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Eight States That May Legalize Marijuana Next Year [FEATURE]

This article was published in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here

Beginning in 2012, four states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana. By this time next year, that number could well double, and then some. National polls now consistently show majorities in favor legalization, with a recent Gallup poll having 58% support -- tied for the highest level in the poll's history.

That doesn't mean legalization is inevitable in any given state, as the case of Ohio earlier this month demonstrated. There, an initiative led by non-movement investors who sought monopolistic control of commercial pot cultivation got trounced despite spending millions of dollars.

But the Ohio result was probably a fluke, a convergence of a number of factors, including tone-deaf initiative organizers, a flawed initiative, a widely criticized mascot, and the fact that it was an off-off-year election with low voter turnout. There is no reason to believe that legalization initiatives likely next year in other states will be defeated just because the Ohio effort went down in flames.

At this point, it looks like there are six states likely to legalize weed through the initiative process next year, with those efforts at varying stages, and a couple more that could do it through the legislative process.

Here they are:

INITIATIVE STATES

ALREADY ON THE BALLOT

Nevada. The legalization initiative from the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol qualified for the ballot last December. That means that by the time Election Day 2016 arrives, organizers will have had nearly two years to make their case to voters. Under state law, the legislature could have acted on the petitions and legalized weed, but it declined to do so, so now it goes direct to the voters. There are no recent state polls on legalization, but it had 54% support in 2013, and there is no reason to think it has declined since then.

PETITION DRIVES WELL ADVANCED

Arizona. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona announced last week that it had already collected 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. It needs to collect 150,000 valid signatures by next July to qualify for the ballot, appears well on the way to doing so, and says it is aiming for 230,000 raw signatures to have a healthy cushion. A June poll had support at 53%.

Maine. Once there were two competing initiative campaigns in the state, but now there is only one. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has quit signature gathering for its legalization initiative and joined forces with Legalize Maine in support of its slightly looser legalization initiative. Both campaigns had gathered about 40,000 raw signatures each before coalescing. The Legalize Maine campaign will need 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and it has until February 1 to get them.  That seems eminently doable, and if it makes the ballot, it should win: A poll in April had support for legalization at a whopping 65%.

Massachusetts. Unlike Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project has so far been unable to form a united front with local activists, so there are two ongoing legalization campaigns. The MPP-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and its legalization initiative is vying with the homegrown Bay State Repeal and its legalization initiative. As in Maine, the local initiative is slightly looser. Earlier this month, the Campaign said it has already collected 100,000 signatures. It only needs 64,750 valid signatures to qualify, so it already has a nice cushion and the rest of this month to gather more. It's not known how advanced the Bay State Repeal signature drive is, but it already looks like at least one legalization initiative will be on the ballot next year. Under state law, if an initiative has enough signatures, the legislature can then move to enact it. If the legislature doesn't act, the campaign must then gather an additional 10,800 signatures to put it before the voters. One recent poll had support for legalization at only 41%, but it had a small sample size and large margin of error. Polls from 2014 had legalization winning by anywhere from six to 13 points, and the voters previously supported medical marijuana and decriminalization initiatives with a 63% vote.

Michigan. Another state with two competing campaigns, and the one that looks the iffiest in terms of qualifying for the ballot. Some 252,000 valid voter signatures are needed to qualify, and neither campaign is there yet. Backed by Republican business interests, the Michigan Cannabis Coalition said it had collected 200,000 signatures for its legalization initiative by the end of October before making a "strategic decision" to temporarily suspend petitioning. It has until the end of January to come up with more. Meanwhile, state activists have created the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee (MI Legalize) and are signature gathering around their own legalization initiative. Last week, they said they were 90,000 signatures short -- although it that is just raw numbers, they will need substantially more to have a comfortable cushion -- and they have until the end of December to get them. Both campaigns have money in the bank and are paying signature-gatherers.

STILL IN A CONFUSED MUDDLE

Will California activists get their ReformCA initiative on the ballot? (reformca.com
California. California should have been an almost sure there next year, and probably still is, but it is getting late in the game, and the evident divisions among legalization proponents are starting to make for some worried wondering. There are no fewer than 18 legalization initiatives in play (some various versions of the same initiative), most of which have little to no chance of coming up with the 365,000 signatures needed to qualify. State activists organized as the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA) thought they had the support of national reform organizations and associated pots of money for their initiative, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. Instead, groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance seem to be throwing their support to an initiative sponsored by tech billionaire Sean Parker. Neither the latest version of the ReformCA initiative nor the Sean Parker initiative has been cleared for signature gathering. Both initiatives now face a ticking clock. Campaigns have six months to get those necessary signatures, but the real hard deadline is June 30. Initiatives must have been cleared for the ballot by then in order to make the November ballot. The Parker initiative will likely have the financial support to do an expedited signature-gathering campaign; whether ReformCA will remains to be seen. While the state-level polling is good -- a June poll had support at a record 54% -- this late disarray doesn't bode well.

LEGISLATIVE STATES

Rhode Island. This year, the legislature took up a legalization bill only to see it held for further study by the Judiciary Committees in both chambers. Next year, it could actually move, and it would if the legislature listens to the voters. In an April poll, 57% said they would support a bill to tax and regulate marijuana.

Vermont. This is probably the best bet for the first state to legalize pot through the legislative process. The groundwork has been being laid for years, it has the support of key state political figures, including Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and House Speaker Shap Smith (D), and legislative hearings on how -- not whether -- to legalize next year are already underway. The legislature failed to move legalization bills this year, but the stage is set for 2016.

Medical Marijuana Update

A petition calling on President Obama to fire the DEA head keeps getting more signatures, the Florida medical marijuana initiative is halfway home on signature gathering, a New Jersey school becomes the first in the country to allow medical marijuana on campus, and more. 

National

Last Friday, a petition to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" had 16,000 signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

By Monday, the petition had more than 80,000 signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures at latest count. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

California

Last Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council gave first approval to a medical marijuana ban. The council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which will ban the cultivation, processing, distribution, and even delivery of medical marijuana. The city is acting to avoid losing licensing and regulatory authority under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which was signed into law last month. The law says that if localities fail to enact rules or bans by year's end, the state will have sole licensing and regulatory authority there.

Florida

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court canceled its medical marijuana initiative hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

As of Monday, the medical marijuana initiative had nearly half the necessary signatures. The initiative from United for Care has already gathered 342,582 valid voter signatures. That puts it half-way to the 683,179 valid voter signatures to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Petitioners have until February to get the rest of the signatures.

Illinois

ByMonday, more than $200,000 worth of medical marijuana had been sold in the state's first week of sales. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Maryland

Large Number of Applicants Will Delay Maryland Program. Nearly 900 people have applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in the state, and that is going to delay the program's rollout, Hannah Byron, the executive director of the state's medical marijuana commission said Thursday. She said the commission will extend the application period and revise the timeline, which had originally anticipated the first stage of the application review would be done by January.

Missouri

As of last Friday, Kansas City hospitals were denying cannabis oil to epileptic patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday,a Garden State school became the first in the nation to permit medical marijuana on campus. The Larc School in Bellmawr Wednesday night adopted a policy allowing a teenage girl with autism and epilepsy to consume medical marijuana edibles while at school. The move comes just two days after Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law a bill requiring school districts to adopt such policies.

Chronicle AM: Canada Starts to Move on Legalizing Pot, Irish Cops Support Heroin Decriminalization, More (11/16/15)

Nick Scutari tries to get the marijuana legalization ball rolling in New Jersey, a petition calling for the DEA head to be fired is going strong, Democratic candidates talk drug and crime policy at the debate, Canada moves toward pot legalization, Irish cops support heroin decrim, and more. 

Ireland's drugs minister wants to decriminalize heroin, and the cops are on board with it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legislative Hearing on Pot Legalization Today. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who filed a marijuana legalization bill, S 1896, earlier this session, is holding a hearing on the topic today. Today's witnesses will include supporters of marijuana law reform; opponents will get a chance to opine at a later hearing. No vote is expected today. "A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."

Medical Marijuana

Petition To Fire DEA Head Over Medical Marijuana "Joke" Comment Has 80,000 Signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures as of mid-afternoon today. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

Florida Supreme Court Cancels Medical Marijuana Initiative Hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

Illinois Sees More Than $200,000 in Medical Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

EEOC Sues Employer Who Refused to Hire Methadone User. In its latest lawsuit against employers taking actions against prescription medication users, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is going after a company that allegedly refused to hire a woman who is prescribed methadone to deal with her heroin addiction. EEOC alleges that the company is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because the woman is a recovering substance abuser, has a history of disability, and was "regarded" as disabled based on her methadone use. EEOC has also sued other employers over discrimination against methadone patients, as well as other prescription drug users.

Drug Policy

Democratic Candidates Talk Drug, Crime Policy in Last Saturday's Debate. Bernie Sanders reiterated his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition, while Martin O'Malley and Hillary Clinton joined Sanders in calling for criminal justice reforms and addressing racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Click on the link for more details.

International

Canada's Prime Minister Begins the Process of Legalizing Marijuana. Freshly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to begin the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana. Trudeau told Wilson-Raybould he expected her to "deliver on your top priorities," which includes "Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

Mexico to Consider Cutting Jail Sentences, Raising Possession Limits for Marijuana. Jumpstarted by a Supreme Court decision earlier this month allowing four Mexicans to use marijuana, the forthcoming national debate on marijuana policy will consider easing jail sentences and raising limits for personal possession of pot, Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa said. The national consultation is set for January through March.

Irish Police Back Decriminalizing Heroin Possession. The Garda Representative Association, which represents some 11,000 Irish police officers, is backing the government drug minister's call to decriminalize heroin possession. "I think anything that can deal with the curse of drugs and some innovating thinking on this is to be welcomed," the GRA’s general secretary, PJ Stone, said, adding that the proposal would be seen as a brave move. "We don’t even have enough cells to lock up drug users who get arrested for possessing drugs," a GRA member from Dublin added.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the 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: Petition to Fire DEA Head Gains Traction, Colombia OKs Medical Marijuana, More (11/12/15)

There are now more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to fire DEA head Chuck Rosenberg over his medical marijuana comments, Denver thinks a thousand pot shops is enough, Colombia will allow medical marijuana, and more. 

Coca and cocaine production is on the upswing in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

ResponsibleOhio Isn't Going Away. The group behind this month's defeated marijuana "monopoly" legalization initiative isn't going quietly into that long good night; instead, ResponsibleOhio is now trying to craft an initiative that can actually win. The group seems to understand that its plan to limit commercial grow opportunities and its bud-headed mascot, Buddie, were real turn-offs.

Denver Moves Toward a Moratorium on New Pot Shops. The city is proposing changes to its marijuana ordinances that would effectively halt new marijuana stores from opening for the next two years. The city currently has more than a thousand licensed operations, and that's enough, city officials said. "We have enough marijuana in Denver," said Ashley Kilroy, Denver's executive director of Marijuana Policy. "Basically, we’re saturated." The only exceptions would be some 85 medical marijuana businesses that were licensed in 2013.

Medical Marijuana

Petition to Fire DEA Head for Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke" Now Has 16,000 Signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

Kansas City Hospitals Deny Cannabis Oil to Epileptic Patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Prosecutors Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. County prosecutors from across the state lined up Wednesday to testify against House Bill 347, which would eliminate asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. They called the tactic "a vital tool" in going after drug traffickers during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more flavor.

International

Colombia Will Allow Medical Marijuana. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said today that the country plans to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana. Legalization will only apply to medical and scientific uses of the plant, he clarified. Pot possession is already legalized under Colombian Supreme Court rulings, but this move will allow for commercial medical production.

Colombia Retakes Title of World's Largest Cocaine Producer. Colombia is back on top in the cocaine production sweepstakes, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The organization puts Colombian production last year at 175,000 acres, compared to 109,000 for Peru, and 31,000 for Bolivia. The UN estimates Colombian cocaine production will increase 52% this year, in part because of the end of aerial eradication and in part because peasants believe that a looming peace deal between the government and the FARC will see benefits for farmers who abandon their crops, so they are planting coca. 

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill to ease medical marijuana access for vets, medical marijuana sales begin in Illinois, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana school access bill, and more.

National

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill allowing veterans access to medical marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Also on Tuesday, calls to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" grew louder. Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

California

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council approved a ban on medical marijuana activities in the city. The unanimous vote was on a first reading of the ordinance, which would ban cultivation, as well as dispensaries and delivery services.

Illinois

On Monday, medical marijuana retail sales began in the state. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, pain patients called for access to medical marijuana. Pain patients pleaded with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

Michigan

Last Thursday, fired medical marijuana patients learned they can get unemployment benefits. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, a lung cancer patient sued to get a medical marijuana card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

New Jersey

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana school access billl. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients demanded the governor sign an emergency access bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signed the bill.

South Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana petitioners handed in signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it.

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

Chronicle AM: AZ & MA Legalization Inits Progress, SD MedMj Init Turns in Signatures, More (11/10/15)

Initiatives aimed at next year are advancing, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana access bill, Mexico's marijuana debate is about to heat up, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona said Monday it had collected 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign needs 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot; it says it is aiming for 230,000 raw signatures.

ReformCA Releases Revised Legalization Initiative. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA) has filed its revised initiative. The group says the revisions protect small and medium businesses, are stronger on environmental protection, remove the "snitch clause," and include a means for people with non-violent drug offenses to work in the industry. The ReformCA initiative is one of at least ten seeking to legalize weed in California next year. Click on the link to see the revised initiative.

Another California Legalization Initiative is Cleared for Circulation. Secretary of State Alex Padilla Monday cleared the California Cannabis Legalization Act of 2016 for signature gathering. The proponent is Arcata-based Sam Clauder III, CEO of the California Cannabis Unity Campaign 2016. The campaign has 180 days to gather 365,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Has 100,000 Signatures. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Monday it had gathered more than 100,000 signatures for its legalization initiative. The campaign only needs 64,750 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Signatures must be turned in by the end of this month. Another reform group, Bay State Repeal, is also gathering signatures for a competing legalization initiative.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Governor Signs Medical Marijuana School Access Bill. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, Monday signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York Medical Marijuana Patients Demand Governor Sign Emergency Access Bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Petitioners Hand in Signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it to the ballot.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court to Take Up Cocaine Sentencing Weights. The state's high court is to decide whether prosecutors must test seized cocaine for purity and use the results to determine cocaine weight for sentencing purposes. Under current law, a pound of 40% pure cocaine is considered a pound of cocaine; if the high court upholds an appellate court decision, that same batch of cocaine would be only 6.4 ounces. "Ninety-nine grams of sugar mixed with one gram of cocaine is not 100 grams of cocaine," said Andrew Mayle, who represented defendant Rafael Gonzales during his trial and is now representing him on the appeal. "The more cocaine, the higher the penalty. It's not the more sugar or baking soda the higher the penalty."

International

New Canada Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 59%. A new Forum Research poll has support for legalization at 59%, up six points from a similar poll in August. The election of pro-legalization Liberal Justin Trudeau as prime minister helped, the pollster said. "Now that marijuana legalization is a likelihood rather than a vague promise, Canadians are considering the issue more closely than in the past," Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said in a press release. "They are just as much in favor of legalization as they were before the election, if not more, but they want to see it strictly licensed and controlled, not grown in basements and sold in corner stores."

Mexico President Promises Marijuana Legalization Debate. In the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision affirming the human right of Mexicans to use marijuana, President Enrique Pena Nieto has promised a major national debate on the topic. He also said that he personally opposed legalization, but that he could be persuaded to change his mind.

Mexico Poll Finds Two-Thirds Oppose Marijuana Legalization. A poll from El Universal finds that two-thirds (66%) of Mexican oppose marijuana legalization, with 60% also opposing last week's Supreme Court ruling saying marijuana use is a human right. But 63% supported President Pena Nieto's call for a national debate on the topic.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the 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: State Dept OK With Legalization Elsewhere, IL MedMj Sales Monday, More (11/06/15)

It's all marijuana-related news today, with medical marijuana sales starting Monday in Illinois, the State Department saying it can live with pot legalization in other countries, the Houston DA implementing a marijuana diversion program, and more.

medical marijuana -- coming next week to Illinois (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders' Measure to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Has Bill Number Now. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which the Democratic presidential contender filed Wednesday, now has a Senate bill number. It is S. 2237.

Wyoming Legislators Want to Make Possession of a Pound of Edibles a Felony. The Joint Judiciary Committee will sponsor a bill that would make possession of more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony. The bill originally aimed to make possession of three ounces a felony (as is the law with marijuana), but lawmakers were persuaded to up the limit to a pound. The bill comes after at least two judges have thrown out cases of edibles possession because they read state law as only addressing felony pot possession in plant form.

Houston DA Offers Diversion Instead of Arrest for Small-Time Marijuana Offenders. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday that as of January 1, people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program instead of being arrested and jailed. The program could include classes or community service. In the past year, police have been arresting and booking people, then offering them diversion, but now, they will forego the arrest and booking steps.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales to Start Monday. Eight dispensaries have been licensed and will be able to sell medical marijuana to registered patients beginning Monday, state medical marijuana program director Joseph Wright said Friday. Some 3,000 Illinoisans have already registered for the program.

New Hampshire Lung Cancer Patient Sues to Get Medical Marijuana Card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients Who Have Been Fired Can Get Unemployment. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

International

US State Department Says Other Countries Can Legalize Marijuana If They Want To. My, how times have changed! Responding to a press question about moves toward marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, a State Department spokesman said Thursday they were free to do so. "It's up to the people of each nation to decide policies," spokesman John Kirby said. "And in this case, it's up to the people of Mexico to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law." Kirby added that the US is "firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions," but added that "the conventions allow for a degree of flexibility on how member-states implement their obligations, particularly with respect to drug use, and the conventions anticipate variations in national legal frameworks." The openness to marijuana reform is a marked contrast to the US's historical opposition to such moves, but is consistent with the policy enunciated last year by the head of the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the 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.)

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (wikipedia.org)
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (wikimedia.org)
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the 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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

More Indian tribes move toward okaying medical marijuana, a North Dakota initiative petition gets its language okayed, and more.

California

Last Wednesday, Los Angeles decided to stop giving tax permits to unlicensed dispensaries. The city council voted to stop giving tax certificates for new medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2013, the city approved Measure D, which banned most dispensaries, but that hasn't stopped them from opening. The city had been issuing tax certificates to them, but the council agreed that it was "insincere" to collect taxes from shops the city was working to shut down. Click on the link for much more detail.

On Tuesday, the Huntington Beach city council voted to keep its ban on dispensaries. The move came as the council denied appeals by four dispensaries challenging the city's eight-year-old ban on the operations. The dispensaries had operated without business permits, and the city had recently obtained temporary injunctions to shut them down.

Nevada

Last Thursday, a Nevada tribe decided to join the medical marijuana industry. The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe is planning to open a medical marijuana grow facility for economic development reasons. "Jobs to bring our people out of poverty, to create the jobs that we can better our community," said tribal president Tildon Smart. "And the profits would be used for helping out with programs." The tribe said it plans to start growing next spring.

New York

On Tuesday, the Seneca Nation approved a medical marijuana measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana initiative petition language was approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

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

Chronicle AM: OH Marijuana Init Shot Down, DEA Releases National Drug Threat Assessment, More (11/4/15)

Ohio's "monopoly" legalization iniitiative got trounced, two Michigan towns vote to legalize it, the Seneca Nation marches toward medical marijuana, the DEA releases its annual threat assessment, and more.

Voters told ResponsibleOhio to take a hike.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Voters Approve Spending Marijuana Taxes. Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives legislators permission to spend $66.1 million in pot tax revenues. This marks the third time in four years Colorado voters have approved spending marijuana taxes, and the 69% victory came as little surprise.

Georgia Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. A new 11Alive/Survey USA poll has Georgia split down the middle on marijuana legalization, with 45% for and 46% against. A group called "Let Us Vote Georgia" says it will try to put the issue on the ballot for next year's election.

Ohio "Monopoly" Initiative Goes Down in Flames. The ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative was roundly defeated Tuesday, garnering only 35% of the vote. In addition to opposition from the usual suspects, the measure also aroused the ire of many Ohio legalization activists because of its provisions limiting commercial marijuana grows to only ten cultivation sites, all of them owned by the the campaign's funders.

Two Michigan Towns Vote to Legalize It. Voters in the towns of Keego Harbor in Oakland County and Portage in Kalamazoo County approved local ordinances allowing the "usage, possession, and transfer" of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over. The Keego Harbor measure passed with 55% of the vote; no totals are yet available for Portage.

Medical Marijuana

Seneca Nation Approves Medical Marijuana Measure. Tribal members approved a measure clearing the way for the creation of a legal and regulatory framework for medical marijuana operations on the reservation. The vote was 448-364. "A decision on our Nation's path of action on medical cannabis is far from made, but now, having heard from the Seneca people, our discussions and due diligence can begin in earnest," said tribal President Maurice John. "The first step from here is establishing thoughtful regulation for how the Seneca Nation could potentially move forward."

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Language Approved. The second time was the charm. Secretary of State Al Jaeger Monday approved petition language for a medical marijuana initiative. He had initially rejected the proposal because of language flaws. The measure would create a system of state-licensed dispensaries and would allow patients to possess up to three ounces. Patients more than 40 miles from a dispensary could grow their own.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. The assessment emphasized the toll from prescription drug and heroin overdoses and identified Mexican drug trafficking organization as "the biggest criminal threat to the United States," but also warned of that "affiliated and violent gangs are increasingly a threat to the safety and security of our communities." Access the report by clicking on the title link.

International

Palestinian Authority Approves Tough New Drug Laws. President Mahmoud Abbas today signed into law legislation that creates tough new penalties, including up to life in prison, for drug dealing and manufacturing. It also creates a new anti-drug bureaucracy, a special action office for drug abuse prevention. Palestinian officials blame the Israelis for the West Bank drug problem.

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