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Chronicle AM: Reps Challenge DOJ on Dispensary Prosecutions, CO Harm Reduction Bills, More (4/3/15)

A pair of congressmen reject the Justice Department's stance that it can still prosecute California dispensaries, an Alaska marijuana regulation bill moves, a Mississippi legalization initiative gets a boost, two Colorado harm reduction bills become law, and more.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) says DOJ is wrong to say it can still prosecute California dispensaries. (congress.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill. The House Thursday gave final approval to House Bill 75, which clarifies the ability of localities to ban or regulate commercial pot businesses. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Florida Activist Will Help Pay for Mississippi Legalization Initiative Signatures. Jeremy Bufford, president of Florida's Medical Marijuana United, has announced he will pay $1 for each valid signature gathered for Ballot Initiative 48, the Mississippi marijuana legalization initiative. He said he would pay $2 per signature in some areas of the state where people have been reluctant to sign. The initiative campaign needs 107,216 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Congressmen Reject DOJ Claim It Can Still Prosecute California Dispensaries. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), authors of the successful congressional budget amendment protecting medical marijuana in states where it is legal, have rejected Justice Department claims that it can still go after dispensaries in California. "The Justice Department's interpretation of the amendment defies logic," Farr said. "No reasonable person thinks prosecuting patients doesn't interfere with a state's medical marijuana laws. Lawyers can try to mince words but Congress was clear: Stop going after patients and dispensaries." A Rohrabacher spokesman added that "the congressman believes the amendment's language is perfectly clear and that the DOJ's self-referential interpretation is emphatically wrong."

Idaho Senate Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The bill was killed in committee on Monday, but brought back to life Thursday and passed the Senate today. Senate Bill 1146 would allow for the use of CBD for "intractable seizure disorder." It won the support of all seven Democratic state senators and 15 of 27 Republican state senators.

Harm Reduction

Colorado Governor Signs Harm Reduction Bills. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) today signed into law two harm reduction bills: SB 15-53, which expands access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and SB 15-116, under which people carrying needles would not be subject to arrest if they reveal they have them prior to being searched by police.

International

Indian Maoists Fund Their Fight With Marijuana. Officials in Orisha state say that Maoist militants known as Naxalites are relying on marijuana cultivation as a major source of funding. The Naxalite rebellion has festered in parts of the country for decades.

Chronicle AM: DOJ Says It Can Still Prosecute Dispensaries, GA Forfeiture Bill Passes, More (4/2/15)

A Tennessee "decrim" bill moves, an Idaho CBD cannabis oil bill is back from the dead, a Georgia asset forfeiture reform bill passes, the Justice Department says it can still prosecute California dispensaries, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Bill to Lessen Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would make possession of up to an ounce a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine was approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 873, now goes before the House Finance and Ways and Means Committee. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1211, is set to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Under current law, possession of between a half-ounce and 10 pounds is a felony.

Medical Marijuana

Justice Department Says It Can Still Prosecute California Dispensaries. A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday that the congressional ban on the agency interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal does not apply to California dispensary prosecutions. Patrick Rodenbush said the department does not believe the amendment to a spending bill applies to cases against individuals, but only stops Justice from "impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws."

Florida CBD Implementation Bill Faces More Challenges. A bill trying to get the state's CBD cannabis oil law, passed last year, actually implemented is now facing a new challenge: how to give black farmers a fair shot at growing the new crop. The existing law only allows farms that have been in existence for at least 30 years and that grow 400,000 plants or more to apply for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the crop. But hundreds of black farmers say they are being cut out of the deal because 30 years ago, they were still fighting with the US Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and weren't yet in business. The sponsor of both last year's successful bill and this year's implementation bill, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), said he would attempt to address the issue. The bill is Senate Bill 7066.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill is Back from the Dead. The bill, Senate Bill 1146, was killed on a tie vote in the House State Affairs Committee Monday, but the committee has agreed to reconsider it and was set to meet today for further discussion on it. If it passes the committee, it could go to a House floor vote tomorrow.

Prescription Opiates

FDA to Help Drug Makers Develop Abuse-Deterrent Opiates. "The science of abuse-deterrent medication is rapidly evolving, and the FDA is eager to engage with manufacturers to help make these medications available to patients who need them," Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the FDA's commissioner, said in a press release. "We feel this is a key part of combating opioid abuse. We have to work hard with industry to support the development of new formulations that are difficult to abuse but are effective and available when needed." The agency also issued a document called "Guidance for Industry: Abuse-Deterrent Opioids -- Evaluation and Labeling," outlining how future studies can decide whether a new drug has abuse-deterrent properties.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would standardize asset forfeiture procedures easily passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill is House Bill 233. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R). The bill creates safeguards for owners of seized assets, requires regular accounting, and prohibits law enforcement agencies from using seized goods for anything other than law enforcement.

Chronicle AM: Holder Takes on Forfeiture Again, NY Medical Marijuana Final Rules, More (4/1/15)

It's mainly medical marijuana news today, but there's also another move on asset forfeiture from Attorney General Holder.

Eric Holder
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of CBD cannabis oil, quadruple the number of dispensing organizations to 20, and establishe a time frame for issuing licenses.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed in Committee. The House State Affairs Committee listened to hours of tearful testimony from supporters of Senate Bill 1146, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children, then voted to kill it Monday.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Select Committee on General Laws has approved House Bill 800, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a handful of specified diseases. It would also allow for up to 30 dispensaries.

New York Issues Final Regulations for Medical Marijuana Program; Advocates Upset. The state has issued final regulations for the program, and they are very similar to the heavily-criticized draft regulations it started out with several months ago. The regs limit the number of dispensaries to 20 and don't add any new qualifying conditions. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the law's sponsor, said the final regs are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Health Subcommittee unanimously approved Tuesday a medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookville). The measure, which would not allow for the smoking of marijuana, now goes to the full House Health Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Announces New Curbs on Civil Asset Forfeiture. Federal authorities will only seize bank accounts when serious illegalities have been documented, he said Tuesday. The guidance focuses on Justice Department and IRS agents who have made seizures related to "structuring," or intentionally limiting the size of deposits to avoid scrutiny. "With this new policy, the Department of Justice is taking action to ensure that we are allocating our resources to address the most serious offenses," Holder said in a statement. "Appropriate use of asset forfeiture law allows the Justice Department to safeguard the integrity, security and stability of our nation's financial system while protecting the civil liberties of all Americans."

Chronicle AM: AK Pot Bill Advances, Obama Commutes Drug Sentences, Brit Drug Spat, More (3/31/15)

There will still be marijuana felonies under a bill moving in Alaska, North Dakota has a new hemp law, an Arkansas welfare drug test bill heads to the governor's desk, Obama commutes sentences, and more.

Are there hemp fields on the horizon in North Dakota? (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Senate Passes Marijuana Bill -- Without Ban on Concentrates. The Senate voted Monday night to approve SB 30, the bill designed to update the state's criminal code to reflect marijuana's legalized status. The bill was approved 17-3 after an amendment to make concentrates illegal in two years was defeated. It continues to list pot as a controlled substance and has provisions making it a felony to possess more than a pound or to grow more than 25 plants. It also bans pot businesses in unorganized boroughs.

Another Maine Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) has filed a bill to allow adults 21 and over to use marijuana, regulate commercial sales, and tax them at 15%. The bill is still being drafted and is not yet available on the legislative web site. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) has also filed a legalization bill, but its language isn't completed yet, either. There are also two separate legalization initiative campaigns brewing the in the state.

Hemp

North Dakota Governor Signs Hemp Bill Telling Feds to Butt Out. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) last Friday signed House Bill 1436, which allows farmers to apply to grow the crop for either research or commercial purposes. The bill says that "license required by this section is not conditioned on or subject to review or approval by the United States drug enforcement agency," a direct jab at the DEA. Instead, licensing will be up to the state agriculture department.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Legislature Passes "Suspicion Based" Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House Monday approved Senate Bill 600, which would set up a two-year pilot program for "suspicion based" drug screening and testing of public benefits applicants. The Senate, which had already approved it, gave it a final approval today, and the bill now heads to the governor's desk.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Needle Exchange Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Public Health Committee Monday approved a bill to allow needle exchanges in the 23 counties in the state with the highest rates of hepatitis C infections. The bill actually addresses an HIV outbreak in southeastern Scott County, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) days ago issued an executive order allowing for emergency needle exchanges. The bill now goes to the House floor.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Slams Foes As "Weak on Drugs." Faced with legislative skepticism over his proposals to beef up the state's drug enforcement apparatus, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has come out swinging. "They are weak on drugs," LePage told reporters, describing the legislators. "They simply don't want to deal with the problem. Frankly, they shouldn't be in this hall, they shouldn't be in this building if they can't take care of our children. And the gloves are off now."

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences of 22 Drug Offenders. The president today doubled the number of drug sentence commutations he has issued in one fell swoop by cutting sentences for 22 drug offenders, mostly crack cocaine offenders and mostly doing sentences of 20 years or more. Eight were doing life sentences for drug offenses, including one doing life for growing pot plants.

International

Spanish Cannabis Club Wins Acquittal. The provincial court in Vizcaya has acquitted five people accused of violating Spanish law by forming a club to grow and consume marijuana. The members of the Pannagh collective were charged with drug trafficking and "criminal organization," but in a victory for cannabis advocates, the court held that Pannagh acted within the limits of the concept of "collective cultivation."

British Labor Party Attacks Lib Dems as "Soft on Crime, Drugs, and Thugs." Labor has put out a leaflet attacking the Liberal Democrats on drug and crime policy ahead of looming parliamentary elections, but Labor is taking lots of flak for its efforts. One critic called the Labor approach "medieval," another accused it of underestimating the intelligence of the electorate, and yet another accused Labor of "turning their back on progressive, sensible, evidence-based reform."

Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Including Eight Lifers

President Obama today commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal drug offenders. With that action, he has doubled the number of commutations he has issued since taking office in January 2009.

President Obama commuted 22 drug sentences today. (whitehouse.gov)
The prisoners who got their sentences cut were all convicted of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Fourteen of the cases involved cocaine.

Many of those were convicted under harsh crack cocaine sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and at least partially rolled back during the Obama administration. The sentences were typically 20 years or longer, with most of the prisoners having already served more than a decade behind bars.

In eight cases, the defendants were serving life sentences for drug crimes. Among the life sentences, six were for crack cocaine offenses (one included heroin, too), one was for a meth offense, and one was for a Kentucky man convicted of growing more than a thousand marijuana plants.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement announcing the commutations. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years -- in some cases more than a decade -- longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

In a first, the president also sent letters to each of the prisoners whose sentences he commuted urging them to take full advantage of any post-release opportunities.

"I wanted to personally inform you that I have granted your application for commutation," President Obama told Terry Barnes at the Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Barnes was only halfway through a 20 year sentence for crack cocaine distribution.

The same letter went out to the other 21 commutees as well.

The prisoners will see their sentences end on July 28. For a complete list, click on the link at the top of this article.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: CA Poll Has 55% for Legalization, GA MedMJ CBD Bill Passes, DEA Sex Parties, More (3/26/15)

Marijuana and medical marijuana remain hot items at the statehouse, a new report says DEA agents partied with prostitutes paid for by drug traffickers, Indiana's governor okays emergency needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Bill Would Still Treat Pot as Controlled Substance. The state Senate is preparing to vote Friday on the bill to deal with marijuana post-legalization, but it will vote on a version of Senate Bill 30 that keeps marijuana listed as a controlled substance. A Judiciary Committee draft removed marijuana from the list, but the Senate voted as a whole to adopt instead language from the Finance committee that keeps it on the list.

New California Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll has 55% of Californians supporting marijuana legalization. "Support for legalization is at its highest point since PPIC began asking the question in May 2010," the group noted.

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy Releases Policy Road Map Today. A group of experts led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is today unveiling a "progress report" that outlines issues that should be addressed in any legalization initiative going before voters next year. The commission also includes the ACLU, leading academics, law enforcement officials, and activists.

Massachusetts Prosecutors Reject Legalization. State DAs showed little interest in legalizing marijuana at a statehouse hearing Wednesday. "We ought to turn ourselves into Denver, Colorado, where gummy bears are littering the streets that are made of marijuana?" asked Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe in a typical comment from prosecutors. If the legislature doesn't legalize pot this year or next, the state is extremely likely to see one or more initiatives to do so next year.

New Jersey Governor Says Marijuana Tax Revenue is "Blood Money." Gov. Chris Christie (R) used the occasion of the ribbon-cutting event at a drug treatment facility to reiterate his opposition to marijuana legalization. Christie said marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that tax revenues from its sale would amount to "blood money."

ResponsibleOhio Begins Signature Gathering. Signature gathering started Wednesday for the group's marijuana legalization initiative, which is unique and controversial because of its scheme to essentially create a commercial marijuana monopoly with only 10 registered commercial growers. The group needs some 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for this year's ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal CBD Bill Filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

Georgia CBD Passes Legislature, Governor Will Sign. The House Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

North Carolina House Committee Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Heroin and Opiates

Kentucky Legislature Passes Compromise Heroin Bill. After more than three years of negotiations, the legislature has passed a bill that will allow for needle exchange programs, but also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is expected to sign the bill.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Authorizes Limited Needle Exchange Program to Fight HIV Outbreak. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen 79 new HIV cases since December, all tied to needle sharing among drug users. The move allows him to institute a short-term needle exchange program to attempt to slow the outbreak.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has approved House Bill 1924, which would establish a pilot program to require welfare applicants to undergo screening for drug use and submit to drug tests if deemed "suspicious." The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agents in Colombia Enjoyed "Sex Parties" Paid for By Drug Traffickers. A new report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that foreign drug trafficking organizations paid for "sex parties" attended by DEA agents, including at least one DEA Supervisory Agent. At least seven overseas agents admitting attending parties with prostitutes, and they were hit with penalties of suspensions ranging from two to10 days. The DEA wasn't especially helpful in preparing the report, the OIG noted.

International

New Zealand Prime Minister Rejects Marijuana Decriminalization. Prime Minister John Key said while campaigning Thursday that he did not support marijuana decriminalization. When accused by a listener of wanting to lock people up, he said, "It's not so much that, I just don't agree with drugs." That prompted Northland candidate Maki Herbert to retort that Key was sending mixed messages. "On the one hand he wants cannabis to remain a crime but he denies wanting to lock people in jail for that crime," she said. "Mr. Key should remember that alcohol is also a drug, one which he admits to using regularly."

Crucial New Campaign Needs Your Help

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/stopsign-200px.jpg
Dear reformer:

We have launched an important and unique new campaign, and I am writing to ask your help -- financial with a donation, activist through the involvement of your own organization, or both.

The campaign is a US-based coalition taking on international drug policy in the US and at the UN. It is the first coalition of its type in drug policy reform. We released our first statement -- a broad and groundbreaking one -- at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting in Vienna last week. The statement was distributed to the 200 national delegations and agencies in attendance. Over 50 organizations have endorsed the statement so far, some of them major.

This project is important for a number of reasons:

  • Marijuana legalization challenges a provision of the UN drug treaties that calls for drugs to be criminalized.
  • The treaties potentially threaten US legalization -- when the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska challenged Colorado's law in court, treaty obligations was one of the points they made. I don't believe that US courts will overturn state legalization or that they'll do so because of the treaties, but we can't be sure.
  • The treaties deter many other countries that might be interested in trying out legalization from doing so. Having fewer countries to point to as examples in turn makes it a longer road for us here.
  • Many other issues are affected by international drug policy as well -- human rights issues, public health issues, economic development, human security, access to medicine.

The reason I'm writing now is that circumstances have lined up to give hope that we can get something done. But those circumstances have also created a need to move further and faster than we can do with our current resources:

  • The State Department has called for countries to have the flexibility to experiment with legalization, of marijuana or other drugs -- a 180 degree reversal from the US's longtime global drug warrior stance. But they have also opposed amending the treaties to match the stance.
  • Last week the first country, Jamaica, announced it will work for reform of the drug treaties, a game-changer if they can get support from other countries. There needs to be a strong voice from the US supporting them.
  • In May the UN in New York will hold a "Thematic Session," on drug policy, pushed for by the government of Mexico against tough resistance, their goal being an "open discussion." Congress is likely to take up its foreign affairs appropriations legislation in June, with hearings before then.
  • In late June the UN will hold its annual "International Day Against Drug Abuse," and release its annual World Drug Report, an important moment in the debate on global drug policy. We need to be prepared to make our case in the media and to take part in global demonstrations being organized by reformers.
  • All of these events lead up to the April 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), the biggest major opportunity to engage drug policy at the UN since 1998. The UNGASS was originally to be held in 2019, but was moved up at the request of Latin American governments who stated they want to see change in drug policy.
  • Last but not least, one of the most egregious human rights violations in the drug war, the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses, has provoked outrage in several countries whose citizens face execution in Indonesia and has captured the attention of the media. There was passionate discussion of this in Vienna, and it's going to continue in New York. We need to press the UN and the US government to stop using our taxpayer dollars to fund work in these countries that can lead to executions.

For our coalition to take a forceful stand:

  • We need to hire staff for it;
  • We need to increase the amount of time that current staff can spend on it; and
  • We need to contract for media relations help.

Donations to our tax-deductible nonprofit, DRCNet Foundation, and our non-deductible lobbying nonprofit, Drug Reform Coordination Network, both can be put toward this project and support those needs. Please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate to donate by credit card or PayPal, or send your check or money order (made out to one of the two names listed above) to P.O. 9853, Washington, DC 20016. We also accept donations by stock -- the information to give your brokerage is Ameritrade, (800) 669-3900), DTC #0188, and account number 781926492 for tax-deductible gifts to DRCNet Foundation or 864663500 for non-deductible gifts to Drug Reform Coordination Network -- please contact us if you are donating in this way.

If your organization can endorse our statement (linked above), or you would like to consider it but need more information, please let us know by replying to this email or writing to borden@drcnet.org. I would also be happy to speak with potential endorsers or coalition supporters by phone as well.

Thank you for being a part of drug policy reform and for your support of our work. With your help we will succeed -- time, and the truth, are on our side!

Sincerely,

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org
P.O. Box 9853
Washington, DC 20016
http://stopthedrugwar.org

Chronicle AM: DEA "Cold Consent" Searches, NYC Calls for Pot Legalization, KY Heroin Bills Collide, More (3/20/15)

An Ohio legalization initiative heads for signature-gathering, the NYC city council calls for decrim and legalization, the DEA's "cold consent" searches get critiqued, Kentucky pols can't agree on how to deal with heroin, and more.

A Justice Department OIG report criticizes the DEA's "cold consent" seaches. (justice.gov)
Marijuana

Louisiana Legalization Bill Pre-Filed. State Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has pre-filed a marijuana legalization bill. He submitted House Bill 117 yesterday. To go into effect, it would have to both pass the legislature and be approved by the electorate in the November 2016 election. Louisiana has some of the country's harshest marijuana laws.

Ohio Ballot Board Clears ResponsibleOhio Legalization Initiative. Backers of the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative have cleared the final hurdle before beginning signature-gathering. The state Ballot Board agreed that the proposal amounts to a single constitutional amendment, so it's good to go. Backers will now need to gather more than 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for the ballot. The amendment would allow only 10 growing sites already promised to investors.

NYC City Council Calls for Decriminalizing and Legalizing Marijuana. This week, the New York City Council called for the state to pass legislation to both decriminalize and to tax and regulate marijuana. As part of the Council's State Budget and Legislative Agenda for the 2015-2016 legislative session, the council urged the state legislature to pass two marijuana policy reforms -- the Fairness and Equity Act and the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA). The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito had previously announced her support for marijuana legalization in November, but this marks the first time that decriminalization and legalization have been part of the Council's official legislative agenda.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 1 yesterday. The measure has passed the House and now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Methamphetamine

New York Senate Approves Bill to Increase Meth Penalties. The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1150, which would increase penalties for meth possession and sale. Meth would be treated similarly to heroin and cocaine under the bill. The bill is now in the Assembly Codes Committee as Assembly Bill 5577.

Opiates

Kentucky Legislators Still Can't Agree on Heroin Bills. House and Senate negotiators met yesterday to try to reach a compromise on competing bills that address heroin use in the state, but mainly agreed to disagree. There are differences over increasing penalties for heroin dealers, whether to allow needle exchanges, and on how to protect people who report overdoses. There is now a chance legislators could agree on a compromise that simply omits the sentencing and overdose reporting provisions.

Asset Forfeiture

Sen. Chuck Grassley Investigating Asset Forfeiture Abuses in US Marshals Service. The Iowa Republican sent a letter Wednesday to the agency demanding documents after he received whistleblower allegations that the service's Asset Forfeiture Division had used asset forfeiture monies "to purchase extravagant office decorations such as custom wall paper and window treatments." He is also looking into allegations of favoritism in hiring at the agency.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Report Criticizes DEA's "Cold Consent" Searches. In a new report, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General details how the DEA's use of "cold consent" searches, where agents confront travelers at airports, bus, and rail stations and "ask" for consent to search them, may be racially profiling passengers and unjustly seizing their money. Click on the title link or read the report for lots more detail.

Reentry and Rehabilitation

Ex-Felon Federal Voting Rights Bills Filed. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has filed S 772 to secure the federal voting rights of people who have served their time. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has filed a companion bill, HR 1459, in the House.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up More Cosponsors. The Senate version, S 502, now has nine cosponsors, with the latest being Sen. John Isaakson (R-GA). The House version, HR 920, now has 22 cosponsors, with six signing on in the past week. The bills would retroactively apply provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act and would reduce mandatory minimum sentences.

International

Canada Supreme Court Takes Up Medical Marijuana Edibles. The high court is hearing a case where plaintiffs charge that Health Canada violated medical marijuana patients' constitutional rights to life, liberty, and safety by barring any form of marijuana except dried plants. The government has lost at every step of the legal process so far, but continues to argue the case.

Zambia Opposition Party Joins Green Call for Marijuana Legalization. Zambia's second largest opposition party, the United Party for National Development, has joined the Greens in calling for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. "There is nothing wrong with cannabis. Just like you and me 'dear reader' Cannabis Sativa, the plant, was also created by God," wrote party vice-president for political affairs Canisius Banda. "Cannabis is a resource. Cannabis must be decriminalized the world over. Nonetheless, regulation, albeit wise, just as it exists for many other things ought to remain. Just like Zambia boasts of Copper, California boasts of Cannabis, the biggest cash crop, responsible for US$14 billion a year in sales. Zambia would do well, under decriminalized but controlled conditions, to start growing Cannabis, and at least, for now until we are a bit more civilized, only for export to countries that have made it legal."

Chronicle AM: Good New Pot Polls, State Dept. Drug Report Released, UN Iran Drug Aid Criticized, More (3/19/15)

A new national pot poll has good numbers and so does a Vermont poll, a Washington state home grow bill is filed, a Missouri hemp bill moves, the DEA warns on fentanyl, critics pounce on the UNODC over aid to Iran, and more.

UNODC is preparing a new drug aid package for Iran despite the country's resort to the death penalty. (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana

Benenson Strategy Group Poll Has Support for Legalization at 61% Nationwide. The poll, which has a 3.5 +/- margin of error, also has 72% for decriminalization. A General Social Survey poll, the "gold standard" of polls, last week had support at 52%. Other recent polls have also found support above the 50% mark. In this week's BSG poll, Republicans were practically split, but 59% of GOP voters under age 50 supported legalization.

Massachusetts Initiative Group Warns Legislators on Excessive Taxation. The group Bay State Repeal, which intends to run a legalization initiative campaign next year, has released a statement saying it welcomed legislative efforts to legalize it, but cautioned against excessive taxation and fees. "A major aim of legalization is to limit access to minors by driving out the black market," the group said in its statement. "But inevitably, unlicensed producers will continue to supply consumers at the black market if legal marijuana is more expensive."

Vermont Poll Has Support for Legalization at 54%. A new Castleton Polling Institute survey has a majority for legalization, with 70% of respondents under 45 in favor and 61% of respondents over 65 opposed. The poll comes as the legislature considers a legalization bill, but signs are the bill will not move this year.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Grows. Washington is the only legalization state that does not allow home cultivation (except for medical), but a pair of bills introduced today would change that. Senate Bill 6083, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and House Bill 2196, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake, would let adults 21 and over grow up to six plants and possess up to eight ounces of their harvest.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolinians Rally for New Medical Marijuana Bill in Raleigh. More than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol today in support of House Bill 317, which would allow for medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients. Rep. Kelly Alexander formally introduced it today.

Tennessee GOP Senator Says He Will File Medical Marijuana Bill. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is working on a bill that would allow for medical marijuana. He said he expected to have final details by Monday. A Democratic bill in the House has yet to make it out of committee.

Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Heads for House Floor Vote -- Maybe. An industrial hemp bill, H.B. 830 has passed its final House committee hurdle and awaits a House floor vote. But it is unclear whether House Majority Leader Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will give it time for a debate and a vote.

Opiates

DEA Warns on Fentanyl. Fentanyl is increasingly showing up in heroin, the DEA warned yesterday. The opioid is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and dealers are using it to increase the potency of their products, but the result can be accidental overdoses. "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

International

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "The two-volume report offers a comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign governments to reduce illicit narcotics production, trafficking and use, in keeping with their international obligations under UN treaties, while also presenting information on governments' efforts to counter money laundering and terrorist financing," State says. Click on the link to read the report.

UNODC Preparing New Iran Aid Deal Despite Drug Executions. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is planning a new five-year financial assistance deal with Iran, one of the world's leading executioners for drug crimes. Iran executed at least 350 drug offenders last year and about two a day so far this year. That has critics very unhappy. "Iran has hanged more than a hundred so-called drug offenders this year, and the UN has responded by praising the efficiency of the Iranian drug police and lining them up a generous five-year funding deal," said Maya Foa, strategic director of the death penalty team for Reprieve, a British advocacy group.

Israeli Marijuana Party Fails to Reach Threshold to Enter Knesset. Aleh Yarok, the Israeli political party pushing for marijuana legalization, failed to gain the 3.25% of the popular vote needed to give it representation in the Knesset. Aleh Yarok garnered only 38,000 votes, or 0.97% of the vote. The party may have lost some votes to Meretz, which appealed to youth voters by also embracing marijuana reforms.

Chronicle AM: Obama on Pot, Welfare Drug Test Bills, Italy Marijuana Legalization Bill, More (3/17/15)

Obama pontificiates on pot policy, Maine tribes consider legal marijuana, North Dakota not only doesn't want medical marijuana but doesn't even want to think about it, welfare drug testing dies in Montana, but stays alive in Arkansas, and more.

The president had a few words to say about marijuana today. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana

Obama Comments on Marijuana, Policy, and Priorities. In an interview with VICE News on Monday, President Obama said marijuana law reforms at the state level could lead to changes at the federal level, but also said that legalization is not "a panacea" and that it shouldn't be young people's highest priority.

Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Past Marijuana Convictions Can Be Expunged. The court held that since the state decriminalized small-time marijuana possession in 2011, people who had been charged with it prior to that can apply to get their convictions erased. The case is Connecticut v. Menditto.

Maine Tribes Ponder Pot Operations. Three of the state's four Indian tribes are considering marijuana legalization on their lands and whether it could prove an economic boon to their communities. The Passamaquoddys, the Maliseet Houlton Band, and the Micmac Aroostook Band are pondering the issue; the Penobscots say they're not interested.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota House Kills Medical Marijuana Study Bill. Not only does the legislature not want to approve medical marijuana; it doesn't even want to study it. The House earlier killed a medical marijuana bill and now it has killed a study bill, with opponents claiming it wasn't needed because the House Human Services Committee "couldn't find anything that wasn't already taken care of in the hearing process."

Drug Testing

Arkansas Senate Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The bill would create a two-year pilot program that would screen at least 10% of welfare applicants and recipients, and if the screening results in "a reasonable suspicion" that the person is using drugs, he would be subjected to drug testing. The measure is Senate Bill 600. It now goes to the House.

Montana Senate Committee Kills Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Safety Committee voted 6-1 to kill a bill that would require welfare applicants to be screened for evidence of drug use and some to be drug tested. The bill was House Bill 200. It had already passed the House.

International

Sixty Italian Lawmakers Sign on To Support Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill from MP Benedetto Della Vedova to legalize marijuana has won the support of 60 of his fellow legislators. That's a start, but it's only a little over 10% of the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies.

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