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Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

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

Chronicle AM: OH Marijuana Init Shot Down, DEA Releases National Drug Threat Assessment, More (11/4/15)

Ohio's "monopoly" legalization iniitiative got trounced, two Michigan towns vote to legalize it, the Seneca Nation marches toward medical marijuana, the DEA releases its annual threat assessment, and more.

Voters told ResponsibleOhio to take a hike.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Voters Approve Spending Marijuana Taxes. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives legislators permission to spend $66.1 million in pot tax revenues. This marks the third time in four years Colorado voters have approved spending marijuana taxes, and the 69% victory came as little surprise.

Georgia Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. A new 11Alive/Survey USA poll has Georgia split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 45% for and 46% against. A group called "Let Us Vote Georgia" says it will try to put the issue on the ballot for next year's election.

Ohio "Monopoly" Initiative Goes Down in Flames. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative was roundly defeated Tuesday, garnering only 35% of the vote. In addition to opposition from the usual suspects, the measure also aroused the ire of many Ohio legalization activists because of its provisions limiting commercial marijuana grows to only ten cultivation sites, all of them owned by the the campaign's funders.

Two Michigan Towns Vote to Legalize It. Voters in the towns of Keego Harbor in Oakland County and Portage in Kalamazoo County approved local ordinances allowing the "usage, possession, and transfer" of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The Keego Harbor measure passed with 55% of the vote; no totals are yet available for Portage.

Medical Marijuana

Seneca Nation Approves Medical Marijuana Measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. The assessment emphasized the toll from prescription drug and heroin overdoses and identified Mexican drug trafficking organization as "the biggest criminal threat to the United States," but also warned of that "affiliated and violent gangs are increasingly a threat to the safety and security of our communities." Access the report by clicking on the title link.


Palestinian Authority Approves Tough New Drug Laws. President Mahmoud Abbas today signed into law legislation that creates tough new penalties, including up to life in prison, for drug dealing and manufacturing. It also creates a new anti-drug bureaucracy, a special action office for drug abuse prevention. Palestinian officials blame the Israelis for the West Bank drug problem.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization-Oligopoly Initiative Defeated

The controversial Ohio marijuana legalization initiative has gone down to defeat, with voters rejecting it by a margin of 66% to 34%, according to early voting results. Local media outlets called the election minutes after vote counting began at 9:00pm. [Ed: The final split was 64% to 36%.]

The initiative was sponsored by ResponsibleOhio, which gathered up 10 sets of investors willing to pony up $2 million each to get one of the 10 commercial marijuana cultivation sites envisioned in the initiative. Passage of the initiative would have locked this legal marijuana cultivation "monopoly" into the state constitution.

ResponsibleOhio's multi-million dollar advertising campaign was no match for an opposition that included not only all the usual suspects -- law enforcement, state political figures, business groups -- but also some of the state's marijuana legalization activist community. Some Buckeye activists were infuriated by what they saw as a bunch of suits coming in to take over their movement and render them irrelevant. But others [Ed: more thoughtfully] felt the funder-purchased oligopoly was inappropriate.

Both marijuana movement people and the state's political establishment hammered hard on the initiative's "monopoly" provision, with the Republican-dominated legislature even placing its own initiative, Issue 2, on the ballot. Issue 2 would make constitutional monopolies like ResponsibleOhio's initiative unconstitutional. That set up a potential legal confrontation in the event that both initiatives passed, but that question is now moot. (Issue 2 was passing at press time.)

Initiative proponents argued that even though commercial cultivation opportunities were strictly circumscribed, there would be plenty of opportunities for others to get into the pot business in the state, too. Retail outlets and pot processing facilities would have been licensed, providing numerous opportunities for business startups.

The initiative also would have protected medical marijuana patients, and was supported by the Ohio Rights Group, a medical marijuana advocacy group

Marijuana reform activists who opposed the ResponsibleOhio initiative said they could do better. Now they will have the chance. But so far no grassroots legalization or even medical marijuana initiative has gotten major funding, and volunteer-driven initiatives rarely if ever make the ballot. The legislature has also not been interested to date. Ohio still has a road ahead of it to get to reform.

Chronicle AM: OH Votes on Legalization Today, New Big Bucks CA Init Unveiled, More (11/3/15)

It's election day in Ohio, a big money California legalization initiative rolls out, there's another national poll with a majority for marijuana legalization, Ireland takes big steps toward harm reduction, Germany gets set to deal with medical marijuana, and more.

Will Ohioans vote for Buddie and Issue 3? The polls close in a few hours. (
Marijuana Policy

Another National Poll Has a Majority for Legalization. A new Morning Consult poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide. That's in line with other recent polls showing a majority for freeing the weed, including Gallup (58%), CBS News (53%), and Pew (53%). Click on the link for more details and methodology.

California Initiative With Big Bucks, Key Backers Rolls Out. A legalization initiative backed by tech philanthropist Sean Parker, other deep-pocketed funders, and leading state political figures such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was filed Monday. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest of a half-dozen initiatives filed in the state. At this early point, it stands the best chance of making the 2016 ballot, given the financial and political clout behind it. Look for a Chronicle feature article later this week.

Ohio Votes on Legalization Today. Voters go to the polls today to vote for or against the controversial ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative, which would create a 10-grower oligopoly on commercial cultivation, owned by the backers of the initiative. Voters will also have a chance to vote on Issue 2, which is designed to negate the initiative and future monopoly or oligopoly initiatives in the future. Late polls had the legalization initiative in a dead heat. Look for a Chronicle story once we have election results.

Vermont Senate Committee to Hold Legalization Hearing Next Week. The Senate Government Operations Committee will take testimony next Tuesday on proposals to legalize marijuana. The hearing is expected to seek answers to questions about how legalization would work. The legislature will consider legalization in the coming session.

Drug Policy

Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms. In a speech last Friday, Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton called for a series of criminal justice reforms, including a ban on racial profiling, a ban on pre-employment questions about criminal histories, and the elimination of the remaining sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Bernie Sanders responded that criminal justice reform needs to include marijuana legalization, which he has endorsed.


Group of Studies Shows Mass Incarceration for Drugs Growing in Latin America. The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law today released a series of new studies showing that mass imprisonment for drug offenses has increased across the region. You can read the reports here.

Ireland to Open Supervised Injection Sites, Looks Toward Drug Decriminalization. Irish drugs minister Aodhan O'Riordain said today that the government will open an injection site in Dublin next year, followed shortly by Cork, Galway, and Limerick. He also said he plans to push for the decriminalization of drug possession as part of a "radical cultural shift" in dealing with drug use.

Germany to Set Up Medical Marijuana Agency. The Ministry of Health has authored a draft bill that would allow sick Germans to use medical marijuana, with the substance to be prescribed and to be paid for by health insurers. The bill would not allow patients to grow their own. "It is our goal that in the future, more people in Germany will be able to receive cannabis as medicine than has been the case until now," said federal drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler. She said she wanted the bill pushed through the Bundestag by year's end, so the new law could go into effect next year.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump Says Let States Legalize, Mexican Villagers Go Vigilante on Crooked Cops, More (10/30/15)

A leading Republican presidential contender favors letting the states decide on pot policy, another Indian tribe wants to get in on the action, Mexican villagers turn the tables on crooked federal cops, and more.

Donald Trump says let the states decide on marijuana. (wikimedia/gage skidmore)
Donald Trump Would Let States Decide on Legalization. The Republican presidential contender said at a campaign rally Thursday that he supports letting states decide whether to legalize marijuana or not. "I really believe we should leave it up to the states," he said while taking questions at an event at the Nugget Convention Center in Sparks, Nevada.

North Carolina Indian Tribe to do Feasibility Study on Legalizing Marijuana. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a resolution Thursday calling for a feasibility study to look into "the issues and impacts associated with legalization of cannabis." The resolution was submitted by tribal members who are part of Common Sense Cannabis.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Proposed. State Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) said Thursday he will introduce a bill to end civil asset forfeiture reform. "Essentially, what [the bill] does is ensure that in order for anybody to lose their property through a forfeiture proceeding, they must first be charged with a crime and then subsequently convicted of that crime," McColley said. "Now, under Ohio law, there is something called provisional title, which essentially means that the state can hold temporary title to the property during the course of legal proceedings if that property is subject to forfeiture. That is still in place, but in order for the final transfer of title to occur, there must be a conviction of the underlying crime that is the basis for the forfeiture."


Mexican Villagers Detain Eight Federal Police They Say Work With Drug Cartels. At least 200 residents of a small mining town in Guerrero state have captured and are holding eight federal police officers they say work for the Guerreros Unidos drug gang. The federal police chief said talks were underway with locals to win their release. The incident occurred in Carrizalillo, where the police had arrived on a mission to arrest a local cooperative farming commission leader. They came accompanied by local alleged drug trafficker, and when the cops tried to arrest the local leader, the locals arrested the cops. Click on the link for more sordid details.

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

Chronicle AM: LEAP Endorses Ohio Initiative, Federal Drug War Prisoners Start Going Home, More (10/29/15)

LEAP endorses Ohio's Issue 3, another tribe wants in on the medical marijuana action, a West Virginia mayor calls fro drug decriminalization, backers of Bolivia's president are using coca as campaign contributions, and more.

Evo Morales' backers are contributing coca for the cause. (
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana at the GOP Debate. In Wednesday night's debate, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich had an opportunity to answer a question on marijuana legalization, and he's not for it. He said it would send the wrong message to kids and that he had spent years of his administration working "to rein in the problem of overdoses." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned marijuana, but only jokingly, offering to buy tequila "or even some famous Colorado brownies" for debate moderator Carlos Quintanilla after a heated exchange.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. LEAP has endorsed the ResponsibleOhio Issue 3 legalization initiative as the campaign counts down toward election day next Tuesday. "Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market. Passage of Issue Three puts us in charge, not the dealers," said retired Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz. The initiative is also endorsed by national NORML, but has split Buckeye State legalization proponents, some of who especially object to its "monopoly" on commercial grow sites. The initiative would only allow ten, on land owned by the investors who bankrolled the campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana an Issue in Kentucky Governor's Race. In something of a political oddity, Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin is supporting medical marijuana, while Democratic candidate and current state attorney general Jack Conway, is opposing it. This issue has been causing fireworks on the campaign trail. The election is next Tuesday. Click on the link for some of the flavor. [Ed: Conway ran campaign ads attacking Rand Paul as "soft on drugs" when the two were competing for the state's open Senate seat in 2010. It's not surprising to see Conway take a regressive stance on medical marijuana.]

Nevada Tribe to Join Medical Marijuana Industry. The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe is planning to open a medical marijuana grow facility for economic development reasons. "Jobs to bring our people out of poverty, to create the jobs that we can better our community," said tribal president Tildon Smart. "And the profits would be used for helping out with programs." The tribe said it plans to start growing next spring.

Los Angeles to Stop Giving Tax Certificates to Unpermitted Dispensaries. The city council voted Wednesday to stop giving tax certificates for new medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2013, the city approved Measure D, which banned most dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped them from opening. The city had been issuing tax certificates to them, but the council agreed that it was "insincere" to collect taxes from shops the city was working to shut down. Click on the link for much more detail.

Drug Policy

Charleston, West Virginia, Mayor Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told local talk radio Wednesday that reducing crime requires radical changes in the drug laws. "I don't think we're going to be able to arrest our way out of it. I think we're going to have to look at these drug laws," Jones said. "The money you would save from incarcerations, which would be in the multi-billions you could use to help people. The crime there (in the west side of the city) would end overnight if you legalize or decriminalized drugs, but there would have to be a way to get drugs to people who needed them… to end the criminality in it."

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Governor Signs Partial Needle Decriminalization Bill. Gov. Pat McCrory last week signed into law House Bill 712, the Pilot Project/Used Needle Disposal bill. Under the bill, people who tell police they are carrying needles cannot be charged with either paraphernalia or drug possession based on residues in the needles. The bill also allows a handful of counties to undertake pilot needle disposal programs. The effort was led by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.


6,000 Federal Drug Prisoners Start Going Home This Weekend. Some 6,000 granted sentence reductions as a result of policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission will be released from prisons and halfway houses beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend. About one-third are foreigners who will be deported, but the other two thirds are going home to US communities. Another 8,500 are eligible for early release in the coming year.


Mexico Supreme Court Postpones Marijuana Legalization Case. The country's high court has delayed action on a case arguing that Mexicans have a human right to cultivate and consume marijuana. There is no word on when it will be heard.

Bolivian President's Backers Make Coca Campaign Contributions. Backers of President Evo Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, are providing bags of coca and potatoes for their campaign to seek a constitutional amendment to allow him to seek a third term in 2019. One coca grower union leader said his members had pledged 20 tons of coca to be sold to raise money for the effort. That would raise about $120,000 and, they point out, that coca would not be turned into cocaine.

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

Double Standard? Marijuana or Hemp? DEA Indian Tribe Raid Raises Questions [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and will appear at

Taking advantage of a 2014 Justice Department memo giving Indian tribes a green light to participate in marijuana commerce, as well as a 2014 congressional vote allowing for industrial hemp pilot programs, Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe earlier this year planted some 30,000 cannabis plants as part of a pilot project with the College of the Menominee Nation.

Last Friday, the DEA came and cut them all down.

The DEA says the plants were marijuana plants; the tribe says they were hemp plants. In either case, tribal officials and marijuana reform advocates don't understand why the grow was raided. Even if it were marijuana, it appears to be an operation well within Justice Department guidelines. And that's leading to some pointed questions about whether the feds have one standard for pot-legal states and another for the tribe-legal jurisdictions.

The memo that allows for marijuana commerce on the reservation includes eight potential enforcement triggers first formulated in a 2013 Justice Department memo (the Cole memo) advising federal prosecutors to lay off of recreational and medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Those triggers include diversion to other localities, money going to organized crime, and violence associated with the trade, among others.

The raid came after the tribe allowed a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee and local police to inspect the operation and take plant samples. And that visit came after a meeting between the BIA agent, the local cops, and an assistant US attorney.

According to the DEA affidavit for a search warrant, the samples tested positive for "marijuana," although there was no measurement of THC levels in the plants.

Industrial hemp is high in fiber, but low in THC, with levels at 0.3% or less. Pot produced for the recreational market, by contrast, typically has THC levels of 15% to 20% and beyond. There is a possibility some of the plants could exceed the 0.3% limit, but not by much.

The DEA affidavit also attempted to make a case that the hemp grow was violating those Justice Department triggers. The tribe had hired Colorado cannabis consultant Brian Goldstein to consult on its grow, and Goldstein, along with Tribal Chairwoman Ruth Wapoose, had in fact guided the feds and the local cops on their tour of the operation.

But Goldstein was "white," the affidavit noted, and several other people present appeared "non-native," and some vehicles had Colorado plates. This, the affidavit somewhat tortuously argued, violated the memo's provision about diversion from states where marijuana is legal to those where it is not. It seems to claim that hiring a cannabis consultant from a legal state is equivalent to importing pot from that state.

A field of hemp at sunrise. (
The affidavit also stretched to assert the operation was setting off other enforcement triggers. The lack of ventilation in a drying room "is a health and safety concern for the community and the individuals associated with the operation, which is a violation of the enumerated priorities listed in the Cole memorandum regarding adverse public health concerns of marijuana cultivation," it argued.

But drying hemp stalks in closed barns is standard practice and is used by farmers around the country, including those who produced legal hemp crops this year in Colorado and Kentucky.

And security personnel guarding the property had guns, leading the BIA agent to question "the ability for the security team to have weapons for protection because it would violate the Cole memorandum."

Now, the grow has been destroyed, any decision on criminal prosecution is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the tribe and other observers are wondering just what is going on. After all, the Menominee aren't the only tribe to take the Justice Department at its word, only to be raided down the road.

This past summer, the DEA hit two California tribes, the Pit River Tribe and the Alturas Indian Rancheria, seizing 12,000 plants. The feds alleged Cole memorandum violations including financing from a foreign entrepreneur and fears the marijuana would be distributed outside the reservations in ways that violated the state's medical marijuana law. And the US attorney in South Dakota a month earlier refused to agree to lift an injunction barring Oglala Sioux tribal member Alex White Plume from growing hemp, which the Oglala Sioux Nation has legalized.

Are the tribes being held to a different standard than states where it is legal? Has there been a policy shift at Justice? Are individual federal prosecutors going off the reservation?

Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw doesn't know, but he isn't happy about it.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe," he said in a statement after the raid. "We offered to take any differences in the interpretation of the farm bill to federal court. Instead, the Obama administration sent agents to destroy our crop while allowing recreational marijuana in Colorado. I just wish the President would explain to tribes why we can't grow industrial hemp like the states, and even more importantly, why we don't deserve an opportunity to make our argument to a federal judge rather than having our community raided by the DEA?"

Neither was Eric Steenstra, head of the hemp industry advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

"The DEA action in this case is egregious, excessive and presents an unjust prejudice against Indian Country and the rights of sovereign tribal nations," he said. "The Menominee Indian Tribe cultivated their industrial hemp in accordance with Federal Law, per the legislation put forth in the Farm Bill. This is a step backward, at a time when great progress has otherwise been made toward legalizing and regulating industrial hemp cultivation."

In an interview with US News and World Report, tribal law expert Lance Morgan, a member of Nebraska's Winnebago tribe who has worked with tribal governments pondering marijuana operations, said the Cole memorandum guidelines are not being applied consistently and warned the Menominee raid would be remembered as a historic betrayal.

"How can you allow people to buy marijuana in a retail environment in some states and then raid an industrial hemp operation of a tribe? The only difference is that there is a tribe involved," he said. "This odd federal policy of encouraging investment and then raiding the new business sets us back a few decades in federal tribal trust and economic policy."

The raids against tribal pot operations will kill investment in such ventures, Morgan said.

"The new federal policy of 'sort of' allowing tribes to get into the marijuana business is especially cruel and unusual because it encourages investment, but after the investment is made the federal government comes and shuts it down and the investors lose all their money."

Tribal law expert and former head of New York's Seneca Nation Robert Odawi Porter agreed that there is at least the appearance of a double standard.

"This certainly suggests a real divergence in policy approach for Indian country," compared to the pot-legal states, which have been allowed to develop enormous marijuana industries, he said. "It increasingly looks like the Justice Department guidelines are not being interpreted in the same way as they were intended."

It seems like the Justice Department has some explaining and clarifying to do. Can the tribes participate in the new marijuana economy like that states, or not? And does the DEA accept the legal definition and status of hemp? If not, why?

Bernie Sanders Seeks End to Federal Marijuana Prohibition in the Senate

Presidential contender Bernie Sanders announced his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition at a town hall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Wednesday night. He will announce a bill that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, end federal marijuana prohibition, and let states set their own policies without federal interference.

"Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have a criminal record as a result of marijuana use," Sanders said in prepared remarks for the event. "That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential candidate in either party has gone as far as the independent Vermont senator. Democrat Martin O'Malley has called for placing marijuana in Schedule II, but Sanders wants it descheduled. Hillary Clinton has yet to stake out a position on federal marijuana reform, saying she wants to see how legalization is working in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington first.

The Sanders plan would not make marijuana legal in the states, but would remove the specter of federal interference for those states that choose to change their pot laws. His plan would also let marijuana businesses in legal states use financial services and take tax deductions currently unavailable to them under federal law.

Sanders is in line with national public opinion on the issue. Support for legalization has consistently polled at 50% or greater in recent years, and a Gallup poll this month had support at its highest level ever, 58%, tied with the poll's 2013 finding.

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Look for Sanders' bill to be filed as early as tomorrow.

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

Chronicle AM: VA Pot Arrests Up, Especially for Blacks; VT Organized Opposition Emerges, More (10/28/15)

Initiative proponents in Arkansas and North Dakota have to go back to the drawing board, Vermont legalization opponents get organized, Virginia pot arrests increase, especially for blacks, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Legalization Initiative Language Rejected. State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a marijuana legalization initiative, citing spelling errors and "ambiguities in the text." The proposal, from Marry Berry of Summit, must now be resubmitted with fixed language.

New York Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. At a forum in Buffalo today, two state legislators, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) and Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), called for marijuana legalization. They are supporting the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, Senate Bill 1747.

Vermont Anti-Legalization Group Organizes. There is now organized opposition to marijuana legalization in the Green Mountain State. Opponents have formed a state affiliate of the national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group is hoping to block legislative efforts to legalize it, warning that it could result in a "public health crisis." Click on the link for more details.

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Increasing, Especially in Black Communities. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that marijuana arrests have increased by 57% over the past decade, but have more than doubled for black Virginians. Click on the link for much more.

Medical Marijuana

California Collective Operator Sues Over New State Medical Marijuana Law. Collective operator David Armstrong has filed a lawsuit claiming the state's new medical marijuana law violates the state constitution because it amends a voter initiative, the 1996 Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215). Armstrong's attorney, Nicholas Emmanuel, said that although the full effect of the law signed this month is not clear, his client wanted to "get a jump on things."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Rejected. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) Tuesday rejected an initiative from the North Dakota Committee for Medical Marijuana, saying it had errors. Jaeger directed committee members to a petition drafting tool on state government web pages so they can get it right next time.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia Legislature Again Ponders Asset Forfeiture Reform. The legislature's Virginia Crime Commission met Tuesday to take a second look at passing asset forfeiture reform. A bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture failed in the state Senate earlier this year. Any decisions on introducing bills on this issue have been held off until at least the next meeting in December.

Chronicle AM: One Week to OH Vote, DEA Raids Menominee Hemp Grow, Iranians for Legalization???, More (10/27/15)

Menominee tribal officials are scratching their heads after the DEA cut down their hemp crop, Ohio votes on legalization in one week, some new federal sentencing statistics are out, the Iranians may be thinking about legalizing marijuana and/or opium, and more.

Marijuana Policy

A hemp field. Someone needs to sit down and have a talk with the DEA. (
DEA Raids Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, Cuts Down Hemp Plants. DEA agents swarmed the reservation last Friday and cut down 30,000 cannabis plants. The tribe says they were hemp plants; the DEA claims they were marijuana plants. Hemp has very low levels of THC, but it is not clear that the DEA actually tested THC levels. In any case, under a Justice Department policy announced last fall, tribes are supposed to be able to grow marijuana on tribal lands, provided they don't fall afoul of Justice Department concerns about out-of-jurisdiction trafficking, dealing to children, organized crime activities and the like.

Both Michigan Legalization Campaigns Have Money in the Bank. According to quarterly financial reports filed Monday, the state's two different marijuana legalization efforts are both pulling in cash, but still have a long way to go on signature gathering. MI Legalize has raised $308,000 and spent $249,000 so far as it seeks to gather some 252,523 valid voter signatures by December. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition has raised $351,000 and spent $284,000. The coalition has temporarily halted signature-gathering, even though it says it is roughly 50,000 signatures short, saying the move is a "strategic decision" and petitioning will soon resume. The coalition effort has until January to turn in signatures. MI Legalize would allow taxed and regulated marijuana sales with a 10% retail sales tax; the coalition effort also legalize, but would rely on the state legislature to set taxes and set licensing requirements.

Ohio Votes on Marijuana Legalization in One Week. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative is too close to call a week out from election day. The initiative would legalize marijuana, but only allow 10 commercial marijuana grows allotted to campaign backers. Polls in the past week have shown the race in a dead heat. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana Petition for the Kettle Falls Five. Prosecuted as marijuana traffickers for growing medical marijuana for their own use in a state where marijuana is legal, three of the Kettle Falls Five were sentenced earlier this month to federal prison. The petition here seeks "immediate orders of commutation and remission of jail time and fines for Rolland Gregg, his wife Michelle Gregg, and his mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey. We seek complete pardons of their convictions so that they are no longer considered felons. Allow them to return to being the productive members of society they were, before this ordeal began." Click on the link to add your signature.


More Than Half of Federal Drug Prisoners Are Doing Time for Cocaine. A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that, as of 2012, 54% of federal drug war prisoners were sentenced for cocaine offenses. Then came meth at 24%, marijuana at 12%, and heroin at 6%. The vast majority (88%) of crack offenders were black, while more than half (54%) of powder cocaine offenders were Hispanic. More than half (59%) of marijuana offenders were Hispanic. Among meth offenders, it was 48% white and 45% Hispanic. One-quarter (24%) of all drug offenders were not US citizens. Click on the link to read the report.


Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalize Marijuana or Opium? A prominent Iranian official has suggested as much. Saeed Sefatian, who made the remarks, is head of the working group for drug demand reduction in the country's Expediency Council, which is largely influential in the country's drug policies. Click on the link for more.

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