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Ohio Marijuana Monopoly Madness: ResponsibleOhio and Its Foes [FEATURE]

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

Ohio may about to legalize marijuana, but not the way other states have done it. A constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November would create a virtual monopoly on commercial marijuana grows for the entire state. That's not sitting well with a number of Ohioans, including the Republican state legislature and a good number of Buckeye State legalization and medical marijuana activists. It's also leaving major national drug reform organizations deeply ambivalent.

The ResponsibleOhio initiative is almost certain to qualify for the ballot any day now. Its well-financed campaign has handed in more than 700,000 signatures to state officials, nearly twice the 305,000 valid voter signatures needed. Those officials have until later this week to verify the signatures. [Update: Monday, state officials said the initiative was 29,000 signatures short, but ResponsibleOhio has another 10 days to make up the shortfall and it says it will challenge the disqualified signatures at the state Supreme Court.]


The initiative allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. It even has provisions for medical marijuana. None of that is controversial.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state. The sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and are prepared to spend $20 million or more convincing the public to vote for it.

The investors include a number of Ohio business interests -- real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- as well as some home state big names who could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

While this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem so strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging for donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. An April Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

Strange Bedfellows

But ResponsibleOhio is facing a head-on challenge from the legislature, attacks from legalizers left out in the cold, and a more general discomfort with constitutionally-mandated monopolies.

Late last month, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any addition to the state constitution that created "a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to distribute a federally controlled substance. The proposed amendment specifies that if it passes, any initiative that conflicted with it -- i.e. the ResponsibleOhio initiative -- "shall not take effect."

If both initiatives passed, rest assured that lengthy legal battles would ensue, but in the meantime, marijuana legalization in Ohio would be dead in the water. While legislative leaders paid lip service to concerns about anti-competitiveness, the amendment is clearly designed to stop legalization and is the instrument of a body that has steadfastly refused to consider legalization for nearly 20 years.

That didn't stop some legalization supporters -- and ResponsibleOhio foes -- from applauding the move, and even encouraging it.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told AlterNet.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

"The current system is actually better than their plan. It gives them a monopoly where only these 10 groups get the right to cultivate commercially, and that's bad policy for the state," Kavuru argued. "It creates an environment that allows a black market to thrive, and it doesn't eliminate arrests. The purpose of legalization is supposed to be to get rid of criminal arrests."

The ResponsibleOhio initiative would increase penalties on some cultivators and would leave people under 21 subject to arrest, Kavuru charged. He also attacked its medical marijuana provisions.

"It doesn't actually give any protection for patients and only says a commission 'may' implement a medical program," he said. Everything for recreational is 'shall.'"

Ohio Families CANN is also not satisfied with ResponsibleOhio's initiative, said Nicole Scholten, a spokesperson for the group, which seeks access to marijuana to treat sick children.

"We are wary of ResponsibleOhio's approach," she said. "We are not convinced it would yield the type and volume of medical cannabis that would be effective for our children. Legalization does not equal sustainable medicine. The medicine that would help our kids requires specific strains of cannabis and vast quantities. ResponsibleOhio's plan to have only ten grow sites is problematic. There is no guarantee these businesses would devote the grow space to the kind and volume of cannabis we need."

But another patient-activist organization that has tried unsuccessfully for years to get an initiative on the ballot, the Ohio Rights Group, is less negative. Its executive director, Jack Pardee, noted that the legislature has refused for nearly 20 years to even discuss marijuana legalization bills.

"We've been having a debate in our community about the merits of what the legislature is trying to do with this thing and, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with protecting Ohioans from economic forces," Pardee said. "ResponsibleOhio isn't perfect, but it has a lot of the pieces that ending prohibition needs to be successful."

National Drug Reform Groups Ambivalent

The divisions among Ohio activists are somewhat reflected by the national groups that have so far been the big players in marijuana legalization. None of them are directly involved with ResponsibleOhio -- it certainly doesn't need their fundraising abilities -- but they are watching with great interest and concern.

"It doesn't resemble our initiatives," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert. "We have not proposed such laws in the past, and it's not the type of law we would draft," he told AlterNet.

"It's up to Ohio voters to decide if this is the kind of system they want to replace marijuana prohibition with," said Tvert. "It would get the job done, but we think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and there should be a system where there can be a lot of competition and different businesses out there producing this product."

And he had a word of advice to Ohio activists opposing ResponsibleOhio.

"If they want to end marijuana prohibition, they need to weigh their opposition to this initiative against the possibility of having to wait longer for a better initiative," Tvert said.

"A lot of legalizers, we feel like the movement has been hijacked by the money people," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But the bottom line for NORML is that we want to legalize marijuana," he told AlterNet.

"While we'd have a preference for the little or medium-sized guy, we're not that concerned about who gets rich off it," the movement veteran said. "We're about not treating marijuana users like criminals, and we can speed that process along by three or four or five years because some rich investors run their own initiative, if it actually legalizes pot smoking and dispensaries where they can buy, if they qualify for the ballot, we will support it even if it's not perfect."

Stroup took great umbrage with the legislature's move to block the initiative.

"That's a bad faith move by the legislature," he growled. "The reason we have the initiative process is because legislatures were not responsive to the will of the people, and now we have a case where the people are going around the legislature, and the legislature is going to try to go around the people."

Stroup prophesied high-stakes litigation if ResponsibleOhio wins at the ballot box, but its victory is nullified by passage of the legislature's initiative.

"That undermines the basic purpose of initiatives, and we have at least one legal opinion that nothing in that resolution would in any way affect the initiative if it were to pass," he said. "I hope the courts act in that case."

"We've fought for a long time to end marijuana prohibition for civil rights, social justice, public health, and public safety reasons, and to create a legal market," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "But to then have some folks come along trying to create a constitutionally-mandated oligopoly kind of sticks in everybody's craw."

DPA has worked and is working on legalization in a number of states, and was consulted in the drafting of the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but is not endorsing it. Nadelmann's ambivalence was indicative of the mixed feelings the measure is arousing among activists.

"The fact is, we have investors putting up $20 or $30 million to win this thing in a state that will be the center of national political attention next year -- no one else is going to do it in Ohio. There is a possibility the oligopoly provision could get knocked out. The best outcome would be for this initiative to win, and then get that knocked out," he said.

"Aside from the oligopoly provision, it's actually pretty good," Nadelmann continued. And after criticism of an earlier draft, "they were actually pretty solicitous, they added home grow, medical marijuana protections, and the distribution model is pretty good."

Who Will Be in the Driver's Seat?

But the ResponsibleOhio move also signals the emergence of monied interests whose deep pockets could leave activists and the drug reform movement on the sidelines -- and who may not share the same interests dear to the hearts of reformers.

"There's something similar going on in Michigan," Nadelmann noted, referring to an as-yet-to-filed initiative from the Michigan Responsibility Council, one of three groups planning legalization initiatives in the state right now. "And look at Arizona, there's a lot of industry funding there, and there's been hard negotiations between MPP and those guys."

"The influence of DPA, MPP, and other activists is going to diminish rapidly," he predicted. "This is going to be increasingly driven by industry, and a lot of competing interests within the industry. And as this evolves into legislative processes, other forces are going to come into play and certain players will be able to make their demands felt. Social justice concerns could get knocked out."

If Not ResponsibleOhio, Who, and When?

The unhappy Ohio legalization activists and other ResponsibleOhio critics say that if and when it is defeated, they can move forward with their own legalization plans. Given the legislature's recalcitrance, that means they would have to run their own initiative campaign.

They haven't been able to do that so far, and while some, such as OTEP's Kavuru, say they can do it now, others aren't so sure.

"We have access to a lot of money," Kavuru said. "And we have a real solid political team. We're in negotiations right now for significant funding, and it's much easier to raise money for a recreational initiative than a medical one, because people are also looking at it as an investment."

But ResponsibleOhio is here and now, and if it goes down, it remains to be seen if anyone else can actually get on the ballot.

"If this is defeated this year, I doubt any major funders would step in to play a role in 2016," said NORML's Stroup. "I understand. The people in Ohio feel they were doing a great grassroots effort and hear these rich guys came along and bought the space. But the Ohio activists so far haven't shown they can get the funding to do good surveys, let alone pay for signatures or a professional campaign. This year may be our chance to take a conservative state like Ohio and leapfrog it ahead on legalization. I'm not real comfortable with ResponsibleOhio, but I just want it legalized."

The fun is just beginning in Ohio.

Chronicle AM: Obama Visits Prison, OH Gov Okays Naloxone, Ohio Init Could Come Up Short,More (7/17/15)

A surprising analysis suggests the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative could come up short on signatures, Guam releases medical marijuana program draft regulations, Obama visits a federal prison, Ohio's governor okays naloxone over-the-counter, and more.

Pres. Obama delivers statement during prison visit (
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Fall Short on Signatures, But Will Fight If It Does. Columbus's 10 TV is reporting that its analysis of signatures gathered to put the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative on the November ballot shows the initiative coming up 48,000 valid voter signatures short. That would be truly surprising, given that the group turned in 700,000 raw signatures and it only needs 305,000 valid ones to qualify. The group told 10 TV, however, that it could still collect signatures during a 10-day review period and that it could file legal challenges on signatures that were invalidated.

Michigan Democrat Will Introduce Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said today that support for legalization has reached critical mass and that he will introduce a bill to do just that. "You've got people on the left who are saying that people should not be having their lives ruined over something like marijuana and you've got people on the right who are saying marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs," said Irwin. "It makes sense from a public safety and public health perspective to bring that activity into the regulated space where we can make sure that consumers are protected. And we can also take the hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending on prosecuting marijuana offenders and direct those resources towards real criminals with real victims." There are also at least three groups working on legalization initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Releases Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Increase Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access. Gov. John Kasich (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that will make the overdose reversal drug naloxone available over the counter. This is the third year in a row Kasich has signed a naloxone bill, each one more expansive than the one before. Two years ago, he authorized a pilot program for naloxone and last year, he signed a bill allowing friends and family members of drug users to carry the drug.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Bill to Ban N-Bomb Heads to Governor's Desk. The General Assembly Thursday approved House Bill 341, which would classify the synthetic psychedelic NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, as an illegal controlled substance. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCroy (R). If he signs it, N-Bomb and its derivatives will become Schedule I controlled substances.

Criminal Justice

Obama Visits Federal Prison, Calls for Lesser Sentences for Drug Crimes. Wrapping up a week heavy on criminal justice, President Obama Thursday visited the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. While there, he met with six drug prisoners and called for lesser sentences for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Big CA Legalization Init Coming Soon, Italian Legalization Bill Filed, More (7/16/15)

We're waiting for the big one to drop in California, there's marijuana arrest expungement news from Jamaica and Ohio, Colorado rejects medical marijuana for PTSD, Chris Christie talks crime and drug policy, and more.

Jamaica will expunge the records of people with minor ganja convictions. (
Marijuana Policy

Big California Legalization Initiative About to Drop. A handful of marijuana legalization initiatives have already been filed in the Golden State, but many observers have been waiting for the one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and now the group has announced it will file its initiative within the next few weeks.

Ohio Officials Approve Initiative to Expunge Marijuana Convictions. The Ohio Ballot Board voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the Fresh Start Act for signature-gathering. The initiative would allow convictions to be expunged once marijuana is legal in the state. The initiative is another project of ResponsibleOhio, the people behind the controversial marijuana legalization initiative almost certainly headed to the ballot there this year.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Rejects Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Colorado health officials voted Wednesday against adding PTSD to the list of qualifying ailments for medical marijuana. They cited scant research on the issue. "We can't have physicians counseling people in favor of it because we don't have data to show it's correct," said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, one of the board members who voted no.

Hawaii Moves to Begin Licensing Dispensaries. After Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill Tuesday allowing for eight dispensaries to operate in the state, state officials are moving forward with developing rules and regulations for the program. They say to they will begin accepting license applications early next year. The move comes 15 years after Hawaii became the first state to okay medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Aimed at Opiate Problems. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) Wednesday signed into law House Bill 6856, which is meant to combat opiate addiction and overdoses by increased prescription drug monitoring and increased access to naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal drug. Prescribers must now report each opioid prescription to the state's Prescription Monitoring Program within 24 hours instead of the previous seven days.

Criminal Justice

Chris Christie Calls for "Fresh Approach" on Criminal Justice. The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender today unveiled criminal justice reform proposals, including allowing nonviolent drug offenders a better shot at rehabilitation. He also emphasized "community policing" in his policy speech in the crime-ridden city of Camden. "As governor, there are few things I've worked on harder, or that I believe as strongly as this: Drug addiction, just like cancer, is an illness," Christie said. "Instead of settling for jail time every time, we need to give people the chance to get help," he said. "Our drug court program works, and we've opened a new front in the fight against drugs -- one that saves money, keeps people out of prison, and is just good policy generally. There's no reason we can't replicate this nationally, and as president this is something I'll absolutely make happen."


Colombia Outpaces Peru in Coca Production, UNODC Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that Colombia had overtaken Peru in the sowing of coca crops. That's mainly because Peru reported a 14% drug in the area under cultivation in the face of aggressive measures by the government of President Ollanta Humala. But Peru may still be the world's largest cocaine producer, because its crop is more mature and higher yielding.

Jamaican Justice Minister Signs Order to Expunge Minor Marijuana Convictions. Justice Minister Mark Golding signed the expungement order Wednesday. The move comes after the island nation decriminalized marijuana earlier this year. Now, possession of less than two ounces is no longer a crime. Before that, an estimated 300 people a week were getting criminal records and possible life-long stigma for possession arrests.

Italian Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Benedetto Della Vedova, a junior minister for foreign affairs, Wednesday introduced a bill that would legalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana, allow for growing small quantities, and set up government-licensed marijuana retail outlets. The bill is cosponsored by more than 200 members of the country's 900-member parliament. The bill is supported by members of the governing Democratic Party and two opposition parties, the Left, Ecology and Freedom Party and the Five Star Movement.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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: Obama Calls for More Criminal Justice Reforms, Israeli Knesset Pot Brouhaha, More (7/15/15)

The president gives a major speech calling for greater criminal justice reform, there's a revised version of a California marijuana legalization initiative, North Carolina is moving to ban new synthetic drugs, the Israeli Knesset squabbles over marijuana policy, and more.

Wisconsin's Republican governor wants to drug test food stamp recipients and is going to court to fight for it. (
Marijuana Policy

Second Version of California Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act Filed. The folks behind the initiative have revised and updated it. This is one of four legalization initiatives already filed. Everyone is still waiting for one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform to drop. To read the latest version of the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act, click on the title link.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Set to Ban N-Bomb, Other New Synthetics. A bill that would make the synthetic drug NBOMe (N-Bomb) and other designer drugs illegal is one vote away from passage. House Bill 341 would add 12 known variants of NBOMe to the state's Schedule I list. It would also add methoxetamine, a synthetic form of ketamine often marketed as Special K, and acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of the opioid fentanyl. Variants of methylphenidate (Ritalin) would also be banned, and some recent synthetic cannabinoids, too. The bill has passed the House and now awaits a final Senate floor vote.

Criminal Justice

President Obama Calls for Greater Criminal Justice Reform. In a speech before the NAACP Tuesday, Obama called for reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, reconsidering solitary confinement, increased reentry programs for people leaving prison, and an end to asking about criminal histories on job applications. He also called on Congress to pass sentencing reform legislation by year's end. Click on the link for much more.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Challenges Federal Ban on Food Stamp Drug Testing. The state attorney general Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to clarify whether federal law would allow the state to drug test food stamp recipients. Gov. Scott Walker (R) earlier this week signed a measure to do so into law. The US Agriculture Department says that drug testing food stamp recipients is not allowed, but Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) said that policy is contrary to federal law that allows states to test them.


Israeli Knesset Members Boycott Marijuana Policy Meeting to Protest "Pro-Legalization" Views of Panel Head. Most members of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse failed to show up for a committee meeting on "progressive cannabis policies" Tuesday, saying they were protesting the pro-legalization stance of committee chair Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz Party. Conservative MPs accused Zandberg of "turning [the committee] into the caucus to promote cannabis... instead of the goal for which the committee was formed: to fight drug abuse and drug-related crimes, rehabilitation of users, and public campaigns to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in general and especially among youth." Zandberg was unbowed. "I support legalization and I have never hidden it, and I plan to lead the committee with up-to-date and relevant discussions based on data," she added. "The committee will seriously deal with a long line of topics, including medical marijuana, dealing with alcoholism, and trying to change the policy of criminalizing cannabis." She accused the protesting members of being a "nature reserve of moralizers."

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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: Using RICO Against Legal Cannabusinesses, Last Minute Move Kills WA Social Clubs, More (7/14/15)

A novel legal tactic by marijuana foes rears its ugly head, last minute maneuvering scuttled pot social clubs in Washington state, Bernie Sanders wants cheaper Naloxone prices, Illinois' first medical marijuana grow gets underway, and more.

Bernie Sanders calls for lower Naloxone prices (
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Foes Using RICO To Go After Legal Marijuana Businesses. A Washington-based "anti-crime" group, the Safe Streets Alliance, is using a federal law crafted to fight organized crime to go after marijuana businesses in Colorado. It recently forced one shop out of business after suing not just it but a laundry list of businesses associated with it, and has another lawsuit pending in southern Colorado. None of the lawsuits has been decided, but the mere filing was enough to get rid of one business.

No Marijuana Social Clubs for Washington State. In a last minute amendment to House Bill 2136, the recently passed legislation tweaking the laws around the state's marijuana industry, the legislature outlawed the establishment of marijuana social clubs. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is unhappy: "It makes it a felony to actually operate a business like this. Frankly, it's a stupid provision and I think that it's overkill," Holmes said. Holmes had been working on a model social club ordinance for Seattle. He said he was irked that the amendment was added and approved without notice.

Medical Marijuana

US Senators Seek Info from Feds on Progress on Medical Marijuana Research. A group of eight United States senators Monday sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting information about the agencies' efforts to facilitate and coordinate scientific research on medical marijuana. The letter was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

First Illinois Cultivation Center Begins Medical Marijuana Production. The Ataraxia cultivation center announced Monday that it is beginning to grow medical marijuana. The group says it thinks it is the first in the state to do so. The grow is located in Albion.

Harm Reduction

Bernie Sanders Calls on State Governments to Lower Price of Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential contender says other states should emulate New York, which negotiated a price cut with the manufacturer of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. "The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone," Sanders joined Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in saying in a letter to the National Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General.


Colombia Marijuana Price Plunge Sees Farmers Switching to Coca, Avocados. Prices for Colombian marijuana have dropped by two-thirds in the past year, largely because of oversupply due to a bumper crop last year. That has farmers getting out of the pot business and looking for alternatives, including coca and avocados. Marijuana was a decent cash crop for impoverished farmers; now, they'll have to try something else.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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: El Chapo Escapes from Mexican Prison, Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences, More (7/13/15)

More marijuana reform initiatives get filed, Wisconsin's governor modifies a food stamp drug test bill to make screening mandatory, the world's wealthiest drug lord breaks out of prison, and more. ;

Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiatives Filed. At least two marijuana legalization initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state this month. One would direct revenues generated by legalization to pay teacher salaries. Neither appears to be a serious, well-financed effort. They will need 680,000 valid voter signatures to make the 2016 ballot.

South Dakota Decriminalization Initiative Filed. A group of activists has filed an initiative to decriminalize the possession of an ounce of less of weed in the state. The effort is being led by South Dakotans Against Prohibition, and is being portrayed as providing protections to medical marijuana patients as well as recreational users. A medical marijuana initiative in the state is already in the signature gathering phase.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC Mayor Signs Into Law Bill With Harsh Civil Penalties for Selling Synthetics. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) last Friday signed into law a bill that imposes harsh penalties on retail outlets selling synthetic marijuana. The legislation gives the DC Metro Police immediate authority to close businesses found selling the drugs and gives the mayor the power to impose a $10,000 fine.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Modifies Food Stamp Drug Test Bill, Removes "Reasonable Suspicion" Requirement. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed his state budget into law Sunday, but not before making two changes in the part of the law that authorizes drug testing of food stamp recipients. The testing was limited to people whom state workers had "reasonable suspicion" were using drugs, but Walker removed that language, saying there shouldn't be limits on who it can drug test. That means the law will almost certainly face a constitutional challenge since similar suspicionless, mandatory drug testing laws have been overturned by the federal courts. Walker also removed language that would have provided free drug treatment to people who tested positive. He officially announced today that he is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.


Obama Commutes Sentences for 46 Drug Offenders. President Obama announced today he has granted clemency to dozens of federal inmates, the vast majority of them sentenced under draconian crack cocaine laws. More than 30,000 federal prisoners have applied for clemency since the Obama administration issued a call for them to do so last year. Click on the title link for our feature story on this.


Chapo Guzman Breaks Out of Mexican Prison. In a huge embarrassment to the Mexican government, imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman tunneled his way to freedom out of the Almoloya de Juarez maximum security prison west of Mexico City Saturday night. This is the second time Guzman has broken out of a Mexican prison. In 2001, he escaped from another high-security prison and wasn't recaptured until last year. Guzman is likely the world's wealthiest drug trafficker. His cartel is responsible for tens of thousands of killings in Mexico's drug war in the past few years.

(This article was prepared by's lobbying arm, 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: Court Says Dispensaries Can't Take Biz Expenses, CT Sentencing Reform Becomes Law, More (7/10/15)

Nearly half the country thinks roads will be less safe with pot legalization, researchers debunk the gateway theory... again, applicants pile up for medical marijuana programs in Florida and New York, Connecticut's governor signs a bill doing away with mandatory minimums for drug possession, and more.

A new law should reduce prison overcrowding in Connecticut. (
Marijuana Policy

Gateway Theory Debunked… Again. A new study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse has found that while marijuana use may typically precede the use of other drugs, there is no evidence it causes people to move on to them. Teens smoke pot for specific reasons, the researchers found, and it is those reasons -- not marijuana use itself -- that prompt them to try other drugs as well. Kids who smoke pot because they are bored are more likely to try cocaine, while teens who smoke pot for personal insights are more likely to try psychedelics. "We found that marijuana use within itself wasn't a risk factor for use of other drugs," said lead author Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the New York University Langone Medical Center's department of population health. "People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn't mean marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs." The study was based on data from the annual Monitoring the Future study of American high school students.

Gallup Poll: 47% Say Marijuana Makes Roads Less Safe. Public attitudes toward marijuana and driving are fairly evenly split, with 47% saying it would make the roads less safe and 50% saying it would make no difference, according to a Gallup Poll released today. The poll results present a potential point of attack for legalization opponents, who have increasingly resorted to fears of drugged driving as other arguments against legalization have evaporated. But as Gallup notes, "… these data may defuse arguments that increased legalization across the US will influence driver safety. With just 30% of Americans currently saying that an increase in legal marijuana would make driving a lot less safe, and 50% saying it will not make much difference, the pro-legalization forces may have an advantage." Click on the link for more details and methodological notes.

Alaska Marijuana Industry Trade Group Forms. The Alaska Marijuana Industry Association formally announced its existence Thursday at an Anchorage press conference. The nonprofit group intends to represent marijuana business owners in the state, once those businesses are licensed.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Appeals Court Rules Dispensaries Can't Deduct Business Expenses. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that they can't take the deductions because their product is prohibited under federal law. The ruling came in the case of the embattled Vapor Room dispensary, whose owner had claimed $650,000 in business expenses in 2004 and 2005. The IRS balked, and now the appeals court has sided with the IRS.

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Grow Program Gets 24 Applicants. Some 24 commercial plant nurseries have applied for state licenses to grow marijuana and produce CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy and other medical conditions. The state is divided into five regions, and only one license will be awarded for each region.

New York Medical Marijuana Program Gets 43 Applicants. Nearly four dozen companies have applied for licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana under a program approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The state Department of Health is expected to decide which applicants will get licenses sometime within the next couple of weeks.


Connecticut Governor Signs Drug Sentencing Reform Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed into law his "Second Chance Society" legislation, which eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug possession and caps those sentences at one year. The measure also speeds up the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders. About 500 people are estimated to be imprisoned in the state solely for drug possession.

Chronicle AM: Fed Marijuana Banking Bill, Flying High Out of PDX, Pope Sips Coca Tea, More (7/9/15)

A bill to allow marijuana businesses access to banking services has been filed in Congress, Oregon's largest airport okays flying with pot (in-state only), Indiana's Church of Cannabis is suing the state, the Pope drinks coca tea on his way to Bolivia, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Legislation Filed. Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, a bill that would allow banks to provide depository and other financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses. Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.

Indiana Marijuana Church Sues State to Block Enforcement of Marijuana Laws. The Indianapolis-based First Church of Cannabis is going to federal court to try to stop the state from enforcing marijuana prohibition against church members. The church argues that doing so prevents members from fully exercising their religion. Their attorney says he will rely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to make his case.

Flying With Marijuana Now Okay at PDX. Now that pot is legal in Oregon, Portland International Airport (PDX) has announced that passengers can travel with their marijuana -- as long as they don't leave the state. The airport said that if TSA agents find marijuana on travelers, they will notify Port Police, who will then check to see if the amount is less than the legal limit, the passenger is old enough to carry it, and that the boarding pass shows the passenger is on an in-state flight. If those conditions are met, passengers can fly with their weed. Passengers caught trying to fly out of state with legal amounts of weed will be asked to leave the line and get rid of it before boarding.

Poll: 56% Support for Denver Marijuana Social Use Initiative. A Public Policy Polling survey released today has a solid majority supporting an initiative to allow the use -- but not the sale -- of marijuana at businesses restricted to those 21 and over. The initiative specifies that businesses with liquor licenses would have the option of allowing marijuana use on premises. The Campaign for Limited Social Use needs to collect 4,726 signatures by early August to qualify for the November 2015 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

House Republicans Block Bid for More Medical Marijuana Studies. Republicans in the House Wednesday night killed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have reclassified marijuana so laboratories could conduct "credible research on its safety and efficacy as a medical treatment." The amendment would have encouraged the DEA and the National Institutes of Health to work together to allow studies of the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat various diseases and conditions. The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sam Farr (D-CA), as well as marijuana legalization foe Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would have created a new designation in the federal drug scheduling scheme, Schedule 1R, for research.


Pope Francis Drinks Coca Tea On Flight to Bolivia. The Pope sipped on a brew of coca, chamomile, and anise seeds as he flew from Ecuador to the high-altitude airport at La Paz, Bolivia. The drink, made from leaves of the coca plant, is commonly used by travelers to fight altitude sickness. The airport at La Paz is at nearly 14,000 feet.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival Back On, Will Do Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival will go on as scheduled in Nova Scotia beginning tonight and will still offer the harm reduction measure of offering pill testing for attendees. Festival organizers announced earlier this week they would offer pill testing, but their insurer then canceled their liability insurance, leaving the event in doubt. But now, a new insurer has been found, and organizers say they will do pill testing.

Chronicle AM: Chile Decriminalization Vote, Miami Beach Decriminalizes, CDC Heroin Warning, More (7/8/15)

A bill decriminalizing marijuana possession and allowing personal cultivation is moving in Chile, a bill regulating the medical marijuana industry is moving in California, the CDC issues another warning about heroin, Miami Beach is the latest South Florida community to decriminalize, and more.

Heroin overdoses nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, according to the CDC. (
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Filed. Two separate marijuana reform initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state's office recently. They are ballot issues #7 and #8 on the official website. Ballot Issue #7 is the legalization initiative, submitted by a Glendive man who says he plans to bicycle the state to gather signatures. Ballot Issue #8 is the medical marijuana initiative. Both initiatives are now being reviewed by legislative services and must be okayed before signature gathering can begin.

Miami Beach Decriminalizes Possession. Miami Beach city commissioners voted unanimously today to approve an ordinance to fine those caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and jailing them. Under the ordinance, police will have the option of issuing a $100 ticket to people caught with less than 20 grams, but could still arrest them at the officer's discretion. Miami-Dade County recently passed decriminalization, and Palm Beach is considering a similar move.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.


CDC Again Sounds Alarm on Rising Heroin Use. In a report released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that heroin use in the US has grown at "an alarming rate," with overdose deaths doubling between 2011 and 2013. Heroin use is up among multiple demographic groups, but the biggest increases were among white people, women, and people with higher incomes and private insurance. "Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response -- to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."


Chilean House Approves Decriminalization, Personal Cultivation Bill. The lower house of the Chilean congress has approved a measure that would decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use of up to 10 grams and allow people to grow up to six plants of their own. Now, the bill must be reviewed by a health committee before the lower house votes again on its specific elements. The bill would then go to the upper chamber.

Poll: BC Residents Say Legalize It! A new Insights West poll has support for marijuana legalization at 67% among adult residents. Support was even higher among young adults, with the 18-to-34 age bracket coming in at 72%. Click the link for more details.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival in Doubt After Offering Pill Testing Services. Just yesterday, we noted that the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival set for this weekend in Nova Scotia had taken the ground-breaking harm reduction step of offering pill testing services for attendees. But now there's a hitch: As a result of the pill testing plan, his insurance company underwriters have pulled its liability insurance, and now the festival may not be able to go on at all. Organizers are looking at their options.

Moroccan Head of State Rejects Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation. Head of state Abdelilah Benkirane said Tuesday his government will not allow the legalization of cannabis cultivation, and that those who claim differently are selling "illusions" to the country's hash farmers. Morocco is one of the world's leading hash producers. Opposition parties have called for the legalization of cultivation.

Chronicle AM: Iran Drug Executions Increasing, Feinstein Pressed on MedMJ, OH Pot Politics, More (7/7/15)

Midwest marijuana legalization initiatives make news, Sen. Feinstein feels some heat, some European countries keep giving Iran anti-drug aid despite a rising number of executions, California's governor signs a bill barring discrimination against medical marijuana patients in organ transplants, and more.

Sen. Feinstein is being urged to support medical marijuana. (
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Greens Endorse MILegalize Initiative. The Green Party of Michigan has endorsed the more grassroots of two competing Michigan legalization initiatives, the MILegalize initiative sponsored by the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. The Greens say they like the "craft beer" model in the initiative, as opposed to the "industrial" model adopted by the other active Michigan initiative this year.

ResponsibleOhio "Fresh Start Act" Initiative Certified by Attorney General. ResponsibleOhio, the same people bringing you the controversial "monopoly" marijuana legalization initiative, are also moving forward with an initiative that would expunge the criminal records of people with past marijuana convictions. Their Fresh Start Act initiative has been certified by Attorney General Mike DeWine. It must now be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board for review before signature gathering can begin. It is aiming at the 2016 election.

UFCW Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said Monday it is supporting the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The UFCW has been organizing industry workers in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states for some years now.

Medical Marijuana

Senator Feinstein Gets Petition Demanding She Get on Board With Marijuana Reform. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance today delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to chance her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Court Says Urine Drug Testing Rules Don't Apply to Hair Testing. In upholding the dismissal of a man who was fired after a hair follicle drug test came back positive, a state Superior Court judge ruled that regulations that restrict urine drug testing do not apply to hair drug tests, which can detect drug use for months into the past. The court conceded that the disparate protections offered against urine and hair drug testing create a "seemingly irrational inconsistency," but that "the task of changing the law lies with the legislature and not with the judiciary."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Congressman Calls for Price Cuts on Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is accusing the maker of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone of "taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland" by overcharging for the drug. On Tuesday, Cummings wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) urging him to reach a deal with the company to reduce the cost of the drug. "I believe the State of Maryland is being overcharged for a critical drug called naloxone that is used by first responders and medical personnel to reverse the life-threatening effects of heroin and other opioid overdoses, and I urge you to make sure that the company charging these prices is not allowed to continue taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland," Cummings wrote. Other states have managed to get discounts from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals after getting aggressive with the company.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Increasingly Used for Minor Drug Raids. Documents made public today by the ACLU of Massachusetts show that SWAT teams in the state are increasingly used to undertake small-time drug raids. The ACLU filed suit against the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to force it to reveal the records. The records show that of 79 SWAT deployments between 2012 and 2014, 21 were for drug-related search warrants, but that only five resulted in any mention of drug seizures. "The drug hauls are not exactly Pablo Escobar-levels of seriousness," said ACLU's Kate Crockford, referring to the notorious Colombian drug lord. "In one case they found some pills. In another case they found some marijuana. It's important for local communities who pay those police department salaries to understand what's really going on here," she said.


Canadian Electronic Music Festival Organizers Will Offer Free Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia is set for this coming weekend, and beginning Friday, people arriving at the festival can submit small samples of their stashes to have them tested. Festival organizers say the move is an effort to reduce harm and overdoses.

European Countries Continue to Fund Iran's Drug War Despite Rampant Resort to Death Penalty. Iran Human Rights reports that nearly 400 people have been executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, accounting for nearly two thirds of all executions. That's not stopping the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and some European countries from continuing to fund Iran's anti-drug efforts. France has provided over a million dollars' worth of aid to the Anti-Narcotics Police, while Germany has contributed more than five million to UNODC projects to train and equip the police. Faced with pressure from campaigners such as the British nonprofit Reprieve, other European countries, including Denmark and Great Britain, have stopped such aid. "Even as Iran's execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for nonviolent offenses. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal," said Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's death penalty team. "It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions."

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