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The Surprising State That Could Be the Next to Legalize Weed [FEATURE]

[This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.]

It's looking more and more likely that voters in a key battleground state will be voting on marijuana legalization in November, and recent polling suggests it could win. That's this November, not November 2016.

The state is Ohio, where a controversial legalization initiative is already well on the way to qualifying for the ballot, and its backers -- or should we say investors? -- have the cash on hand to make sure it does.

There are marijuana legalization bills pending in any number of states, and early on, there were hopes this would be the year a state legislature would get around to legalizing it. New England states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont looked like the best bets, but it now doesn't seem like it's going to happen.

2016 promises to see a wave of legalization initiatives -- think Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts, for starters, with Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio also likely to see serious efforts emerge.

But that's next year. The group ResponsibleOhio is well on the way to putting the issue before Buckeye State voters this year. They've already had their proposed constitutional amendment approved for signature gathering and, thanks to paid signature-gatherers, are cruising toward qualifying for the ballot.

To qualify in Ohio, initiatives need 305,000 valid voter signatures; ResponsibleOhio collected 180,000 raw signatures in its first three weeks and still has more than two months to gather the rest. And the campaign is still expanding.

Veteran initiative watchers will tell you campaigns want a cushion of excess signatures to account for ones that are thrown out, maybe 25% to 30% above the requirement at a bare minimum. In Ohio this year, that would be 400-450,000 raw signatures. The campaign says they are aiming for 700,000.

Given the progress so far, and the organization and money behind it (see below), ResponsibleOhio's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot.

A New Legalization Model

This is not legalization like we've seen anywhere else. Yes, it allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and yes, it calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. And it even has provisions for medical marijuana.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state, and those sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have already kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and who are prepared to spend up to $20 million convincing the public to vote for it.

The Big O in his NBA heyday. (wikimedia.org)
The investors include a number of Ohio business interest-real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- but also some home state big names that could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

The ResponsibleOhio plan has raised a lot of hackles among movement veterans such as NORML founder Keith Stroup, who voices widely-held worries about the impact of big money in the movement and Ohio activists, some of whom have their own initiative plans, but they may not matter as much as suburban Columbus soccer moms when it comes to election day.

And while this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem that strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

Can It Win?

Initiatives need to have money, momentum, and votes to win.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending up to $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging to donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. A Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

The conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling 60% or more at the beginning of the campaign because they are bound to lose some support in the face of organized opposition. But when it comes to marijuana, these hardly seem like conventional times. National polls show an upward trend, and Ohio polls show an upward trend. Whether it can win at the polls in an off-off-year election remains to be seen (the casino initiative did), but it certainly looks like it's going to be on the ballot, and it's got a very good shot on Election Day.

Ohio isn't the West Coast or New England. It's a mid-sized Midwest swing state critical in presidential politics. If Ohio legalizes it this year, the politics of pot is going to get very, very interesting next year.

OH
United States

Chronicle AM: Federal Pot Banking Bill, OK Okays CBD Oil, IN Needle Exchange Approved, More (4/30/15)

Seventeen congressmembers introduced a federal marijuana banking bill, CBD cannabis oil gets approved in Oklahoma, medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, Indiana approves needle exchange programs, and more.

Facing an HIV outbreak in one county, Indiana has approved statewide needle exchange programs. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors yesterday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act (HR 7076), which would allow marijuana businesses to open bank accounts. The bill would provide banks with a "safe harbor" so they can offer accounts to such businesses without fear of federal retaliation.

Rhode Island House Committee Hears Testimony on Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee yesterday heard testimony on House Bill 5777, the marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization bill from Rep. Thomas Slater. No vote was taken; the bill was held for further study. Click on the title link for more hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) today signed into law House Bill 2154, also known as Katie and Cayman's Law. It allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering from epileptic seizures and sets up a study program.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Only a year after overwhelmingly rejecting a similar bill, the Senate Health Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (R-Parks). The bill is set for a Senate floor vote next week. The bill does not allow for smoked marijuana; only marijuana processed into oils.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina House Votes to Ban New Synthetics. The House voted unanimously today to add more compounds to the state's list of illegal drugs. House Bill 341 adds the NBOMe (N-bomb) compounds to the list. The drugs are described as similar to LSD. The bill now heads before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Texas House Approves Bill Giving Cops More Power to Move Against Synthetics. With no debate and on a voice vote, the House Wednesday approved House Bill 1212, which would give law enforcement greater ability to move against synthetic drug manufacturers. A final vote of approval was expected today, and then the bill moves to the Senate. Similar legislation is already moving in that chamber.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Programs. Faced with an HIV outbreak in one southwestern county, the legislature last night approved a bill allowing for the establishment of needle exchange programs throughout the state. Gov. Mike Pence (R) says he will sign SEA 461.

International

Canada Supreme Court to Take Up Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing. The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear an appeal of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses in the case of R v. Lloyd. Lloyd was arrested carrying small amounts of heroin, crack, and meth, and was subject to a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, but the Provincial Court found that sentence to be cruel and unusual. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the Provincial Court and increased his sentence. Now, the Supreme Court will decide if the sentence violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Chronicle AM: Indonesia Executes Eight Drug Smugglers, OR MedMJ Regulation Bill Advances, More (4/28/15)

A Maine legalization initiative is moving, an Iowa medical marijuana bill is not, Indiana prosecutors oppose needle exchanges, Indonesia ignores world opinion to execute eight drug smugglers, and more.

Spraying glyphosate in Colombia. The Health Ministry says it should stop. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. State officials signed off today on an initiative petition from Legalize Maine, one of two groups planning a 2016 legalization initiative there. Another group backed by the Marijuana Policy Project is also planning on seeking approval for a petition drive.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill Allowing Probationers, Parolees to Use Medical Marijuana Heads to Governor's Desk. The bill, House Bill 1267, passed the Senate on a 34-1 vote Monday and has already passed the House.

Iowa House Speaker Reiterates He Will Block Medical Marijuana Bill. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) has repeated that he will not allow a medical marijuana bill to be considered this year. Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), the sponsor of Senate File 484, had said Monday that the House had a "moral obligation" to consider the bill, which has already passed the Senate. But Paulsen said he didn't understand what Bolkcom meant and that the carefully drawn bill was "virtually a recreational use bill." The session ends May 1.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Study Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The bill, House Bill 2154, passed the House 85-5 today for final approval after it had been modified in the Senate. Now, it's up to Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to sign it.

Oregon Bill to Regulate Medical Marijuana Advances. A bill that puts new limits on medical marijuana growers is moving. The measure, an amendment to Senate Bill 844, is expected to be approved a House-Senate marijuana committee tomorrow. It would limit current growers to 96 plants, new growers to 48 plants. It would limit current residential growers to 24 plants and new ones to 12 plants. But it would also bar cities and counties from banning dispensaries and growing and processing operations.

Harm Reduction

Faced With HIV Epidemic, Indiana Prosecutors Still Say Needle Exchanges are Bad Public Policy. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys today told the legislature that needle exchanges are bad public policy because "hard core drug addicts don't care enough to get clean needles" and because such programs "would keep many users out of the criminal justice system," where they could be forced to seek drug treatment. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has instituted an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County, where HIV cases have been popping up on a daily basis, and the legislature is considering whether to allow them statewide.

International

Indonesia Executes Eight Drug Smugglers By Firing Squad. Ignoring international protests, Indonesian authorities today (Wednesday Indonesian time) executed eight convicted drug smugglers at Besi Prison on Nusakambangan Island. Among them were Australian, Brazilian, and Nigerian nationals and one Indonesian citizen. A Filipina woman, Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, was spared at the last minute.

Colombia Health Ministry Calls for Suspension of Coca Crop Spraying. The ministry is recommending that the country quit using the herbicide glyphosate to spray coca groups. It cites a recent report from the World Health Organization that reclassified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans." Nearly three million acres of land in the country have been sprayed with the stuff in the past three decades. No word yet on whether President Santos will heed the recommendation.

Chronicle AM: WA MedMJ Regulation Bill Signed, National, MI, RI Pot Polls, More (4/27/15)

A national poll and two state polls have majorities for marijuana legalization, a South Dakota initiative would treat alcohol and tobacco like marijuana, Indonesia appears set to execute three foreign drug offenders, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Fox News Poll Has Majority Support for Legalization Nationwide For First Time. Some 51% of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, according to a new Fox News Poll. This marks the first time a Fox News poll has reported a majority for legalization, but is up just one point from last year's Fox News poll, which had 50% support.

Michigan Poll Has Bare Majority for Legalization. A new Marketing Resource Group poll has support for legalization at 51%, with 45% opposed. The poll comes as several state groups are laying plans for a 2016 legalization initiative.

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Legalization Initiative Summary. Attorney General Mike DeWine last Friday rejected the ballot summary for a proposed 2016 legalization initiative backed by former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl. The initiative is a response to the Responsible Ohio initiative, which would set up a 10-grower monopoly on commercial marijuana growing.

Rhode Island Poll Has 57% for Legalization. A New Public Policy Polling survey has support for legalization at 57%. The poll comes as the legislature considers bills that would legalize or decriminalize the herb.

South Dakota Initiatives Would Regulate Alcohol and Tobacco Like Marijuana. A pair of activists calling themselves Consistent South Dakota have crafted two initiatives that would criminalize the sale of alcohol and tobacco. "The state should not benefit from the transfer of two deadly drugs, while punishing the transfer of benign herbs," the group said. Legislators in Vermont have pulled a similar form of political ju-jitsu by introducing a bill to that effect.

Medical Marijuana

New York Now Accepting Applications for Medical Marijuana Licenses. The state Department of Health announced today that it is accepting applications from entities that want to register to grow or distribute medical marijuana. The state expects to announce the companies selected by July.

Washington Governor Signs Bill Folding Medical Marijuana Into Legal Marijuana System. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) last Friday signed into law Senate Bill 5052, which attempts to regulate the state's previously unregulated medical marijuana system and bring it into harmony with its legal marijuana system. The bill creates a voluntary registry system for patients that would allow them to possess more marijuana than others and face lower taxes. It will also eliminate the "collective gardens" that currently supply thousands of patients, although it will allow "cooperative gardens" for no more than four patients. Some collective gardens will be allowed to continue; they will be given priority in licensing if they have been good citizens.

Synthetic Drugs

Illinois Senate Approves Bill Targeting Synthetic Drugs. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 1129, which attempts to go after synthetic drugs by targeting whole classes of synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants instead of individual formulations. The bill now heads to the House.

International

British Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol Party Issues Manifesto. CISTA is running 32 candidates in the forthcoming elections on a pro-marijuana legalization platform. Its manifesto calls for a regulated marijuana market and a fundamental review of British drug policy.

Indonesia Announces Looming Execution of Three Foreign Drug Offenders. The Indonesian government announced Saturday that it will shortly execute two Australians and a Filipina for drug trafficking offenses. Six other foreigners are also on death row for drug offenses. The pending executions are moving forward despite intense international efforts to get the Indonesian government to reconsider.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Inits Filed in AZ, MA; ID Gov Vetoes CBD Oil Bill, China Wages Drug War, More (4/17/15)

Legalization efforts in Arizona and Massachusetts get rolling, there's more good polling, Idaho's governor vetoes a CBD cannabis oil bill over fears of "misuse and abuse," China is waging a major drug war, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Bloomberg Poll Has 58% Saying Pot Will Be Legal Within 20 Years. Nearly one-third (32%) think marijuana would never be legal, but two-thirds think it will, and the majority think it will happen in all 50 states within the next 20 years. Just 17% thought it would be legal within five years, but more than one-quarter (26%) thought it would be legal within 10 years and 13% said it would take the whole 20 years. Some very excitable folks (2%) thought legalization everywhere would happen in the next year.

Arizona Legalization Initiative Filed Today. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed its initiative to tax and regulate marijuana with the secretary of state this afternoon. The initiative would allow adults 21 and over to possess, consume, and grow limited amounts of pot and would create a system of licensed and regulated marijuana commerce. It would let local governments opt out of allowing pot businesses and it would set a 15% tax on retail sales beyond the sales tax. Now, initiative backers must collect signatures from 150,642 registered Arizona voters by June 2016 in order to qualify the initiative for the November 2016 ballot.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Filed TodayBay State Repeal today filed with the attorney general's office a first draft of its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The measure would repeal the state's marijuana laws and replace them with a system of taxed and regulated legal commerce. Adults 21 and over would be allowed to possess, consume, and grow limited amounts of marijuana for their personal use.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Governor Vetoes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. "Butch" Otter Thursday vetoed a bill that would have allowed the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children suffering from epileptic seizures. Senate Bill 1146 had passed the House 39-30 and the Senate 22-12. Otter said the bill asked the state to ignore the potential for abuse and misuse, even though the oils don't contain enough THC for anyone to get high.

Asset Forfeiture

Texas Legislator Modifies Asset Forfeiture Bill to Counter Law Enforcement Objections. Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) said Thursday he is amending his civil asset forfeiture reform bill to address concerns raised by law enforcement. He said he would change it to allow the state to keep seized money if the person from whom it was seized absconds and to allow the seizure of vehicles valued at under $10,000. The bill is House Bill 3171.

International

China in Midst of Full-Blown Drug Crackdown. More than 133,000 people have been arrested and more than 43 tons of drugs seized in an ongoing six-month anti-drug campaign, the Ministry of Public Security announced. Authorities also announced that they had handled 115,000 "drug related" crimes, mostly robberies, and 606,000 cases of drug use. Officials said drug trafficking had suffered "a heavy blow" and drug users "forcefully regulated," but added that nine police had been killed in the campaign.

Stratfor Quarterly Update on Mexican Cartels. The Austin-based private intelligence and research firm has issued its quarterly update on the Mexican drug wars. It's quite detailed. Click on the link to read it. 

Medical Marijuana Update

There's action on Capitol Hill, Tennessee passes a CBD cannabis oil bill, a Hawaii dispensary bill moves, Washington sends a medical marijuana overhaul bill to the governor, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the DEA recommended that the government triple the amount of marijuana it grows for research. The DEA recommended that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

On Monday, came notice of the 9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

On Tuesday, a federal bill to allow children access to medical marijuana was filed. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Tuesday filed the Compassionate Access Act, which would "allow the states to provide appropriate access to patients needing these legitimate, medical treatments under the supervision of their physician," the congressmen said in a statement. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

As of Tuesday, a federal medical marijuana bill had picked up new supporters. The CARERS Act, H.R. 1538, which would end federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, has picked up new sponsors over the recess. The latest are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Joseph Heck (R-NV). The bill now has 12 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click the link for more bill information.

As of Tuesday, a federal CBD cannabis oil bill had picked up new sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Access Act, H.R. 1635, which would remove cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). The bill now has 20 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

California

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles city attorney said 500 unpermitted dispensaries had been shut down. City Attorney Mike Feuer said Thursday that his office has closed down 500 unpermitted dispensaries since the city voted two years ago to cap their number at about 130. But he conceded that hundreds more still operate.

Colorado

Last Thursday, a bill to allow parolees and probationers use medical marijuana advanced. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow people on probation or parole use medical marijuana. The change wouldn't apply, however, to people whose crimes were related to marijuana. The measure is House Bill 1267.

Florida

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil regulation bill won a committee vote. The bill, Senate Bill 7066, would expand the number of businesses that could participate from five to 20. It was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, but without addressing complaints from black farmers that they had been shut out of the process. It now goes to the Senate floor.

Hawaii

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a dispensary bill. The bill that would establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state's 13,000 medical marijuana patients. The measure is House Bill 321. The bill now has to go back to the House for reconciliation.

Iowa

On Wednesday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana expansion bill. The Senate voted to approve Senate File 484, which allow the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The bill would allow for up to a dozen independent dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Tennessee

Last week, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.

On Monday, the legislature approved a CBD cannabis oil bill. Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of seizures in children. House Bill 197 now awaits the signatures of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Washington

On Tuesday, the legislature approved an overhaul of the medical marijuana system. A bill that seeks to end unregulated medical marijuana dispensary sales and fold medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana system is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Senate Bill 5052 would create a database of patients (voluntary, but patients won't get tax-free medicine unless they sign up), allow patients to possess three times more marijuana than recreational users, and eliminate the current collective garden structure, replacing it with cooperatives limited to four patients.

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

Chronicle AM: Pro-Legalization Majority in Pew Poll, DEA Chief on Hot Seat Over Sex Scandals, More (4/15/15)

Another poll has a national majority for legalization, the DEA head gets skewered over taxpayer-funded sex scandals, the Senate Judiciary Committee eyes civil asset forfeiture reform, and much, much more.

Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Support for Legalization Nationwide at 53%. Advocates for legalization are winning the battle for public opinion, according to this new poll. Not only does it have a majority for legalization, but the poll also finds that while a fifth of respondents (21%) have switched from opposing to favoring legalization, only 7% have gone from supporting to opposing legalization. The poll also had 78% saying federal marijuana laws should not be enforced in states where pot is legal.

Federal Judge Rejects Motion to Reschedule Marijuana. US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller declined today to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The move came in a marijuana cultivation case where defense attorneys challenged pot's placement on the schedules. Mueller said during a brief hearing that she was initially inclined to grant the motion, but decided "this was not the court and this was not the time." She said it was up to Congress to change the law if it so desires.

Chris Christie Says He Will "Not Permit" Legal Marijuana if Elected. New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said Tuesday that if elected he would "crack down" on states that have legalized the weed. "I will crack down and not permit it," he said. "States should not be permitted to sell and profit" from legalization, he added, citing "enormous addiction problems."

Alaska House Passes Bill to Create Marijuana Control Board. The House Tuesday approved legislation to create a five-member marijuana control board to regulate the state's looming legal marijuana industry. The board would craft regulations by November, with the first licenses to be issued in May 2016. The measure is House Bill 123.

District of Columbia City Council Approves Two Marijuana Bills. The first bill, B21-0025, bars employers from testing job applicants for marijuana since it is legal in the city. The second bill, B20-0678, increases the number of plants medical marijuana providers can grow from 95 to 1,000.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Bill to Allow Children Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Tuesday filed the Compassionate Access Act, which would "allow the states to provide appropriate access to patients needing these legitimate, medical treatments under the supervision of their physician," the congressmen said in a statement. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

Hawaii Senate Approves Dispensary Bill. The Senate Tuesday approved a bill that would establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state's 13,000 medical marijuana patients. The measure is House Bill 321. The bill now has to go back to the House for reconciliation.

Iowa Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. The Senate voted today to approve Senate File 484, which allows the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The bill would allow for up to a dozen independent dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Washington Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana Overhaul. A bill that seeks to end unregulated medical marijuana dispensary sales and fold medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana system is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Senate Bill 5052 would create a database of patients (voluntary, but patients won't get tax-free medicine unless they sign up), allow patients to possess three times more marijuana than recreational users, and eliminate the current collective garden structure, replacing it with cooperatives limited to four patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Sparks Fly at Senate Judiciary Committee Asset Forfeiture Hearing. Committee Chair Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) had a heated exchange with Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury over civil asset forfeiture reform in a hearing today. Canterbury opposed ending civil asset forfeiture because doing so would deprive police of "hundreds of millions" of dollars to fight crime and terror, but Grassley dismissed that argument, saying such laws have created a "perverse incentive" for police to abuse them. Police opposition to reform "dismisses the need for real reform and demonstrates the absurdity of a system of justice in which some in law enforcement appear to value funding their own operations over protecting civil rights," Grassley said. The hearing is part of a broad push this year to reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

Virginia Senate Kills Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The Senate today set aside efforts to enact civil asset forfeiture reform. The decision came during the legislature's annual reconvene session, when solons meet to consider responding to gubernatorial vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the session that ended last month. The legislature had passed a bill requiring only that police provide an inventory of property seized, and some legislators had hoped to get Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to add more substantial reforms, but they gave up on that effort today. Instead, they will leave it for the state crime commission to study.

Law Enforcement

DEA Head Gets Scalded in Hearing Over Agents' Sex Parties. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart was on the hot seat Tuesday as the House Oversight Committee took aim at revelations of taxpayer-funded sex parties involving DEA agents and prostitutes in Colombia. Members scoffed at her claims that she was unable to fire anyone involved and harshly questioned the agency's (lack of) response to the incidents. Click on the link for juicy details.

Sentencing

California Bill to Refelonize "Date Rape" Drugs Advances. A bill that would give prosecutors the option of charging possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB as a felony passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee today. Assembly Bill 46 is an attempt to partially roll back last year's voter-approved Proposition 47, which defelonized simple drug possession.

Connecticut Bill Would Dramatically Shrink "Drug Free" Zones. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted last Friday to amend a bill aimed at reducing the number of drug prisoners in the state by shrinking the area of sentence-enhancing "drug free" zones to just schools and day care centers, eliminating the 1,500-foot zone around the buildings. The vote came as an amendment to Senate Bill 952, part of Gov. Dannel Malloy's (D) "Second Chance Society."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Rand Paul Talks Drugs, CA Legalization Meetings, WI Legalization Bill, More (4/13/15)

Rand Paul has a campaign theme he hopes will resonate, Californians will be meeting to plot a legalization initiative next year, a Maryland marijuana paraphernalia decrim bill heads to the governor, the British Labor Party is hinting at a softening of its hard-line drug policy, and more:

Sen. Rand Paul is making drug and criminal justice policy a campaign issue. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana in Alaska Will Be a "Regulated" Substance, Not a "Controlled" One Under House Bill. The House Judiciary Committee will remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances and move it to the list of regulated ones, committee chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) said Friday. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 30, keeps marijuana as a controlled substance, so this isn't a done deal just yet.

California Marijuana Legalization Meetings Set. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will hold a public forum at UCLA on August 21. That will be followed by another forum in Santa Cruz on April 23. Click on the title link for more info and to RSVP. People who want a voice in how legalization is going to look in the Golden State need to show up.

Colorado February Pot Sales Hit Record. Recreational marijuana outlets sold $39.2 million worth of weed in February, beating the previous monthly record of $36.4 million, set the previous month. Much of the increase is being attributed to the opening of more marijuana stores, especially in Aurora, the state's third largest city.

Maryland Legislature Approves Paraphernalia Decriminalization. In what was largely a housekeeping move after the state decriminalized marijuana possession last year, the legislature has approved a bill decriminalizing the tools used to smoke it. The measure is Senate Bill 456. It won final approval in the House Saturday and now goes to the governor's desk.

Missouri Bill to Free Marijuana Lifer Advances. A bill that would  free Jeff Mizanskey, who is doing life without parole in state prison for a marijuana offense, has advanced. The measure, HB 978, passed the House Select Committee on the Judiciary last week, but amended it so that Mizanskey is not automatically set free, but instead will be able to seek parole. The bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Washington House Approves Bill to Reconcile Medical, Recreational Marijuana Systems. The House last Friday approved Senate Bill 5052, which has already passed the Senate. But because the House amended it, it will have to go back to the upper chamber for a final vote. The bill would create a patient registry, eliminate the current collective garden structure and replace it with four-person growing cooperatives, and require state regulators to use a merit-based system for granting marijuana business licenses, which should help out collective gardens trying to go recreational. The patient registry would be voluntary, but people would have to sign up if they wanted to avoid having to pay taxes on their medical marijuana purchases.

Wisconsin Lawmaker Files Legalization Bill. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) today introduced a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill would create a 25% excise tax on marijuana sales. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website, but she authored a similar bill last year. That bill went nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature, and this one is expected to meet the same fate.

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Cannabis Oil Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. The bill, Senate Bill 7066, would expand the number of businesses that could participate from five to 20. It was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, but without addressing complaints from black farmers that they had been shut out of the process. It now goes to the Senate floor.

Hemp

New Mexico Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill. Gov. Susana Martinez last Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed research into industrial hemp. The bill, Senate Bill 94, was filed by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), a political foe of Martinez, and McSorley said he thought the veto was "political payback."

Drug Policy

Rand Paul Attacks the Drug War. The junior Republican senator from Kentucky who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination used a speech in Las Vegas last Saturday to blast the drug war. "The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and puts police in an impossible situation," Paul said. "It has fostered tension in our inner cities. There is an undercurrent of unease in our country." He also argued that ongoing racial tensions stem in part from unfairness in the laws and their enforcement. "Criminal justice reform is not a black problem or a white problem," Paul said. "Everyone should be treated the same under the laws of this country regardless of what religion they are, what color their skin is or how poor they are."

International

British Labor Party's Election Manifesto Hints It May Shift Slightly on Drug Policy. Even though Labor has attacked the Liberal Democrats as "soft on drugs" during the run-up to British elections, Labor's own election manifesto hints that it, too, may be softening. The manifesto says that taxpayers pay the cost of "drink and drug misuse" and offers "early years intervention" -- not more arrests and more imprisonment -- as a solution. "We know drug addiction continues to be a major cause of crime," the manifesto says. "We will ensure drug treatment services focus on the root causes of addiction, with proper integration between health, police and local authorities in the commissioning of treatment." Again, the emphasis is on treatment, not punishment. Labor appears unwilling to continue with its "tough on drugs" approach, but also unwilling to forthrightly articulate a more liberal approach.

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

To the Bitter End: The 9 States Where Marijuana Will Be Legalized Last [FEATURE]

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

Marijuana prohibition in the US is dying, but it isn't going to vanish in one fell swoop. Even if Congress were to repeal federal pot prohibition, state laws criminalizing the plant and its users would still be in effect -- at least in some states.

Meet the most bud-unfriendly states. (wikimedia.org)
And it's probably a pretty safe bet that Congress isn't going to act until a good number of states, maybe more than half, have already legalized it. That process is already underway and is likely to gather real momentum by the time election day 2016 is over.

Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, followed by Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, last year. California, where one out of every eight Americans lives, is very likely to go green in 2016 via the initiative process, and so are a handful of other states, including Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Longer shots next year (or even this year, in Ohio's case) are Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Rhode Islane.

But just as the end of federal alcohol prohibition in 1933 didn't mean the end of state-level prohibition -- Mississippi didn't end it until 1966, you couldn't drink in a bar in Kansas until 1987, and dry counties remain in a number of states -- ending federal marijuana prohibition isn't going to magically make it legal everywhere.

There are two critical factors to consider in assessing how likely a state is to get around to freeing the weed: public opinion and access to non-legislative (read: initiative and referendum) political remedies.

Opinion polls consistently show stronger support for legalization in the West and the Northeast than in the Midwest and the South. But barring access to the initiative process -- which only half the states have -- means that even in states where public opinion strongly favors legalization, residents are going to be beholden to the legislature to get it done. Note that so far, every state that has legalized it has done it through the initiative process. That could change this year, but it seems unlikely at this point.

But even having the initiative process isn't going to help if popular support is lacking. That's why some states make the list even though they have the initiative process. And even having public opinion on your side isn't going to guarantee victory in the legislature, especially if the Republicans are in control.

Here are the nine states least likely to legalize it anytime soon and, after that, a few brief notes on a handful of states:

  1. Alabama. This Heart of Dixie state still has several dry counties and about a third of the counties in the state are either partially dry or have localities that are dry. Although Democrats hold some local offices, Republicans dominate state elected offices and the state legislature. The state has no initiative process, and the legislature has so far failed to pass even medical marijuana legislation.
  2. Idaho. This heavily Mormon-influenced state has the initiative process, but so far even campaigners for medical marijuana haven't been able to qualify a measure for the ballot, so it's hard to see how they could get a legalization initiative on the ballot, let alone pass it. An Idaho Politics Weekly poll from February shows what an uphill battle it is. Only 33% of respondents favored legalization, with 64% opposed (and 53% "strongly" opposed). And the conservative Republican legislature is more concerned with fending off sharia law than legalizing pot, although it did manage to pass one of those no-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil bills this eyar.
  3. Kansas. Another state dominated by Republicans, with no initiative process, and little popular support for legalization, anyway. An October 2014 poll showed only 31% in favor of legalization and, distressingly, an ever larger percentage (33%) saying marijuana possession should be a felony. While voters in Wichita this week approved a municipal initiative decriminalizing pot, the state attorney general has already asked the state Supreme Court to overturn it. Kansas is another one of those states where the legacy of alcohol prohibition lingers, too: Almost all of its counties are either dry or semi-dry. Be glad you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.
  4. Louisiana. The state has some of the country's harshest marijuana laws, including up to 20 years in prison for repeat possession offenders and up to life in prison for pot possession if the person has a previous felony. Efforts have been afoot in the state legislature for several years to fix those draconian laws, but have so far gone nowhere. An October 2014 poll showed roughly two-thirds supported fixing those laws, but that hasn't yet influenced Baton Rouge. Tellingly, the poll didn't even ask whether respondents supported legalization. And there is no initiative process, anyway. In Louisiana, not sending people to life for marijuana would be progress.
  5. North Dakota. At the top of that geographical tier of Great Plains states destined to be a bastion of reaction on marijuana legalization, the agricultural state has approved industrial hemp production (in part because North Dakota farmers can see their Canadian counterparts just across the border profiting from it), but is unwilling to move even on medical marijuana, let alone legalization. The legislature this year killed a bill to even study legalizing medical, and an effort last year to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot couldn't manage to qualify. An October 2014 poll found that even medical marijuana couldn't get majority support (47%), and the prospects for legalization were even grimmer. Only 24% supported legalization, with 68% opposed.
  6. Oklahoma. Good luck. The state government is dominated by Republicans and is one of the most conservative in the country. The state has the initiative process and state Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) is likely to try again to get it on the ballot next year, but even if it were to make the ballot, it would likely get creamed. A poll this month found only 31% for legalization. This is also one of those states where alcohol prohibition still lives on; about a third of the state's counties are completely dry.
  7. South Carolina. There is no initiative process here, so it will be up to the legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. The legislature passed a no-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil last year, and Republican lawmakers have introduced medical marijuana and decriminalization bills this year, but they have yet to pass. The Palmetto Politics Poll last July barely had majority support for medical marijuana (53%), and didn't even bother to ask about legalization.
  8. South Dakota. The state has the initiative process, but it also has the dubious distinction of being the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana at the polls. The Republican-controlled legislature has repeatedly refused to act on medical marijuana bills and didn't even consider any marijuana reform bills this year. There is no recent polling on support for legalization, and given the performance of medical marijuana initiatives, even if a legalization initiative were to qualify for the ballot, it would get crushed.
  9. Utah. The Mormon heartland, another state where Republicans dominate the legislature and the executive branch, and another state where the only legislative concession to pot law reform has been the passage of a no-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil bill. A March poll found 72% of Utahns supported medical marijuana, but that didn't stop the legislature from quickly killing a medical marijuana bill this year. That poll didn't ask about legalization; the last one that did, from 2013, was not encouraging: It had 57% opposed to legalization. Utah has the initiative process, but that won't be much good until Utahns get on board with legalization.

Why Some States Didn't Make the Bottom 9

There are several states that some might have expected to see on this list, but who I think may surprise us and come around more quickly.

In the South and Mid-South, Mississippi and Arkansas would seem like good candidates to be among the last to legalize, but both states have the initiative process and some associated activism around it. They still have to get public opinion on their side, but they can circumvent sclerotic legislatures once they do. And there is hope that demographic trends will turn Georgia, of all the Deep South states, into a place where marijuana can be legalized at the state house before the bitter end.

On the Great Plains, Nebraska is the only state from Texas to Canada that didn't make the bottom nine. It's certainly as solidly conservative as the others and it just hates legalization next door in Colorado, but this is a state that decriminalized weed nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps one of these days, Cornhuskers will wake up and remember that.

In the Intermountain West, Montana and Wyoming share many of the same political and cultural characteristics as Idaho and Utah, but the influence of the Mormon Church isn't nearly as strong. Montana has the initiative process and has used it to approve medical marijuana, only to see that rolled back by Republicans and Christian conservatives. Wyoming also has the initiative process. In both states it will be a struggle between deeply rooted Western individualistic libertarian notions and equally deeply rooted Christian conservativism.

Alright, then. We'll have to check back in 2026 or so and see how prescient this was.

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