Marijuana Legalization

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Chronicle AM: Reuters on West African Meth, Brit Pot Petition Goes Viral, Mexico Ibogaine Conference, More (7/27/15)

Lot's of international news today, plus Minnesota gets a second dispensary, Vermont seeks to prohibit more new synthetics, New Hampshire is worried about heroin, and more.

Iboga, the African herb from which ibogaine is derived (ibogaineconference.org)
Medical Marijuana

Kettle Falls Five Member Gets 16 Months in Federal Prison. They grew medical marijuana in a state where it is legal -- heck, even recreational is legal in Washington -- but were prosecuted by zealous federal prosecutors operating out of Spokane. Now, after pleading guilty and testifying for the federal government against fellow members of the five, Jason Lee Zucker has been rewarded with 16 months in federal prison. Assistant US Attorney Caitlin Baunsgard said last Friday Zucker's testimony was "integral" to obtaining convictions against his co-defendants and urged the lighter sentence. He could have been sent to federal prison for five years. Three of the other Kettle Falls Five face sentencing in October after being found guilty and are looking at up to 20 years. The fifth member, family patriarch Larry Harvey, saw charges against him dropped after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Second Minnesota Dispensary Opens for Business. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary outside of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Medical Solutions in Rochester, opened last Thursday. A Minneapolis-area dispensary opened earlier this year.

Ibogaine

Global Ibogaine Conference to Be Held in Mexico in March 2016. The conference will take place in the charming hipster town of Tepoztlan, about an hour south of Mexico City, and will feature speakers including Claudio Naranjo, Stanton Peele, and Andrew Tatarsky. Click on the link for all the conference and registration information.

New Synthetic Drugs

Vermont to Add 75 New Synthetic Drugs to Controlled Substances List. State officials are set to outlaw 75 new synthetic drugs after earlier moves against synthetics resulted in new ones being produced. "The people who design and create what people think of designer drugs are very creative chemists," said State Toxicologist Sarah Vose. "And they can change molecules very easily to avoid being regulated," Vose said. "So the updates to this list are an attempt to keep ahead of that trend in designer-drug creation." The new list of regulated compounds includes stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens. Among the soon-to-be-illegal compounds is acetyl-fentanyl, a derivative of a powerful opiate. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will convene a hearing on the regulated drug rule proposal next week.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds Drug Abuse Second Most Pressing Problem in New Hampshire. Concerns about drug abuse were second only to concerns about the economy for New Hampshire residents surveyed in a WMUR Granite State Poll released last Thursday. Some 25% of respondents said the economy was the main concern, while 14% said drug abuse. Pollster Andy Smith said it was the most concern he's heard about drugs in the 15 years he's conducted the survey. But respondents were divided on what to do about it, with 42% saying the government should spend more to address heroin use, 20% saying the government is spending enough, and 38% saying they didn't know enough to respond.

International

Reuters Does In-Depth Report on Meth in West Africa. The press agency has produced a fairly comprehensive look at the rise of meth, meth trafficking, and meth production in the region. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Israel to Make Medical Marijuana Available By Prescription, Will Be Sold in Pharmacies. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said Monday that medical marijuana will be available in pharmacies and more doctors will be allowed to prescribe it. "There are already pharmacies that dispense all sorts of other drugs, such as morphine. There is order with that, and there will be order with this," Litzman said. "There will be registration, and we'll supervise it, but it will be according to a standard, like a drug. Right now, we're in a case at the High Court of Justice because of the growers, and we'll issue a tender for the growers. I hope we get approval from the High Court of Justice. We'll fight aggressively to allow this to get out," Litzman emphasized. "The growers will also be stronger. As soon as there is a tender, it shifts to selling a drug by prescription, and I'm sure it will be accepted. We have a lot more work and much more to do, but this is my headline."

More Than One Quarter of Italian Parliamentarians Support Marijuana Legalization Proposal. Some 250 of Italy's 945 members of parliament have endorsed a bill that would legalize marijuana. The proposal would allow anyone 18 or older to grow up to five plants at home or to join a "cannabis social club" with a joint garden of up to 50 people and 250 plants. Marijuana produced by home gardeners or social clubs could not be sold, but marijuana stores would make pot available at retail, with people allowed to possess up to 15 grams at home and to carry up to five grams with them. The proposal has support across Italy's political spectrum, but it remains to be seen if it can pass.

Online Petition Calling for Marijuana Legalization Will Force UK Parliament to Respond. More than 150,000 Britons have signed a government-authorized online petition calling for the total legalization of marijuana. Like the change.gov petition process in the US, policymakers must respond if a certain signature level -- in this case, 100,000 -- is reached. The signatures have come in just five days. The petition now goes to the House of Commons petition committee, which has the power to press for action from the government or the parliament -- or not. But at least the petition committee will have to formally address it.

Chronicle AM: AZ MJ Probable Cause Conundrum, CDC Warns on MedMJ Edibles, Peyote Protest, More (7/24/15)

Two Arizona appeals court panels have offered up clashing rulings this week on whether the smell of pot is still probable cause for a search, Michigan initiative fundraising reports tell an interesting story, changes in Washington state's medical marijuana program go into effect today, and more.

Peyote buttons, sacrament of the Native American Church. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Search Based on Marijuana Odor. Whether the odor of marijuana is probable cause for a search or a search warrant now looks like an issue heading to the state Supreme Court. Just days after one appeals court panel ruled that the state's medical marijuana law means that the mere odor of marijuana is not grounds for a search warrant, a second panel has ruled that it is. In Thursday's case, the appeals court upheld the actions of police officers who searched a vehicle after they smelled burnt marijuana. The panel held that the medical marijuana law didn't make marijuana legal, but only provided immunity from prosecution to those who had medical marijuana ID cards. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity from arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession of use of marijuana .... does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case," Judge Samuel Thumma wrote.

Grassroots Effort Leads in Fundraising Among Michigan Legalization Initiatives. Campaign finance reports reveal that the Michigan Cannabis Coalition (MCC), backed by wealthy Oakland County interests, has only $1,000 in the bank, while the grassroots MILegalize has raised $60,000, with more than $100,000 in matching funds pledged. MCC got a $21,000 donation from an Oakland county Republican political operative, but the same day, it sent a $20,000 check to signature-gathering firm. A third group, the Michigan Responsibility Council, which wants to create a cultivation monopoly like the one championed by ResponsibleOhio, appears to have gone quiet. Its website is defunct, it hasn't displayed any initiative language, and it will not reveal the identities of its leaders.

New Hampshire Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new WMUR Granite State poll has support for legalization at 60% and support for decriminalization even higher at 72%. Support has climbed six points for legalization and nine points for decriminalization since the last WMUR Granite State poll in May. The state legislature has considered legalization, but has so far refused to pass it. Click on the link for more poll results and methodology.

Medical Marijuana

CDC Warns of "Potential Danger" From Edibles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report citing the case of a Wyoming college student who fell to his death after eating edibles in Colorado to warn of the "potential danger" with the products. "Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time," the CDC article says, "he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving." The CDC noted that the coroner in the case listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in the death, which was classified as an accident.

Washington State Medical Marijuana Program Changes Now In Effect. Recently passed legislation designed to bring the program in line with the state's legalization system went into effect today. The Liquor Control Board is now the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, PTSD and traumatic brain injury are now considered qualifying conditions, a voluntary patient database (which patients must join if they want the tax breaks for medical marijuana) is now in effect, the number of plants in a household is limited to 15 no matter how many patients live there, and doctors who write more than one medical marijuana authorization a day must report their totals to the Department of Health.

Peyote

Salt Lake City Religious Freedom Rally Calls for End to Utah Ban on Sacramental Use. Protesters gathered at the state capital in Salt Lake City Thursday to advocate for the right to use peyote as part of their religious observances. The demonstration was organized by the Tahteya Topa (Four Winds) Native American Church of Utah, which is allowed under federal law to use the cactus for religious purposes. The Utah law bans anyone who is not at least one-quarter Indian from using it for religious purposes. "It's supposed to be 25% [Native American heritage], but what they're really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood… Religion is not about race," said the church's David Hamblin.

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Fights On, GA Cop Indicted in Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid, More (7/23/15)

ResponsibleOhio has about a week to come up with 40,000 more signatures, more Americans than ever admit smoking pot, e-sports is about to begin drug testing, a Georgia cop gets indicted for lying about probable cause in the Baby Boo Boo SWAT raid case, and more.

The question right now isn't should it or shouldn't it make the ballot, but will it or won't it?
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Still Fighting to Get on Ballot. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative campaign, which state officials say came up 35,000 signatures short in its effort to get its measure on the November ballot, says it is sure it had enough valid signatures and will go to the state Supreme Court to contest the results. "There are over 21,000 voters who were incorrectly identified as invalid. We want to make sure they have their signatures count. We also see that there are 40,000 signatures that weren't reviewed," spokesman Ian James said. The group is also gathering more signatures -- it has a 10-day window to try to make up any shortfall.

Gallup Poll Finds Largest Number Yet of Americans Admitting to Having Smoked Weed. Some 44% of Americans admit to having smoked marijuana, the largest number ever record by the pollsters. When Gallup first asked the question back in 1969, only 4% admitted to having tried it. By 1985, the figure was at 33%. Gallup wasn't sure if the rising numbers reflected more people actually using marijuana or more people being comfortable admitting to it. "The changes over time may reflect either an increase in the percentage who have tried the drug, or an increased willingness to admit to having done so in the past," Gallup explained.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves DC Pot Shops, Marijuana Banking Bill. The committee today approved a bill today allowing the nation's capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries. The votes came on the financial services spending bill, which includes language removing a federal ban on regulated marijuana commerce in the District, which legalized possession and cultivation last year. The committee also approved an amendment allowing banks to provide services to marijuana businesses where they are legal.

Marijuana Policy Project Report Criticizes New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Program. In a report marking the two year anniversary of the signing into law of the state's medical marijuana program, the activist group is harshly critical of the state's failures in implementing the law. The report title pretty much says it all: Confusion, Delays, and Continued Arrests: A Two-Year Retrospective on New Hampshire's quot;Therapeutic Use of Cannabis" Law. Click either link to read the report.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona ACLU Files Lawsuit Claiming State's Asset Forfeiture Laws Are Unconstitutional. The ACLU of Arizona today filed a federal lawsuit in Phoenix arguing that the laws "have created a lucrative system in which police and prosecutors are heavily incentivized to seize and forfeit property." The group says the law allows "law enforcement [agencies to] supplement their budgets without any legislative oversight." The ACLU is representing a Sun Tan Valley woman whose pick-up truck was seized after her son borrowed it and was arrested for allegedly stealing a hood ornament and putting it on the truck.

Drug Testing

Drug Testing Comes to E-Sports. The Electronic Sports League, the largest online gaming organization, has announced that it will adopt policies to keep drugs out of virtual sports. The move comes in the wake of ongoing controversy about the use of Adderall by e-sports players. A high-ranked e-sports player, Kory Friesen, ignited the commotion by not only admitting to use of the drug, but claiming it was prevalent. "We were all on Adderall," he said in a widely-copied interview.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Cop Indicted Over Baby Boo-Boo SWAT Raid. A Habersham County sheriff's deputy has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the May 2014 raid that left a toddler severely injured by a flash-bang grenade. Nikki Autry, a special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team (NCIS), has been indicted by a federal for lying in a search warrant affidavit and providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant in the case. Autry is accused of claiming that one of his informants made a meth buy at the address, when the alleged meth purchase was made by someone else and lying about whether it was a "true and honorable informant." Nor had Autry confirmed there was heavy traffic in and out of the house, as he claimed. His alleged lies were the basis for a judge signing off on the "no knock" warrant that resulted in the bad raid.

International

Marijuana Cultivation on the Upsurge in Sweden. Swedish media are reporting an increasing number of marijuana cultivation busts. There were 904 pot farms reported to police last year, up fourfold from 2011, and police said they were on track for similar numbers this year.

Chronicle AM: CA Blue Ribbon Marijuana Report is Out, DEA Criticized for Blocking Snitch Probe, More (7/22/15)

A long-awaited (and overdue) report on California marijuana policy reforms is out, an Arizona appeals court rules that the odor of marijuana in a medical marijuana state is not sufficient grounds for a search warrant, the DEA gets criticized over its snitch program, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Blue Ribbon Panel on Marijuana Releases Report, Calls for Strict Controls. The panel, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), issued its Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California today, and called for a regulatory system that prevents childhood use and warns that "this industry should not be the next California Gold Rush." The 93-report is a comprehensive look at the range of policy options facing the state. Read it.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

New Hampshire "Drug Czar" Releases Recommendations for Fighting Opiate Abuse. John Wozmak, senior director for Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health, Tuesday released a list of 22 recommendations for fighting opiate abuse, including making naloxone more widely available and strengthening the state's prescription drug monitoring program. Click on the link to see the full list.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Smell of Weed Alone is Not Grounds for Search Warrant. The legalization of medical marijuana in the state means that the odor of weed by itself is not probable cause for obtaining a search warrant. "Medical marijuana use pursuant to AMMA is lawful under Arizona law," he wrote. "Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred." Instead, police must now rely on an "odor-plus" standard where additional evidence is needed to justify a warrant.

Justice Department Inspector Report Criticizes DEA on Informants. DEA agents wrote their own rules for a secret snitch program and then tried to block the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) from conducting its probe into the program, the just released OIG report says. "Our audit work thus far has been seriously delayed by numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA," the inspector general wrote. Although the OIG set out to review the confidential informant program in February 2014, the OIG has had only "limited" success, it said. But the OIG's audit isn't yet completed. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: The Case of the Dead ND Student Snitch, Brit Police Force De Facto Decriminalizes, More (7/21/15)

There will be an open container law for weed in Washington state, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) files a bill to expunge some federal marijuana offense records, cops in one British county effectively decriminalize small-time marijuana offenses, there's a mystery surrounding a dead North Dakota student informant, and more.

British police in Durham have decided they have better things to do than go after small-time pot offenders. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Congressman Introduces Federal Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) today introduced a bill designed to expunge federal marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal in a number of states. The Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act of 2015 would clear the records of those federally charged with state-legal marijuana activity and those federally charged with possession of less than an ounce. It's not yet up on the congressional web site. Activists said its effects would be mainly symbolic.

Marijuana Legalization Money Being Raised in Maine. There are two competing legalization campaigns in the state, and both are fundraising. The Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has raised $104,166 so far this year, with $50,000 coming from MPP in June, while Legalize Maine has raised $55,575.

Washington State Has Open Container Law for Marijuana. Effective September 26, drivers will be required to store their weed in the trunks of their vehicles in an unopened container, or in a part of the passenger compartment "not normally occupied or directly accessible by" the driver or passengers. That's a provision of House Bill 1276, which Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law on June 30. Medical Marijuana 

Michigan Panel Defers Decision on Medical Marijuana for Autism. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel postponed action on recommending whether or not autism should be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The panel said it wanted more time to review the evidence.

Sentencing

Federal Prosecutors Really Want Their Mandatory Minimums. Although only a tiny fraction of federal drug crimes involve violence, federal prosecutors are demanding that their mandatory minimum sentences be left unchanged. National Association of Assistant US Attorneys head Steve Cook warns that it would be "a huge mistake" to change federal sentencing laws. "The federal criminal justice system is not broken," he added, claiming that "drug trafficking is inherently violent." Oddly enough, only 142 of more than 20,000 federal drug offenses prosecuted last year involved violence or threats of violence. Cook also wants more prisons, calling them "a good investment."

Law Enforcement

Did a North Dakota Student Get Killed After Campus Cops Turned Him Into a Snitch? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a lengthy piece on the case of Andew Sadek, who went missing two weeks before graduation last year. His body was later found in the Red River with a bullet wound to the head and a backpack full of rocks. He had been busted for small-time marijuana sales on campus and agreed to become an informant for campus police. No one has been charged in his death, and police aren't even certain if it was a homicide or a suicide. Read the whole thing.

International

British Police Force Quits Trying to Find Small Pot Grows. The police in County Durham and Darlington are giving up on proactively tracking down small marijuana grows in a de facto move toward decriminalization. Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said police there will also offer people caught with small amounts of weed to avoid criminal prosecution by entering a program aimed at ending low-level offending. "By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it's blatant or we get complaints, officers will act," Hogg said. "It's about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it's about being more productive with the way we approach things. It's also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison."

Chronicle AM: ResponsibleOhio Comes Up Short -- Maybe, MI Dispensary Busts, OK Forfeiture Abuses, More (7/20/15)

Ohio election officials have disqualified more than half the signatures gathered for the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but the battle isn't over; a Michigan legalization initiative gets rolling, an Oklahoma report raises the curtain on asset forfeiture abuses, and more.

Will they make the ballot or not? Check back in 10 days.
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Officials Say ResponsibleOhio Initiative Short on Signatures, But… The office of Secretary of State Jon Husted said today that the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative had come up 29,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. The campaign had gathered nearly 700,000 and needed only 305,000 to qualify, which would suggest a bad signature rate far, far above what the conventional wisdom suggests, maybe 25% or 30%. But it ain't over yet. ResponsibleOhio now has 10 days to try to make up the shortfall, and it says it will go to the state Supreme Court to fight over some 40,000 signatures that "remain unaccounted for" in the secretary of state's tally.

Michigan Legalization Initiative Kicks Off Signature Gathering Drive. Supporters of the Michigan Legalize initiative held a volunteer kickoff meeting in Marquette last Saturday. They will need to gather some 315,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. There is at least one competing initiative in the state, too.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Cops Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Police departments in the greater Detroit area have shut down several dispensaries in the past week, in some cases bringing felony charges against the operators. Raids, arrests, and seizures took place in Shelby Township and Detroit last week. While the city has an estimated 180 dispensaries, they are illegal under the state's medical marijuana law.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Reports Show Asset Forfeiture Abuses. Audits by the State Auditor and Inspector's Office for the past five years show many district attorneys didn't have formal policies for dealing with seized property and that, in many cases, police didn't keep inventories of seized items. In some cases, seized money was spent before in was legally forfeited; in others, forfeiture cases were never filed for seized money. The report also found that seized money was used to pay for retirement plaques, a retirement party, doughnuts for a "spring roundup," and for a prosecutor's student loans and house rental. In the latter case, the prosecutor justified the rent payments saying that he spent most of his time on drug cases. Click on the link for more.

Drug Testing

Indiana Town to Stop Drug Testing Welfare Applicants… For Now. Black Township has agreed to stop drug testing applicants to its public assistance program until a lawsuit over whether the practice is constitutional is decided. The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit in federal court in June. The judge in the case last week signed an order approving the agreement to stop drug testing until the case is settled.

Opiates and Heroin

New Jersey Governor Signs Prescription Monitoring Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has signed a bill that will expand and tighten the state's prescription management program, one of a series of bills intended to combat the state's problem with heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill requires all doctors to register for the program and to check the program when patients return for a second refill on medications. The law is part of a 21-bill package targeting opioid and heroin abuse in New Jersey.

International

Australia Greens Call for Adoption of Portugal Drug Model. The Australian Green Party is calling for the country to follow the example of Portugal and decriminalize drug possession. It says Australia's current drug policies have failed, and the Portuguese model is the best path forward.

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.]

ResponsibleOhio

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 (whitehouse.gov)
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. (wikimedia.org)
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."

International

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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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. (wikimedia.org)
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.

International

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 StoptheDrugWar.org'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.)

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