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Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

NY Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will use his State of the State address Wednesday to announce he will sign an executive order to allow the limited use of marijuana, the New York Times reported Saturday. The move comes as the state legislature is set to debate pending medical marijuana legislation in Albany.

Andrew Cuomo
The executive order will cite a 1980 law that allows for the use of controlled substances to treat serious illnesses. The narrowly-tailored program will allow only 20 hospitals statewide to provide marijuana to patients suffering from a short list of specified conditions. The Department of Health, in consultation with experts, will be charged with drafting regulations for the program.

Under that 1980 law, a little-known bit of New York medical marijuana history occurred. The state Department of Health study conducted a large scale clinical trial using NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes to study the effectiveness of inhaled marijuana in preventing nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. That study found that marijuana was as effective or more effective than standard anti-emetics 93% of the time.

The move is a departure for Gov. Cuomo, who has previously expressed opposition to medical marijuana. The governor's apparent change of heart on the issue could spur the state Senate, which has yet to even hold a hearing on the pending bill, to finally act.

The move is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done, said advocates.

"We thank the governor for his leadership and for taking action on behalf of some suffering patients in New York," said Gabriel Sayegh, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With the Senate failing to act, patients have been left to suffer. The governor is doing everything he can within his executive power to help alleviate the suffering of some patients, without having to wait on the Senate."

But, Sayegh noted, a 34-year-old law may not be sufficient to address issues around medical marijuana, and that means the legislature isn't off the hook.

"The legislature still needs to act," he said. "Comprehensive medical marijuana legislation has long languished in Albany. The Assembly has on four occasions passed the Compassionate Care Act, but the Senate has failed to take action or even hold a hearing on the issue. The logjam in the Republican-controlled State Senate has made New York the only state in the Northeast without a medical marijuana program -- so New Yorkers continue to suffer while residents in neighboring states can gain much-needed relief. That's not acceptable."

Albany, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

Cuomo to Establish NY Medical Marijuana Program Based on '80s-Era Legislation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to use his executive powers to allow the limited use of medical marijuana, the New York Times reported Sunday.

He will issue an executive order allowing just 20 hospitals statewide to recommend medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, or other diseases authorized by the state Department of Health.

The move is something of a reversal for Cuomo, who has opposed medical marijuana pending in the state legislature. Cynics might suggest he is trying to burnish his progressive credentials with a limited opening, but undercut the pending bill, which would be less restrictive. In any case, the Times says he will make it official during Wednesday's state of the state speech.

Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a prominent medical marijuana advocate, has pointed out that New York's state's Department of Health conducted medical marijuana research during the 1980s under the legislation that Cuomo cited as the legislative basis for his action. An article in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics discusses the New York research, which it describes as large scale and designed in accordance with FDA phase III clinical trial procedure, on pages 51-52.

Whether New York can move forward with this kind of program in the absence of licensing that the DEA in recent decades has refused to grant is unclear. Along with recent legislation passed in Maryland calling for medical marijuana distribution academic medical centers, and petitions filed by the governors of Rhode Island and Washington state, it should at least up the pressure on the administration to rein in DEA's obstruction on this issue.

Location: 
Albany, NY
United States

Federal Judge Throws Out Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

In a ruling out of Orlando Tuesday, US District Court Judge Mary Scriven permanently halted enforcement of Florida's suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients. The 2011 law had been in abeyance since a preliminary injunction was issued against it earlier.

"There is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use," Scriven wrote in her opinion in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families. She found that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

The law required anyone applying for welfare benefits to undergo a drug test without any particularized suspicion that he or she was using drugs. The federal courts have been loath to okay suspicionless drug testing, with a few notable exceptions for workers in public safety positions and some school kids.

Luis Lebron, the plaintiff in the case, who is also the sole caretaker of his disabled mother, was a 35-year-old full-time student at the University of Central Florida when he applied for temporary assistance in July 2011, to support his then 4-year-old son. When informed that he would be subjected to a humiliating and invasive search without cause or suspicion, Lebron refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by submitting to the newly-required drug test.

"I'm really pleased with the court's decision," said Lebron. "This confirms what I believed all along -- that what the government was asking people like me and my family to do was wrong. I'm proud that standing up against that is going to make a difference for other families like mine."

"This is a victory not just for Luis and his family, but for all Floridians who would have been forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches of their bodily fluids just because they need temporary help making ends meet," stated Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida and lead attorney on the case. "In reconfirming that the Fourth Amendment protects all of us, regardless of wealth or status, Judge Scriven's decision soundly rejects the notion that the government can treat an entire class of Floridians like suspected criminals simply for being poor. We are thrilled to ring in the New Year with the Court's opinion."

"The Court today affirmed that the 4th Amendment protects everyone, including those who need temporary assistance from the government," stated Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU. "Requiring suspicionless drug testing of TANF recipients is a slippery slope toward requiring drug testing for the receipt of any kind of government benefit, including social security, farm subsidies, and student scholarships. A clear line must be drawn, and the court did so today."

Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would appeal the decision.

Orlando, FL
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The dispensary and cultivation wars continue in California, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, a bill moves in New Jersey, and more. Let's get to it:

California

On December 15, the Palm Springs city council set the dispensary tax at 10%. That's for legal dispensaries. Unapproved dispensaries will have to pay 15%. The council also approved issuance of a fourth dispensary license for the city.

Also on December 15, the Indio city council revisited regulating dispensaries. The city currently bans them, and got on an update on developments from the city attorney meant to get the council thinking about whether they want to continue the current ban in their city or consider allowing them down the line. No action was taken.

On December 17, the Yucca Valley town council heard advocates call for it to reopen the area's only dispensary. Alternative Medicinal Solutions was forced to close its doors last month after a sunset clause kicked in. It had been permitted in 2008, but the town council voted in 2010 to ban dispensaries. It gave Alternative Medicinal Solutions until last month to close its doors. An attempt at a reprieve failed on a 3-2 vote in November. Since the topic wasn't on the agenda, the council didn't debate it and took no action.

On December 18, activists in Riverside began collecting signatures for a ballot measure allowing a limited number of dispensaries. They need 12,000 signatures to qualify for the June 2015 election or 18,000 to get a special election called sooner. The "Riverside medical marijuana restriction and limitation act" would create a process to allow about 10 or fewer dispensaries to open in commercial and industrial zones and would set out rules for how they would operate.

On December 19, Napa activists announced a referendum to overturn the city council's repeal of the city's medical marijuana ordinance. Napa's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance provided for the operation of one dispensary -- and possibly one additional dispensary after one year, with the dispensaries to be selected based upon merit following a rigorous selection process. But the city council voted to repeal it on December 3.

On December 20, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said a draft ordinance on dispensaries will go before the city council in February. The City Council passed regulations in 2011 that allowed dispensaries to open legally, but medical marijuana advocates considered them too restrictive and gathered enough signatures to get the ordinance rescinded. The result, however, was that storefront dispensaries were illegal once again, and city officials have been enforcing current laws to drive them out.

Last Tuesday, Lake County activists began signature gathering effort to force a popular vote on a marijuana cultivation ordinance recently passed by the board of supervisors. It bans outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries; limits indoor grows to 100 square feet or less; keeps outdoor cultivation 1,000 feet from schools, parks or other facilities serving children; and 100 feet from water bodie; offers quicker abatement and makes the Lake County Sheriff's Office responsible for enforcement. The activists are organized as the Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation (CABICC), which includes the United Food and Commercial Workers, CANORML, Americans for Safe Access, Patients Rights Coalition, Emerald Growers and California Cannabis Industry Association.

Florida

Last Friday, medical marijuana initiative organizers said they had gathered 700,000 signatures. United for Care needs some 683,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, so organizers are hoping to have gathered 900,000 by the end of this month to provide a cushion for rejected signatures. The initiative still must be approved the state Supreme Court.

Maine

Last Thursday, Maine officials denied a request to use medical marijuana for Tourette's syndrome. The Department of Health and Human Services denied a request to add the disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The patient and his doctor had testified that medical marijuana helped the muscular tics caused by Tourette's, to no avail.

Nevada

Last Monday, a state official said dispensaries would not open until months after April 1, when a law allowing them goes into effect. Marla McDade Williams, deputy administrator of the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said the agency needs to hire more staff and that it could take up to four months to accept, review and approve license applications.

New Jersey

Last Monday, the Assembly passed a bill to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The bill would allow patients to obtain medical marijuana products outside the state and use them in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has vowed to veto it.

Oregon

On December 18, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a medical marijuana patients whose hash was seized by police can have it back. Local prosecutors convinced a judge that hash wasn't covered under the state's law, but the appeals court disagreed.

Washington

On December 18, the state liquor control board recommended that patients be allowed to keep their personal marijuana grows. The recommendation reverses an earlier recommendation by regulators that the grows be eliminated under the state's marijuana legalization law, which does not allow home cultivation. But that earlier recommendation raised a real ruckus among patients and supporters, and the liquor control board has now changed its tune.

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

Chronicle AM -- December 24, 2013

The first business licenses for legal marijuana shops have been issued in Colorado, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, hemp is on the agenda in Kentucky, and Uruguay's legalization example is causing reflection in the region. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

In Historic Move, Colorado Issues First General Marijuana Business Licenses. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Monday issued 348 approved licenses for marijuana growers, processors, and retailers, making it the first state to issue such licenses. Some 136 of the licenses are for retail outlets. The marijuana business goes legit on January 1, although it's unclear how many pot shops will be open on day one.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording of Legalization Initiative (Again). For the second time, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana. He said there were ambiguities in the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Marjorie LeClair. McDaniel has approved the language of two other marijuana initiatives, both relating to medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dispensaries Delayed in Nevada. Although the law allowing dispensaries to operate in Nevada goes into effect April 1, don't expect to see any then. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health says it needs to hire more staff and that it could be four months after April 1 before licenses are accepted, reviewed, and approved.

Hemp

Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to Meet Monday. The state's Industrial Hemp Commission will meet Monday, December 30, at 1:00pm at the office of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to discuss the status of talks with the US Justice Department, hear reports from various committees, and present drafts of clean-up legislation and the annual commission report.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Prompting Neighbors to Rethink. Look out, it could be contagious! Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana is having a ripple effect in the region. Argentina' drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, has now called for a public debate there about following Uruguay's footsteps, and said his boss, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, wants a new approach, too. There are signs that Chile, too, may head down that path. Newly reelected socialist President Michelle Bachelet campaigned on reviewing marijuana's classification as a hard drug.

English-Language Details on Raided Belgian Cannabis Club. We reported last week on the harassment by police of the Mambo Cannabis Social Club in Hasselt, Belgium, and the arrest of its founder, Michel Degens, but the only link we had was in Dutch. Here, thanks to the folks at NORML UK, is an English language backgrounder and update on the situation. Click on the link.

Ban on Non-Dutch in Cannabis Cafes Not Illegal Nor Discriminatory, Advocate General Says. Leen Keus, the advocate general for the Council of State, said Tuesday that banning non-residents from cannabis cafes is not illegal nor discriminatory. The ban is not against Dutch, European, or international law, Keus said. His comments come as the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, prepares a ruling on whether the government was correct in closing two Maastricht cannabis cafes because they refused to implement the ban. Among other things, the advocate general is charged with issuing legal opinions on matters before the court.

New Zealand Synthetic Cannabis Shop Draws Crowds, Controversy, Vandalism. New Zealand this year chose to regulate synthetic drugs instead of banning them, but that doesn't mean controversy and problems have gone away. The U njo Y shop in East Hamilton is drawing both large crowds of people who want to get high on synthetic cannabinoids and scathing criticism from some members of the community for the "anti-social behavior" it is accused of generating. And speaking of anti-social behavior, the shop is now the target of vandals, who have glued its doors shut and hurled marbles at its windows.

SF DA and San Diego Police Chief File Defelonization Initiative

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne filed an initiative with state officials Thursday that would defelonize most drug possession and nonviolent offenses. The move comes on the heels of so far fruitless efforts to get a defelonization bill through the state legislature.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon (wikimedia.org)
The smartly titled Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act would "require misdemeanors instead of felonies for non-serious, nonviolent crimes like petty theft and drug possession, unless the defendant has prior convictions for specified violent or serious crimes." It would also authorize resentencing for anyone sentenced as a felon for acts which would become misdemeanors.

Initiative sponsors estimate the move would save the state $250 million a year in corrections costs. The measure mandates that those savings be earmarked for programs reducing recidivism (65%), education (25%), and crime victims' services (10%).

The defelonization effort comes a year after voters approved Proposition 36, a statewide initiative, which dramatically rolled back the state's notorious "three strikes" sentencing law by exempting most nonviolent offenders. Prop 36 passed amidst a seemingly perpetual prison overcrowding and funding crisis, which has still not gone away.

"I really think the timing is right -- it's a great opportunity to reform a part of our criminal justice system that's been broken for so long," Gascon told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We are looking basically at creating a scenario where we can prioritize violent crimes, we can keep dangerous criminals locked up, but move away from locking up people who basically just need medical help."

Whether sponsors are serious about actually getting the initiative on the ballot for 2014 remains to be seen. They would have to come up with more than 500,000 signatures by April to qualify for the November ballot.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 20, 2013

A pair of state appeals courts slap down cops who take people's medicine and won't give it back, there are problems with Kansas' drug testing law, Peru is buying shining new toys to prosecute its drug war, and more. Let's get to it:

Hash is medicine, and the cops have to give it back, the Oregon appeals court ruled. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DPA California Initiative Revised. The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana initiative, filed earlier this month by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), has been revised. The new version increases the personal grow limit from four plants to six, makes the 1,000-foot buffer rule around schools optional instead of mandatory, and makes the California Industrial Hemp effectively immediately. Left intact were no changes in criminal penalties, no changes in the state's medical marijuana law, and a 25% tax on adult retail sales. DPA head Ethan Nadelmann said in a conference call yesterday that the group would decide early next year whether to move forward for 2014.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Hash. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in Oregon v. James Jonathan Ellis that a medical marijuana patient whose hash was seized during an arrest can get it back. A district court judge had refused to order it returned, finding that hash wasn't covered under the state's medical marijuana law, but the appeals court disagreed, citing the federal Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana, which Oregon's law adopted, and which includes "every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its resin."

Colorado Appeals Court Rules Cops Must Give Back Seized Medical Marijuana. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in Colorado v. Robert Clyde Crouse that a district court judgment ordering Colorado Springs Police to return marijuana seized from leukemia patient Crouse was correct. Colorado Springs authorities had argued that federal drug laws preempted their returning Crouse's medicine, but neither the district court nor the appeals court was buying it.

Wyoming Legislator to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) said this week that she intends to introduce a bill in the legislative session that starts early next year to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Wallis said the death a year ago of her husband, Rod McQueary, brought the issue of legalizing medical marijuana into sharp focus for her. She said he benefited greatly from medical marijuana from Colorado in his last days.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Legislator Introduces Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced a bill, House Bill 5213,that would prohibit civil asset forfeiture unless and until a person is convicted of a criminal offense. "Asset forfeiture was sold as a needed tool for law enforcement to attack drug kingpins and gang leaders," Rep. Irwin said. "[But] too often, law enforcement uses the current asset forfeiture law to take tens of millions of dollars every year, mostly from low-level users and small-time dealers. We need to change how asset forfeiture works. By requiring a person be convicted of a crime before their seized property is subject to forfeiture, we will stop the worst abuses and curtail the insidious incentives that lead some law enforcement to short circuit due process and the fundamental principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."

Drug Testing

Kansas Drug Testing Law Punishes Welfare Recipients, But Lets Lawmakers Skate. The Kansas legislature this year passed a bill, Senate Bill 149, that allows for drug testing of welfare recipients. Amid charges of hypocrisy, solons added language to include drug testing of themselves. But Wednesday, the director of Legislative Administrative Services, who is charged with implementing legislator testing, told legislative leaders that the law does not include any ramifications for a positive drug test and does not explicitly make the results public, so he will be treating them as confidential medical records.

Sentencing

Connecticut Sentencing Commission Recommends Cutting Drug-Free Zones. The Connecticut Sentencing Commission recommended Thursday that lawmakers sharply curtail drug-free zones around schools. The commission said they created racial disparities, unfairly affecting blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to dwell in urban areas, where schools and day cares are more densely packed. The commission recommended scaling the zones back from 1,500 feet to 200 feet. It also recommended limiting drug-free zone charges to those actually intending to infringe on the zones, as opposed to those just passing through.

International

Peru in Half-Billion Dollar Deal to Buy Russian Helicopters for Anti-Drug, Anti-Terrorism Effort. The Peruvian and Russian governments announced a deal Wednesday in which Russia will provide 24 Mi-171 helicopters to the Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvians plan to use them for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism work in the central mountain areas where coca leaf and cocaine production are widespread.

Belgian Cannabis Social Club Raided. Belgian police acting on orders of the Justice Ministry raided the country's second cannabis club Wednesday (sorry, link in Dutch only). Raiders hit the Mambo Social Club in Hasselt, which follows the country's one-plant-per-person guidelines, seizing plants, records, and computer equipment. No word yet on any criminal charges.

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