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Chronicle AM: Historic Fed MedMJ Bill Filed, Coca Boom Falters, Wichita Weed Wars, More (3/10/15)

A bipartisan trio of US senators roll out a historic medical marijuana bill, American Indian tribes form a cannabis coalition, medical marijuana loses by one vote in Utah, South America's coca boom may be ending, and more.

Cocaine seized by Spanish police. Will there be more where that came from?
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Attorney General Says Wichita Decriminalization Initiative Unlawful. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a letter to city officials that the pending initiative "may not be lawfully adopted" and shouldn't be put before voters. But residents are still likely to have a chance to vote on it. Then it will be up to the attorney general to file a lawsuit to block it. The measure would "conflict with uniform state law in numerous ways and would be void," the attorney general says.

National Indian Cannabis Coalition Forms. The country's first Native American-focused marijuana trade group launched today at a reservation economic summit in Las Vegas. The group's mission is "to inform and educate tribal leaders on the emerging regulated cannabis markets from an entrepreneurial and operations perspective," says its website.

Medical Marijuana

Historic Federal Bill to Legalize Medical Marijuana Rolled Out Today. A bipartisan trio of senators today introduced historic legislation to legalize medical marijuana at the federal level. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana and allow states to set their own policies. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website. Click the link for more details.

Revised Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Would Allow Affirmative Defense. The bill, Senate Bill 1169, has been revised to address concerns from law enforcement. It would no longer legalize the use of CBD cannabis oil, but would provide for an affirmative defense in case of arrest.The original bill would have removed CBD cannabis oil from the state's law banning marijuana.

Tennessee CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Wins House Panel Vote. The measure, House Bill 109, was approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. It now moves to the House Criminal Committee, where chairman William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) says it has his support.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Dies by One Vote. A bill that would have made Utah a medical marijuana state was defeated last night. Senate Bill 259, filed by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) lost on a vote of 15-14 in the Senate.

International

Coca Boom Over? Coca and cocaine production in South America appears to be stalling, with all three major coca-producing countries—Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru—seeing declines in acreage planted and overall cocaine production. Click on the link for more details.

Patients from 13 Countries Form International Medical Marijuana Coalition. They have formed the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC) this past week gathered at a medical marijuana conference in Prague. Member countries include Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The US delegation is led by Americans for Safe Access.

Conservative Dutch Justice Minister Forced Out in Drug Dealer Cash Payment Scandal. Marijuana foe Ivo Opstelten and his deputy, Fred Treeven, resigned yesterday rather than face parliamentary questioning over revelations they authorized the repayment of millions of dollars to the drug dealer from whom it had been seized. Teeven actually authorized the 2001 payment, but Opstelten misled parliament about it. Now, they're both gone. 

Chronicle AM: UN Drug Session in Vienna, Bernard Noble Rally in New Orleans, AZ Welfare Drug Test Flop, More (3/9/15)

The global drug prohibition bureaucracy meets in Vienna, researchers say banning psychedelics offends human rights, new synthetics increase in Europe, an Arizona welfare drug testing bill comes up short in results, and more. Let's get to it;

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs gets down to business in Vienna. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington House Approves Marijuana Deals With Tribes. The House last Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow the state's Indian tribes to participate in the state's legal marijuana industry. The bill is House Bill 2000, and it now goes to the state Senate.

First Government-Run Pot Shop Opens in Washington Town. The city of North Bonneville, Washington, has become the first government entity to open a marijuana retail store. The Cannabis Corner opened over the weekend after the city won approval from the state.

Psychedelics

Prohibition on Psychedelics An Offense Against Human Rights, Researchers Say. A pair of Norwegian researchers who, after studying population data from more than 135,000 people, including 19,000 users of psychedelics, reported no link between using psychedelics and mental health problems, have said that continuing to ban them has no justifiable public health basis and is "against human rights." Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Arizona Welfare Drug Testing Law Didn't Produce Predicted Savings. When the state passed its welfare drug testing law in 2009, lawmakers said it would save about $1.7 million a year by removing drug users from welfare rolls. Not quite. In the more than five years since the law went into effect, only 42 people were flagged for drug tests. Of those, 23 didn't take the drug test and were denied benefits for one year. Nineteen other took the drug test; only three failed. The total savings are now estimated at $3,500 over the entire period, not $1.7 million a year.

Harm Reduction

Mississippi 911 Good Samaritan Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people who report active drug overdoses in a bid to get medical assistance has passed the state Senate and a key House committee. Senate Bill 2780 now awaits a House floor vote.

Pregnancy

Oklahoma Bill Would Charge Pregnant Drug Users With Assaulting Fetus. A bill that would change the definition of assault to include illegal drug use by a pregnant woman has won a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee and awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate Bill 559 would still have to get through the House.

Sentencing

New Orleans Rally for Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Supporters of Bernard Noble, who is doing 13 years in state prison for possessing two marijuana joints, rallied Saturday to support a campaign to gain clemency or a commutation for him. All appeals to state courts have failed, and now it's up to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) to act.

International

Morocco's Main Opposition Party Calls for Amnesty for Hash Growers. The Istiqlal Party, the largest opposition party, has called on the parliament to adopt a bill that would grant amnesty to hashish farmers. The party says that more than 300,000 people make a living in the hash fields.  The party's proposed bill would limit hash cultivation to specified regions of the country. The Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) has also called for the legalization of marijuana cultivation. Morocco is one of the world's leading cannabis producers.

More than A Hundred New Synthetic Drugs Appeared in Europe Last Year. The European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported today that 101 new substances were reported last year by the European Union's Early Warning System, up from 81 in 2013. That means more than 450 new synthetic drugs have been identified by the agency, more than half in the last three years alone. Click on the link for more details.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Session Underway in Vienna.The 58th annual session got underway in Vienna today. It comes as the international drug prohibition consensus crumbles in the face of drug war failures and moves to liberalize drug laws, especially marijuana laws. This is also part of the lead-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs. 

Louisiana Man Gets 13 Years for Two Joints, Commutation Campaign Underway [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

Bernard Noble has already spent nearly four years in a Louisiana prison for being caught with two marijuana cigarettes -- and he's still less than a third of the way through a 13-year sentence with no shot at parole. The sentence is outrageous, but hardly unique in a state with one of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Under Louisiana law, possession of any amount of marijuana up to 60 pounds is punishable by six months in jail on a first offense, up to five years in prison for a second offense, and up to 20 years in prison for a third offense. While first- and second-time offenders are eligible for probation, third-time offenders are not. Distributing any amount of pot, even a joint or two, garners a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, and that includes possession with intent to distribute.

Add in the gross racial disparities in marijuana possession busts -- African-Americans in the state are 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for than whites and account for nearly two-thirds of all pot arrests while making up less than one-third of the population -- and you have a pipeline to prison for black Louisianans.

In Bernard Noble's case, getting caught with a couple of joints morphed into more than 13 years behind bars because of the way the state's harsh marijuana laws intersect with its harsh habitual offender law (known colloquially as "the bitch.") Because Noble had two previous drug possession offenses, one 12 years old and one 24 years old, he fell under the purview of the habitual offender law.

Even though his current offense was trivial (marijuana is decriminalized in nearly 20 states and possession is legalized in four others and DC) and even though his previous offenses were low-level and nonviolent, the statute called for the 13 years, without parole.

Taking into account Noble's minor criminal history, his work record, and his role as the breadwinner for a family with seven children, and making special note of his overpayment of child support to children not living with him, his sentencing judge departed from the statute and sentenced him to only five years. Orleans Parish prosecutors appealed the lower sentence to the state Supreme Court and got the 13-year sentence reinstated last year.

"Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and a lead author of a brief to the state Supreme Court in the case. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture."

It has also shattered Noble's family and destroyed his fledgling business, a restaurant in Kansas City. Noble had relocated there after Hurricane Katrina and has just returned to New Orleans for a family visit. He left his grandmother's house on a bike ride four years ago and never made it back. He's been locked up ever since.

Bobby Jindal has a chance to do the right thing. (gov.state.la.us)
But there's renewed hope for the black, 48-year-old New Orleans family man, even if it's a longshot. Lawyers working on his case are preparing to formally seek a commutation for him from Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) within the next few days, and they, supporters, and advocates are hoping to light a fire under the governor hot enough to make him act. A rally is set for Sunday to draw attention to his case.

If Jindal's record is any indication, though, it will have to be quite a fire: During his time as governor, Jindal has granted only 40 of 390 commutations requested.

"This is one of the most egregious cases, a real heart breaker," said Yolanda Cadore, director of strategic partnerships for the Drug Policy Alliance. "He's been in there 44 months, and he's not even close to finishing his sentence. He's just passing time. The only rehab available is drug treatment."

Noble's sentence also plays into another ugly dynamic in Louisiana: imprisonment for profit. Back in the 1990s, during another overcrowding crisis, parish sheriffs were offered a cut of future profits if they covered the cost of building prisons in their counties. Now, more than half of state prisoners are held in parish jail administered by sheriffs.

The state pays them $24.39 a day per prisoner, much less than the $55 a day if would cost to house them in state prisons. If a sheriff can keep jails full, he can pull in as much as $200,000 per jail per year, all the while keeping expenses -- staffing and inmate care and programs -- as low as possible. Other sheriffs lease their prisons to for-profit prison companies in return for guaranteed annual payments.

Sheriffs have a direct financial incentive to keep their jails full, and they know it. Sentencing reforms would hurt their bottom line, and they have organized to make sure that doesn't happen. The Louisiana Sheriffs Association consistently lobbies against sentencing reforms, and its political action committee uses its financial clout to help elect politicians who agree with them.

Orleans Parish, the most populous in the state, acts as a conveyor belt for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to fill the cells and the coffers for other parishes.

"Orleans Parish is the parish that is fueling the prison system in other parts of the state, and it's mostly black men fed into the prison system from there," said Cadore. "Look at Bernard Noble, look at Victor White, who was stopped, frisked, questioned, and ended up dead in the back of a police car after they found marijuana on him."

Case after case after case of black men being sent away for years for relatively trivial offenses is starting to have a cumulative effect on public opinion.

"What's rising to the surface is the impact these current laws have on a particular community -- the black community," Dore pointed out. "We are noticing that the drug war has a color, and that's black, and it has a gender, and that's mostly male, and it has a location, mainly urban, where the young black men are. In all of that, Louisiana is no outlier."

Winning a commutation for Bernard Noble would be a step in the direction of social and racial justice. But he's just one prisoner. The state has 40,000 more, many of them also nonviolent drug offenders.

"If we are ever going to make a dent in reducing the incarceration rate and having a serious conversation about policy reform, we have to look at the impact of these draconian, regressive policies that are fueling the incarceration problem in the state," said Cadore.

"We also have to point out where lawmakers are making policy not based on evidence, but on tradition or notions of morality. We're in an age where evidence-based policy-making is not only the right thing, but the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do," she continued. "Louisiana has been casting a blind eye to evidence. Is it that they're not paying attention or that they're not paying attention to things that are profit-generating?"

Medical Marijuana Update

A near total victory for the Kettle Falls Four, California continues to wrestle with medical marijuana, CBD cannabis oil bills pop up, and a Utah medical marijuana bill stays alive. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, the Riverside city council voted to send an initiative to the ballot that would allow some medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure will be on the June 8 ballot.

Last Thursday, the Clear Lake city council adopted an ordinance banning grows within the city. Councilmembers said that was the only way to eliminate large grows, but patients and advocates protested loudly, to no avail. Legal action by patients and advocates is coming next.

On Monday, the Pismo Beach city council killed a proposed ban on medical marijuana deliveries. The council had voted last month to introduce an amendment to do so, but chose not to conduct a second reading.

On Tuesday, the San Diego city council cleared a key hurdle for dispensaries to open by rejecting environmental appeals filed against them. That means the six proposed dispensaries are one step closer to getting final approval from the Planning Commission.

Also on Tuesday, Tehama County supervisors voted to ban medical marijuana grows. The only exception is for locked outbuildings. Gardens that are currently in compliance will be grandfathered in, but only until next January.

Florida

On Monday, a jury acquitted a medical marijuana patient in a historic verdict. A Broward County jury effectively nullified the state's marijuana laws by acquitting a defendant who testified that he grew and used pot for medicinal purposes. Jesse Teplicki testified at his trial that he smoked marijuana to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for years. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with a verdict of "not guilty." Teplicki, 50, was looking at up to five years in state prison if convicted.

Georgia

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

On Monday, a new, weaker CBD cannabis oil bill was filed in the Senate. The House last week passed a CBD cannabis oil bill, but now, Sen. Lindsey Tippins has filed a new bill that would not make the drug available, but would instead set up a four-year study. The Tippins bill is not yet up on the legislative website.

Iowa

On Sunday, a new poll showed strong support for medical marijuana in the state. A new Des Moines Register poll has support for medical marijuana at 70%, up from 59% a year ago. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year, but patient advocates say that law is useless because it doesn't provide for distribution of the medication.

Kansas

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

Missouri

Last Thursday, the state issued licenses for CBD cannabis oil production. The Department of Agriculture this week issued two licenses for the cultivation of low-THC marijuana to be used to make CBD cannabis oil for patients. The licenses went to two St. Louis-area nonprofits.

Tennessee

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

Utah

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. The state Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 259, a full-blown medical marijuana bill (except that it doesn't allow smoking it).

On Tuesday, the bill moved again. A bill that appeared delayed only a day earlier was approved for a third Senate reading Tuesday night. Senate Bill 259 would allow people with qualifying illnesses to use marijuana in edible or liquid form and would establish dispensaries to distribute it. If the Senate approves it one more time, it then goes to the House.

Washington

On Wednesday, the Kettle Falls Four won acquittal on most counts. A federal jury in Spokane acquitted the medical marijuana-growing family of four out of five counts, including the most serious ones, but found them guilty of growing between 50 and 100 plants. Federal prosecutors brought the case despite pot being legal in Washington state and despite federal guidance that suggests they shouldn't have. After the verdicts were read, prosecutors sought to jail the four pending sentencing, much to the disbelief of the courtroom crowd, but the judge didn't go for that.

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

Chronicle AM: INCB Scolds US, Uruguay on Pot; DC & NYC Top Cops on Marijuana, Iran Executions, More (3/3/15)

The top cops in DC and New York City offer wildly contrasting remarks on marijuana, Iran hangs drug offenders, while Indonesia prepares the firing squad for them, a Florida man gets acquitted of a marijuana cultivation charge in Florida by convincing a jury it was medical, and more.

Iranian drug executions (handsoffcain.info)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Governor Says Legalization Won't Happen on His Watch. "We've got a lot more to learn" before legalizing marijuana, Gov. Jack Markell (D) said in an interview. "I'm certainly willing to look at the decriminalization aspect. I am not in support of doing what they've done in Colorado or Washington state or a few other places, doing full legalization," Markell added. "It's not gonna happen while I'm governor. It may be the right thing. But I don't think we know. I think we need to take a few years and see what the impact has been in some of these other states." The legislature will take up a decriminalization bill this month.

DC City Council Approves Emergency Action to Ban Cannabis Clubs. The council voted unanimously today to ban cannabis clubs, as well as smoking it in bars, clubs, and virtually anywhere else outside a private residence. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the legislation was needed to close a loophole that could allow cannabis clubs, but legalization proponents criticized the move, saying it was unneeded and overly broad. They also warned that passage could render void an agreement they had with Bowser to try to tamp down public displays of pot smoking that could provoke congressional hardliners.

DC Police Chief Says All Marijuana Arrests Do Is "Make People Hate Us." DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier has said that alcohol is a bigger problem than pot and that arresting people for marijuana doesn't accomplish anything. "Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop," Lanier said while speaking at the American News Women's Club. "They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem. All those marijuana arrests do is make people hate us."

NYPD Commissioner Blames Marijuana for Jump in Murders. The NYPD blames marijuana for a 20% increase in homicides in the city. "The seemingly innocent drug that's being legalized around the country -- in this city, people are killing each other over marijuana," said Commissioner Bill Bratton. Reform advocates were quick to point out that the killings were a function of prohibition, not anything intrinsic to marijuana.

Maine Bill Seeks to Block Local Legalization Initiatives. Rep. James Campbell (I-Newfield) has filed a bill that says municipal marijuana legalization petitions "may not be approved for inclusion on the ballot or considered at any town meeting." The measure, LD 67, is currently before the Senate Committee on State and Local Government. Legalization proponents have successfully used local initiatives to win votes in some of the state's largest cities.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) yesterday introduced House Bill 2165, which would legalize marijuana by removing all mention of the drug from state statutes. "Let's allow the plant to be utilized for good -- helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products -- or simply for beauty and enjoyment," Simpson said.

Washington Senate Passes Bill to Ban Marijuana Vending Machines. The Senate voted 47-0 yesterday to approve a bill banning pot sales in vending machines or drive-through windows. The measure is Senate Bill 5903. It now moves to the House.

Medical Marijuana

In Historic Verdict, Jury Acquits Florida Patient on Marijuana Charge. A Broward County jury effectively nullified the state's marijuana laws Monday by acquitting a defendant who testified that he grew and used pot for medicinal purposes. Jesse Teplicki testified at his trial that he smoked marijuana to treat the nausea and suppressed appetite that had been plaguing him for years. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning with a verdict of "not guilty." Teplicki, 50, was looking at up to five years in state prison if convicted.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bill Held Up. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) tried to persuade his colleagues to hold a quick vote on Senate Bill 259 after a brief debate yesterday, but that didn't happen. The bill is now on hold with 10 days left in the session.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Interim Committee Could Take Up Asset Forfeiture Reform. After the state Senate failed to override a veto of a civil asset forfeiture reform measure by Gov. Matt Mead (R), the Joint Judiciary Committee met yesterday to come up with a list of topics it wants to consider before the next session. Asset forfeiture reform is one of them, but the final decision will be made by a Management Committee consisting of legislative leaders from both parties.

Rehabilitation and Reentry

New Mexico Bill Restricting Use of Criminal Record Queries for Job Applicants Passes Senate. The Criminal Offender Employment Eligibility Act (Senate Bill 583) passed the Senate yesterday and heads to the House. The "ban the box" bill bars private employers from asking on an application form if someone has a criminal conviction, or from considering a conviction before the final round of an employment decision. Six other states have similar law. New Mexico already has a similar law that applies to public employees.

International

INCB Annual Report Scolds US, Uruguay Over Marijuana Legalization. The UN's drug watchdog body, the International Narcotics Control Board, has wagged a finger at Uruguay, which became the first country to legalize marijuana, and at the US, where two states were singled out for criticism for having legalized it. The scolding came in the INCB's annual report, released today.

Leading Paraguayan Senator Calls for Marijuana Reforms. Senator Blas Llano, chair of the National Congress, has called for an end to pot prohibition in a bid to "put an end to the drug traffickers' business." Paraguay is the leading marijuana producers in South America and second only to Mexico in Latin America.

Iran Hangs Eight for Drug Offenses in Past Week. At least people have been executed for drug crimes by Iranian authorities in the past week, according to the death penalty watch group Hands Off Cain. Iran executed hundreds of drug offenders last year and dozens so far this year. It is the world's leading drug executioner.

Indonesia Prepares to Execute 10 For Drug Offenses. Nine foreigners and one Indonesian citizen are set to be executed by Indonesian authorities later this week. Preparations at the execution site have been completed, and the prisoners are set to be transferred there tomorrow. The killings of foreigners have led to diplomatic disputes with some of their home countries, but that has not deterred Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has consistently supported the death penalty for drug smuggling.

Chronicle AM: TX Border Surge Flops, Belize Decrim Proposal, British Drugged Driving Law, More (3/2/15)

There will be a smoke-out in Trenton later this month, medical marijuana is moving in Utah, the Texas "border surge" accomplishes little, KY cops ignore asset forfeiture reporting, a tough, new British drugged driving law has gone into effect, and more.

Indiana has to try again to ban synthetic drugs. (MN Dept of Public Health)
Marijuana Policy

Indian Tribes Gather in Washington State to Talk About Marijuana Production. Representatives of at least 75 tribes attended a conference in Tulalip last Friday to discuss legalizing, regulating, and producing marijuana on their reservations. The move comes after the Justice Department announced that it would not block tribes from doing so. Many tribes are cautious or reluctant to consider the notion, but there appears to be plenty of interest, too.

Colorado's 2014 Marijuana Sales Numbers. According to a to new report from the state, nearly five million pot-infused edibles and nearly 75 tons of marijuana were legally sold in Colorado last year. And that's with only 67 of the state's 321 local jurisdictions allowing for the sale of recreational or medical marijuana. Of course, those 67 localities are where most of the people are. Medical marijuana accounted for nearly 110,000 pounds of marijuana sales, while recreational accounted for nearly 39,000 pounds.

New Jersey Legalization Advocates Plan "NJ Spring Smoke-Out Rally" in Trenton. A coalition of groups advocating legalization will hold a "Million Marijuana March" for legalization or "any progressive measures on marijuana" on March 21. The groups include the East Coast Cannabis Coalition, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana -- New Jersey, CB Delaware, Delaware NORML, Decarcerate the Garden State, The Legalize Marijuana Party, Legalize Cannabis in Atlantic City and Fully Baked Radio. Check the event's Facebook page for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New, Weaker CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Filed in Georgia Senate. The House last week passed a CBD cannabis oil bill, but now, Sen. Lindsey Tippins has filed a new bill that would not make the drug available, but would instead set up a four-year study. The Tippins bill is not yet up on the legislative website; the House bill that passed is House Bill 1.

Poll Shows Strong Support for Medical Marijuana in Iowa. A new Des Moines Register poll has support for medical marijuana at 70%, up from 59% a year ago. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year, but patient advocates say that law is useless because it doesn't provide for distribution of the medication.

Utah Medical Marijuana Wins Senate Committee Vote. The state Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday approved Senate Bill 259, a full-blown medical marijuana bill. The measure should go to the Senate for a floor vote this week.

Heroin & Prescription Opiates

Illinois Lawmakers File Omnibus Bill to Battle Opiate Addiction. House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang (D) and GOP Rep. John Anthony were set today to file a comprehensive, 240-page bill to deal with heroin and prescription opiate use and addiction. It would allow the overdose reversal drug naloxone to be distributed more widely, require the creation of a drug prevention program for schools, require that coroners report all overdose deaths to the Department of Public Health, require pharmacies to serve as drug "take back" sites, and limit pain reliever prescriptions.

Kentucky Senate Panel Hears House's Heroin Bill. Although the state Senate has already passed its own omnibus heroin bill, Senate Bill 5, the Senate Standing Committee on the Judiciary last Friday took up the House's omnibus heroin bill, which has lesser sentencing increases for heroin offenders, has a Good Samaritan provision, and allows for the broader use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee took no action on the bill.

New Synthetic Drugs

Indiana Supreme Court to Hear State's Appeal of Ruling Throwing Out Ban on Synthetic Drugs. The state's high court has agreed to hear an appeal from the state attorney general of a January Court of Appeals decision throwing out the state's ban on synthetic drugs as unconstitutionally vague. The appeals court explicitly rejected a list of more than 80 chemical compounds, look-alike substances, and synthetics as too difficult to understand.

Asset Forfeiture

Kentucky Cops Generally Ignore State's Asset Forfeiture Law. LEX 18 TV News has looked into state law enforcement agencies' compliance with asset forfeiture statutes and has found that "a state law designed to give oversight of Kentucky asset forfeiture practices is mostly ignored by Kentucky police agencies." According to the station, only 63 of about 400 law enforcement agencies in the state filed required annual reports on their drug-related seizures last year, "leaving potentially millions of dollars' worth of goods unaccounted for."

Law Enforcement

Texas "Border Surge" Accomplishes Little. Last year's "surge" on the Mexican border, which saw Texas National Guard troops, state troopers, and game wardens flood the border, has done little to stop the flow of drugs, state officials said Friday. But they still want another $815 million for two more years' worth of surging.

International

New British Drugged Driving Laws Now in Effect. New drugged driving laws went into effect yesterday in the UK. Officers can now do roadside tests for cocaine and marijuana with a "drugalyser." Previously, they had to arrest suspect and take them to a police station for a blood draw under medical supervision. Other drugs will still require going to the police station for a test. The law also covers prescription drugs. Under the law, police will not be required to prove impairment, only that the drugs were present.

Israeli Leftist Party Embraces Marijuana Legalization. With elections looming, the leftist Meretz Party is looking for a boost by embracing marijuana legalization. "Legalization and decriminalization have a political home, and that home is Meretz," said Tamar Zandberg in a video released on the party website last week. Zandberg is number five on Meretz's list for the Knesset.

CARICOM Agrees on Commission to Look at Pot Legalization. The Caribbean Community agreed over the weekend on the composition of a commission to look into marijuana legalization. Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, currently chairman of the group, said members expect the commission to "soon begin its work to look into the economic, health and legal issues surrounding the use of marijuana and to consult with stakeholders to get a view on the issue." The move comes just days after Jamaica gave final approval to decriminalizing marijuana.

Belize Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee Issues Report, Calls for… Decriminalization. After nearly three years of pondering, the decriminalization committee has called for decriminalization. The committee is calling for possession of less than 10 grams to be subject only to administrative penalties.

Chronicle AM: Ted Cruz Shifts on State Legalization, Mexico Captures "La Tuta," Forfeiture Action, More (2/27/15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

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

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

Drug Courts

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

Drug Testing

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

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

International

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

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

California

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

Colorado

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

Georgia

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

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

Kansas

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

Minnesota

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

Missouri

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

New York

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

North Dakota

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

Tennessee

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

Virginia

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

Washington

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

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

West Virginia

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

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

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: DC Legalizes, Jamaica Decriminalizes, Maryland Heroin Crisis, More (2/25/15)

Marijuana possession and cultivation will be legal in DC in just a few hours, Jamaica gives final approval to decriminalization, marijuana and medical marijuana bills are popping up all over, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Increase Penalties for Manufacturing Concentrates. State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Rancho Niguel) filed a bill Monday that would "authorize enhanced sentences for manufacturing cannabis concentrates where a child under the age of 16 is present" or is injured. The measure is Senate Bill 305.

Poll Finds Coloradans Still Like Marijuana Legalization. A new Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday finds that 58% of state residents support Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in the state. Amendment 64 won with 55% of the vote, and support has only increased since then.

DC Marijuana Legalization in Effect Thursday. As of Thursday, it is no longer a crime to possess up to two ounces or grow up to six plants (only three in flowering). The Initiative 71 legalization initiative has gone into effect.

Florida Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) has introduced Senate Bill 1176, which would legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces and six plants. The bill is identical to one he filed last year that went nowhere, and Bullard says he doubts this won will pass, either.

Maryland House Committee Hears Marijuana Bills. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday on five marijuana policy-related bills. Click on the link for details.

Vermont Legalization Bill Filed in House. State Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) introduced a bill Tuesday that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in Vermont. Nine cosponsors have signed on to House Bill 277, which mirrors Senate Bill 95, introduced last week by Sen. David Zuckerman (P-Chittenden).

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House today approved House Bill 1, which allows for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures and other major health conditions. The measure now goes to the Senate.

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

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

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

Heroin and Opiates

Maryland Governor Declares Heroin a Statewide Crisis. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) Tuesday declared war on heroin, signing two executive orders to confront what he calls a heroin "epidemic." One order establishes the Inter-Agency Heroin and Opioid Coordinating Council to coordinate efforts among state agencies; the other creates the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, which is supposed to come up with recommendations by December 1.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Senate Passes Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The state Senate Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 388, which would create a statewide system of reporting on asset seizures and forfeitures. Sponsors said that could be a first step toward undoing civil asset forfeiture. The measure now goes to the House.

International

Jamaica Decriminalizes Marijuana. Parliament's lower house Tuesday gave final approval to a government-supported bill that will decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja and allow for the growing of up to five plants. The bill also paves the way for a regulatory authority for medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses and allows Rastafarians to use the drug for religious purposes. Jamaica becomes the first Caribbean nation to decriminalize.

New British Marijuana Party Will Field Candidates. A new pro-marijuana political party has announced it will field up to a hundred candidates in general elections set for later this year. Cista -- Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol -- says it is inspired by legalization in some US states and wants to do the same in England.

Marijuana is Now Legal in Washington, DC! [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

As of midnight, it became legal to possess, grow, and consume small amounts of marijuana in the nation's capital. An initiative passed with the support of 70% of DC voters has now gone into effect.

Republicans' efforts to block the law have been to no avail. Congress passed a budget bill that blocked the District from spending money on easing marijuana laws -- and that has stopped the District council from moving forward with a bill to tax and regulate marijuana commerce -- but that came after voters had already approved the ballot measure, Initiative 71.

Though some Republicans have cried foul, DC interpreted that timing as meaning that the initiative would take effect. After the 30 legislative days Congress had to act to block the initiative ran out (after DC officially forwarded the November election result to Congress), Congress had 30 days to act to block the legalization it. It failed to do so, and the 30-day period ends today. Absent a court ruling to the contrary, the initiative is law.

District officials, from Mayor Muriel Bowser to Police Chief Cathy Lanier, have signaled that they intend to heed the will of the voters.

"DC residents spoke loud and clear," Bowser said at an event Tuesday with the council where she and other city leaders vowed to carry out the new law.

The city has even produced a Q & A pamphlet that seeks to clarify exactly what is and is not allowed under Initiative 71.

That is particularly useful because this is legalization with some caveats. Adults 21 and over can possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes, of which no more than three can be flowering. They can also give (but not sell) up to an ounce to other adults.

But there is no public consumption allowed, and there is no provision for taxed and regulated marijuana sales. There will be no legalized pot shops in DC -- at least for now -- although existing dispensaries will continue to operate to serve the medicinal market.

Anyone convicted of smoking or consuming marijuana in public faces a $500 fine and up to 60 days jail time. Selling marijuana carries a $1,000 fine and six months jail time. And any business that lets patrons use pot could lose its license.

It's still not legal on federal property. (wikimedia.org)
And the DC law doesn't apply on federal property. This is significant because 22% of the District is federal property. If you are caught with marijuana on the Mall or the Jefferson Memorial, for example, you can face federal marijuana charges.

DC now joins Alaska, Colorado, and Washington in having marijuana legalization in effect. In Oregon, where residents also voted to legalize it last November, the new law goes into effect on July 1.

"The sky isn't going to fall," predicted Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance national affairs office, which worked closely with the DC Cannabis Campaign, the group that sponsored Initiative 71. "But there will be some confusion about what this means. It's going to be very similar to other states that have legalized or are in the process. In those states, legalization went into effect and they didn't have tax and regulate for months, and there wasn't any chaos. There won't be any chaos here, either."

"I feel good," said long-time activist Adam Eidinger, the driving force behind Initiative 71. "I've stopped pinching myself."

Still, Eidinger said, he had nothing special planned to mark the day. "We'll plant some seeds, that's about it," he said.

He has certainly planted the seed of marijuana legalization in the nation's capital, but there is more to be done, he said, pointing to the huge racial imbalance in DC marijuana arrests. Blacks accounted for 91% of all marijuana arrests in the city and were arrested at a rate eight times that of whites.

Anger over the disparate enforcement of the pot laws was key to winning the initiative. Multiple civil rights, faith, and community advocacy groups campaigned for Initiative 71, seeing it as an opportunity to redress racial injustice.

"Marijuana has been effectively legal in the affluent and white parts of the District west of 16th Street for years," said Bill Piper, head of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "All Initiative 71 does is treat the black community the same way -- no arrests for minor marijuana violations."

The man with the plan: DC activist Adam Eidinger, with his daughter Arundhati. (twitter.com)
But without full legalization, Eidinger said, racially-biased enforcement will continue.

"Home cultivation and possession begin to address the racial justice end of this, but that will not be fully addressed until we have in-store sales," Eidinger said. "We will still have people selling marijuana illegally."

The experience has also reawakened the DC political gadfly's long-standing interest in home rule for the District.

"I've been very disturbed by the way Congress has been treating residents of the capital," he said. "The whole effort to overturn the initiative really opened my ears to how once and for all we have to have equal rights as a state. We're planning a big push for home rule in the spring. That would benefit marijuana, too."

But as earth-shaking as marijuana legalization in the shadow of the Capitol is, what is equally striking is the inability of Republican conservatives to stop it.

"The big story is not that DC legalized it," said Collins, "but that the Republicans couldn't stop this. They had 30 days to review this, they had the opportunity to hold a quick up and down vote, and they chose not to. The Republicans are split on this issue. A lot of them support marijuana reforms, and many more are not interested in being the anti-marijuana party."

"There is simply no organized, significant group of members of Congress willing to waste time fighting against marijuana legalization, an issue that has become extremely popular with voters everywhere," added Piper. "The Republican House voted five times last year to let states set their own marijuana policies. And the recent scandal over DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz shows that it is opposition to marijuana reform that is now politically toxic."

Now, the fight will turn to whether and how the District can move forward with taxation, regulation, and marijuana commerce. While some will be toking up in DC tonight, the battle is only half over.

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