The Drug Debate

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Chronicle AM: DEA Gets Slapped in Congress, 2nd ME MJ Init in Circulation, More (6/3/15)

The DEA gets its budget cut and its activities restricted in the House, but is still wiretapping like crazy, a Delaware decrim bill advances, so does a CBD cannabis oil bill there, and more.

DEA was in the crosshairs on Capitol Hill this week. (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware House Approves Decriminalization Bill. The House Tuesday passed decriminalization 24-14 with no Republican "yes" votes. The measure now goes to the Senate. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he supports it.

Second Maine Legalization Initiative Gets Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. A legalization initiative sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project can begin collecting signatures, state officials said Tuesday. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will need at least 61,123 qualified voter signatures to make the ballot. Another legalization initiative from Legalize Maine is already in the signature-gathering process.

Milwaukee Common Council Votes to Shrink Pot Fines. The council voted Tuesday night to reduce the maximum fine for possessing 25 grams or less from $500 to $50. Mayor Tom Barrett must approve the measure before it can go into effect.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Senate Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 90 w/ SA2, known as "Rylie's Law," after a Rehoboth Beach girl who suffers from epileptic seizures. The measure now heads for the House.

Law Enforcement

DEA Slapped Down in Series of Congressional Budget Votes. In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated. The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. Click on the link for full coverage.

DEA Wiretaps Triple in Nine Years. The DEA conducted 11,681 wiretaps in 2014, up from 3,394 in 2005, according to USA Today. Over that period, the agency has increasingly resorted to state court judges to get wiretap warrants in a bid to get around more rigorous federal requirements. "Federal law requires approval from a senior Justice Department official before agents can even ask a federal court for permission to conduct one," the newspaper explained. "The law imposes no such restriction on state court wiretaps, even when they are sought by federal agents."

House Passes Seven Amendments to Rein in DEA [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.

In a series of votes yesterday, the House voted to end the DEA's controversial bulk data collection program and also passed three amendments cutting funding from the DEA and shifting it to other federal law enforcement priorities. In more votes today, it approved three amendments aimed at blocking DEA and Justice Department interference with industrial hemp, CBD cannabis oil, and medical marijuana in states where they are legal. A fourth amendment that would have barred interference in legal marijuana states was narrowly defeated.

The votes came as the House considers the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) offered the amendment barring the DEA and the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to do bulk collection of Americans' communications records. It passed on a voice vote yesterday.

"Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency's power and budget come under deeper scrutiny."

Last night, members voted to slash $23 million from the DEA's budget and reallocate the money for more cost-effective programs. One amendment, from Rep. Ted Liew (D-CA) shifted $9 million from the agency's marijuana eradication program to youth programs; another, from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) shifted $4 million from the DEA budget to rape test kits; while the third, from Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) shifted $9 million from the DEA to a program to try to reduce police abuse by procuring body cameras for police officers.

In today's votes, an amendment offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) would bar the DEA and Justice from interfering in medical marijuana states. It passed 242-186. Similar legislation passed Congress last year, but was set to expire.

The House also passed an amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) to protect state laws allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil. It passed 297-130. A third amendment, from Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), to protect state laws allowing industrial hemp also passed on a vote of 282-146.

But the most far-reaching amendment, which would have barred federal interference in states where marijuana is legal for either medical or general purposes, failed on a vote of 206-222. It was sponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

"Votes in support of rolling back the federal government's war on medical marijuana are beginning to become routine. Last year, passing this amendment was unprecedented. This year, it was predictable. Medical marijuana has gone from 'controversial' to 'conventional' on Capitol Hill," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But this is just the start, Riffle said.

"This is an important amendment because it addresses the tension between state and federal marijuana law," he noted. "We welcome it as a temporary fix, but what we really need is a comprehensive and more permanent solution. It's time for Congress to pass legislation that ends prohibition at the federal level and allows states to determine their own marijuana policies."

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority was singing the same tune.

"Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it's time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law," he said. "That's what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well. Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there's absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the law books any longer."

"There's unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights," said DPA's Piper.

Despite the narrow failure of that last amendment, the votes are just the latest indicator of rising congressional dissatisfaction with the scandal-plagued agency. Former Administrator Michele Leonhart was forced to resign earlier this year after a disastrous performance before congressional overseers over the agency's latest scandal, which involved DEA agents using taxpayer (and sometimes, drug baron) funds to consort with prostitutes in Colombia.

But the agency's problems with Congress go deeper than mere scandals -- of which there are plenty -- and reflect rising congressional concern that the DEA is not only ineffective, but downright obstinate, especially when it comes to marijuana policy. Leonhart herself epitomized the culture problem in the DEA when she was unable to bring herself to admit to Congress last year that marijuana is less dangerous than heroin.

The House has now shown it isn't very keen on the DEA's mass surveillance programs, either. Knowledge of their extent first appeared with a Reuters expose in 2013 that outlined collaboration between the DEA, NSA, CIA and other agencies to spy on Americans in the name of the drug war, including the creation of false investigative trails to disguise the fact they were getting information from secret surveillance programs. Then, this April, USA Today reported that the DEA and Justice Department have been keeping secret records of billions of international phone calls made by Americans for decades. The program, the first known US effort to gather bulk data on citizens, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of committing a crime, was the precursor of the post-9/11 spying programs.

"The DEA built the modern surveillance state," said Piper. "From spying on Americans to busting into people's homes the DEA doesn't fit in well in a free society and the time is now to reverse these harms."

DPA recently released a new report, The Scandal-Ridden DEA: Everything You Need to Know. The report and a comprehensive set of background resources about the campaign to rein in the DEA are available at www.drugpolicy.org/DEA.

"The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems," said Piper. "There's a bipartisan consensus that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore."

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Deportation for Pills, Texas Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (6/2/15)

Massachusetts politicians start to figure out that marijuana is going to be legalized, Congress is set to take up measures to protect legal marijuana states, Texas becomes the 15th CBD cannabis oil state, the Supreme Court nixes deportation of an immigrant for drug paraphernalia, and more.

This article contains a correction, in the Minnesota subsection.

The US Supreme Court rejects deportation of immigrant who had pills in a sock. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Getting Ready to Vote on Measures to Protect State Marijuana Laws. The US House is set to vote this week -- perhaps as early as tonight -- on a series of amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill that would limit federal government interference in states that have legalized marijuana production and consumption. Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are sponsoring an amendment that would halt the federal prosecution of people involved in marijuana-related activities legal under state law. Last year, the Congress passed a similar measure barring the Justice Department from prosecuting people in medical marijuana states, but this year's amendment covers both legal and recreational states.

Massachusetts Senate President Floats Notion of 2016 Nonbinding Legalization Question. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) said Monday that lawmakers should consider putting a nonbinding question about marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot. He said that would give lawmakers the political cover to craft their own legalization bill. But they may not get the chance: two separate groups are planning legalization initiatives for 2016, and if either makes the ballot and passes, Massachusetts will have legal weed without the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota's Cannabis Oil Program Now Taking Registrants. As of Monday, patients can sign up for the state's cannabis oil program, which will go into effect July 1. The state estimates that some 5,000 people will sign up. [Ed: The initial version of this article initially described the Minnesota program erroneously as involving "CBD cannabis oil." While the program has limits including not allowing smoked or edible marijuana, it does not specify THC vs. CBD content.]

Texas Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Monday signed into law the CBD cannabis oil bill, Senate Bill 339, which allows the use of the oil for treating severe forms of epilepsy. Texas is now the 15th state to allow the use of CBD cannabis oils.

Law Enforcement

US Supreme Court Rejects Deportation for Drug Paraphernalia. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that an immigrant could not be deported for possession of drug paraphernalia -- in this case, a sock that was used to hold Adderall pills. The immigrant in question was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and served a probated sentence, but was then targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Board of Immigration appeals upheld his deportation, ruling that his paraphernalia possession triggered deportation even though the drug his paraphernalia (the sock) contained was not federally scheduled. The Supreme Court found this untenable: "The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for using a sock to contain that substance. Because it makes scant sense, the BIA's interpretation, we hold, is owed no deference…" The case is Mellouli v. Lynch, Attorney General.

URGENT: Congressional Vote on Permitting State Marijuana Laws!

Call Congress This Afternoon to Protect State Marijuana Laws!
Congress may vote as soon as tonight on the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would prohibit the Department of Justice, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from spending funds to interfere with state-legal marijuana laws. This amendment would renew similar legislation passed last year to protect medical marijuana, and would expand it to include regulated marijuana for personal use as well.

Please call your member of Congress this afternoon to ask for a YES vote on the McClintock-Polis amendment. Our system will look up who your representative is, based on your address, and will provide the phone number. Here are a few points you can make, if you get into discussion with the staff:

  • The McClintock-Polis Amendment will only apply in states that have adopted marijuana law reforms.
  • Today people who are acting in compliance with their states' marijuana laws remain at risk of federal prosecution -- a large and growing number of ordinary businesspersons and citizens.
  • The amendment doesn't require states to legalize marijuana, nor will it impact on any state's ability to enforce their own marijuana laws
  • There is substantial support across a range of the political spectrum for allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, including legalization -- even from people who themselves don't support legalization in their own states.

Visit http://capwiz.com/drcnet/callalert/index.tt?alertid=66234626 to take action now!

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Reg Bill Moves, IL Heroin Bill Passes House, Brits to Ban Legal Highs, More (6/1/15)

California could finally end up with statewide medical marijuana regulation as a compromise bill moves, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Michigan, an omnibus heroin bill moves in Illinois, and more.

Illinois is the latest state to try to legislate a response to heroin. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Bill Rejected in Committee. The Criminal Justice Committee last Thursday rejected Rep. Diane Russell's legalization bill, LD 1380, but the bill is not yet dead, and supporters say the real battle will be on the House floor. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Assembly Appropriations Committee has approved a compromise regulation bill that combines features of two competing bills, Assembly Bill 34 and Assembly Bill 266. The bill would create a Governor's Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation, with three divisions. The Agriculture Department would handle cultivation, the Public Health Department would handle product safety and labeling, and the Board of Equalization would be responsible for licensing. The compromise bill is AB 266. A floor vote is expected later this week.

Illinois Bill to Add PTSD Moves Ahead. The House last Saturday approved a bill that would add PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but will have to go back there for approval after the House added language clarifying that patients are not prohibited from having a state firearms owner ID card.

Oklahoma Initiative Campaign Began Saturday. Hundreds of people showed up at the state capitol Saturday for the launch of a medical marijuana initiative campaign led by Oklahomans for Health.

Heroin

Illinois Heroin Bill Passes House. The House last week approved House Bill 1, a comprehensive bill aimed at combating heroin use. Sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, establish a prescription drug return program, expand Medicaid services to include rehabilitation, and expand the use of drug courts for people charged with simple possession. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Committee Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. The House Judiciary Committee has passed a package of bills aimed at reforming the state's asset forfeiture laws. The package raises the standard of proof before goods can be seized and mandates increased reporting of seizures by law enforcement agencies. One of the bills would bar asset forfeiture in cases involving less than an ounce of pot.

Drug Testing

California Assembly Committee Rejects Uber Driver Drug Testing Bill. The Appropriations Committee has voted down Assembly Bill 24, which would have required drug testing of Uber and Lyft drivers.

Law Enforcement

Silk Road Mastermind Gets Life in Prison. Ross Ulbricht, founder of the Dark Web's first widely-known drug sales website, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday, the harshest possible sentence he faced. With no chance at parole, Ulbricht will die in prison unless his sentence is overturned.

International

British Ban on Psychoactive Substances Could Cripple Brain Research. Last week, the British government announced it would ban all unregulated psychoactive substances via a new act, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, but some scientists are now saying the bill would cripple research on the brain. The bill would ban laughing gas, salvia, "poppers," and synthetic cannabinoids, among other things. Dr. David Nutt, the former top drug advisor to the government, said that such efforts could bring some areas of scientific research to a standstill. "It's going to end brain research in this country. It will be disastrous," he said.

British Lib Dem Leadership Candidate Says Legalize Marijuana. Norman Lamb, who is seeking to lead the Liberal Democrats after their poor showing in the last election, is calling for Britain to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce. Lamb said he is seeking immediate legalization for medical use and a swift, evidence-based policy change regarding recreational use.

Chronicle AM: LA Pot Reform Bills Advance, KS Pot Reform Bill Dies, NE CBD Bill Dies, More (5/27/15)

Louisiana may be about to reform its harsh marijuana laws, but not Kansas; a Nebraska CBD cannabis oil bill dies, a Michigan legalization initiative goes back to the drawing board, the Germans and the Israelis grapple with marijuana policy, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Legalization Initiative Goes Back to Drawing Board. The Michigan Cannabis Coalition has withdrawn its legalization initiative petition from consideration by the Board of State Canvassers. The group said it will resubmit new language later. The coalition is one of three separate groups pursuing legalization initiatives in the state.

Kansas Marijuana Reforms Dead for This Year. Legislation that would have decreased penalties for marijuana possession, led to a study of industrial hemp, and allowed for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures is going nowhere this year, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R) said Tuesday. He said the Senate will instead try to separate out the different provisions next year and discuss them individually.

Louisiana Edging Closer to Marijuana Reforms. The state with the harshest pot laws in the country may actually change them this year. Senate Bill 241, sponsored by Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) passed the Senate Monday, while a similar measure, House Bill 149, from Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) won a Senate committee vote Tuesday. Both bills would reduce possession penalties, but Morrell's bill is stronger. Badon's bill has already passed the House, but now has to be voted on again because it was amended in the Senate to be identical to Morrell's bill. Morrell's bill now heads to the House; Badon's bill awaits a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Dies. A bill that would have allowed the limited use of CBD cannabis oil has died. LB 643, filed by state Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue), did not have enough support to advance, Garrett said. He said he would bring it back next year.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Could Be Coming. Maybe the third time will be the charm. An activist from Emery has submitted initiative language to the state Attorney General's office. If approved, petitioners would have to gather 13,871 valid voter signatures by November 8 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. South Dakota voted down previous efforts in 2006 and 2010.

Seattle to Shutter Dozens of Dispensaries. Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday he plans to require special business licenses for marijuana shops and that dispensaries in operation before January 1, 2013, will get priority in licensing. But of the city's 99 dispensaries, 54 either opened after that date or are operating without a license, and the mayor's office says they need to shut down.

International

German Marijuana Reform Debate Energized. A conservative lawmaker who joined with the Green Party to sponsor a marijuana legalization bill has energized the long-running debate over pot policy in the country. Christian Democratic Union lawmaker Joachim Pfieffer said "the current restrictive policy failed" and it is time to tax and regulate the country's most popular illicit drug. Click on the link for lots more detail.

Israel Police Commissioner Convenes Team to Review Marijuana Policies. Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino has convened a team to look at possible changes to the way Israeli police deal with marijuana users. Danino said the time had come to reexamine its traditional approach to pot possession -- which is to arrest people for it. But he's getting pushback from the Israeli Anti-Drug Authority, which says it and the Justice Ministry -- not the police -- are the relevant authorities. Click on the link for more details.

Three Marijuana Reform Bills Filed in Louisiana

(Welcome back to our one-time intern Jimi Devine, who has graciously volunteered his time to support our blog.)

Louisiana State Capitol
The smell of marijuana reform is strong in the bayou air, Louisiana is now home to a big push for both medical marijuana and major sentencing reforms around marijuana convictions.

Today the Louisiana legislature' House Health and Welfare Committee will hear a medical marijuana bill brought forward by Republican State Senator Fred Mills, a man who formerly served as head of the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy. Mills spent the last year working with law enforcement to make it past a committee and organizations that had held it back in the past.

According to Northeast Louisiana media outlet The News Star, major revisions have been made with support from the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, they include:

  • Prescribed marijuana would be taken in a form other than smoking it, perhaps in a pill.
  • The state Agriculture Department would be in charge of growing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
  • Dispensing pharmacies -- ten, at this point -- would be required to meet certain conditions.
  • The bill would "sunset," or be reviewed on Jan. 1, 2020, giving lawmakers pause to determine if the changes to state law were beneficial. If the bill proves ineffective, the law could be corrected or ended.
  • The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy would adopt rules about dispensing medical marijuana.

This session the bill made it through the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that halted its progress in 2014, and then passed the full senate with two thirds in support. On when he takes it before the house Mills noted, "I'm hoping for a repeat performance from the Senate."

While the bill is very restrictive, but it would reinforce national trends on the medical use of marijuana in Louisiana. Hopefully leading to a more inclusive law in the future.

The sentencing reform bills look to reduce the penalties associated with a marijuana conviction in the state. Currently a third marijuana possession conviction could lead to a baffling 20 year sentence.

According to NOLA.com, the bill authored by New Orleans State Senator J.P. Morrell,

"reduces the maximum penalty for possession from 20 years in prison to eight, raises the threshold for a felony-level possession charge and adds a second-chance provision for first-time offenders."
 

Penalties would still be much more severe than their counterparts in other states, but first time offenders would have one opportunity to expunge their record after two years without a conviction. The bill would also reclassify a second offense from a felony to misdemeanor for quantities between fourteen grams and two and a half pounds.

The bill is projected to save Louisiana $17 million over the first five years. This would cover the $900,000 a year in wasteful spending on corrections highlighted by the Office of State Inspector General with $13 million to spare.

NOLA.com columnist Jarvis DaBerry noted,

"Such a bill does two important things. First, it establishes that a person with a small amount of weed isn't a real threat to the public. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the bill would keep such a conviction from haunting a person forever."
 

The second bill authored by Rep. Austin Badon would push major reforms, but is not as big a shift as the one presented by Morrell. Badon' bill would see those committing a third offense jailed five years, as opposed to the two year sentence in Morell' bill. It also does not include the possibility of conviction being expunged for first time offenders.

UPDATE: On Thursday Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he would sign the bills if passed by the house and senate. In regards to the sentencing bill he told the Shreveport Times

"We've said all along we're fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. I think this bill does that. That's good for those offenders, that is good for taxpayers. So again, that's another one of those bills that if it got to our desk we'd sign that."

While Louisiana debates the direction of their sentencing procedures, I'll leave you with another quote from Jarvis DeBerry on the subject:

"Here's a prediction: Sooner or later, we're going to look back at what Louisiana has doing to folks caught with marijuana, and we're going to be just as shocked those sentences had our officials' blessing."

 
 
 

Chronicle AM: MO Pot Lifer Wins Commutation, MD Gov Vetoes Drug Reform Bills, DEA Heroin Threat, More (5/26/15)

A second Arizona legalization initiative has been filed, a Missouri marijuana lifer gets a reprieve, Maryland's Republican governor vetoes drug reform bills, the DEA warns of the heroin threat, there's more violence in Latin American drug war zones, and more.

The Show Me Cannabis campaign to free Jeff Mizanskey bears fruit. (twitter.com)
Marijuana Policy

Second Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed. The Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana last week filed paperwork for a second legalization initiative in the state. The other initiative, filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is affiliated with the Marijuana Policy Project, handed in its paperwork last month. Both would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of pot and propose a 15% tax, but the new initiative would make possession of more than eight ounces a misdemeanor, while the first one would make it a felony.

Maryland Governor Vetoes Marijuana Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have added some housekeeping measures to last year's decriminalization bill. The bill would have decriminalized public pot smoking and possession of pot paraphernalia. Hogan's explanation for the veto was that he is worried police won't be able to do anything about people smoking pot while driving.

Missouri Governor Commutes Sentence of Marijuana Lifer Jeff Mizanskey. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) last Friday commuted the life sentence meted out to 61-year-old Jeff Mizanskey, who had been the subject of a campaign led by Show-Me Cannabis to get him released. Nixon's action doesn't free Mizanskey, but does make him eligible for a parole hearing, after which he could be released.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Appears Blocked in House. A medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 3, has passed the Senate, but appears to be bottled up in the House after being assigned to the Health Committee, which is headed by medical marijuana foe Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga County). He told local media last week he didn't see the bill moving any time soon. Bill supporters are exploring their options, including moving the bill to a different committee, adding it as an amendment to other legislation, and including it in a budget measure.

Heroin

DEA Says Heroin Deaths Highest in a Decade. The number of heroin overdose deaths more than tripled between 2007 and 2013, according to a National Heroin Threat Assessment released last Friday by the DEA. Deaths totaled more than 8,200 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of heroin users doubled from 161,000 in 2007 to 289,000 in 2013. Still, heroin overdose deaths pale in comparison with those from prescription drugs, with more than 30,000 people dying of prescription drug overdoses in 2013. [Ed: One cause of increased heroin use is the crackdown on prescription drugs, which has led some users to take to the streets.]

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 528, which would have required police to establish that a property owner knew the property was connected to a crime, set a minimum amount of $300 for triggering seizures, and forbid police from transferring asset forfeiture cases to the federal government (to get around state asset forfeiture laws). Hogan's given reason for the veto was… heroin. "Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic," he said in a veto statement. "The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."

International

FARC Calls Off Ceasefire After Colombian Military Kills 26 Rebels. Colombia's leftist rebels have ended their unilateral ceasefire during protracted peace negotiations with the government after a government air and ground offensive killed 26 FARC fighters last Thursday. But the FARC said it will continue with peace talks. The Colombian military offensive began after the FARC killed 11 soldiers on patrol last month, but the FARC claims the military has been harassing it throughout the peace talks.

Mexican Cops Kill 42 Drug Suspects in "Shoot Out." At least 42 suspected drug cartel members and one federal police officer died last Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunfight between police and drug gang gunmen. The killings took place in Jalisco state, home of the up-and-coming Jalisco New Generation cartel, although authorities did not name the group. While authorities reported a fierce fight, the one-sided death toll is raising eyebrows.

Paris City Council Announces Location of France's First Safe Injection Site. The city council announced Monday that the country's first "drug consumption room" will be located at the city's Lariboisiere Hospital. The site was chosen after the plan for the original site was derailed by neighborhood opposition.

Chronicle AM: IL Senate Approves Decrim, MedMJ Extension; Ex-Cincy Police Chief Endorses Pot Init, More (5/22/15)

Midwest marijuana news dominates today, with the Illinois Senate approving decriminalization and medical marijuana extension bills, a prominent Ohio law enforcement figure endorsing a legalization initiative and the state attorney general rejecting another one, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Senate Passes Decriminalization Bill. The state Senate Thursday approved House Bill 218, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana, replacing the possibility of jail time and a criminal record with a maximum $125 fine and no criminal record. The bill has already cleared the House, but will not go to the governor's desk until sponsors get some additional cleanup language approved.

Former Cincinnati Police Chief Endorses Ohio Legalization Initiative. Former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher has come out in favor of the controversial ResponsibleOhio pot legalization initiative. "Our state spends over $120 million per year to enforce marijuana prohibition, even though we all know these laws do not work," Streicher said. "Law enforcement should instead be able to spend their time and their resources cracking down on the real criminals." ResponsibleOhio is the midst of a signature-gathering campaign to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. It needs more than 300,000 approved voter signatures to qualify, but says it has 320,000 raw signatures right now and aims to gather 800,000 by the July deadline.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Language for Third Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Mike DeWine Thursday rejected the ballot summary language for a third statewide legalization initiative, the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment from Ohioans to End Prohibition. Two other initiatives, from ResponsibleOhio and Better for Ohio, have already been approved and are in the signature-gathering phase. Now, Ohioans for Prohibition will have to gather another 1,000 signatures and resubmit modified language if it wants to move forward.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Senate Approves Extension of Medical Marijuana Program. The state Senate voted 33-16 Thursday to approve House Bill 3299, which would extend the program by two more years. The measure has already passed the House and is headed for the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), but it's unclear if he will sign it. He has said he didn't think the program should be extended until it's been fully evaluated -- but it hasn't even really started.

Nebraska Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Study Bill. The state Senate Thursday gave final approval to Legislative Bill 390, under which the University of Nebraska Medical Center would study the effectiveness of CBD in treating epileptic seizures. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) now has five days to act on the bill.

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Local Collective Garden Bans. The state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 Thursday that the city of Kent can ban medical marijuana collective gardens. The decision upheld lower court rulings allowing cities to impose bans via zoning regulations. The case was Cannabis Action Council v. City of Kent.

Drug Testing

Maine Committee Rejects Governor's Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill. The legislature's Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 on party lines to reject LD 1407, Gov. Paul LePage's (R) bid to impose drug testing on food stamp recipients. That doesn't mean the bill is dead, though; it is still likely to be debated in the House, and the question will be whether the Democrats can hold their caucus together in opposition.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Jail Becomes First in South to Offer Naloxone to Released Inmates. The Durham County Detention Facility last month began distributing overdose reversal kits to inmates being released in a bid to cut the overdose rate among the newly freed whose tolerance to opiate drugs has been reduced by the jail stays. The formerly incarcerated are more than a hundred times more likely to die of drug overdoses in the first two weeks after their release than the general population.

International

Iceland Support for Marijuana Legalization Doubles, But Still Low. Nearly one quarter (24.3%) of Icelanders now support marijuana legalization, up from 12.7% in 2011, a new survey finds. Men were more supportive than women (31% v. 16%), and the youth were more supportive than older cohorts, but even among people under 30, support was only at 43%.

Chronicle AM: Bernie Sanders on Marijuana Policy, LA Reform Bill Advances, New DEA Head Nominated, More (5/21/15)

Marijuana continues to dominate the drug policy news, plus public benefits drug testing bills move in Maine and Wisconsin, the NYPD decides not to bust middle-aged dopers, and more.

Bernie Sanders (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Mellow on Marijuana. The Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination hinted at support for marijuana legalization during a Reddit question and answer session Tuesday, although he did not explicitly call for it. "I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana [when I was mayor]," Sanders said. "Our police had more important things to do." He said he supported decriminalization in Vermont and was watching Colorado closely. "Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,"Sanders said. "I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the state's draconian marijuana possession sentencing. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Maine Legalization Bills Get Hearing. The Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday heard testimony on a pair of marijuana legalization bills. Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), LD 1380 and its companion bill in the Senate would craft a regulatory structure for pot commerce and then put it before voters. If the legislature fails to act, the state could see two legalization initiatives next year.

Second Ohio Pot Legalization Initiative Certified for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office has certified a legalization initiative from Better for Ohio, which means the group can now commence trying to gather the 306,000 signatures needed to qualify for this year's November ballot. Another group, ResponsibleOhio, is already in the signature-gathering phase.

No Decriminalization Initiative for Nashville. An effort by TN-NORML to put a marijuana decriminalization on the municipal ballot this year has apparently fallen short. Monday was the deadline day for handing in signatures, and TN-NORML didn't hand any in. Earlier, the group said it had only 4,000 signatures; it needed nearly 7,000 to qualify.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Bill Limiting Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) Monday signed into law a bill that will limit medical marijuana caregivers to growing no more than 99 plants. The bill is Senate Bill 15-014. The bill also allows parents to have someone other than themselves grow medical marijuana for child patients and allows school districts to consider allowing medical marijuana use on campus.

Drug Policy

Obama Nominates Chuck Rosenberg to Head DEA. FBI senior official and former US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg has been nominated to replace Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA. For the last 18 months, Rosenberg has served as chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey. He previously served as US Attorney for Southern Texas and US Attorney for Eastern Virginia and has won support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and health coverage through the state-sponsored program to be assessed for drug use passed the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday. People whose assessments suggest they may be using drugs would have to take and pass a drug test to win benefits. A provision to include food stamp recipients was stripped out because it would likely be challenged by the federal government. The measure is Assembly Bill 192.

Maine Bill to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients Gets Hearing. The Health and Human Services Committee heard Monday from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage (R) about its bill that would require people on the food stamp program to take a written screening test to see if they are using drugs. If the assessment suggested they may be using drugs, they would have to submit to a drug test. People who tested positive could keep their benefits as long as they sought and completed drug treatment. The bill would also bar people with drug felonies from getting food stamps.

Law Enforcement

NYPD To Not Bust Middle-Aged Drug Offenders. The NYPD last week issued a memo instructing its narcs not to bust drug offenders over age 40 and instead concentrate on younger dealers. The department considers younger drug suspects to be more dangerous.

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