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Alaska, Oregon, and DC: A Marijuana Legalization Trifecta in 2014? [FEATURE]

Labor Day has come and gone, and the 2014 election is now less than two months away. Marijuana legalization initiatives are on the ballot in two states -- Alaska and Oregon -- and the District of Columbia. For the marijuana reform movement, 2014 is a chance for a legalization trifecta on the way to an even bigger year in 2016, but there is also the risk that losing in one or more states this year could take the momentum out of a movement that has been on a seemingly unstoppable upward trend.

[Editor's Note: There are also local marijuana reform initiatives in several states, a Florida medical marijuana initiative, and a California sentencing reform initiative. The Chronicle will address those in later articles.]

The Initiatives

The Alaska and Oregon initiatives are quite similar. Both envision systems of taxation, regulation, and legal sales, and both allow individuals to grow small amounts of marijuana for their own use. The DC initiative, on the other hand, does not allow for taxation, regulation, and legal sales. That is because of peculiarities in DC law, which do not allow initiatives to enter the domain of taxation. But like the Alaska and Oregon measures, the DC initiative also allows individuals to grow their own.

Alaska Measure 2

The Measure 2 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and up to six plants (three flowering). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest even in excess of one ounce, provided the marijuana stays on the premises where it was grown. The initiative also legalizes paraphernalia.

The initiative grants regulatory oversight to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, but gives the legislature the authority to create a new entity, the Marijuana Control Board. In either case, the regulatory authority will have nine months to create regulations, with applications for marijuana businesses to open one year after the initiative becomes effective.

A $50 an ounce excise tax on sales or transfers from growers to retailers or processors would be imposed.

The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.

The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.

Oregon Measure 91

The Measure 91 initiative allows adults 21 and over to possess up to eight ounces and four plants per household. Individuals can also possess up to 16 ounces of marijuana products or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products. And individuals can also transfer up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana products, or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products to other adults for "non-commercial" purposes.

The initiative would designate the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate marijuana commerce. The commission would license, audit, and inspect growers, suppliers, and retailers. The commission could set purchase amount limits, which are not specified in the initiative. The commission would have until January 4, 2016 to begin licensing growers, producers, and retailers.

Marijuana sales from producers to processors or retailers would be taxed at a rate of $35 per ounce, $10 per ounce of leaves, and $5 per immature plant. The commission can recommend to the legislature any changes in the tax structure, which would then have to act to enact them.

The initiative does not alter either existing DUI laws or the ability of employers to penalize employees for testing positive for marijuana.

The initiative would not interfere with existing medical marijuana laws.

DC Measure 71

The Measure 71 initiative would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and six plants, three of which can be mature. Households could grow up to 12 plants, six of which can be mature. Growers can possess the fruits of their harvests. Plants could only be grown indoors.

Adults could transfer up to an ounce to other adults without remuneration. There are no provisions for taxing and regulating marijuana sales because District law forbids initiatives from taking up tax and revenue matters. A bill is pending before the DC city council that would do precisely that.

The initiative also legalizes the sale and possession of pot paraphernalia. It does not change existing DUI law, nor does it "make unlawful" any conduct covered by the District's medical marijuana law.

The Prospects

None of these measures are long-shots at the ballot box, although none appear to be shoe-ins, either. None of the campaigns have made internal polling available, but an Oregon poll this summer had 51% in favor of a generic legalization question, with 41% opposed. A DC poll in January had 63% in favor of legalization.

Alaska is looking a little dicier, at least according to the most recent Public Policy Polling survey, which had the initiative trailing by five points after leading by three points (but still under 50%) in May. But, as we shall see below, there are questions about the reliability of the survey data there.

There are a number of factors other than public opinion that could influence whether these initiatives pass or fail. They include voter turnout in an off-year election, financial support for the campaigns, and the degree of organized opposition.

The Chronicle checked in with a number of national marijuana reform professionals and people involved with the initiatives to get a sense of the prospects, the challenges, and the implications of electoral success or defeat. There is a sense of cautious optimism, tempered with concerns that won't be allayed until the votes are counted.

"All three measures have a great chance of passing, and it'll really be a matter of how well these campaigns get their message out," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There's also the question of what type of opposition there is, and how well it's funded. I'm familiar with the opposition in Alaska, and it's just more of the same old. They're trying to make marijuana sound as scary as possible, and it's up to those campaigns to make sure voters know it's not so scary."

It's about getting out the message and getting out the vote, Tvert said.

"Typically, the more turnout, the more support for making marijuana legal," said Tvert. "We would expect to see broader support during a presidential election year, but we'll find out if support is strong enough to pass these in an off-year. All these measures can pass, but these campaigns have to get their message out."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has endorsed all three initiatives, not having found anything too objectionable in any of them.

"When you're in the marijuana legalization business, that's what you do," explained NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre. "All three entities involved requested our endorsement, and our board of directors voted unanimously to do so," he explained.

"Oregon and Alaska are very similar, and while DC is the least impactful in what it seeks to achieve, but they all basically move the meter," he said. "If one or all of them pass, they will be seen as a good thing; if we get a full sweep, that will only affirm that we are now in the legalization epoch."

But can marijuana legalization pull off that trifecta this year?

"Alaska looks like it's in the most trouble, but with the caveat that polling there is hard to nail down," St. Pierre said. "That makes it all the more important for reformers to embrace the effort there, send resources, and encourage others to do the same. We're raising money for all three states right now on our web site, and Alaska is getting the least amount of earmarked donations -- and those are coming in from Alaskans. It's the proverbial out of sight, out of mind state, but it's one where you can actually impact an election at relatively low cost."

Frank Berardi of the Alaska Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation had plenty to say about the polling.

"If you look at the polls, it's close, but in that 44% poll, the way they worded the question doesn't even reflect the language of the initiative, and since the question was inaccurate, a lot of people who would have been in support said no," he said. "Also, the age distribution was off -- it was mostly older people who were polled. And if you take the margin of error into consideration, it's a toss-up. It makes me wonder what the results would have been if the poll had been valid."

The coalition is working with the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska to pass Measure 2, but there is something of a division of labor between the two groups, Berardi explained.

"We're partnered with the campaign, but while they're focused on passing this is November, we're focusing on helping to implement the regulatory aspects of the bill," he said. "We've been polling our members about what they want, and we hope to work with the legislature on ensuring the people get what they want."

Still, the coalition isn't just waiting for Measure 2 to pass.

"We're helping out on the campaign, we go to events, we've share a booth with the campaign, we're informing people about the measure and out goals," he said.

People are equally hard at work down in Oregon.

"We are fighting for every vote, and we don’t take any vote for granted, but we feel like we have a really strong case and a growing majority of Oregonians support us," said Peter Zuckerman, communications director for New Approach Oregon, the group behind Measure 91.

"The challenge is going to be turnout," he said. "We really need our voters to register and vote. The polls have us ahead, but we need voters, volunteers, donors -- all the help we can get."

The campaign is getting significant help. It has raised millions in campaign funds and has a $2.3 million TV ad reservation. And it has a well-honed message.

"In Oregon, somebody gets arrested or cited for marijuana once every 39 minutes," Zuckerman said. "Seven percent of all arrests are for marijuana. Treating it as a crime has failed. With a regulated market, police will not be distracted with small marijuana cases. Instead of people buying it on street corners, they can buy it in a regulated marketplace. It's a much better system."

The campaign is also picking up key endorsements. It's won the support of the state's largest and most influential newspaper, The Oregonian, the Democratic Party, and the well-heeled City Club of Portland. It's even won the support of the Oregon State Council of Retired Citizens. (Click here for the complete list of endorsements.)

"Every endorsement helps," said Zuckerman.

"Oregon is going to make it," NORML's St. Pierre predicted, citing polling so far, key endorsements like The Oregonian, and a changing political climate.

"Gov. Kitzhaber has made it clear that if he is reelected and the citizens task him with this, he will faithfully implement it," he said. "Oregon is a state that is environmentally conscious, and he was concerned about energy use. He wanted alternatives to indoor cultivation. But you can set up greenhouses -- safe, water-friendly, criminal-deterring greenhouses. And not only is Kitzhaber keen, Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum is very supportive. She's probably one of the most progressive attorneys general in the country."

St. Pierre also argued that Oregon pot people are coming around to regulation.

"The industry itself, as in Colorado, seems to recognize that there is a better opportunity for both legitimacy and profits if they embrace legalization, as compared to some brethren in California and Washington who chose to oppose it," he said. "This is the state where voters have been asked the legalization question the most, and I think finally Oregon is going to break out."

A victory in Oregon would carry the most weight, the NORML head said.

"That would move the meter the most. It would be actual sales, taxation, and regulation, and it's not as out of sight as Alaska. And it would cinch up the Pacific Northwest."

And then there's DC.

"DC is kind of symbolic, it's not legalization in the purest sense of the word, but it goes as far as it can under DC law," said St. Pierre. "But it's building in the District, going from medical to decriminalization being almost universally supported, and now building to soft legalization. That will de-incentivize police, they won't have any reason to ask what's in your hand, what's in your pocket."

"I feel like we're in the lead, but I'm very nervous about a well-funded opposition mounting," said Adam Eidinger of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which is leading the charge in the nation's capital. "We have no great war chest and we could be caught flat-footed. I don't want to be overconfident; I would rather have a well-funded campaign to assure victory."

Eidinger said the DC campaign had $50,000 in pending pledged contributions, but less than $2,000 in the bank right now. He said he's had problems raising money not only from advocacy groups, but also from the industry, which also contributes to the advocacy groups.

"I don't think we were on the advocacy groups' schedule," he said, adding that some had also expressed skepticism about whether the measure would ever be implemented even if it won because of possible city council or congressional interference.

"Nonprofits are getting a lot of money from the cannabis industry, but in our case, there is no clear business model for profiting from selling cannabis or having exclusive rights to growing it," Eidinger pointed out. "Even some dispensaries have painted this as a threat to their near monopoly. We do not have aligning interests. Monopolies and price supports don't benefit consumers or anyone except business entities and the government."

The campaign is getting some financial backing from the Drug Policy Alliance, but it needs more help, he said.

"You need to talk to your family and friends and get them to support the campaign with donations, with voter registrations, and as election day volunteers," Eidinger said. "We will be doing a postering blitz, we're planning some mailers, but with less so little money in the bank right now, we need a major influx of cash. We blew everything we could leverage just getting on the ballot."

Three initiatives, three chances to win marijuana legalization victories this year. But the stakes are high, and they go beyond 2014.

"This is the penultimate year, and if we have any losses, our opponents will immediately claim we're losing momentum, that whatever has happened has peaked, and that would be really regrettable," St. Pierre suggested.

"But 2016 is the ultimate year. If California moves forward -- it will likely be joined by Maine or Massachusetts, but California is so important, if it legalizes, America will legalize, and North America will move in the same direction, and so will the European Union," he said. "But if we lose this year, that makes the job in 2016 that much harder. If we lose in Alaska or Oregon, that will provide fodder for the opposition."

MPP's Tvert was a bit more sanguine.

"We're in a position where we will continue to move forward, and it's unlikely we will move backwards," Tvert said. "In Colorado in 2006, people told us we were crazy to run an initiative because we would lose and the state would never legalize marijuana, but public opinion is moving toward ending prohibition, and we expect to see that continue. And even if one or more don't pass this year, we will surely see several pass in the near future."

Chronicle AM: Illinois Taking Medical Marijuana Applications, WaPo Forfeiture Series, NYT on SWAT, More (9/8/14)

Two majors newspapers have special reports on law enforcement related to the drug war, a staunch Kansas Republican says marijuana should be decided by the states -- not the feds -- Illinois is now taking medical marijuana business applications, Britain's Lib Dems are ready to consider drug decrim and marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Republican US Senator Pat Roberts Says Legalization Should Be Up to the States." [Marijuana is] not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally," Roberts said during a campaign debate last Saturday. Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell was inspired to respond: "When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over. But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."

York, Maine, to Vote on Possession Legalization Initiative. York will be the third Maine community to vote on marijuana reform this year. Organizers for an initiative removing penalties for simple pot possession have handed in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. York joins Lewiston and South Portland in voting on the issue this year. Portland, the state's largest city, approved a similar initiative last year.

Los Angeles Event to Mark 100th Anniversary of First "Marihuana" Raid. Cal NORML and the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform will host a press conference marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's first "marihuana" raid in LA's Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood on Thursday, September 11 at 10 am on the steps of LA City Hall. And LA NORML will be hosting an "End the 100 Year War on Pot" party on Saturday, September 13. State and local political officials and advocates will address the failed marijuana policy that has cost California billions of dollars in arrest, prosecution and prison expenses; fueled an illegal black market and lined the pockets of violent narcotrafficantes; promoted environmentally damaging trespass grows on public and private lands; and blocked access to useful medicine, all while failing to stem drug abuse in the state and depriving it of billions in tax dollars from a legitimate industry. Click on the title link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Businesses. The state Agriculture Department is now taking applications from people who want to open dispensaries or cultivation centers. There are 22 licenses available for growers and 60 for dispensaries.

Asset Forfeiture

Washington Post Takes on Asset Forfeiture, In an ongoing series of articles, The Washington Post is taking a cold-eyed look at asset forfeiture practices and the law enforcement culture that has grown around them. The article linked to above examines a private intelligence network used by cops across the country to trade information on motorists and help them decide whom to subject to pretextual traffic stops in order to look for loot to seize. There's a lot of dirt in here, and there's more to come as the series continues.

Drug Policy

NFL, Players Union in Drug Policy Talks.The NFL and its players' union are meeting today to try to thrash out new drug policies. Marijuana use is a key topic. The league has been criticized recently for treating pot-smoking offenses by players more seriously than domestic abuse.

Prescription Drugs

Obama Administration Announces Expanded Prescription Drug Takeback Plan. The White House announced today that hospitals, pharmacies and other medical facilities will be authorized to collect unused prescription drugs, a move designed to keep the drugs out of the hands of people who may attempt to abuse or sell them. "We know if we remove unused painkillers from the home, we can prevent misuse and dependence from ever taking hold," said Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "These regulations will create new avenues for addictive prescription drugs to leave the house and be disposed of in a safe, environmentally friendly way."

DEA Sets Production Limits for Pain Relievers, With Big Increases for Some. In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the DEA released a list of dozens of Schedule I and II substances subject to production quotas next year. Twenty-two of the 63 substances will see increases in production quotas next year, including cocaine, codeine, dihydrocodeine, hydromorphone, and ephedrine. The DEA says the changes are based on public comments that quota amounts were "insufficient to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the US." Among substances seeing quota decreases are amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methadone.

Law Enforcement

New York Times Video "Retro Report" Takes on History of SWAT. As part of a video documentary series presented by the Times called Retro Report, the nation's newspaper of record examines the rise of SWAT-style policing, tracing its roots to the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s. Once rare, SWAT teams now appear ubiquitous, whether in big cities or sleepy small towns. They are now under greater scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests, making this report quite timely.

International

British Liberal Democrats to Consider Drug Decriminalization, Legal Marijuana Sales. Britain's Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Conservatives, will consider drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization at their party conference next month. The announcement comes after a party policy paper to be debated at the conference called on the party to "adopt the model used in Portugal, where those who possess drugs will be diverted into other services." The paper also said the party "welcomes the establishment of a regulated cannabis market in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state. These innovative approaches are still in their infancy and the data that would allow us to examine their impact are not yet available. We will establish a review to examine the impact of these schemes in relation to public health," it said.

Australia's Tasmania Reverses Course, Will Allow Medical Marijuana Trials. Tasmania's governing Liberals will support medical marijuana trials, the health minister told a parliamentary inquiry. The minister, Michael Ferguson, had rejected a bid for trials in the state just weeks ago in July. But now he has changed his tune. "We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework," he said. "We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis."

Amnesty International Report Says Torture in Mexico Out of Control. Reported cases of torture and mistreatment by police and armed forces in Mexico have increased six-fold in the past decade, according to a new report issued by Amnesty International. The report says much of the increase was driven by the Mexican government's aggressive effort to repress drug trafficking organizations.

Top Albanian Christian Democrat Calls for Marijuana Legalization. The head of Albania's Christian Democratic Party, Zef Bushati, has called for the legalization of marijuana on his Facebook page. "Countries are okay with that," he wrote. "First USA, France and now Italy. It's business. It increases the economic level. I never knew or even imagined that cannabis was cultivated all over Albania. When I knew that I started thinking about those families that needed to feed with this kind of job." Christian Democrats have only one member in the Albanian parliament.

Chronicle AM: ME Marijuana Moves, Global Commission Report, CO MJ Growing Conflict, More (9/3/2014)

Maine local legalization initiative efforts move forward, Massachusetts moves to ban N-Bomb, conflict over Colorado marijuana growing rules, and more. Let's get to it:

"N-Bomb," a synthetic psychedelic similar to LSD, is already illegal under federal law, but Massachusetts wants to ban it, too.
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Legalization Initiative Hands In Signatures. Advocates for a local initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot by adult handed in signatures today. The Marijuana Policy Project needs 641 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot; they handed in 900 raw signatures.

Lewiston, Maine, Will Vote on Local Legalization Initiative. The city council voted unanimously last night to put on the November ballot a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. The council was responding to a successful initiative petition signature drive.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Hearing on Medical Marijuana Today. A legislative study committee is hearing testimony today about the possibility of approving medical marijuana in the state. They were expected to discuss a 1993 marijuana stamp tax law as part of an effort to determine what potential tax revenues are. But that law was mainly designed as a tool to punish marijuana seller, not for revenue purposes.

Colorado Public Hearing Yesterday Saw Contention Over Greenhouse Grows. A public hearing over proposed changes to retail and medical marijuana rules saw sparks fly over the issue of greenhouse grows. A new production cap rule would allow warehouses to grow up to 3,600 plants, while greenhouses could only grow half that amount. Greenhouse grows are more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Drug Policy

Global Commission on Drug Policy to Release New Report Next Week. Next Tuesday, September 9, the Global Commission on Drug Policy will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report, at a press conference in New York City.The event will be live-streamed, and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others. The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference. Click on the title link for more details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Massachusetts Emergency Bill Would Ban N-Bomb. Bay State prosecutors and law enforcement held a press conference today to announce an emergency bill to classify the synthetic psychedelic drug NBOMe, also known as N-Bomb, as a Class B controlled substance in the state. NBOMe is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, but without a state ban, "state and local police, when they discover these drugs, are powerless to seize them and powerless to prosecute those who might be possessing or distributing them," Middlesex DA Marian Ryan said at the press conference.

International

Spanish Police Dismantle Malaga Cannabis Club. Police in Malaga have shut down a cannabis club there after its members were caught soliciting and selling pot to non-members during the Feria de Malaga celebration. Spanish law allows cannabis club members to collectively grow and share their own, but not to sell it to or solicit non-members.

Japan Cracks Down on Stores Selling Synthetic Drugs. Japanese authorities raided at least 129 stores in Tokyo and Aichi, Osaka, and Fukuoka prefectures for selling synthetic drugs banned under the country's pharmaceutical law At least 50 of those stores have been shut down or will close soon, officials said.

Medical Marijuana Update

A study finds marijuana may lower opiate overdose rates, a California appeals court decision is good news for dispensary operators, Connecticut gets its first dispensary, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, a JAMA study found that medical marijuana states have lower opiate overdose death rates than non-medical marijuana states. States with medical marijuana laws have rates of opiate overdose deaths 25% lower than states that don't, the Journal of the American Medical Association report found. The article is Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010.

Arizona

Last Friday, Arizona medical marijuana advocates filed a lawsuit over PTSD treatment restrictions. The Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association filed the lawsuit challenging limits imposed on patients with PTSD who seek to use medical marijuana. Health Director Will Humble has ruled that PTSD patients can only use medical marijuana if they are already getting some other form of treatment for PTSD. The lawsuit is in Maricopa County District Court.

California

On Wednesday, a state appeals court overturned a dispensary operator's marijuana sale conviction in what is being described as "a major victory" for dispensary operators. Borzou Baniani had been denied the opportunity to present an affirmative defense -- that he was operating a dispensary within state law -- and the appeals court called that an error. Read the decision here.

Connecticut

Last Wednesday, Connecticut got its first medical marijuana dispensary. Prime Wellness of Connecticut opened in South Windsor. It is the first of six dispensaries approved for licenses by the Department of Consumer Protection. The rest will be opening in coming weeks or months.

Illinois

Last Friday, Illinois announced it is seeking nominees for the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The state medical marijuana program is looking for health professionals and patients to serve on its advisory board, which will be appointed by the governor. For more information, visit the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program.

Kansas

Last Saturday, the state Democratic Party endorsed medical marijuana. Kansas Democrats now formally support medical marijuana, they announced during their statewide Demofest convention Saturday night. "Kansas Democrats support the availability of marijuana for medical use and protection of patients from criminal arrest and prosecution." the plank says. The platform link wasn't working as of Wednesday, but you can try it here.

Maryland

On Tuesday, proposed medical marijuana rules came under heavy fire. The state commission charged with writing the rules for medical marijuana in the state heard an earful from physicians, patients, advocates, and potential growers at a hearing Tuesday. They criticized the proposed rules as too burdensome and vague, and said they would preclude a dispensary from operating anywhere in the city of Baltimore. The commission has three weeks to finalize the rules, and the hearing in Annapolis was the first public hearing.

Nevada

On Tuesday, state officials announced that more than 500 people had applied for licenses for medical marijuana businesses. The state has received applications from more than 500 people to run dispensaries, grows, testing labs, and edible and infused product companies. Under a new state law, up to 66 medical marijuana businesses will be licensed. State officials will score the applications and announce their selections in November, with the first medical marijuana sales expected early next year.

New Mexico

On Monday, the state Cannabis Medical Advisory Board held a public hearing on proposed new rules. The MAB is frustrated that the Department of Health did not formally consult with it before releasing proposed rule changes, which have garnered unhappy responses from patients and providers.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Initiatives, CT SWAT Lawsuit, ISIS Burns Syria Pot Fields, More (8/27/14)

Local marijuana initiatives move forward, the Oregon initiative is set to get a high-profile endorsement, a lot of people want to start medical marijuana businesses in Nevada, ISIS is burning pot fields in Syria, there's a harm reduction pre-event ahead of NYC's Electronic Zoo festival this weekend, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

City Club of Portland Draft Report Endorses Oregon Legalization Initiative. The influential City Club of Portland has issued a draft report in support of Measure 91, the legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach Oregon. If approved by City Club members, the recommendation will be a powerful, high-profile endorsement of the measure. It picked up the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, on Sunday.

Santa Fe County Commission Approves Decriminalization Initiative, But…. The commission voted Tuesday to put the initiative on the November ballot, but questions remain about whether there is enough room on a crowded ballot to add the measure to it. State officials have outlined their concerns, but County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she is confident those issues can be overcome. Stay tuned.

York, Maine, Activists Hand in Initiative Signatures. Citizens for Safer Maine is handing in more than 900 signatures today for its initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The initiative needs 641 valid voter signatures to qualify. The signature turn-in comes after town selectmen voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Marijuana Rules Come Under Fire. The state commission charged with writing the rules for medical marijuana in the state heard an earful from physicians, patients, advocates, and potential growers at a hearing Tuesday. They criticized the proposed rules as too burdensome and vague, and said they would preclude a dispensary from operating anywhere in the city of Baltimore. The commission has three weeks to finalize the rules, and the hearing in Annapolis was the first public hearing.

More Than 500 Apply for Nevada Medical Marijuana Business Licenses. The state has received applications from more than 500 people to run dispensaries, grows, testing labs, and edible and infused product companies. Under a new state law, up to 66 medical marijuana businesses will be licensed. State officials will score the applications and announce their selections in November, with the first medical marijuana sales expected early next year.

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe to Do Harm Reduction Event Ahead of NYC Electronic Zoo Music Festival. The rave culture harm reduction group DanceSafe is hosting a "Surviving Zoo" event tomorrow night ahead of this weekend's Electric Zoo music festival. They will be giving away gift bags containing drug information cards, earplugs, and condoms, and will be offering personal drug testing kits for sale. Click on the link for more details. Last year, two people died from drug use at Electronic Zoo, and festival organizers have responded by adding more law enforcement and making attendees watch an anti-drug PSA before entering.

Drug Policy

British Drug Reform Group Transform Publishes Drug Debater's Guide. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation today made available Debating Drugs: How to Make the Case for Legal Regulation. "This is a guide to making the case for the legal regulation of drugs from a position of confidence and authority. Organized into 12 key subject areas, it provides an at-a-glance summary of the arguments for legal regulation, followed by commonly heard concerns and effective responses to them. It is the product of Transform's extensive experience debating the issues around legal regulation, and running workshops to equip supporters of reform with the arguments and nuanced messaging needed to win over a range of audiences." Check it out.

Drug Reform Funder John Sperling Dies. John Sperling, best known as the founder of the University of Phoenix, has died at age 93. Along with George Soros and Peter Lewis, Sperling was one of the troika of deep-pocketed funders whose financial support helped secure the passage of California's medical marijuana and sentencing reform initiatives (Prop 215 and Prop 36, respectively). He also helped fund Arizona's medical marijuana initiative, Prop 200.

Law Enforcement

Federal Court Says Lawsuit Over Fatal Connecticut SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue. A US federal appeals court has ruled that police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits filed in the wake of a botched 2008 raid that left one man dead and the homeowner wounded. In the raid, a heavily armed SWAT team shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan and wounded Ronald Terebesi as the two men were watching television. The ruling said that because police responded with unnecessary and inappropriate force, they are not protected by "qualified immunity." Police were responding to a claim by a stripper that she had seen a small amount of cocaine in Terebisi's home. They found only a personal use quantity of the drug and no weapon.

International

ISIS Burns Syrian Marijuana Fields. As if we didn't have enough reasons not to like these guys. Amateur video posted on the internet reportedly filmed recently in Akhtarin, near Aleppo, purportedly shows ISIS members burning a marijuana field. Syrian human rights observers reported that ISIS had captured the village from rival Islamists weeks ago. Click on the link to see the video.

Australia's Victoria Labor Party Vows Harsh New Laws Against Meth. The opposition Labor Party is hoping to gin up votes ahead of November's elections by vowing to crack down on meth if elected. Leader Daniel Andrews is calling for new criminal offenses to be enacted and penalties of up to 25 years in prison for sales to minors. New offenses would include writing or circulating meth "cookbooks" and owning or operating properties that "turn a blind eye" to meth production, as well as selling meth near a school.

Canada's Marc Emery is a Man on a Mission [FEATURE]

Canada's "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery has finally returned home after spending just over 4 ½ years in US federal prison for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet. From his base in Vancouver, BC, Emery parlayed his pot seed profits into a pro-marijuana legalization political juggernaut.

Marc and Jodie Emery (wikipedia.org)
Not only did the gregarious former libertarian bookseller relentlessly hassle Canadian and American drug warriors -- including the dour then-drug czar, John Walters -- he published Cannabis Culture magazine, created the BC Marijuana Party and helped turn parts of downtown Vancouver's Hasting Street into a Western Hemisphere Amsterdam, complete with a vaporizer lounge and several other cannabis-related enterprises.

Emery also put a bunch of his money -- several hundred thousand dollars -- into financing marijuana reform efforts on the US side of the border. It's hard to say what, exactly, got him in the sights of US law enforcement, but when he was arrested by Canadian police at the behest of US authorities, the DEA was quick to gloat that it had struck a blow against the forces of legalization.

The US eventually got its pound of flesh from Emery, forcing him into a plea bargain -- to protect his coworkers -- that saw him sentenced to five years in federal prison for his seed selling. Emery did his time, was released from prison earlier this summer, then sent to a private deportation detention facility in the US before going home to Canada less than two weeks ago.

But if US and Canadian authorities thought they had silenced one of the biggest thorns in their side, they should have known better. Nearly five years in prison hasn't exactly mellowed Emery; instead, he is more committed than ever to drug war justice, and he's raring to go.

The Chronicle spoke with him via phone at his home in Vancouver Monday. The topics ranged from prison life to marijuana legalization in the US to Canadian election politics and beyond.

"If you go to jail for the right reasons you can continue to be an inspiration," Emery said. "I got a lot of affirmation, thousands of letters, people helped to cover my bills, and that's a testament to my influence. My experience was very positive. I network well and try to live in the present moment, just dealing with what's going on."

Still, Emery needed about $180,000 to get through those 4 ½ years behind bars, including more than $18,000 in email costs -- it isn't cheap for federal prisoners to send emails -- but for Emery, keeping his voice heard in the outside world was a necessity. He reports having received between $70,000 and $80,000 in donations while in the slammer.

"That still left Jodie doing the near impossible," he said. She traveled from Canada to the southern US 81 times to visit her husband, visiting him on 164 days and spending a like amount of time in transit. If it weren't for Jodie Emery, prison would have been a much lonelier place, as it is for most inmates.

"In my prison, there were 1,700 prisoners, but on an average weekend, only 25 were getting a visit," Emery noted, adding that most inmates were either black or brown. "And other than Jodie, only seven people came to visit me."

While Emery waited in prison, the world continued to turn, and he has emerged into a different place. Now, two US states and Uruguay have legalized marijuana outright, and two more states and the District of Columbia are likely to do so this fall. For the Prince of Pot, it's all good.

"I like that Washington and Colorado went for two different models, although I think the Colorado model is better and has been more quickly executed," he said. "In both places, prices haven't really dropped, but they will once other states come on board. It has been really encouraging to see that people would travel to another state to buy it legally."

That's a good thing for the cannabis culture, he said.

"We are a proud culture. Legalization means a lot of things, and one of them is the end of stigmatization. We've been picked on and scapegoated as if we were taking part in some evil practice, but that is largely over in Denver," Emery argued. "They're integrating it into the mainstream economy; we're going to see a lot of interesting things."

Unsurprisingly, the small-L libertarian and marijuana seed entrepreneur is not overly concerned that legalization will lead to the commercialization or corporatization of the herb.

"We need big money in order to have an effective lobby," he said. "When there's something that tens of millions of Americans want, the money will come, and the money is welcome. It's going to put into new products, new technologies, and we have to welcome that. Capitalism is way to make things happen legally, and we need to get those people on board."

But Emery wants people to be able to grow their own, too.

"It's not legal unless we can grow it in our backyards or fields," he said, "and as long as we can grow it, it's basically legal."

The Hastings Street headquarters. (cannabisculture.com)
That's life in these United States, but Emery, of course, doesn't live in the United States -- in fact, he is now permanently barred from entering the country -- he lives in Canada, and things haven't gone nearly as swimmingly there when it comes to freeing the weed.

A decade ago, Canada was the hope of the global cannabis culture. It appeared poised to make the move toward legalization, but first the ruling Liberals were unwilling to even push through their decriminalization scheme, and then they were defeated by the Conservatives, who went in the other direction on marijuana policy, for instance, by adopting mandatory minimum sentences for growing more than small amounts of pot.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives remain in power today, and Emery has sworn political vengeance on them. He has also aligned himself with the Liberals, whose leader, Justin Trudeau, is now an advocate of legalization. That's in line with Canadian public opinion, which consistently shows strong support for marijuana law reform, including a poll this week that showed two-thirds support for reform, with 35% saying legalize it and 31% saying decriminalize it.

The Liberals are going to try to take back the federal government in elections in October 2015, and Emery is happy to help savage the Conservatives whether it makes Liberals squeamish or not. His return just two weeks ago has already ignited a firestorm of media coverage, with his pot politics naturally front and center.

"We've now hijacked the whole conversation about the election; we are dominating the conversation," he gloated. "It's the number one election topic and has been since the second I arrived back in the country. There have been more than 150 articles about me in the last two weeks. It's a big deal, and I'm delighted it's a big deal. I have critics using up column inches to say disparaging things about me, and that's great, too. There's a real dialog going on, and we have the opportunity to change the feelings of our opponents and get them to understand the benefits to their communities in legalizing marijuana."

But can the Liberals win? Yes, says Emery.

"Election day -- October 19, 2015 -- will be legalization day in Canada. If Trudeau becomes prime minister, there is no going back," he prophesied. "And I am confident the Liberals will win. Normally, the anti-Harper vote is divided among the Greens, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberals, but this time, with Trudeau being so charismatic, I am urging everyone to just this once vote for the Liberals. And the feedback I am getting is that this is going to happen, a Liberal majority is going to happen, and you should be in on it."

When it comes to marijuana reform, in Emery's eyes, Canadian politicians should take a lesson from their counterparts south of the border.

"My opinion of Americans has only improved," he said. "You did a great job in Colorado and Washington, and even your legislators are underrated. At least one from every state has gone to Colorado to check it out. It's wonderful! Up here, if it weren't for Justin Trudeau, we wouldn't hear anything."

Well, and now, Marc Emery. Again.

Vancouver
Canada

Medical Marijuana Update

There will be no medical marijuana initiative in Oklahoma this year, Jeb Bush comes out against Florida's medical marijuana initiative, San Diego patients are trying a novel tack in their battle with the city, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last Tuesday, Madera County supervisors adopted a revised cultivation ordinance that will dramatically increase fines for violating it. All grows must be in an enclosed 120-square foot building. The current fine is $250 for growing "outside" the ordinance; the revised ordinance increases the fine to $250 per plant.

Last Wednesday, eight San Diego patients filed a complaint against the city and the mayor charging that the city's harsh land use and other restrictions on dispensaries and collectives violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaint charges the city with violating state law with its restrictions. The complaint seeks to suspend enforcement of the city's ordinance until it is resolved.

On Tuesday, California advocates raised the alarm on an amended medical marijuana bill. A bill intended to force law enforcement to return unlawfully seized medical marijuana has been amended in the Assembly Appropriations Committee to gut that language, and that has Americans for Safe Access raising the alarm. Senate Bill 1193 has been turned from a good bill into a bad one, the group says, and is asking sponsor Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) to pull it. Click on the link to add your two cents.

Florida

Last Friday, Jeb Bush came out in opposition to the state's medical marijuana initiative. Former Republican state governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has come out against Amendment 2, the state's medical marijuana initiative. "Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire," Bush said. "Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts," he added. Bush appears to be out of step with Florida voters, who are supporting the measure in the 85-90% range, according to recent polls.

Hawaii

On Monday, advocates announced medical marijuana events this weekend. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (cofounders of the Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii) have announced three free public events on medical marijuana policy next weekend. "Policy Perspectives on Medical Marijuana" will take place in Oahu and Hilo, while a talk session will be held in Kona. Click on the link for more details.

Iowa

Last Thursday, the state announced public hearings about its new CBD cannabis oil law. Iowans who have something to say about the state's new law decriminalizing the possession of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptics will get a chance at a series of public hearings. They will be held in six cities: Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Mason City, Ottumwa, and Sioux City. Click on the link for times and dates, as well information on submitting comment via email or snail mail.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, a Minnesota mom has been arrested for giving her son cannabis oil too soon. Although the state this year passed a law allowing for the use of some forms of medical marijuana, it doesn't go into effect until next July. That's too long to wait for Angela Brown, who traveled to Colorado to obtain cannabis oil for her 15-year-old son. Now she is facing two criminal misdemeanors, including child endangerment. The family says it is now considering moving to Colorado so the boy can get his medicine without his mom facing prosecution.

Oklahoma

Last Saturday, organizers conceded that their initiative signature-gathering campaign would fall short. There will be no medical marijuana initiative in the Sooner State this year. Saturday was the deadline for handing in signatures, and organizers concede they don't have enough valid signatures. They vow to be back at next year.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Oregon Initiative Buying Ads, South Portland Maine to Vote, Saudi Arabia Killing People (8/19/14)

Big money for TV ads in Oregon, another Maine city will vote on marijuana legalization, a good bill goes bad in California, and Saudi Arabia executes four hash smugglers. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

South Portland, Maine, to Vote on Legalization Initiative in November. The city council Monday night approved putting on the November ballot an initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The move comes after advocates collected enough voter signatures to force the issue. Neighboring Portland, Maine's largest city, passed a similar initiative last year.

Oregon Legalization Initiative Will Buy $2.3 Million in TV Ads. New Approach Oregon, the group behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, said Monday it will buy $2.3 million worth of TV ads. The first ad will feature Richard Harris, the former head of addictions and mental health for the state Health Authority, who says that marijuana is "a pretty benign drug" and that criminalizing it has been a policy failure.

Medical Marijuana

California Advocates Raise Alarm on Amended Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill intended to force law enforcement to return unlawfully seized medical marijuana has been amended in the Assembly Appropriations Committee to gut that language, and that has Americans for Safe Access raising the alarm. Senate Bill 1193 has been turned from a good bill into a bad one, the group says, and is asking sponsor Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) to pull it. Click on the link to add your two cents.

International

Saudi Arabia Executes Four Hash Smugglers. Four members of the same family were executed by Saudi authorities Monday for attempting to smuggle "large quantities" of hashish into the kingdom. The executions came despite protests from family members that the men had been tortured into confessing during interrogations. The killings are part of a surge of executions in the kingdom lately, with 32 people executed this year and 17 in the past two weeks alone. Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty to a number of crimes, including drug trafficking and apostasy, as well as murder and rape.

Chronicle AM -- August 15, 2014

The California legislature acts on harm reduction, but kills medical marijuana regulation, Jeb Bush takes a stand on medical marijuana, New Hampshire bans a kind of synthetic cannabinoid, and more. Let's get to it:

Jeb Bush comes out against Florida's medical marijuana initiative. (wikipedia/gage skidmore)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Statewide Regulation Bill Dies. A controversial bill that would have imposed statewide regulations on California's multi-billion dollar medical marijuana industry died yesterday in Sacramento. The bill, Senate Bill 1262, was blocked by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the effort to impose some order on the industry is now dead for another year. The bill sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) was supported by law enforcement and the state's municipalities, as well as by some elements of the state's medical marijuana community. But it was also strongly opposed by other elements of the medical marijuana and drug reform communities.

Jeb Bush Joins Opposition to Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Former Republican state governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has come out against Amendment 2, the state's medical marijuana initiative. "Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire," Bush said. "Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts," he added. Bush appears to be out of step with Florida voters, who are supporting the measure in the 85-90% range, according to recent polls.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention, Syringe Access Bills Pass in California. Two harm reduction bills, one allowing pharmacists to dispense unlimited numbers of syringes without a prescription and the other allowing them to dispense the overdose drug naloxone, have passed the California legislature. The bills are Assembly Bill 1535 (syringes) and Assembly Bill 1743 (naloxone). They now go to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Declares State of Emergency Over "Smacked" Synthetic Marijuana. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) yesterday declared a state of emergency to quarantine a synthetic cannabinoid product marketed under the name "Smacked." Her action comes after 44 people reported overdosing on the stuff after smoking or ingesting it. No deaths have been reported. Officials have revoked the business licenses of three Manchester stores where the stuff has been found.

International

BC Court Rules Ban on Medical Marijuana Edibles Unconstitutional. The BC Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that it is unconstitutional to ban licensed medical marijuana users from possessing medical marijuana edibles or other products, such as creams or salves. The court ordered parliament to redraft the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow for such uses of medical marijuana. The case is Regina v. Owen Smith.

Colombian President Endorses Medical Marijuana Bill. President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday he was endorsing newly introduced legislation to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by a member of the governing coalition.

WOLA Brief on Ecuador Drug Policy. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released an issue brief, "Reforms and Contradictions in Ecuador's Drug Policy." The brief comes as a sweeping new penal code reflecting some drug reforms goes into effect and examines the complexities and contradictions of implementing the new law.

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Dies

A controversial bill that would have imposed statewide regulations on California's multi-billion dollar medical marijuana industry died yesterday in Sacramento. The bill, Senate Bill 1262, was blocked by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the effort to impose some order on the industry is now dead for another year.

Steve DeAngelo at Oakland's Harborside dispensary. It and thousands more will remain unregulated at the state level. (leap.cc)
The bill sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) was supported by law enforcement and the state's municipalities, as well as by some elements of the state's medical marijuana community. But it was also strongly opposed by other elements of the medical marijuana and drug reform communities.

Under the status quo, access to medical marijuana is largely determined by geography. Conservative areas of the state have tended to impose not only bans on dispensaries, but also bans on cultivation, sometimes even for personal amounts. It was not clear that SB 1262 would ameliorate that situation.

The bill also ran into problems trying to determine what entity would govern medical marijuana in the state. A competing bill from Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would have had the state Department of Alcohol Control regulate medical marijuana, but that bill was defeated earlier.

The Correa bill originally gave control to the Department of Public Health, but was then amended to give control to the Department of Consumer Affairs. But Consumer Affairs seemed distinctly uninterested in the task; its representatives didn't bother to show up for any stakeholder meetings.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee also balked at the cost of the bill, which was estimated at $20 million to start the program. That figure, which was just released Monday, came as a bucket of cold water on bill supporters.

Now, it's back to the drawing board.

Sacramento, CA
United States

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