Decriminalization

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Chronicle AM: MJ Arrests Plummet in NYC & Jamaica, ME May Refelonize Drug Possession, More... (1/4/16)

What a difference a policy change makes! After decrim in Jamaica and actually enforcing decrim in New York City, marijuana arrests plummet in both places, a bill to cut pot penalties advances in Kansas, a bill to refelonize hard drug possession is in play in Maine, and more.

Jamaican ganja decriminalization has seen marijuana arrests plummet. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Senate Approves Cutting Marijuana Penalties. The state Senate Wednesday voted 38-1 to approve House Bill 2049, which lowers marijuana possession penalties. The bill moves first time pot possession from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor and it moves second-time pot possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate rejected an effort by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) to decriminalize marijuana possession.

New York City Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet. Marijuana possession arrests in the city hit their lowest level in 20 years last year, according to new data released by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Some 16,590 people were arrested for pot possession last year, down 42% from the year before and down a whopping 67% from 2011, when more than 50,000 people were arrested. While the arrests are down dramatically, what has not changed is the racial disparity in arrests: 88% of those arrested were black or Latino.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill to Kill Medical Marijuana Decision Deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 21, which will give cities and counties more time to develop local rules for commercial medical marijuana cultivation. An error in last year's statewide medical marijuana regulation bill had imposed a March 1 deadline for localities to act or they would lose control over regulating the grows to the state. More than a hundred cities and counties banned commercial cultivation in recent months as the deadline loomed.

Sentencing

Maine Officials Argue for Refelonizing Drug Possession. State Attorney General Janet Mills Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill, LD 1554, that would refelonize the possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The legislature last year made first-time drug possession a misdemeanor when the defendant had no previous convictions, but Mills and other administration officials argued that without the threat of a felony conviction and sentence (up to five years)) hanging over their heads, drug users could not be forced into drug treatment. " A felony charge brings with it the possibility of a significant period of probation … along with a long sentence hanging over the person," Mills said. "That kind of potential sentence gives the person an incentive to get into treatment and to demonstrate their commitment to recovery." But Mills is getting pushback from lawmakers. Another working session on the bill is set for next week.

International

Marijuana Legalization Could Cut Mexican Cartel Revenues By One-Quarter, Report Says. Mexico supplies between 30% and 50% of the pot consumed in the US, with the drug cartels raking in between one and two billion dollars a year, but that figure could be cut by up to 26% if legalization proceeds apace in the US, according to a report from the Instituto Belisario Dominguez for the Mexican Senate as it debates marijuana policy this spring. Legalization in Mexico itself "could benefit Mexico because that would increase the financial damage to the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel."

Jamaica Ganja Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization. National Security Minister Peter Bunning said Tuesday that police have arrested 14,000 fewer people for marijuana possession since the government decriminalized it last year. He pointed out that arrests have serious consequences, including not being able to get a visa to visit the US and problems with finding employment.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Advances, Puerto Rico Issues MedMJ Regs, More... (1/29/16)

Pot policy is popping! A legalization bill advances in Vermont, a Maine initiative looks set to qualify for the ballot next week, a Virginia poll has a strong majority for legalization (somebody tell the legislature), and more.

Medical marijuana is coming to Puerto Rico, though not in smokable form. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Advocates Turn in Signatures Monday. Organizers of a petition drive for a statewide vote on pot legalization will turn in more than 100,000 signatures Monday. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Vermont Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize marijuana and allow for regulated marijuana commerce is advancing. Senate Bill 137 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. The bill allows for marijuana to be sold in stores, but bans home cultivation. Only licensed commercial grows in safe, secure locations will be allowed. The Judiciary Committee vote to advance the measure came a day after six state physicians' groups came out against the bill, citing what they called the ill effects of marijuana. The measure now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, Judiciary Committee Chair Richard Sears said. If the bill gets through the Senate, it is expected to face a tough battle to get through the House this year.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A poll from Virginia Commonwealth University has support for marijuana decriminalization at 80% and support for legalization at 62%. The poll comes just days after a decriminalization bill was killed in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Adopts Regulation to Allow Medical Marijuana. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Ibogaine

Vermont Bill Would Allow Pilot Study on Ibogaine as Treatment for Opiate Dependency. The measure is H. 741. It would establish a grant within the Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs to study ibogaine's effects in treating opiate dependency.

International

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Says Marijuana Legalization Could Bring $5 Billion a Year in Tax Revenues. CIBC World Statistics reports that Canada could see a $10 billion a year legal marijuana industry, with the government gaining half of that in tax revenues. The report suggests Canada follow the Colorado legalization model. Canada's recently elected Liberal government has vowed to legalize it and is now taking initial steps down that path.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Decrim Killed in VA, Ireland Ponders Pill Testing for Festivals, More (1/26/16)

Alaska's commercial marijuana regulations advance, so does a Kansas bill lowering pot penalties and a pair of Florida asset forfeiture reform bills, the Irish government ponders pill testing for nightclubs and festivals, a medical marijuana bill is filed in Mexico, and more.

Hillary Clinton reiterates support for state-level legalization without federal interference. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Reiterates Support for Letting States Legalize Marijuana. In an interview Monday, the Democratic presidential contender restated her position that the federal government shouldn't interfere with state-level legalization. "I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that's being done, what we learn from what they're doing,"said Clinton. "I think that the states moving forward is appropriate and I think the federal government has to move to make this more available for research that they can then distribute to interested people across our country."

Alaska Legal Marijuana Rules Advance, With Two Exceptions. The Marijuana Control Board's rules and regulations for commercial marijuana activity have been approved by the state Law Department, with two exceptions. The Law Department struck down a requirement for a national criminal history check, saying that authority must come from statute, not regulations, and it struck down marijuana testing requirements for rural growers. The Law Department said the Board's allowance of "alternative means of testing" for rural growers lacks standards. The Board said the legislature is already working on a fix for the background checks, but it doesn't yet have a fix for the rural grower issue.

Kansas Senate Panel Okays Lessening Pot Penalties, Legalizing CBC Cannabis Oil. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Tuesday approved bills lessening marijuana possession penalties and allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil for people with epilepsy. The bills now head for the Senate floor.

Virginia Decriminalization Bills Killed By House Committee. The House Courts of Justice Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Law Monday voted down a pair of bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the Commonwealth.

New Orleans Ordinance Would Give Police Discretion to Ticket Marijuana Possessors. Currently, only first-time pot possession offenders are eligible for a summons instead of an arrest, but Councilwoman Susan Guidry is offering a measure that would allow police to only ticket pot possessors no many how many offenses they had. The measure is on the council's agenda today.

Medical Marijuana

California Senate Approves Bill to Slow Medical Marijuana Bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills Win Committee Vote. Two competing reform bills passed a Senate panel Tuesday. A bill from Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) would leave civil asset forfeiture intact, but increase oversight, while a bill from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would require a criminal conviction before seizure of assets. Law enforcement supports the first bill, but not the second. The committee passed both measures.

Drug Policy

Poll: New Hampshire Voters Support Drug Decriminalization. Two-thirds of state voters supported not arresting small-time drug possessors, but instead offering them counseling and treatment. And nearly three-quarters (73%) supporting doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession offenses.

International

Ireland Considering Pill Testing for Nightclubs, Festivals. In the wake of the drug-related death of a teenage clubber last week, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the government is considering allowing pill testing kits for music venues. But he said that prevention is the first pillar in the department's approach to the problem.

Mexico Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. A senator from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has proposed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and says she thinks it can pass by May. Sen. Cristina Diaz said she hoped the national debate on marijuana, which began this week, would help the bill progress.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org'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: Mexico Legalization Debate Gets Underway, NH Gov Signs Heroin Bills, More... (1/25/16)

New Hampshire's governor signs a package of heroin and prescription opiate bills, a similar package goes to the desk of the Wisconsin governor, Illinois patients seek to add more qualifying conditions, South Dakota's GOP governor rejects a welfare drug testing bill, a key Mexican politician endorses pot legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Student Marijuana Group Wins Free Speech Lawsuit Against Iowa State University. A federal judge last Friday ruled that ISU administrators violated the First Amendment rights of ISU NORML by barring the group from using ISU logos on its t-shirts. ISU NORML won a permanent injunction against the university preventing it from using its trademark policy to block the group from printing shirts depicting a marijuana leaf.

Denver Social Pot Club Effort Gains New Life. A shelved ballot measure that aims at winning approval for marijuana use at some private businesses is being brought back to life by a newly formed NORML chapter. Denver NORML says it is going to take up where advocates left off. Advocates from the Vicente Sederberg law firm and the Marijuana Policy Project had begun such a ballot effort last year, but withdrew and is now seeking a potential compromise ordinance with city officials and other interested parties. But Denver NORML says it time to "get this done."

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Rep Withdraws Bill to Cripple Medical Marijuana Program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

Georgia Lawmaker Admits Breaking State Law to Help Families Obtain CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted last week that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii Bill Would Bar Patients From Growing Their Own. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illlinois Petition Seeks to Prod Governor to Expand Qualifying Medical Conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Wording on Medical Marijuana Initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Heroin

New Hampshire Governor Signs Heroin Bills. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) has signed into law two bills, Senate Bill 447 and Senate Bill 576 that were part of a comprehensive proposal to deal with heroin and opiate addiction she put forth last fall. The former bill creates a study commission on using naloxone more broadly, while the second increases penalties for the sale of fentanyl, requires insurance companies to use similar evaluation criteria to streamline access to drug treatment, and strengthening the state's prescription monitoring program.

Wisconsin Legislature Approves Package of Prescription Monitoring Bills. The state Senate last week gave final approval to the package, which is aimed at reducing heroin use by requiring pharmacists to register prescriptions within 24 hours and requiring police to register prescription drugs found at the scene of an overdose. The package now goes to Gov. Scott Walker (R) for his signature.

New Psychoactive Substances

Massachusetts Bill Would Criminalize More Than a Dozen New Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster) has cosponsored a bill that would specifically target 19 new psychoactive substances listed as controlled substances by the DEA. The possession, manufacture, and distribution of the drugs would be criminalized under the bill.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Governor Rejects Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) is not supporting a recently filed bill to require suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. He said he had not been enthusiastic about similar bills in the past, that the effort was a waste of money, and it is "somewhat insulting."

International

Israeli Likudnik MK Filed Marijuana Decriminalization Bill. Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel (Likud) has filed a bill to decriminalize pot possession. Such bills usually come from the left of the Israeli political spectrum. "More than a million Israelis occasionally consume cannabis, and the population that uses it is mostly not a criminal population," wrote Haskel. "These are normative people from all parts of society -- academics, public representatives, and others, who consume cannabis in their leisure time."

Key Mexican Lawmaker Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Medical Access. The president of Mexico's chamber of deputies, Jesus Zambrano, is calling for both medical and recreational marijuana use to be legalized. "The topic has its international component and efforts need to be combined, particularly between the United States and Mexico, to have common rules, laws that are essentially identical, though each with its own modalities, because we are distinct, but the United States must help our country apply, for instance, legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use," said Zambrano. His was the opening salvo in a national debate on the topic that began Sunday.

Chronicle AM: Wichita "Decrim" Thrown Out, Argentina Will Shoot Down Drug Planes, More... (1/22/16)

The Kansas Supreme Court throws out Wichita's voter-approved "decrim" ordinance on a technicality, GOP committee chairs quash medical marijuana bills in Indiana, the DEA partnered with a TSA screener in a bid to seize cash from travelers, the Argentines want to shoot down drug planes, and more.

The DEA schemed to pay a TSA screener a cut for any cash he found in travelers' luggage. (tsa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Key Vermont Politico Says No To Home Growing Marijuana. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears (D-Bennington) said today he would advance a marijuana legalization bill if it has majority support in his committee, but that he does not support home cultivation.

Kansas Supreme Court Throws Out Wichita "Decrim" on a Technicality. The state's high court ruled that the initiative was invalid because it was improperly filed with the city clerk, but did not address arguments by the state that the ordinance conflicted with state marijuana laws. The Wichita ordinance lessened penalties for first offense possession to a $50 fine, but was not true decriminalization because that first offense would still be a criminal infraction.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Medical Marijuana Bills Pronounced Dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Utah Governor Signals Support for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

Law Enforcement

DEA Hired TSA Informant to Help Steal Money From Travelers' Luggage. The agency recruited a TSA security screener to alert agents to cash in luggage that the DEA could confiscate, an arrangement that "violated DEA policy," according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. The agency planned to pay the screener a cut of the cash he seized, but the Inspector General found that the screener never actually provided any actionable intelligence for seizures. Still, the DEA scheme "could have violated individuals' protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action," the OIG noted.

International

Argentina Approves Shooting Down Suspected Drug Planes. The new government of President Mauricio Macri continues to burnish its drug warrior credentials by announcing plans to begin shooting down suspected drug trafficking planes, a move the opposition called "the death penalty without trial." Macri has already decreed a "public security emergency" for a year to fight drug trafficking, which he said had led to "situation of collective danger."

Chronicle AM: MPP Eyes OH MedMJ Init, MD Solons Override Paraphernalia Veto, More... (1/21/16)

The state legislative season is now underway and marijuana-related bills are popping up in various states, Michigan ponders roadside drug testing bills, Canada's Tories bow before the inevitability of marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana is on the legislative agenda in states around the country. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Legislators Hold Hearing on Decrim, Hemp, and Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee met Wednesday to hear testimony on House Bill 249, which would reduce penalties for pot possession, allow the limited use of medical marijuana, and allow for a pilot project on hemp production. The measure has already passed the House.

Maryland Legislature Overrides Veto of Pot Paraphernalia Decrim. Both the House and the Senate voted today to override Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) veto of Senate Bill 517, which fixed an oversight in the state's decriminalization law. The bill removes criminal penalties for the possession of pot paraphernalia, which the original decrim bill failed to do.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Policy Project Eyes Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Utah "Whole Plant" Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Industrial Hemp

Missouri Hemp Bill Hearing Turns Into Debate About Possibility It Could Lead to Pot Legalization. It was supposed to be a debate about establishing a pilot program for industrial hemp production, but the discussion of Senate Bill 584 quickly devolved as representatives of law enforcement said that while they didn't oppose the bill, they feared it be the camel's nose under the tent for pot legalization. "It is no secret that many would look at a bill such as this as the first step to legalizing marijuana," said St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar. No vote was taken on the bill. Similar legislation passed the House last year, but never got a Senate vote.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Drug Testing Bill Hits Snag. The Senate Pensions and Labor Committee heard an unemployment drug testing bill, Senate Bill 245, but took no vote on it after the committee chairman said it "needs some more work." The bill sponsor, Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) was unable to say how many people would be drug tested or produce any supporting data for the bill other than to say that employers in his district tell him they can't get people to take drug tests.

Michigan Bills Would Allow Roadside Drug Testing. A pair of bills, Senate Bill 207 and Senate Bill 434 would create a pilot program for roadside drug testing. The latter would authorize State Police to create a pilot program, while the former would authorize officer who are certified drug recognition experts to require drivers to submit to drug tests.

International

Scientists Call for New Approach to Evaluating Illicit Drug Policy. In an open letter released by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), scientific experts from around the globe called on governments to align illegal drug policies with community concerns -- not on reducing the availability of illicit drugs. The move comes as part of the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, set for April.

Canada's Tories See the Writing on the Wall for Marijuana Legalization. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to legalize marijuana, and Canada's Conservative Party seems to realize it can do nothing to stop it. "The new government will legalize marijuana," Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, said in a radio interview on Wednesday. "We know that."

Chronicle AM: Houston Decriminalizes, Detroit Tightens Snitch Procedures, More... (12/28/14)

America's fourth largest city decriminalizes on Friday, Detroit tightens up on police use of paid snitches, a federal judge in Denver is hearing a pot banking case, and more.

Decrim comes to Houston this weekend. (wikimedia/spacecaptain)
Marijuana Policy

Denver Federal Judge Hears Marijuana Banking Case Today. US District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson is hearing arguments today in a case filed by Fourth Corner Credit Union against the Federal Reserve Bank's Kansas City branch. The credit union was designed to serve the legal marijuana industry, but the Fed rejected its application, so the credit union sued in July. It is asking the court to force the Fed to accept its application. There is no deadline for issuing a decision.

Decriminalization Coming to Houston on Friday. Beginning this weekend, Harris County will not charge first-time marijuana possession offenders, instead diverting them into the county's First Chance Intervention Program. People diverted instead of arrested will have to pay a $100 fee and engage in either eight hours of community service or eight hours of "cognitive class." Harris County is the nation's third most populous.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Bar Employers From Firing Patients. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) have filed House Bill 5161 to protect the employment rights of medical marijuana patients. The bill would protect patients with registration cards, but they could still be fired if their marijuana use interferes with their job performance.

Law Enforcement

In Wake of Scandal, Detroit Cops Rein in Use of Paid Snitches. After a police corruption case in which Detroit narcs ripped off drug dealers and used informants to sell their stashes, the Detroit Police have tightened the rules on the use of paid snitches. Now, individual officers have to get permission from supervisors to use someone as a snitch, they must follow departmental rules for the use of informants, and they can't cut informal plea deals with potential snitches, among other changes.

Chronicle AM: MPP's Marijuana Policy Top 10, NY MedMJ Registration Begins, More (12/24/15)

Merry Christmas (RingsOfMary@tumblr.com)
Things are pretty quiet on Christmas Eve, but MPP has a Top 10 list out, a Georgia state rep wants to bring the state's pot possession law out of the dark ages, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project's 10 Marijuana Policy Victories of 2015. The list includes good stances by presidential candidates, actions in the Congress, decriminalization victories at the state and local level, and more. Check it out.

Georgia Bill to Defelonize Possession of More Than an Ounce Pre-Filed. That's right: Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana is a felony in Georgia. State Senator Harold Jones (D-Augusta) has announced he is pre-filing a bill that would reduce possession of any amount of marijuana to a misdemeanor. He said that people with large amounts of marijuana could still be charged with possession with intent to deliver.

Medical Marijuana

New York Begins Online Registration for Patients. The state Health Department has launched its online registration for patients to obtain non-smokable medical marijuana when it becomes available next month. Registration information is here.

Oregon County Employee Fired for Medical Marijuana Use. Medical marijuana is legal in Oregon. Heck, marijuana is legal in Oregon. But Lane County has fired a county employee suffering from cancer who uses medical marijuana because he violated the county's drug-free workplace policy. The fired worker, Eugene resident Michael Hirsch, now has the backing of the county's largest labor union. AFSCME Local 2831 said it plans to file a grievance and fight to get Hirsch's job back. "It's outrageous to me that the county did this," said union rep Jim Steiner. "We have fought the county's termination decisions before and won, but among the terminations, this one just doesn't make sense."

The Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

Last century's international prohibitionist consensus on drug policy continued to crumble this year, with moves to relax controls on medical and personal use of marijuana leading the way. But harm reduction measures such as supervised injection sites are also on the rise, international civil society and even some governments are laying the groundwork for reforming the global drug control regime next year at the UN, America's most stalwart drug war ally in South America changes its tune, and more.

Here are the biggest international drug policy stories of the year, in no particular order:

Canada Elects a Marijuana-Legalizing Prime Minister. We may have a handful of legal pot states, but Canada is about to become the first country in North America to free the weed. Newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made marijuana legalization a central plank of his election campaign, and this month, he immediately ordered his new Justice Minister to get on it after winning the election. In the annual throne speech last week, his government reiterated its intention to legalize it. It won't happen overnight, but it's coming.

The US is No Longer the Bogeyman of International Drug Reform. It's not like 2001, when Jamaican decriminalization got put on the back burner after thunderous protests from the US embassy, or even 2009, early in the Obama administration, when more muffled protests from the US helped put the kibosh on drug decriminalization in Mexico. It's more difficult for Washington to criticize other countries when the Obama administration has signaled it can live with legal marijuana in US states, but the administration seems less inclined to do so, anyway. Last year, William Brownfield, head of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs enunciated a policy of tolerance toward reform efforts abroad, and the State Department reiterated that again this year. It's not all roses, though; the prohibitionist beast may be weakening, but its tail still twitches.

Laying the Groundwork for UNGASS on Drugs. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs is coming next spring, and the international drug reform movement was busy preparing for it this year. In May, during the High Level Thematic Debate on drugs, reform groups released an open letter calling on the UN to respect countries' drug policy reforms, and in June, while the UNODC marked global anti-drug day, global civil society fought back with events and demonstrations around the globe. Then, in October, Sir Richard Branson provoked a kerfluffle by leaking a UNODC draft document that urged governments to consider drug decriminalization, forcing the agency to walk it back under pressure from at least one country. At year's end, the European Parliamentary Council called for a public health-oriented global drug policy. A lot more has been going on behind the scenes, too, but drug reform at the UN moves at a glacial pace. Stay tuned.

Afghan Opium Production Declines. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UNODC reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Iran executes drug offenders (handsoffcain.net)
Iran Drug Death Penalty Mania Shows First Signs of Receding. Iran has executed hundreds of people for drug offenses this year, but a campaign to end European and UN funding of Iran's drug war has been picking up steam. Some European countries, including Denmark, Great Britain, and Ireland have stopped funding, and in October, the UN special rapporteur on Iran warned that it was using UN support to justify its aggressive use of the death penalty. But that didn't stop the UN Office on Drugs and Crime from this month increasing funding for Iranian anti-drug operations. While the struggle continues on the international front, this month, Iranian parliamentarians themselves expressed discomfort with the death toll. At least 70 are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. Lawmakers are now preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Columbia Stops Aerial Spraying of Herbicide on Coca Fields, Farmers. With US backing and encouragement, the Colombian government sprayed the herbicide glyphosate on coca crops for years despite peasant protests that it was causing illness and damaging other crops and livestock. But in April, after a World Health Organization report reclassified the herbicide as "probably carcinogenic to humans," the health ministry called for the suspension of spraying. The following month, Colombia ended the program despite US pressure to continue it. Then, in September, President Juan Manuel Santos deepened the departure from two decades of US-style drug policies, unveiling a new national drug strategy that will emphasize alternative development.

Mexico Marijuana Moves. In a country where public opinion does not favor legalization, the Supreme Court stunned the nation in November by ruling that people have the right to grow and use marijuana. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten. It also opened the door for a national debate on marijuana policy, with President Enrique Pena Nieto promising it will occur early next year.

Medical Marijuana Advances. More countries okayed the use of medical marijuana in 2015, including Australia, Croatia, and, just this week, Colombia. Meanwhile, Chile harvested its first medical marijuana crop in April, the Italian Army began growing it in May (to address shortages within the country), and the Dalai Lama endorsed it in June. That same month, Costa Rica outlined requirements for a pending medical marijuana bill, and in July, Israel announced it would make it available in pharmacies and allow more doctors to prescribe it.

Jah Herb is decriminalized in Jamaica. (wikimedia.org)
Jamaica Decriminalizes Ganja. In February, parliament voted to approve a government-supported decriminalization bill, and the law went into effect in April. Now, anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. Adult Rastafarians can also now use the herb for religious purposes. The law also paved the way for a regulatory authority for medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses. In July, Justice Minister Mark Golding signed an order to expunge minor marijuana convictions, and by December, the government had granted its second "marijuana exemption" allowing Rastafarians at a festival to partake of (and possess and transport) Jah Herb without fear of arrest.

Supervised Injection Sites Expand. The harm reduction measure allows drug users to ingest their drugs under medical supervision and without fear of arrest and has been proven to improve outcomes for users and the community without increasing crime or other negatives and without fear of arrest. At the beginning of the year, there were supervised injection sites in eight countries -- Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. By year's end, two more countries got them up and running, France in the spring and Slovenia in the fall. Late in the year, Ireland approved a supervised injection site in Dublin. Meanwhile, in the US, the Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates are mounting a campaign to open one in New York City, which would be the first (official) one in the country.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org'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.)

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