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California: What Will Marijuana Legalization Look Like? [FEATURE]

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

Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it's already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.

Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country's legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.

It's not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 million collected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest poll showing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.

It's also that the surfer's paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the "normalization" of the pot business that emerged out of California's wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor's recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn't fall.

At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.

California isn't the only state riding the wave this year -- legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts -- but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.

But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let's look at what Prop 64 does:

  • Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
  • Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
  • Bars commercial "mega-grows" (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed "microbusinesses" (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
  • Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or "cannabis cafes."
  • Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
  • Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.

In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.

Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.

"The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.

California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.

"Those marijuana arrests will stop," said Lyman. "And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to file a petition, but like Prop 47 [the sentencing reform initiative passed in 2014], unless there is a compelling reason to deny it, the court must grant it. Similarly, all those people who have had marijuana offenses will be eligible to have their record reclassified."

To be clear, it will still be possible to be arrested for a marijuana offense in California after Prop 64. Possession of more than an ounce (or more than four grams of concentrate) will be a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and possession of less than an ounce can be a misdemeanor offense if it is on school grounds during school hours.

Similarly, cultivation of more than six plants without being a permitted medical marijuana patient or without a license is still a crime, but typically only a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail. There are some exceptions: Illegal growers could be charged with a felony if the person has prior violent offenses or violates state water or environmental laws.

Minors get special treatment. Kids under 18 who get caught with pot are hit with an infraction punishable by drug education, counseling, or community service, but no fines. People between 18 and 21 get an infraction with a maximum $100 fine. And while adults who possess pot on a school grounds during school hours get a misdemeanor, kids under 18 will only be hit with an infraction.

"We want to reduce the number of young people getting into the system, and this will really dial down the firehose into mass incarceration," said Lyman.

The state's largest marijuana consumer group, California NORML, certainly likes those provisions, but it only gives Prop 64 one thumb up and foresees some issues down the road.

"We're supporting the AUMA with reservations," said the group's long-time head Dale Gieringer. "It's not the best initiative ever written -- it has some problems that will have to be addressed -- but it is an important step. The huge thing it does is legalize adult possession of an ounce and adult cultivation of up to six plants. That's big. And it turns cultivation and possession with intent felonies into misdemeanors, or at worst, wobblers," meaning prosecutors could only in limited cases charge them as felonies.

"The AUMA is very long and complicated, with unnecessary hang-ups and restrictions," Gieringer complained, citing bans on public smoking and vaping as examples.

"In places where there are bans on smoking in apartments or residences, in public is about the only place you can smoke. If it's illegal to smoke pot in a public place, people will be hard-pressed to find any place," he said. "You can't even vaporize in a public place, and that's totally out of line with the existing science. They just caved in to the powerful anti-smoking lobby on that, and we can't endorse that."

The CaNORML membership also includes pot farmers, of which the group estimates there are some 30,000 in the state. They are nervous, Gieringer said.

"We have a lot of small growers and they have a lot of issues," he explained. "They are concerned about regulatory provisions they fear could quickly push small growers out of the business. AUMA requires you to be an in-state resident, and we're already growing more than we need, yet we have out-of-state sponsors lining up behind in-state sponsors."

Indeed, earlier this month, the state industry's largest membership group, the California Growers Association, voted to remain neutral on Prop 64 -- or least for now -- after its membership split almost down the middle on whether to support it. Growers, including association head Hezekiah Allen, worried that big-money investment and consolidation of the industry impelled by huge "mega-grows" could wipe out the now generations-old traditional pot farming scene in the stat's North Coast.

Allen warned in a report to the group's board that such consolidation could "result in a catastrophic economic collapse for huge swathes of California," including the North Coast's Emerald Triangle.

Stoners may have to fight for the right to toke and pot farmers for their place in the market, but some of the communities most buffeted by drug prohibition should see benefits. Prop 64 contains language that will direct revenues to minority communities, and also opens the door for localities themselves to take proactive steps toward racial justice.

"The AUMA has a community reinvestment fund with the first revenues available in 2019," said DPA's Lyman, adding that it will be $10 million the first year and up to $50 million a year in the futre. "This is going to communities most impacted by the drug war, black and brown communities, and will include everything from legal services, to public health and economic development. The communities will be able to decide."

Localities will also be deciding on how to implement regulation of the legal market, and that is another opportunity, Lyman said.

"Hopefully, we will see things like what happened in Oakland, where under the new regulations, 50% of the new licenses have to be from the community," she said. "We hope other cities will do that to mitigate racial discrimination and the injustice of the past by prioritizing people of color and women, so we don't end up white a bunch of white men getting rich off what black and brown people have endured. DPA will be very involved in this."

Somebody is going to be making money, though. The state's marijuana market, estimated at $2.7 billion for medical last year, could quickly hit $7 billion under legalization.

"I see tremendous potential for a blossoming of cannabis opportunities," said veteran California marijuana activist, author, and historian Chris Conrad, who has become a pro-Prop 64 spokesman under the rubric of Friends of Prop 64. "Of course, the size of the industry will be impacted by the need to limit the market to intra-state rather than national or international. Given that California is the world's sixth largest economy and has the largest appetite for cannabis in the world, the state's nonmedical market is going to be sizeable."

Legalization will bring changes from price reductions to changing product lines, he said.

"Overall marijuana production is expected to soar, prices to come down and probably a lot more cannabis will be converted into extracts and expand or open new markets for personal hygiene products, topical remedies and essential oils," Conrad predicted. "There will be large-scale cannabis production that is homogenized with relatively low to medium potency, but still of better quality than Mexican brick weed. But we will never replace the boutique markets any more than Budweiser has eliminated microbreweries or 'Big Wine' has wiped out California's family vintners."

And it's not just marijuana, but pot-related businesses that will boom, said DPA's Lyman.

"Formalizing regulations for the first time will expand the industry, and there will be lots of ancillary industries, such as marketing, packaging, and tracking, that should all thrive in post-legalization California," she said.

"There will be new ancillary markets for products such as locking stash boxes for people to carry their cannabis while driving, toking stations near entertainment venues and discrete, low-wattage, six-plant cultivation tents specialized for use in condos and apartments," added Conrad.

Conrad said he expected counties and cities will opt in to the revenues from allowing pot commerce instead of locking themselves out with bans.

"The distribution around the state will likely be porous, some areas more saturated and others with less access," he said. "Since towns will be licensing lawful businesses and no longer will be at the mercy of the county prosecutors' discretion, I expect to see a general spread of retail sites and onsite consumption shops around the state. Not in every town, not as obnoxious and omnipresent as liquor stores, but not too far away, either."

We shall see.

"You can't predict the future," said Gieringer. "It will be a new situation. Medical marijuana here evolved through several different stages, and I expect the same process to unfold here with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. On balance, the AUMA is an important step, but it's not the end game, and it leaves us with unresolved problems."

You may not be able to predict the future, said Lyman, but you can influence it.

"This will be a work in progress," she said. "The long-term work of implementation starts on November 8. We have to be there. To continue to be engaged will be critical."

But even under state level legalization in California, as long as there is pot prohibition somewhere in America, there will be Golden State growers ready to supply the market.

"The one thing everyone needs to recognize is that this does not end the problem of illegal marijuana growing in California," said Gieringer. "The industry has been well-entrenched for generations and is currently supplying the rest of the country, too. That market isn't going to disappear. The more expensive and difficult it is to become legal, the more people will likely participate in that black market."

Chronicle AM: Obama to Sign Opioids Bill, CO Legal MJ Fueling Economic Growth, More... (7/15/16)

A new report finds legal marijuana has been good for Colorado's economy, the White House announces President Obama will sign CARA, and more.

The president will sign the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act despite the lack of adequate funding. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Report Finds Legal Marijuana Bolstering Retail, Manufacturing in Colorado. In a new report, the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business finds that the state's marijuana industry is bumping up retail sales and hiring in manufacturing. Recreational cannabis sales began in 2014. That year, "We had a 3.5% increase in employment. In 2015, a 4.9% increase in food-manufacturing employment," the report said. "The data doesn't allow us to slice and dice to say, 'These are indeed edibles or not,' but the recognition is this is where they would be classified." Likewise, chemical manufacturing jobs vanished at a rate of 2.2% a year from 2002 to 2012, but increased 2.1% in 2013, 1.4% in 2014, and 3.9% last year. Chemical manufacturing includes producing cannabis oils.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Obama Will Sign Opioids Bill Despite Lack of Funding. President Obama will sign into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524) even though Congress failed to adequately fund it, the White House said Wednesday. The bill "falls far short" of necessary funding, but Obama will sign it "because some action is better than none." More funds could be appropriated in the future, but that's by no means a done deal.

International

Peru Takes Aim at Coca Cultivation in the VRAEM. The country's anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, said Thursday in is ready to eradicate coca plants in the remote and lawless Valleys of the Rio, Apurimac, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) region of south-central Peru. The government has held off on eradication in the region, a major coca producer and home to a remnant of the Shining Path rebels. About three-quarters of the country's coca is grown there, and DEVIDA is ready to go after it. "Today I can say that the conditions are now entirely there for a drastic reduction in the coverage of coca in the VRAEM," Devida chief Alberto Otarola said in a news conference. "No part of Peru should be exempt from the rule of law."

Medical Marijuana Update

The Republican platform committee rejects medical marijuana, medical marijuana research issues get a hearing in the Senate, Arkansas will vote on at least one medical marijuana initiative this fall -- maybe two -- and more.

National

On Monday, the GOP rejected a medical marijuana platform plank. Republican delegates meeting Monday in Cleveland ahead of the party's national convention voted against endorsing medical marijuana in their party platform. The vote came after contentious debate, with some delegates making claims about marijuana reminiscent of Reefer Madness. One delegate claimed people who commit mass murders are "young boys from divorced families, and they're all smoking pot," another compared medical marijuana to physically addictive and potentially lethal prescription opiates. Still, it took two voice votes for the measure to be voted down.

On Tuesday, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on medical marijuana research. The US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held the hearing on "Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana." Testimony was heard from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who are original co-sponsors of medical marijuana legislation introduced last year in the Senate known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S 683). Other scheduled included officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others.

Also on Tuesday, Senators Feinstein and Grassley called for expedited evaluation of the medical uses of CBD. The two Senate octogenarians have asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell for the two agencies to work together to remove barriers to the scientific and medical evaluation of cannabidiol (CBD). The pair, who are, respectively, the co-chair and chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, made their request in a letter to the two agency heads.

Arkansas

Last Tuesday, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act qualified for the November ballot. Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) has collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify its medical marijuana initiative for the November ballot, Secretary of State Mack Martin confirmed. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has yet to qualify for the ballot, and ACC is calling on its organizers to end their campaign and join forces.

Last Friday, supporters of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment handed in signatures. Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana turned in more than 106,000 signatures to state officials, the last day for turn-ins. They need nearly 85,000 valid voter signatures, so this is going to be a nail-biter. Earlier this week, a competing medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Compassionate Care qualified for the ballot.

On Tuesday, the Health Department came out against the medical marijuana initiatives. The state Department of Health said in a statement that it opposed such initiatives because marijuana is not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and its legalization by popular vote is not grounded in "rigorous" science. A medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Compassionate Care has already qualified for the ballot, and the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment has handed in some 106,000 signatures. It needs 85,000 valid ones to qualify.

California

Last Tuesday, the San Bernardino city council voted to put a dispensary regulatory system before the voters. The city council voted to put the measure on the November ballot even though a majority disapproves of it. Their hand was forced by a petition campaign that gathered more than 6,000 voter signatures. A second, competing proposal may also make the ballot.

Also last Tuesday, a Long Beach dispensary initiative qualified for the November ballot. City Clerk Maria de la Luz Garcia announced that an initiative to allow dispensaries has qualified for the November ballot. A city council member may try to add another ballot measure that would allow dispensaries, but with more restrictions.

Illinois

On Monday, officials reported climbing medical marijuana sales. The state saw $2.57 million in medical marijuana sales in June, up from $2.3 million in May, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture. Sales total $13.8 million since the first dispensaries started operating last November. The numbers should increase even further once two new qualifying conditions -- PTSD and terminal illness -- come on line. They've already been approved, but the Department of Health is in the midst of preparing new rules and application forms.

Maine

On Tuesday, Mthe state rejected including opiate addiction as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) has rejected a petition seeking to include opiate addiction on the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. State officials said the case for inclusion was "compelling," but they also said human studies hadn't been done and more research was needed.

North Dakota

On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative campaign handed in signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign handed in some 15,500 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday, the last day for handing them in. The campaign needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify, so there is very little cushion for invalidated signatures. Stay tuned.

On Wednesday, word came that the initiative campaign actually handed in 17,000 signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign actually handed in some 17,000 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday. Earlier reports had the number at 15,500. It's still going to a nail-biter to see if it qualifies for the ballot; it needs 13,452 valid voter signatures.

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

Chronicle AM: GOP Rejects MedMJ, Colombia & FARC Collaborate on Coca Substitution, More... (7/12/16)

Medical marijuana is getting some attention on Capitol Hill, Arizona legalization foes go to court to try to block the initiative, Maine rejects medical marijuana for opiate addiction, Colombia and the FARC rebels partner on a coca crop substitution pilot program, and more.

Colombian coca farmer (DEA Museum)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Prohibitionists File Lawsuit to Block Legalization Initiative. Legalization opponents Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy have joined two county attorneys in filing a lawsuit to block the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's legalization initiative from going before voters in November. The lawsuit claims the initiative is "misleading" and is not accurately summarized by its title and text. Legalization opponents in Massachusetts tried a similar tactic earlier this year. They failed.

Michigan Asks Judge to Throw Out Legalization Group's Ballot Access Challenge. The state is asking the Court of Claims to dismiss a lawsuit from MI Legalize, which is seeking to place its legalization initiative on the November ballot. The group gathered more than 350,000 signatures and only needed some 252,000 to qualify, but some of those signatures were obtained outside a 180-day window generally mandated by state law. In seeking dismissal, the state argues that there isn't enough time to get the measure on the ballot now, the lawsuit fails to identify constitutional claims and contradicts earlier state Supreme Court rulings.

Kansas City Marijuana Advocates Launch Decriminalization Initiative Campaign. The Kansas City, Missouri, NORML branch is collecting signatures to get a decriminalization initiative on the November ballot. The proposal would decriminalize up to 35 grams of pot, with a maximum fine of $25. The group needs 1,708 valid voter signatures by August 25, but says it plans to gather hundreds more than that and has 800 already.

Medical Marijuana

GOP Rejects Medical Marijuana Platform Plank. Republican delegates meeting Monday in Cleveland ahead of the party's national convention voted against endorsing medical marijuana in their party platform. The vote came after contentious debate, with some delegates making claims about marijuana reminiscent of Reefer Madness. One delegate claimed people who commit mass murders are "young boys from divorced families, and they're all smoking pot," another compared medical marijuana to physically addictive and potentially lethal prescription opiates. Still, it took two voice votes for the measure to be voted down.

Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Medical Marijuana Research Today. The US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism is scheduled to hold a hearing today on "Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana." Testimony will be heard from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who are original co-sponsors of medical marijuana legislation introduced last year in the Senate known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S 683). Other scheduled witnesses include officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others.

Senators Feinstein and Grassley Call for Expedited Evaluation of Medical Uses of CBDs. The two Senate octogenarians have asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell for the two agencies to work together to remove barriers to the scientific and medical evaluation of cannabidiol (CBD). The pair, who are, respectively, the co-chair and chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, made their request in a letter to the two agency heads.

Maine Rejects Including Opiate Addiction as Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana. The administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage (R) has rejected a petition seeking to include opiate addiction on the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. State officials said the case for inclusion was "compelling," but they also said human studies hadn't been done and more research was needed.

International

Colombia and FARC Rebels Begin Coca Substitution Pilot Program. The government and the guerrillas Sunday began a pilot project to wean farmers off coca by offering them alternative crops. The move comes as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that coca production is booming in what farmers see as a last opportunity to cash in before peace allows for a serious crop substitution effort. Some 500 small farmers are voluntarily participating in the program, which will be used as a model for the rest of the country after the FARC and the government reach final peace agreements.

Chronicle AM: House Passes Opioid Bill Without $$, CA Drug Felonies Plummet, More... (7/11/16)

California felony drug arrests are down, Colombian coca production is up, the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative is trailing in a new poll, Congress moves toward final passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but there's a fight over funding, and more.

The House passes the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but spurns efforts to pay for it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Trailing. A new poll from O.H. Predictive Insights has the legalization initiative sponsored by the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol losing on election day. The poll found 52.5% opposed, with only 39% in favor. The initiative has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is expected to after supporters handed in 100,000 more signatures than needed, providing plenty of cushion for invalidated signatures. The campaign does have significant resources; it looks like it will need them to turn the numbers around.

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Mere Smell of Marijuana is Grounds for Search, Even Though It's a Medical Marijuana State. The state's high court ruled Monday that the mere smell of marijuana is sufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant, even though the state has legalized medical marijuana. But the court also held that the legal foundation for such a search can go up in smoke if police have evidence the suspected marijuana use or possession is legal under state law. The case is State v. Sisco.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. North Dakotans will not be voting on marijuana legalization this fall. Sponsors of the initiative conceded Monday they only had about 10,000 signatures, and they needed 13,452 valid signatures to qualify. Monday was the deadline for turning in signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Continue Climbing. The state saw $2.57 million in medical marijuana sales in June, up from $2.3 million in May, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture. Sales total $13.8 million since the first dispensaries started operating last November. The numbers should increase even further once two new qualifying conditions -- PTSD and terminal illness -- come on line. They've already been approved, but the Department of Health is in the midst of preparing new rules and application forms.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign handed in some 15,500 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday, the last day for handing them in. The campaign needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify, so there is very little cushion for invalidated signatures. Stay tuned.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Approves Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, But Without Requested Funding. The House last Friday gave final approval to S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), but beat back Democratic efforts to provide additional funding for it. The Obama administration had asked for $1.1 billion, and House Democrats tried in vain last week to $925 million in funding. The White House has suggested it may veto the bill if no extra funding is attached. House Republicans said funding was available elsewhere. The measure is a conference committee compromise, with the Senate set to give final approval this week.

Sentencing

California Drug Felony Arrests Plummet in Wake of Prop 47. What happens when you change drug felonies to misdemeanors? Drug felonies plummet. Felony drug arrests in California dropped between 68% and 73% between 2014 and 2015 according to new data from the California Attorney General. Marijuana felonies followed a similar curve, dropping from 13,300 in 2014 to 8,856 last year. On the other hand, misdemeanor drug arrests nearly doubled, from 92,469 in 2014 to 163,073 last year.

International

Poll Finds Majority of British MPs Favor Medical Marijuana. Some 58% of British MPs back the use of medical marijuana, according to the polling firm Populus. Only 27% were opposed. Support was strongest among Scottish National Party MPs (88%), followed by Labor (60%), and even 55% of Tories were on board.

Colombia Coca Boom Underway. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported last Thursday that coca cultivation had increased by 39% last year and nearly doubled since 2013. Some observers speculate that it reflects coca growers' belief that this could be the last chance to grow the cash crop before a peace deal between the government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC takes hold. Colombia government officials said the largest increases in cultivation are in areas controlled by the FARC.

In Surprise Reversal, Democrats Call for "Pathway" to Marijuana Legalization

Meeting in Orlando Saturday ahead of the Democratic National Convention later this month, the party's platform drafting committee dropped a moderate marijuana plank it had adopted only days earlier and replaced it with language calling for rescheduling pot and creating "a reasoned pathway to future legalization."

Bernie Sanders supporters had pushed earlier for firm legalization language, but had been turned back last week and didn't have any new language going into this weekend's platform committee meeting. But on Saturday afternoon, the committee addressed an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, as Sanders supporters had earlier sought in vain, with Tennessee Sanders delegate David King arguing that pot was put in the same schedule as heroin during a political "craze" to go after "hippies and blacks."

That amendment was on the verge of being defeated, with some committee members worrying that it went "too far" and that it would somehow undermine state-level legalization efforts, but then committee members proposed merely rescheduling -- not descheduling -- marijuana and added the undefined "pathway" language.

The amendment was then adopted on an 81-80 vote, leading to a period of contention and confusion as former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the committee co-chair, entered a complaint that at least one member may not have been able to vote. That led to arguments between committee members and between members and non-voting observers, most of whom were Sanders supporters. The Washington Post reported that one Clinton delegate complained loudly that Sanders delegates "wanted 100% of everything."

But the new language prevailed when former Arkansas US senator Mark Pryor, a Clinton delegate, announced that while opponents of the language were unhappy that the earlier compromise language had been replaced, they weren't going to fight it.

"We withdraw the objection," Pryor said.

The marijuana amendment adopted by the platform committee reads:

"Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."

The earlier language had cited disparate racial enforcement of marijuana laws and urged support for state level "marijuana decriminalization," but only stated support for "policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty."

Bernie Sanders supporters didn't get the descheduling language they wanted, but they did get a commitment to rescheduling and they got the word "legalization" in there, even if the phrase "a reasoned pathway for future legalization" is a bit mealy-mouthed.

And the Democratic Party now has marijuana legalization as part of its platform.

Orlando, FL
United States

Chronicle AM: NORML's Allen St. Pierre to Step Down, Push for Stronger Dem MJ Plank, More... (7/8/16)

It's all marijuana policy today, with pressure on the Democratic platform committee, the long-time NORML head stepping down, organized opposition to legalization rumbling in California and Massachusetts, and more.

Allen St. Pierre will resign as head of national NORML. Thanks for everything, and good luck. (www.normlucf.com)
Marijuana Policy

Congressman, Drug Reformers Urge Democrats to Firm Up Marijuana Reform Plank. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and several national drug reform groups sent a letter Friday to the Democratic National Committee Platform Committee urging members to strengthen the party's lukewarm position on marijuana reform by adding one simple sentence: "We support ending the failed federal marijuana prohibition." Blumenauer was joined by Clergy for a New Drug Policy, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Drug Policy Action (the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The platform committee is considering language Friday and Saturday.

Allen St. Pierre to Step Down as Head of NORML. After nearly a quarter-century as the group's executive director, St. Pierre is calling it quits. He's now a husband and a new father, and paying for a family lifestyle "is not possible while working for NORML," he said. Thank you, Allen, and best of luck in the future.

Alaska Regulators Give Preliminary Approval for Take-Away Marijuana at Cannabis Clubs. The Marijuana Control Board has amended its draft regulations for on-site consumption at pot retail shops to allow customers to purchase pot, consume some on-site, and then leave with the rest of the purchase. Before the amendment was accepted, previous language said customers "may not" leave the premises with any unused product. These are still just draft regulations.

California Prosecutors Announce Opposition to Prop 64. Now there's a shocker. The board of directors of the California District Attorneys Association has voted unanimously to oppose Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative. The DAs warned of "dangerously impaired drivers getting behind the wheel and injuring or killing innocent Californians" and said the initiative would allow "drug dealers" to "infiltrate" the legal marijuana industry by not barring people with previous marijuana convictions.

Massachusetts Legalization Opponents Kick Off Campaign. Some of the state's leading politicians, including Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D), and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D) Friday formally launched their campaign to defeat the legalization initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The kickoff was set for a "recovery high school" Friday afternoon.

Washington State Recreational Pot Sales At Billion Dollar Mark. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Friday that sales have surpassed $1 billion since weed was legalized in in 2014. The official state website said sales were only $979,937,722, but whatever the precise figure, marijuana is now Washington's billion dollar baby.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment Supporters Hand in Signatures. Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana turned in more than 106,000 signatures to state officials Friday, the last day for turn-ins. They need nearly 85,000 valid voter signatures, so this is going to be a nail-biter. Earlier this week, a competing medical marijuana initiative from Arkansans for Compassionate Care qualified for the ballot.

Chronicle AM: AR MedMJ Makes Ballot, Roadside Drug Tests Send Innocent to Jail, More... (7/7/16)

Arkansas will join Florida in voting on medical marijuana in November, California's Prop 64 legalization initiative just got another $1.25 million from Sean Parker, a major investigative report finds that police field drug tests are shoddy, unreliable, and are sending innocent people to jail and prison, and more.

Cheap police field drug tests are unreliable and send innocent people to jail, a major investigative report has found.
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Governor Signs Bill for National Criminal Background Checks on People Seeking Marijuana Business Licenses. Gov. Bill Walker (R) has signed into law Senate Bill 165, which will allow state regulators to send fingerprints acquired as part of the application process for marijuana business licenses to the state Department of Public Safety and FBI. Until now, regulators have been issuing licenses based on the applicant's sworn certification he does not hae a disqualifying criminal history.

Sean Parker Kicks in Another $1.25 Million for California Prop 64 Legalization Initiative. Former Facebook president and tech sector billionaire Sean Parker has just doubled his contribution to the Prop 64 campaign. Parker donated $1.25 million, bringing his total contributions so far to $2.5 million.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act Qualifies for November Ballot. Arkansans for Compassionate Care (ACC) has collected enough valid voter signatures to qualify its medical marijuana initiative for the November ballot, Secretary of State Mack Martin confirmed Tuesday. A second initiative, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, has yet to qualify for the ballot, and ACC is calling on its organizers to end their campaign and join forces.

California: San Bernardino Initiative to Allow Dispensaries Will Go to Voters. The city council voted Tuesday night to put a dispensary regulatory system before the voters in November, even though a majority disapproves of it. Their hand was forced by a petition campaign that gathered more than 6,000 voter signatures. A second, competing proposal may also make the ballot.

California: Long Beach to Vote on Allowing Dispensaries. City Clerk Maria de la Luz Garcia announced Tuesday that an initiative to allow dispensaries has qualified for the November ballot. A city council member may try to add another ballot measure that would allow dispensaries, but with more restrictions.

Drug Testing

Roadside Drug Tests Are Sending Innocent People to Jail. In a major investigative piece, Pro Publica and the New York Times Magazine have collaborated to examine the pervasive use of cheap drug field tests by law enforcement and have found that the test generate huge numbers of false positives, resulting in innocent people being jailed and wrongfully convicted of drug charges. Faced with possible prison sentences, many pleaded guilty to lesser charges despite being innocent of any crime.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Consumer Licensing System About to Get Underway. This month, Uruguay will begin signing up pot smokers to buy marijuana from state-licensed pharmacies in the world's first scheme for state-licensed production and sale of the herb. The first crop is being harvested and should be available for sale by mid-August.

Mendocino County Could Adopt Wine Industry-Style Marijuana Appellations [FEATURE]

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

Before too long, when you sit down to enjoy your 2014 vintage Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, you'll be able to pair your wine with a nice South Mendocino County Sour Diesel or maybe a Mendocino Covelo/Dos Rios OG Kush for a sip and smoke that hits all the high notes.

That's right, pot farmers in one of California's Emerald Triangle marijuana-growing counties are about to follow their brethren in the wine industry by seeking to capitalize on its reputation as a pioneer and still cutting-edge presence in American cannabis cultivation. As with Bordeaux in France or the Napa Valley nearby, the Mendocino Appellations Project wants the county's marijuana brand protected and promoted by designating denominations of origin that reflect both the county provenance and the distinct pot-growing microclimates that Mendo offers.

The first-of-its-kind project is riding a tide of local optimism not only about the future -- legalization is set to be on the ballot in California this year -- but also the present, now that the state legislature has belatedly passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). Twenty years after voters first approved medical marijuana, the act will finally bring some clarity to an endeavor that has operated with many grey areas. It defines marijuana cultivation as an agricultural activity, creates state licensing requirements, and also makes it a crime to label or sell medical marijuana as grown in a county if it actually isn't.

These rules are similar to the ones that protect the state's wine regions, whose global reputations for fine wines are jealously guarded. But unlike wine, which is regulated by the federal government, California's pot's regulation defaults to the state under federal marijuana prohibition.

"You have a product coming out of prohibition, essentially. Marijuana growers are caught in a very difficult situation. It's a bit of a 'catch-22'. Even though it's legal at the state level, it's not legal at the federal level. They can't operate in the normal way by creating bank accounts and the like. Appellations will help show the legitimacy of what they are doing," wine legal expert Richard Mendelson told The North Bay Business Journal

Mendelson has played a key role in the development of Napa County's wine appellations for more than 30 years, and he's now lending his expertise to the Mendocino Appellation Project.

"Appellations can be really powerful because they can be a means to protect everything from the intellectual property, to the labor force, to the culture and history. They can be very rich vehicles for promotion, protection, and rural development," he added.

"Mendocino is the Napa Valley of cannabis. It is by far the most conducive place for outdoor cultivation," said project founder Justin Calvino. "Mendocino is a growing culture you won't find anywhere else."

Calvino began the project last year with a topographical map of the county, then proceeded to listen to growers and others in the industry. After surveying local farmers last fall, he created the appellation map, with 11 different micro-regions based on ecological factors, such as watershed and microclimate.

The proposed appellations are: Spyrock-Bell Springs, Covelo-Dos Rios, Long Valley-Branscomb-Leggett, Willits, Comptche, Ukiah Valley, North Mendocino Coast, South Mendocino Coast, Anderson Valley South Mendocino, Potter Valley, and Mountainhouse South Mendocino County.

"I like the way he's gone about it, because he's factored in not just the natural elements, he's gone out and spoken to growers, asking the old-timers what they think, and is making revisions. He's being true to the history. This is a template for the future, creating a dossier of physical and human, historical factors -- I applaud him for that," Mendelson said.

There are issues yet to be resolved, including whether to brand the name "Mendocino" or focus on smaller areas, the setting of environmental standards, and the thorny philosophical question of whether marijuana grown indoors can lay claim to terroir, a wine term that means the specific environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, that give a wine its unique characteristics. Can a crop grown with hydroponics in a controlled indoor environment have a terroir?

In any case, the adoption of appellations should be good for consumers and good for the industry.

"This is what makes wine so much fun for consumers, to experiment and to be able to go from the larger country and regional levels all the way down to the specific vineyard designation, and see, as a consumer if you can spot those differences and understand the effect of terroir on the final product," Mendelson said.

"Tourism is big. We want people to come out and visit our tasting rooms. We want the debate and the talk about our appellations, and which one does it better than another," he said.

Calvino also sits on the board of the California Growers' Association and has been asked to lead a group working on developing appellations statewide. He said he is looking a neighboring Humboldt County next.

CA
United States

Democratic Marijuana Reform Platform Plank Stops Just Short of Legalization

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

For the first time, a major US political party has embraced a strongly reformist platform plank on marijuana. Members of a panel of the Democratic National Committee Platform Drafting Committee approved the language last weekend.

It's not as forthright as the position sought by committee members appointed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who wanted language calling for the complete removal of marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, but it is still a major step forward for a major political party.

Sanders supporters, led by environmentalist Bill McKibben, proposed a plank that read: "We will refocus our drug policy by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allowing states to set their own policies."

But that language was quickly tabled, and after discussion among panel members, the panel unanimously adopted the following language:

"We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates."

The language is not yet set in stone -- it still has to be approved by the full Platform Drafting Committee later this week and by the Democratic convention, set for July 25-28 -- but given that it reflects the stance of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, it's unlikely to change much between now and then.

The national Democratic Party is reflecting broader pot-reform currents in the party. According to an analysis by Marijuana.com, 12 state Democratic Party platforms, including California's, are now calling for marijuana law reform, and Democratic lawmakers in the Congress are beginning to step up and support similar moves in Congress.

The Greens and the Libertarians have had good marijuana and drug policy platforms for years, but now, finally, a party that can actually win national elections is stepping up to the plate, if it a bit timidly.

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