commutation: "I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around," he wrote. "Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change… But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices. By doing so you will affect not only your life, but the lives of those around you. You will also influence, by your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their second chance in the future."

President Obama has taken other steps to address harsh drug war sentencing, including supporting and signing the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentencing; creating a task force on 21st Century policing, and launching the Smart on Crime initiative, which includes the Justice Department modifying its policies on mandatory minimum sentencing.

Last year, he signaled that he wanted to make broader use of the clemency power, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole laid out criteria for those who would qualify. Those include people who are nonviolent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large gangs or cartels who have served at least 10 years of their sentence, have no other significant criminal history, have shown good conduct in prison, have no history of violence, and who would like have received a significantly lower sentence if sentenced today.

Since then, a consortium of lawyers calling itself Clemency Project 2014 has volunteered to handle and help process clemency requests. Tens of thousands of federal prisoners have responded. While President Obama has commuted more sentences than any recent president, there are thousands more that meet the criteria. He has one more year to exercise his commutation power.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DE Decriminalizes Tomorrow, Drought Halves Afghan Opium Crop, More (12/17/15)

The Obama administration weighs in on Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado legalization, Delaware decrim goes into effect tomorrow, Hawaii released medical marijuana dispensary rules, drought is hurting Afghan poppy production, and more.

Afghan opium production is down 48% this year, thanks to drought conditions. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law. In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems." Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause. They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce. But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction. The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

Delaware Decriminalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, people caught possessing an ounce of pot or less will face a $100 civil fine instead of a criminal charge. Minors caught smoking pot in public will still face criminal sanctions.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Unveiled. A legalization bill to be introduced next month by Sens. Jeannette White (D-Windham) and Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will allow Vermonters to possess up to one ounce and grow up to 100 square feet. Any harvest from personal grows in excess of an ounce must be kept in a secured location. The bill would also set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce, and it would for public consumption in lounges where customers could purchase and use marijuana.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Wins Preliminary Vote. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would make possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Health Department Issues Dispensary Rules. The Health Department Tuesday released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

International

Drought Forces Decline in Afghan Opium Production. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Mexico City Mayor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana-Based Medicines. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera is pushing a national initiative in the congress to allow the importation -- but not the production in Mexico -- of marijuana-based medications. He said if morphine-based medicines are legal, marijuana-based ones should be, too.

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law

In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law.

Will they agree with the Solicitor General?
The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause.

They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce.

But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction.

The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

The state of Colorado is fighting the lawsuit, and the Solicitor General's brief largely followed the arguments of the state in its briefs.

Drug reformers applauded the action.

"We are pleased the DOJ agrees that this lawsuit borders on the frivolous. States have historically been allowed to establish their own criminal laws," said Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Moreover, Colorado is putting resources into ensuring its policies follow DOJ guidelines and has worked extensively with the DOJ towards this goal."

The federal government itself has not challenged the regulatory law in Colorado, nor did they choose to interfere with its implementation. To the contrary, the government has deprioritized enforcement of state-level marijuana reforms and acknowledged the interests that both states and the Federal government have in openly regulating marijuana.

"Nebraska and Oklahoma's primary problems are their own punitive policies regarding marijuana use and possession," said Art Way, Colorado State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is not Colorado's fault these states look to spend such a high degree of law enforcement and judicial resources on marijuana prohibition. Nebraska and Oklahoma should look to establish policies based on the potential harm of marijuana as opposed to simply using marijuana as the gateway to their criminal justice systems."

"This is the right move by the Obama administration," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "Colorado and a growing number of states have decided to move away from decades of failed prohibition laws, and so far things seem to be working out as planned. Legalization generates tax revenue, creates jobs and takes the market out of the hands of drug cartels and gangs. New federal data released this week shows that as more legalization laws come online, we're not seeing an increase in teen marijuana use, despite our opponents' scare tactics," he continued.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Ireland to Allow SIF, Congress Renews DEA Funding Ban in MedMJ States, More (12/16/15)

Congress continues to block DEA harassment in medical marijuana states, Washington state could see a lot more pot shops, it looks like Florida will vote again on medical marijuana, Ireland is moving toward setting up a supervised injection site in Dublin, and more.

A supervised injection site is coming to Dublin next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Congress to Continue Blocking DEA Interference With Medical Marijuana States. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

Washington Could Allow Lots More Marijuana Stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) today heard a staff recommendation to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from 334 to 556. The move is expected to be finalized in emergency rules to be announced January 6.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Already Has 900,000 Signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Illinois to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Legislators Compete Over How to Restrict Access to Cold Medications. Faced with a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to obtain cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, two lawmakers have come up with an alternative measure that would instead allow pharmacists to decide whether or not customers could buy the cold medications.

Drug Treatment

Most People in Treatment for Marijuana Are Sent There By Courts. A report this month from the US Department of Health and Human Services finds that between 2003 and 2013 52% of people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal justice system. Only 18% were in treatment because they sought it themselves.

International

Irish Cabinet Approves Supervised Injection Site in Dublin. The cabinet has approved a pilot plan for a medically supervised injection facility in the nation's capital. The move came yesterday and was at the behest of Aodhan O'Riordain, the minister in charge of the National Drug Strategy. The country's drug law must first be amended to allow for such facilities, which should happen early next year.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Issues First Pot Permits, DOJ Wants More $$$ for Asset Forfeiture, More (12/11/15)

A legalization initiative dies in Florida, but another is born in Montana; the Justice Department proposes funding increases for asset forfeiture programs, Mexico issues the first permits allowing people to grow and possess marijuana, and more.

!Viva Mexico!
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Gives Up. Marijuana legalization will not be on the Florida ballot next year. Regulate Florida, which was the group behind the campaign, conceded Wednesday that it would not be able to gather the 683,000 needed signatures by the February deadline. They may try again in 2018, the group said.

Montana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D) Thursday approved the language of Initiative 178, which would legalize pot for people 21 and over, subject to licensing requirements and state regulations. Petitioners need 24,175 valid voter signatures, including at least 5% of registered voters in each of the state's 343 House districts.

St. Petersburg Ponders Decriminalization. St. Petersburg city council members Thursday asked Pinellas County commissioners to decriminalize small-time pot possession. Council members said that if the county doesn't act, they will draft their own municipal decriminalization proposal. In the past year, local decriminalization has taken off in Florida, with Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, as well as several municipalities in those counties, adopting similar ordinances.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Wants Even More Money for Asset Forfeiture Programs. American law enforcement is seizing property from citizens at a record rate, but that's apparently not good enough for the Justice Department, which is seeking increased funding to support the asset forfeiture activities of the DEA and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The department wants $297.2 million to fund asset forfeiture in FY 2016, up $14 million over the previous year and up a whopping 146% since 2008. The entire federal drug control budget has increased by only 25% during that same period.

Drug Policy

Maine Legislature Caves in to Governor, Agrees to Hire More Drug Agents. Legislative leaders Wednesday unveiled a $4.8 million plan to fight the state's opiate use problem, with half of the funding going to law enforcement, including the hiring of 10 new state drug agents. Gov. Paul Le Page (R) had threatened to call in the National Guard today to fight drugs if the legislature didn't fund his demands. The other half of the money designated would go toward treatment, recovery, and education.

International

Mexico Issues First Permits to Grow and Use Marijuana. The Mexican government has awarded permits to four people that allow them to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. The move comes in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision allowing the four to legally produce it for their own use. Both the court ruling and the permits were limited to the four people in the case, but could pave the way for similar court rulings across the country and, ultimately, pot legalization nationwide.

Danish Parliament Considers Medical Marijuana. The parliament today began debating a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill is sponsored by Alternativet, but has the support of other parties as well. Alternativet, Dansk Folkeparti, Liberal Alliance, Socialistisk Folkeparti, and Radikale all support the bill. Together, they have 88 votes in parliament, precisely the number needed for the measure to pass.

Chronicle AM: Canada Still Legalizing Weed, GAO Rakes Drug Czar Over Drug War Failures, More (12/7/15)

Canada reiterates its intent to legalize pot, there's strong support for expanding medical marijuana in Georgia, the GAO reports that federal drug policy goals are not being met, and more.

Oh, Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Doctors Oppose Legalization. Doctors with the Massachusetts Medical Society voted over the weekend to reaffirm their opposition to marijuana legalization. The move comes as a legalization initiative appears poised to go before voters next year. The doctors voted to continue their opposition to legalization, a policy first adopted in 1997, and also urged that if legalization were to occur, people under 21 should be barred from use.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Expanding Medical Marijuana Law. Under current Georgia law, people with certain illnesses are allowed to use medical marijuana, but it can't be grown or produced in the state. A new poll has 84.5% of respondents supporting expanding that law to allow for in-state cultivation with strict regulation. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has sponsored legislation that would do just that.

Illinois Tells Patients They Can't Be Gun Owners, Then Retreats. Illinois state police sent letters to a handful of patients saying their firearms cards were being revoked, but now say the letters were sent in error. Patients remain skeptical.

Drug Policy

GAO Says National Drug Policy Goals Not Being Met. In a report released today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and other agencies "had not made progress toward achieving most of the goals in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (the Strategy) and ONDCP had established a new mechanism to monitor and assess progress. In the Strategy, ONDCP established seven goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences to be achieved by 2015. As of March 2013, GAO's analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one showed progress and four showed no progress. GAO also reported that ONDCP established a new monitoring system intended to provide information on progress toward Strategy goals and help identify performance gaps and options for improvement. At that time, the system was still in its early stages, and GAO reported that it could help increase accountability for improving progress. In November 2015, ONDCP issued its annual Strategy and performance report, which assess progress toward all seven goals. The Strategy shows progress in achieving one goal, no progress on three goals, and mixed progress on the other three goals. Overall, none of the goals in the Strategy have been fully achieved."

Law Enforcement

The Sickening Use of Young People as Confidential Informants in the Drug War. "Supporters of the drug war often claim that we need to wage this unwinnable war to "protect" young people. 60 Minutes ran an explosive piece last night showing one of the many ways that the war on drugs actually endangers young people: the sickening use of young students as confidential informants," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman. Click on the link for the whole piece.

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Reiterates Vow to Legalize Marijuana. In the annual throne speech last Friday, Governor General David Johnson reiterated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize marijuana. The effort should get moving once parliament is back in session.

Chilean President Removes Marijuana From Hard Drug List. President Michelle Bachelet has signed an order removing marijuana from the country's list of hard drugs and authorizing the sale of marijuana-derived medicines in pharmacies. Marijuana production and distribution remain criminal offenses, but the Congress is expected to discuss wider reforms of the drug laws early next year.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Overdoses Top Priority, Just One MA Init Left, More (12/3/15)

The drug czar is concerned about the rising toll of heroin overdose deaths. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Not a High Priority for Californians. Californians are more concerned with school funding, increasing the minimum wage, and tax levels than they are with marijuana legalization, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The poll found that 88% thought school funding was "very" or "somewhat" important, 80% though increasing the minimum wage was, 76% thought extending tax increases was, but only 49% though legalizing pot was. Fully one-third (32%) of respondents said legalization was "not at all important."

Down to One Legalization Initiative in Massachusetts. The legalization situation is clarifying. Bay State Repeal, which had mounted a grassroots effort to get its own legalization initiative on the ballot next year, has conceded that if failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That leaves the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as the sole possible contender next year. The latter group turned in more than 100,000 voter signatures earlier this week; it needs some 67,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Says Heroin, Prescription Opiate Overdoses Top Priority. Michael Botticelli, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), told a congressional hearing Wednesday that heroin and prescription opiates overdoses are the most urgent issue facing his agency. "There is no more pressing issue," said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation's drug policy. "We have seen a reduction in prescription drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths. We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before." He said that more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013 and that he expects last year's figure to be substantially higher.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Poll Shows Broad Support for Repealing Mandatory Minimums. A poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) found that voters there support repealing mandatory minimum sentences by a margin of three-to-one. Some 62% supported repeal, while only 21% were opposed. Other poll questions showed broad support for sentencing reforms as well. "Massachusetts voters get it," said Barbara J. Dougan, Massachusetts project director for FAMM. "They know that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are a failed public policy. They want these ineffective and expensive laws repealed. The only question left is whether state lawmakers will listen to their constituents."

International

Malaysian Truck Driver Faces Death Sentence for Less Than a Pound of Pot. Abdul Sukur Saiful Bahri, 38, a driver for a government agency, faces a mandatory death sentence after being charged under the country's draconian drug trafficking laws. He was caught with 305 grams of marijuana, about 11 ounces of weed.

Australian Government Creates National Medical Marijuana Licensing Scheme. The federal government has announced a national licensing plan that will remove the need for states and territories to come up with their own regulatory schemes. The national government will now oversee all regulations for medical marijuana. A bill is being drafted to turn the plan into law. That's expected to happen next year.

Medical Marijuana Update

A patient sues the Border Patrol over harassment at checkpoints, Minnesota expands its program to include chronic pain, a New Hampshire patient wins permission to seek medical marijuana next door in Maine, and more.

National

On Monday, a medical marijuana patient sued the Border Patrol over his right to carry medical marijuana. A New Mexico man filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that Border Patrol agents are not following a new rule that allows him to carry medical marijuana without risk of federal charges. Raymundo Marrufo is seeking an injunction against the agency over questions it asks travelers at border checkpoints. Marrufo contends that the Rohrabacher Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states, makes questioning travelers about medical marijuana illegal. "Whether it is a sense of entitlement, indifference or simply ignorance of the law, the court must immediately issue an injunction enjoining the United States Border Patrol from asking questions and conducting searches that violate that Rohrabacher Amendment," the complaint states.

Arizona

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court issued a mixed ruling on medical marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

California

On Monday, the city of Eureka began a temporary moratorium on commercial medical marijuana grows. The move is designed to ensure local decision-making when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1. Localities that have not acted to regulate medical marijuana by then will lose control of regulation to the state.

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council gave final approval to a medical marijuana ban ordinance. The ordinance bans the cultivation, processing, distribution, and delivery of medical marijuana, but appears to have been enacted to ensure the city -- not the state -- is able to regulate medical marijuana when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1.

Also on Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld Fresno County's ban on medical marijuana grows.. The 5th District Court of Appeals held that the local ban does not conflict with state laws allowing medical marijuana cultivation because those laws do not expressly bar a local government from restricting land uses.

Florida

Last Friday, the state approved five medical marijuana growers. The state Department of Health has named the five operations that will be allowed to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana. The state's law limits the use of oils derived from the plants to patients suffering from cancer or a disease that"chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms that can be treated with low-THC cannabis."

Minnesota

On Wednesday, the state announced it would allow medical marijuana for people in chronic pain. State Health Commissioner Ed Ehringer announced today that people suffering from chronic pain will be allowed to participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. The public had backed broadening access, but a panel of medical experts had advised against it. "The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."

New Hampshire

Last Tuesday, a New Hampshire woman won approval to seek medical marijuana in Maine. A woman suffering from late-stage lung cancer can seek to buy medical marijuana in neighboring Maine, a judge ruled last Tuesday. Linda Horan, 64, said she could be dead by the time dispensaries open in New Hampshire, so she sued the state to get an ID card that would allow her to purchase it in Maine. The state had argued that issuing her an ID card would undermine its need to control distribution, but the judge wasn't buying that argument. "She is suffering from a painful, terminal disease and is also undergoing chemotherapy. There is no dispute that cannabis can ameliorate some of her suffering," wrote Judge Richard McNamara. "She will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted."

North Dakota

On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature gathering. An initiative campaign led by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care has been approved for signature gathering. Organizers will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a House medical marijuana task force was announced. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said that the House is preparing to launch a task force to study the legalization of medical marijuana. The move comes a month after voters defeated a pot legalization initiative that would have also allowed for medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Wyoming

On Sunday, the state's medical marijuana initiative was faltering amid inflighting. The head of Wyoming NORML resigned and said he believes the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot is over. Chris Christian said petitioners had gathered only about 5,000 of the 20,000 voter signatures required to make the ballot. NORML Deputy Director Lee Roth wasn't ready to call it quits, though; he said he hoped new leadership would bolster support.

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

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