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Chronicle AM -- June 9, 2014

In California, all eyes now turn toward 2016 for marijuana legalization, Washington state's first retail marijuana store will open soon, Mexico's president is willing to debate marijuana legalization, British activists are planting the seeds of change, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Last California 2014 Legalization Initiative is Dead. The last remaining campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot is dead. The secretary of state's office announced last Friday that the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, sponsored by San Jose interests had failed to gather enough signatures by its cutoff date. That means all eyes turn to 2016. See the next item.

California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform Launches Grassroots Campaign for Marijuana Legalization. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) announced today it was launching a grassroots campaign to legalize marijuana in the Golden State. CCPR already has the backing of most national drug reform organizations, as well as the ACLU, the California NAACP, and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). A new Reform CA web site and Facebook page are now up, and CCPR says they have 120,000 people on their list so far.

Texas GOP Spurns Marijuana Reform. Meeting at its state convention in Fort Worth over the weekend, the Texas Republican Party quickly rejected adding support for medical marijuana to its platform and even more quickly rejected a legalization plank.

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Banking Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) last Friday signed into law legislation designed to allow marijuana businesses to use a series of cooperatives a means of accessing basic banking services. The move is aimed at allowing those businesses to move away from cash-only operations, but still needs approval from the Federal Reserve.

Washington State's First Marijuana Retail Store Will Open July 1. The first legal non-medical marijuana retail shop will open in Spokane on July 1. Kouchlock Productions says it will be open, but will set quantity limits until more supply is available. Koucklock is also a licensed producer, but has only been growing its first crop for two months. More retail outlets should open in coming weeks; the state says 334 will be allowed.

Drug Policy

DPA, MAPS Release Report on DEA Obstructionism and Rejection of Science. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies today released a new report highlighting DEA obstructionism and the rejection of science, primarily around medical marijuana, but also including examinations of how the DEA can move with lightning speed when it comes to prohibiting drugs, as opposed to its lethargy regarding a series of medical marijuana rescheduling petitions. The report calls for responsibility for drug scheduling to be removed from the DEA and for an end to the government's monopoly on research-grade marijuana. DPA and MAPS will also hold a teleconference Wednesday with Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Steven Cohen (D-TN) and Dr. Carl Hart.

Law Enforcement

$10 Million Federal Grant for Vermont Anti-Heroin Drug Task Forces Wins Senate Committee Vote. A proposal from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to fund a $10 million competitive grant for state law enforcement drug task forces was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday. The grant is an innovative way for Vermont to get around restrictions in the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program, which are based on formulas that assess size and need. Instead, this competitive grant would prioritize locales that have high per capita treatment admissions for opiates. But it is still a 100% law enforcement approach.

International

Mexico's President Says Marijuana Legalization Should Be Debated. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Sunday that while he doesn't personally support marijuana legalization, he favors debating the issue, and that Mexico could follow the lead of US states that have legalized it. Marijuana prohibition is "a failed policy," he said. "It needs to be reviewed. I repeat, I'm not in favor of legalization, this is a personal conviction. But we can't continue on this road of inconsistency between the legalization we've had in some places, particularly in the most important consumer market, the United States, and in Mexico where we continue to criminalize production of marijuana," he added.

Guatemala President Calls Costa Rica President "Strategic Partner" in Drug Reform Debate. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said last Friday that Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis is "a strategic partner" in the search for alternatives to the militarized prohibitionist drug policies currently in effect. "We feel that Costa Rica is a partner that brings an important vision in this battle to change the drug policy that is today based on prohibition," Perez Molina said. Solis does not support drug legalization, but he has expressed interest in further decriminalizing drug use in Costa Rica.

British Activists Planting Marijuana Seeds at Well-Known Landmarks. Marijuana seeds aren't illegal in Britain, and the Feed the Birds campaign sponsored by the London Cannabis Club is taking advantage of that to plant them at well-known landmarks around the country, including London's Tower Bridge and Big Ben. The project is aimed at decriminalizing marijuana and supporting medical marijuana users, and the seeds they are planting are from a strain with good medicinal properties, organizers said. "We've been doing this for years under a media blackout and we've grown everywhere you can imagine," said founder Finn Hemingway. "This isn't original, it's a return to the days before prohibition and we don't take much notice of whether it's legal or not. By helping medical users, we can get them away from low quality cannabis and dealers and make them self-sufficient." Police said it would be difficult to prosecute the seed-planters.

Chronicle AM -- June 5, 2014

An Arkansas marijuana legalization initiative can start signature-gathering, DC's medical marijuana program now includes more eligible conditions, Tennessee's governor unveils his prescription drug plan, Canada's mandatory minimum sentencing law is being challenged, and more. Let's get to it:

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets scolded by the medical marijuana movement.
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel yesterday approved the popular name and ballot title for a constitutional amendment initiative that would legalize marijuana. Supporters of the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment now have just over one month -- until July 7 -- to submit more than 78,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. A medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Arkansans for Compassionate Care is already in the signature-gathering phase.

Medical Marijuana

Group Targets DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Not Voting to End DEA Interference in Medical Marijuana States. The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is now running TV ads criticizing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee as "out of touch" for voting against a measure to bar the DEA from interfering in medical marijuana states. Wasserman Schultz was one of only 18 Democrats who voted against it while 170 Democrats voted for it. The ads are running on MSNBC in South Florida, where her district is.

DC Medical Marijuana Program Adds New Qualifying Conditions. The DC Department of Health has approved new conditions for which patients will be able to use marijuana. They are seizure disorders, Lou Gehrig's Disease, decompensated cirrhosis, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Hospice patients will also be allowed to use marijuana. Previously, the DC program had been restricted to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and muscle spasticity.

Heroin

Ohio Democratic Candidates Call for Tougher Action Against Heroin. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper are calling for tougher action against heroin. FitzGerald said he wants tougher enforcement on dealers and that rising heroin use should be treated as a public health emergency. And Pepper called for heroin overdose deaths to be treated like murder. FitzGerald added that not enough dealers are going to prison, especially after a sentencing reform bill passed. The Ohio Republican Party responded calling the Democrats "tone deaf" and "ghoulish," saying that Gov. John Kasich (R) has been a strong advocate on the issue, and besides, Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) office had just indicted two heroin dealers last week.

Prescription Drugs

Tennessee Governor Rolls Out Prescription Drug Plan. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) Tuesday unveiled his seven-point program to battle problems associated with prescription drug use. "Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee" calls for reducing the prescribing of prescription opiates, reducing overdose deaths (including through enactment of a 911 Good Samaritan law), increasing prevention, early intervention, and treatment, and increased cooperation among state agencies and between the state and other entities. While it has a law enforcement component, that doesn't seem to be emphasized. [Ed: There are some good provisions in this document, but reducing the prescribing of pain medications needs to be handled with great care. Although more people are getting opiates now, not all of the people who need them are, and it could easily get even worse for pain patients.]

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Qualifies for Ballot. An initiative that requires random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of doctors has qualified for the November 2014 ballot, according to the Secretary of State's office. It also requires doctors to report any other doctor they suspect of being impaired by drugs or alcohol. It also increases the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which may the initiative's main goal. Legislative analysts estimate it could cost the state "at least in the low tens of millions of dollars annually" in higher malpractice costs and up to "hundreds of millions of dollars annually" because of changes in the amount and type of health care services provided.

Law Enforcement

In Massive Heroin Sweep, New Jersey Police Arrest Seven Users for Every Dealer. New Jersey cops arrested 325 people during an eight-week heroin sting, but only 40 of them are accused of selling heroin. The rest are alleged heroin users. Authorities said all were arrested on relatively low-level charges and all would have a chance to go through treatment programs, but the head of the state's drug court program said she wasn't sure the system could accommodate all of them.

International

New Zealand Workers Win Drug Testing Case. Workers at a mill who were subjected to mandatory drug tests after two marijuana plants were found growing on the site were treated unfairly and must be compensated, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled. The mill owner had argued that the discovery of pot plants was "reasonable cause" to drug test everybody, but the authority disagreed. "This is a victory for our members, and a victory for common decency and respect," says Ron Angel, a union organizer for timber workers. "Drug testing has to be about proving actual impairment at work - not treating workers as guilty until proven innocent."

Canada Battle over Mandatory Minimum Sentences Heads to BC Appeals Court. A case that could eventually overturn the Conservative government's mandatory minimum sentence scheme for drug offenses is being heard in the BC Court of Appeals today. Earlier this year, a BC provincial court judge ruled unconstitutional an automatic one-year prison term for a person repeatedly convicted of drugs. Lawyers for the government appealed; thus today's hearing. The case is that of Vancouver Downtown Eastside resident Joseph Lloyd, a long-time drug user with 21 previous convictions who was convicted last fall of trafficking small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and meth. The provincial court judge held that mandatory minimum sentences amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Bolivian Village to Bake Coca Birthday Cake for UN Head Ban Ki-Moon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be in Bolivia when his birthday rolls around on June 15, and the mayor of Cobija, Ana Lucia Reis, says they are going to bake him a coca birthday cake. "The idea is that Ban tries the coca and realizes that coca is part of our culture and is not cocaine," she said.

Medical Marijuana Update

In an historic vote, the House tells the DEA and Justice Department to butt out of medical marijuana states, limited CBD medical marijuana bills are signed into law in Iowa and South Carolina, Minnesota becomes the 22nd medical marijuana state, one bill to regulate medical marijuana in California is still alive, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, the US House voted to bar the DEA and Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The House voted 219-189 to approve an amendment to 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill to cut off funds for the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs. If the Senate doesn't come up with similar language, the provision will have to be fought for in conference committee.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Senate approved a medical marijuana regulation bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 1262, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). It is supported by cities and law enforcement, and would impose tighter controls on dispensaries, cultivation, and recommending.

Last Thursday, the state Assembly defeated a medical marijuana regulation bill. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) was defeated in the Assembly in a vote that appeared to be as much about political animosities as about regulating medical marijuana. That means that if California is going to regulate medical marijuana this year, Senate Bill 1262 is the only remaining vehicle.

On Tuesday, the San Jose city council again deadlocked on its proposed dispensary and cultivation regulation ordinance. That means the ordinance remains alive. One of the issues dividing the council is whether dispensaries should be forced to grow their own marijuana in San Jose. Another is how restrictive to make zoning. Patients, activists, and dispensaries organized as Safer San Jose are waiting on the sidelines with a plan of their own if they don't like what the council ends up doing. They already have 38,000 signatures ready to turn in to put an initiative on the November ballot.

Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors ordered staff to draft an ordinance banning marijuana cultivation anywhere in unincorporated parts of the county. The board had considered allowing patients and caregivers -- but not collectives and dispensaries -- to grow their own, but in the end, chose to go for the total ban.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County voters approved Measure N, which means the county's ordinance banning grows on parcels of less than one acre will go into effect in 30 day. The ordinance was passed last December. The measure passed with 53% of the vote in a low turnout election.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state Senate approved medical marijuana for minors and people with epilepsy. The legislation is Senate Bill 2636. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Flynn (D).

Iowa

Last Friday, Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. The legislation is Senate File 2360, which will allow people suffering seizure disorders to use high-CBD cannabis oil with a neurologist's recommendation.

Minnesota

Last Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) signed a medical marijuana bill. The bill allows for eight distribution centers across the state to by supplied by two medical marijuana manufacturers. The bill does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana; but it can be vaped or eaten. Some medical marijuana groups are calling the law "overly restrictive."

New York

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a deal for CBD trials. He announced that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

Also on Tuesday, two key legislators met to seek a compromise on medical marijuana. Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) met yesterday in an effort to find a compromise between their two bills that could lead to passage of a bill before the session ends in two weeks. The Assembly has already approved Gottfried's bill, but the Senate has yet to act on Savino's. Being able to actually smoke marijuana may be an item for discussion.

South Carolina

On Tuesday, Governor Nikki Haley (R) signed a limited CBD medical marijuana bill into law. The measure, Senate Bill 1035 will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

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

USDA Blocks Georgia Food Stamp Drug Testing Law

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has told the state of Georgia that its new law requiring some food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing violates federal policy. The state cannot implement the law, federal officials said Tuesday.

The Georgia law, passed in March and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), would require food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing if state workers have "a reasonable suspicion" that they are using drugs. The "reasonable suspicion" language, common in a new generation of proposed bills aimed at drug testing public benefits recipients, is designed to get around federal prohibitions against random, suspicionless drug testing, which the federal courts interpret as violating the unwarranted search provisions of the Fourth Amendment.

But while Georgia was able to get around the Fourth Amendment concerns, the new law still runs afoul of USDA policy. That policy "prohibits states from mandating drug testing of (food stamp) applicants and recipients," wrote Robin Bailey, regional administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, in a letter to Georgia officials.

While a number of states have passed "reasonable suspicion" (or the equivalent) public benefits drug testing laws, Georgia is the only one to have passed a law that includes food stamp recipients. Perhaps USDA's stance will discourage other states from enacting similar measures.

Atlanta, GA
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 3, 2014

That Georgia drug raid last week that left a toddler seriously burned and in a medically-induced coma continues to spark outrage, the DC pot possession and cultivation legalization initiative is halfway there, New York's governor signs a deal for CBD medical marijuana trials that critics say isn't nearly enough, a former Brooklyn DA is in hot water over misusing seized drug money, and more. Let's get to it:

Baby "Bou Bou" is in a medically induced coma after a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid.
Marijuana Policy

DC Initiative Halfway There on Signature Count. The Washington, DC, initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana has collected some 30,000 signatures, of which it says some 12,500 are actually valid. It has until July 7 to come up with the 22,500 valid signatures needed to make the November ballot. Signature-gathering is in full swing; campaign head Adam Eidinger said he expected another 10,000 raw signatures by early next week.

Rhode Island Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Today. The state Senate Judiciary Committee was set to hold a hearing today on Senate Bill 2379, the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Tax Act. It would allow adults to possess up to one ounce and grow one plant, and create a regulated and taxed system of marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Signs Deal for CBD Trials; Medical Marijuana Say That's Not Good Enough. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced today that his administration has signed a deal with GW Pharmaceuticals to do a trial of its high-CBD, no-THC seizure drug Epidiolex. But medical marijuana advocates said the plan is too limited and will take too long, and Cuomo should be backing the Compassionate Use Act, a full-blown medical marijuana bill, instead of trying to blunt efforts to pass it by enacting half-measures.

South Carolina Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) yesterday signed into law Senate Bill 1035, which will allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures in children with epilepsy. The new law calls for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a committee to study the feasibility of growing new strains in the state.

Asset Forfeiture

Ex-Brooklyn DA Accused of Using Seized Funds to Finance Reelection Campaign. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes may have used drug money seized from dealers to pay a campaign political consultant more than $200,000, according to a report from New York City's Department of Investigations. The money didn't help; Hynes was defeated in his bid for reelection. Now, he could face larceny charges.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Governor Wants to See Results of Investigation into SWAT Drug Raid That Left Toddler Badly Burned. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was awaiting the results of an investigation into a drug raid last week in which a SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a residence. That grenade landed in a crib when a 19-month-toddler, Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, was sleeping, burning his face and chest and leaving him in a medically-induced coma at a local hospital. No drugs were found in the raid, no guns were found in the raid, and the person sought by police wasn't there. "Any time you have bad facts like this one, it does give you cause for concern," Deal said. "It's one of those things that require a thorough investigation… to know what if anything we can learn from it." Deal's comments came as public outrage over the incident is growing. Attorneys for the Phonesvanh family are calling for state and federal investigations into the raid.

In Winona County, Minnesota, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. Here are the latest results from the Winona County Circuit Court in Winona, Minnesota: Drug charges accounted for 50% of the 10 cases charged this week. There were two people charged with meth possession, one with meth possession and trafficking marijuana, one with trafficking amphetamines, and one for "felony second-count marijuana possession." The other charges were one DUI, one child sex assault, one domestic battery, one carrying a concealed weapon (and drug paraphernalia), and one burglary. Winona County butts up against the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.

International

Southeast Asia's Tough Anti-Drug Policies Actually Exacerbating Opium Production, Report Says. A new report from the Transnational Institute, Bouncing Back -- Relapse in the Golden Triangle, finds that tough anti-opium cultivation policies by governments in Southeast Asia, especially Myanmar, have had a balloon effect, pushing production into areas outside the control of central governments. Instead of aiming to be drug-free by 2015, which is the current goal of the ASEAN nations, regional governments should rethink their policies and find "least harmful ways" to manage the issue.

Georgia's Drug Policies Remain Regressive, Repressive. A lengthy article from Eurasianet.org examines drug policies in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and finds them largely stuck in the dark ages. A few grams of marijuana can still earn someone years in prison, while treatment and prevention don't get much emphasis. Suspected drug users can be forced to submit urine samples for drug testing, then arrested and jailed or fined if they test positive. The fines are a lucrative income stream for the Georgian government. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Chronicle AM -- June 2, 2014

A Nevada marijuana legalization initiative picks up a key endorsement, Iowa joins the ranks of the CBD medical marijuana states, Tennessee's governor gets ready to roll out a new plan to address prescription drug use, thousands march for legalization in Santiago, Chile, the Peruvian president backs away from forced coca eradication, and more. Let's get to it:

Coca eradication not too popular in Peruvian towns with coca leaf statues in the main plaza (Phillip Smith)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada's Largest Newspaper Endorses Legalization Initiative. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, by far the largest circulation newspaper in the state, has endorsed the state's fledgling legalization initiative, which has set its sights on 2016. Click on the title link to read the Sunday editorial.

California Sen. Feinstein Opposes Cutting Federal Funds for Medical Marijuana Raids. Just hours after the US House approved an amendment that would block the Justice Department and the DEA from using taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana providers in states where it is legal, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that "if a similar amendment were offered in the Senate, I would strongly oppose it." She said that while she sympathizes with patient needs, "rogue medical marijuana dispensaries, which require little or no medical bona fides and are prevalent throughout California, present major challenges for communities across the country." The 80-year-old politician credited the feds with closing more than 400 "rogue dispensaries" and worried that "the House amendment would prevent these critical enforcement activities from continuing."

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Terry Branstad (R) last Friday signed into law Senate File 2360, which will allow people suffering seizure disorders to use high-CBD cannabis oil with a neurologist's recommendation.

Illinois Senate Approves Medical Marijuana for Minors, People With Epilepsy. The state Senate last Friday approved a bill that would allow minors and people of all ages suffering from epilepsy to use medical marijuana. The legislation is Senate Bill 2636. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Flynn (D).

Prescription Opiates

Tennessee Governor to Unveil Plan to Address Pain Pills Tomorrow. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) will announce tomorrow a seven-point plan to address rising levels of prescription opiate use. One official said drug treatment will be a key component. In recent years, Tennessee has enacted prescription monitoring legislation and cracked down on doctors accused of over-prescribing opiates. Just last month, a committee of physicians appointed by the health commissioner agreed on new prescribing guidelines that set limits on daily doses doctors can prescribe. The program to be announced tomorrow is supposed to have seven points. Stay tuned.

Law Enforcement

Homicide Charges for Heroin Overdoses Rise in Wisconsin, But…. In a fine example of investigative journalism, the Gannet Wisconsin Investigative Media Team has released an analysis of the increasing use of homicide charges in heroin overdose cases in the state. Under Wisconsin law, anyone who makes, sells, or delivers a controlled substance that leads to an overdose death can by charged with first-degree reckless homicide by drug delivery. The report finds the number of such prosecutions spiking, but that sentences all over the place and the likelihood of being prosecuted depends largely on which county you are in. A good read.

In Warren County, Kentucky, the Drug War Dominates the Court Docket. The latest batch of indictments is out from the Warren County grand jury in Bowling Green, and more than half of them are for drug offenses. Nineteen people were indicted, 11 of them for drug offenses. There were four for possession of meth precursors, three for drug trafficking, two for marijuana trafficking, and one each for meth manufacture and drug possession. There was also one assault, one grand theft, and some drunk driving and "flagrant nonsupport" charges. Drug charges accounted for 58% of all the indictments.

International

Peru President Backs Off on Forced Coca Eradication in the VRAE. In a televised speech Sunday night, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said he is indefinitely postponing plans to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAE). The announcement came just days after Humala fired Carmen Macias as head of the anti-drug agency DEVIDA. Macias had been a strong advocate of a militarized eradication in the region, which produces more than half the country's coca crop and is also home to remnants of the Shining Path. Critics had warned that an aggressive eradication campaign would only help such rebels.

Uruguayan Presidential Candidate Who Vowed to Undo Marijuana Legalization Loses in Primary. "We are going to overturn this law that legalized marijuana growing. Nobody plant anything! Don't plant anything because we're going to knock it down!" National Party presidential nomination favorite Sen. Jorge Larranaga said ahead of Sunday's primary election to see who would get a chance to succeed outgoing President Jose Mujica. But instead, Larranaga lost in a surprise outcome.

Thousands March for Marijuana Legalization in Chile. Thousands of people marched through the streets of Santiago, the Chilean capital, Sunday in support of marijuana legalization. "Don't drive and drive, smoke and fly!" read one sign. Much open marijuana use was reported. Demonstrators demanded decriminalization and legalization, specifically including the right to grow their own.

New Bermuda Premier Says No to Marijuana Legalization, But Leaves Door Open for Decriminalization. Incoming Bermuda Premier Michael Dunkley said last Friday his administration has no plans to legalize marijuana, but could get behind a decriminalization scheme. Dunkley's comments came during a debate on the findings of the Cannabis Reform Collaborative, whose report earlier this month called for medical marijuana, decriminalization, and eventual legalization. "I think it is important to reiterate that the government's public undertaking has related to decriminalization and any potential wider use of cannabis," Dunkerly said. "Let me indicate early in this debate that at this time, the government is not prepared to consider personal cultivation, licenses for commercial cultivation and sale or blanket legalization of cannabis. In so far as this report recommends those things, they do not represent this government's current intentions."

Medical Marijuana Update

We could see a congressional vote on barring the feds from interfering in medical marijuana states this week, California stays contentious, the New York Assembly passes a medical marijuana bill (again), and more. Let's get to it:

National

As early as Thursday, Congress will vote on banning the DEA and Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states. The House could vote as early as Thursday on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which would ban the Justice Department and its agencies, including the DEA, from using federal taxpayer funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The time to contact your representatives is now. Click on the link for more information.

California

Last Thursday, Santa Monica medical marijuana opponents announced an initiative campaign to regulate dispensaries there. The city has a proposed zoning ordinance that would allow for two dispensaries, but initiative proponents want to "have medicinal collectives operate with reasonable regulation that mirror those put forward by the League of California Cities and California Police Chiefs Association" in pending Senate Bill 1262, which would put the state in charge of licensing dispensaries. The council voted last month not to endorse that bill.

Also last Thursday, Bakersfield officials sent letters to five dispensaries demanding they shut down within 30 days. The city council banned dispensaries last July and won a court challenge to that ban last month. The city said it selected dispensaries that had complaints from neighbors. City officials say there are 21 dispensaries operating in the city and that they plan to move against the others, too.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Northern California sued Fresno city and county over total bans on marijuana cultivation. "The bans are at odds with state law enacted by the voters of California," the ACLU said. The lawsuit charges that the Fresno ordinances are invalid because they are preempted by the state's medical marijuana laws. Read the ACLU complaint here.

Also on Tuesday, the Desert Hot Springs city council voted unanimously to allow dispensaries and ordered city staff to come up with draft regulations by June 5. Palm Springs is currently the only city in Riverside County to allow dispensaries. Members agreed in general that a tax should be collected and that the number of dispensaries should be limited.

New Mexico

Last Thursday, medical marijuana advocates launched a campaign to force a rewrite of proposed new rules. The state Health Department released proposed rule changes a week earlier that advocates say will make access to medical marijuana more difficult. The Don't Take Away My Medicine campaign is being led by the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the South East New Mexico Medical Cannabis Alliance, and the Drug Policy Alliance. Click on the title link for more details.

New York

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed a comprehensive medical marijuana bill. It approved Assembly Bill 6357 by a margin of 91-34. This is the fifth time the Assembly has passed a medical marijuana bill, only to see them die in the Senate. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 4406, has already passed the Senate Health Committee and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee. The chairman of that committee said he would allow it to come to a vote -- if the Senate leadership agrees.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a bill calling for a referendum on medical marijuana was filed. Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) has filed House Bill 1161, which, if approved, would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana to treat specified medical conditions. Alexander had filed a medical marijuana bill last year, but it went nowhere in the legislature. The new bill would have to get super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature before it could go to the voters.

On Tuesday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) Tuesday filed a bill to allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for people suffering "intractable seizures." The measure is House Bill 1220.

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

There's More to Colorado Than Marijuana [FEATURE]

Colorado has certainly garnered a lot of attention since voters there decided to legalize marijuana in the 2012 election, but when it comes to drug reform, there's a lot more going on in the Rocky Mountain State than just buds, blunts, and bongs. In the past few years, Colorado has taken significant steps toward more enlightened drug policies, and with the powerful coalitions that have emerged to push the agenda, more is likely to come.

Passed last year while all the attention was on the legislature's race to get marijuana commerce regulations passed, the single most significant piece of broader drug reform legislation was Senate Bill 250, which aims to rein in and redirect corrections spending by reducing the number of drug offenders in prison.

The bill creates a separate sentencing system for drug offenders and allows people convicted of some felony drug charges to be sentenced to probation and community-based sentencing and see that felony charge changed to a misdemeanor conviction upon completion of probation. It allow provides that savings from the sentencing changes be plowed back into drug treatment.

The bill didn't come out of nowhere. It was the outgrowth of a 2008 law that created the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. That panel brought together in one effort the heads of all the relevant state agencies as they grappled with how to reduce recidivism and put a brake on prison spending. It also provided an opportunity for groups like the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) to start confronting the commission with research-based evidence about what does and doesn't work.

"There is a lot of good evidence-based practice that shows what we did in the past didn't work, and a lot of it had to do with national attention," said Pam Clifton, communications coordinator for the CCJRC. "People were asking 'How come half your people are going back to prison?' Well, we didn't have funding for treatment in Colorado. If you didn't have any money, there wasn't any place for you to go. Another problem was helping people on the front end. How can we be more proactive with people on probation? The recession gave us a little bit of leverage."

But to get sentencing and drug reforms passed required not just a commission to come up with best policies and practices, but a political leadership that was willing to act. That came in 2008, when Colorado turned from red to blue, with a new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, and Democrats in control of the legislature.

"When Bill Owens (R) was governor, he wasn't going to let anything happen," said Clifton. "But with the commission, a lot of conversations got started and we were able to educate about why change was needed, so when we had a change in leadership, there was a mandate from the commission to get good legislation passed. A lot of the recommendations the commission made went directly to the legislature, and when a bill showed up from the commission, it had a better opportunity to survive the process."

And while, as noted above, the legislature has passed other reforms, Senate Bill 250 was the biggie.

"That was the landmark legislation that really changes things," said Clifton. "This was the whole state -- prosecutors, defense counsel, the commission, us -- coming together and agreeing it was the right approach."

The bill only went into effect last October, so its results remain to be seen. But advocates are confident it has not only changed the conversation about drugs and sentencing, but that it will pay off in terms of fewer prisoners doing less time at less cost to the state -- and with less harm to the futures of drug offenders in the state.

Even the prisons are scenic in Colorado, although it is hoped that fewer prisoners will be forced to enjoy the view soon. (CDOC)
"It's too early to tell what impact Senate Bill 250 will have," said Art Way, Colorado manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It was definitely a step in the right direction, though. It shrank the number of felony degrees for drug charges from six to four, and now, many low-level drug felonies can wobble down to misdemeanors thanks to that bill. It's not true defelonization of use and possession, but it still gives defendants some opportunities to avoid the label of felons."

And the CCJRC deserves some major credit, he said.

"The CCJRC has been doing great work in the past decade revealing that we are on an unsustainable path," said Way. "The Department of Corrections budget was only increasing year after year, and they were able to make this a fiscal argument as well as a human argument. They've been at the forefront here."

Another front where Colorado is forging ahead is harm reduction. Needle exchange programs were legalized in 2010 and there are now six across the state, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012, and a law allowing friends and family members of injection drug users to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) passed last year.

Activists have also managed to push through laws exempting needle exchange participants from the state's drug paraphernalia laws, and in Denver, an ordinance last year allowed the first mobile needle exchange in the state.

"We've been really excited, not only about all these programs, but also about getting these policy wins," said Lisa Raville of the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center. "Every time we go to the capitol, we've been winning. The legislature is very excited about harm reduction."

After passing Senate Bill 250, this year was relatively quiet on the sentencing and drug reform front. There are a number of reasons for that, some of them having to do with gauging public (and legislative) attitudes in the wake of a well-publicized violent crime, the killing of state prison chief Tom Clements by a parolee.

"Our corrections director was murdered last spring, and that caused a lot of ripples and made people at the capitol freak out a bit, so we wanted to tread lightly," said Clifton. "And things are really tricky in Colorado now," she added. "Elections are coming up, and everyone's concerned about what color we're going to be come November. Our elected officials are all being very cautious right now."

Like the CCJC, the harm reductionists were quiet in the legislature this year. It was a time for solidifying gains and getting previous victories implemented, Raville said.

Harm reduction measures in place in Colorado include needle exchanges and overdose reversal drug access. (wikimedia.org)
"This is an election year, and we knew they would be playing defense at the capitol," she said. "We decided this year would be all about promoting harm reduction policies and procedures. When we got those laws passed, we assumed that the legislature and the courts would implement them, but they didn't, so we spent the first six months promoting implementation, working with the legislature, as well as working with doctors and pharmacies so they know about these new laws."

But that doesn't mean the Harm Reduction Action Center is giving up on the legislature.

"Depending on how the election goes, our goal next year is total syringe decriminalization," said Raville. "We have the exemption for needle exchange participants, but there are still folks who won't ever access a needle exchange program, and we want them exempt as well. Now, you can get eight to 15 days in jail for every syringe, clean or used."

Raville pointed to the success of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition in getting a similar measure passed last year in the last year in getting a similar measure passed in the Tar Heel State. That partial decriminalization bill allows people carrying needles to avoid arrest if they inform officers they are carrying them.

"Robert Childs and the NCHRC got that passed with the support of law enforcement, who didn't want to get pricked," she said. "That's inspired us to work closely with the Denver Police Department. We have two officers on our advisory board."

"We have an overdose issue here in Colorado," Raville noted. "ODs have tripled in the past 10 years, and we have a fatal overdose every day and a half in the state. Not many doctors are prescribing naloxone, but we've had 92 overdose reversals so far. And a couple of hospitals in Denver are discharging overdose patients with a prescription for naloxone. We're trying to make that the standard for hospitals across the state."

While it was relatively quiet this year in the legislature, activists had to play defense on one set of bills and managed to kill them. That was a pair of bills to amend the civil code for child neglect to explicitly include marijuana use as an indicator, even though the state has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use and possession.

"Stopping that bill was our top concern this year," said Way. "We worried that amending the civil code the way those bills tried to do would simply help law enforcement during drug investigations by leveraging parental rights. This wasn't a public health approach; it was a law enforcement bill couched as a public health and child protection bill," he said.

"The bill's fiscal notes only involving increasing bed space for what they expected to an influx of people put in jail," he noted. "There was nothing about access to treatment or reunification with kids. It was a standard, punitive drug war approach to a public health issue, and we were able to kill it for the second year in a row."

The CCJRC, for its part, is continuing to push for reform. While it wasn't ready to share its strategic planning for the near future, Clifton did say that the group is working around implementation of the Affordable Care Act's provisions requiring insurance companies to cover drug treatment.

"We've convened a stakeholder group from around the state -- health care and criminal justice people -- to make sure they knew each other as a step toward successfully implementing the ACA, getting more people in treatment, and reducing the prison population. We're teaching people how to navigate the system and teaching the system how to help people navigate it," she said.

And while sentencing reform and harm reduction efforts in Colorado haven't, for the most part, been about marijuana, the whole opening on marijuana has given political and social space to drug reform efforts that go beyond pot.

"The conversation about marijuana has absolutely helped," said Raville. "We legalized it and the sky didn't fall. This has helped normalize pot and normalize drug use more broadly. And it's been a good opportunity to talk to people about how voting matters."

"Marijuana reform has helped legislators understand what we mean by a public health approach," said Way. "We hope to now be able to address drug policy on a broader level with the legislature."

But much of that will depend on what the makeup of the legislature looks like after November. Still, Colorado has shown what some persistence, some coalition-building, and some science, evidence, and compassion can accomplish.

CO
United States

DEA Backs Down; Kentucky Will Get Its Hemp Seeds

Kentucky agricultural officials told the Associated Press Thursday evening that the DEA had approved a permit allowing the state to import a 250-lb shipment of hemp seed to be used for research purposes. The DEA had originally balked at issuing the permit, only to be hit with a firestorm of criticism, including sharp words from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just happens to be from Kentucky.

It's sunrise for hemp in the Bluegrass State. (votehemp.org)
Although the omnibus farm bill passed earlier this year included an amendment allowing for research into hemp in states that had authorized it, which Kentucky has, the seeds imported from Italy were held up at a US Customs warehouse in Louisville. Kentucky sued the DEA last week over the issue after the agency refused to issue a permit.

But state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said late Thursday that the seeds would be released Friday and that the hemp could be in the ground as early as this weekend. Officials had worried that the DEA's obstructionism would stall planting until it was too late in the season, a date they pegged at around June 1.

"There was no sense to this," Comer said.

"This is a historic day," he continued. "We've done something that no one thought we could do a year-and-a-half ago. We legalized industrial hemp and we've proven that it's an agricultural crop and not a drug."

A Justice Department spokeswoman told the AP that the DEA had indeed issued the permit Thursday. Justice, the DEA, and Customs were all named in the suit filed by the Kentucky Agriculture Department. Attorneys for the federal government and the state met with a federal judge Wednesday.

But that wasn't the only meeting going on. Sen. McConnell sat down with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Wednesday to urge her to reconsider.

"It was the intent of my provision in the farm bill to allow states' departments of agriculture and universities to explore the commercial use of industrial hemp as a means for job creation and economic development," McConnell said.

Whether it was a federal judge or a powerful home-state political figure, or a combination of the two, somebody got the DEA's attention. Now, the agency is getting out of the way, and Kentucky can get down to the business of planting its first hemp crops in decades.

Frankfort, KY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

California battles over dispensaries and cultivation rules continue, medical marijuana bills move in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, and South Carolina, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday, a Shasta County official filed a lawsuit to block an initiative that seeks to take changes in the county's medical marijuana program to voters in the fall. County Counsel Rubin Cruise Jr. filed a complaint against petitioner Tamara Kelly saying part of her proposal violated state law because it called for a tax that only county commissioners can impose. The initiative would have medical marijuana growers pay the county a tax on donations they receive from patients and would also create basic regulations for marijuana gardens on properties smaller than five acres and a hearing system to help resolve disputes with growers.

Last Saturday, Riverside County certified an initiative to rescind the city of Riverside's ban on dispensaries. Campaigners handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but the vote apparently won't take place until June 2015.

On Monday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved a bill that would require police to return medical marijuana to users if charges are dropped or they are acquitted. Senate Bill 1193, sponsored by Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

On Tuesday, Lake County medical marijuana supporters handed in signatures for an initiative that would revise the county's cultivation policies. The Medical Marijuana Control Act would allow four marijuana plants per parcel on properties of under an acre, limit collective gardens to 48 plants on rural properties of five acres or more, require fully fenced and locked garden areas, create a medical marijuana enforcement division in the Community Development Department and establish a medical marijuana enforcement officer position. It needs 2,115 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot; proponents handed in more than 3,000 raw signatures.

Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council punted on its dispensary ordinance. The council delayed voting on its controversial measure until next week. The decision to postpone the vote came after hours of heated and emotional testimony on all sides of the issue.

Illinois

On Wednesday, the House approved medical marijuana for seizures. The House approved Senate Bill 2636, which expands the state's medical marijuana law to include both adults and minors suffering from seizure disorders. The measure has already passed the Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Massachusetts

Last Wednesday, a state senator filed a budget amendment seeking to tax medical marijuana sales. State Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) added an amendment to the Senate budget released last week that would impose a 6.25% sales tax on medical marijuana. He said he wanted it done quickly before there is any organized opposition. Health care goods and services and prescription drugs are generally exempted from the sales tax under state law. But Joyce said at least 10 other medical marijuana states impose sales taxes on it, including neighboring Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine.

On Wednesday, the budget debate got underway, with patients objecting to any sales tax on medical marijuana. "To tax sick and suffering patients is just wrong," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "By their very nature, medical marijuana patients tend to be lower income people because that's the nature of serious and chronic illness."

Minnesota

Last Thursday, lawmakers compromised on a medical marijuana bill that doesn't allow smoking. Minnesotans will get a medical marijuana bill, but they won't be able to smoke their medicine. They can only use it in the form of liquids, pills, or oils, and they can vape, but not smoke it. Both houses had passed bills last week, with the House version being more restrictive. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) said Thursday he will sign the compromise measure. That would make Minnesota the 22nd medical marijuana state.

Last Friday, both houses gave the medical marijuana bill final approval.

New Mexico

On Monday, the state Court of Appeals upheld insurance coverage for medical marijuana. The state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that an injured worker can be reimbursed for medical marijuana purchases by his former employer and the company's insurer. The appeals court upheld an earlier workmen's compensation decision in favor of the worker. The case is Vialpando v. Ben's Automotive Service and Redwood Fire & Casualty. Attorneys familiar with the case said they knew of no similar rulings in other medical marijuana states.

New York

Last Thursday, a Republican senator filed a no smoking medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, but bar "delivery through smoking." The bill is Senate Bill 7509.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health Committee approved the Compassionate Use Act. The committee narrowly approved Senate Bill 4406, the Compassionate Care Act. Similar bills have been approved by the Assembly in recent years, but this marks the first time the Senate has taken up the issue. If allowed to the Senate floor for a vote, the bill is expected to pass, but first it must get through the Senate Finance Committee.

Oregon

Last Thursday, a circuit court judge ruled that the state's medical marijuana law is unenforceable because it conflicts with federal law. The ruling came in a case involving the right of the city of Medford to revoke the business license of a dispensary. Expect the decision to be appealed.

Rhode Island

Last Wednesday, the Health Department admitted it was falling behind on patient applications. The state Health Department is eight weeks backlogged in handling patient medical marijuana applications. Patients aren't happy. They're supposed to be automatically approved after 15 days, but the department says it is understaffed and overwhelmed, and it didn't anticipate the volume of applications.

South Carolina

Last Wednesday, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee approved a limited CBD medical marijuana bill. House Bill 4803 would allow the use of high-CBD marijuana extracts for patients suffering severe epilepsy. It has already passed the House.

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

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