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Uruguay's Mujica is the Grumpy Old Man of Global Marijuana Legalization

Uruguay will formally unveil the regulations for its legal marijuana commerce next week, although the broad outlines are already known. The stuff will be genetically tracked from seed to sale and beyond, it'll see for less than a buck a gram, and registered consumers will only be able to buy 40 grams a month.

Jose "Pepe" Mujica. Not exactly Captain Cannabis. (wikimedia.org)
It's not exactly a free-for-all. Instead, it's a tightly regulated effort to break the black market in marijuana in the country, where it's never been a crime to smoke pot. And it's most definitely not about creating a pothead utopia, as Uruguayan President Mujica showed in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press.

In that interview, Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who spent years in prison during the time of military dictatorship in the 1970s, made clear that he's no hipster.

"We don't go along with the idea that marijuana is benign, poetic and surrounded by virtues. No addiction is good," he said. "We aren't going to promote smoke fests, bohemianism, all this stuff they try to pass off as innocuous when it isn't. They'll label us elderly reactionaries. But this isn't a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness."

Well, with all due respect, Mr. Mujica, you sound like an elderly reactionary. This is a guy who has never smoked pot, and it shows. Referring to marijuana use as an addiction puts him in the company of mad scientists like NIDA head Dr. Nora Volkow and the professional prohibitionists of Project SAM, and spouting platitudes like "no addiction is good" manages to conflate being physically addicted to things like heroin and prescription opiates to habitually puffing a pot pipe or having a cup of coffee first thing every morning.

Mujica also took some gratuitous pot shots at Colorado's legalization regime and at medical marijuana in the US. Uruguay's system will be superior to Colorado's, he said, because Colorado doesn't track pot after it is purchased.

The AP quoted Mujica as saying "it's a complete fiction what they do in Colorado," which seems to be his way of claiming that legalization there is out of control because it doesn't track individual purchasers. Well, I find it kind of creepy to think the government is keeping track of my consumption habits (like with, say, a prescription monitoring database—oops, never mind), and I have to wonder why Mujica isn't pushing for something similar for alcohol purchases in his country.

And, Mujica said, the medical marijuana laws in US states are based on "hypocrisy" because they allow people with "fake illnesses" to obtain marijuana. Well, he has something of a point there, but only to a degree. California is by far the most wide open medical marijuana state, and people do take advantage of the loosely-written law to obtain and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest.

California can remedy that by recognizing reality and just getting on with legalization, as it will almost certainly do in 2016. But the other medical marijuana states are much more restrictive, and, perversely, the more public support grows for medical marijuana, the tighter the restrictions seem to be.

So, why is Mujica being such a grumpy old man about marijuana legalization? After all, he's the guy who pushed it through in Uruguay. I think there are a couple of things going on.

First, he's a square. He's a straight, old leftist, a former revolutionary, with no experience with marijuana and no connections to the cannabis culture. He really sees this as a public health and public security problem, not as a step toward human liberation. In that sense, he's your grandpa.

But he's also moving forward with legalization in the face of strong public opposition to it in Uruguay.  In a poll last week, nearly two-thirds remained opposed to the new law, although 51% said it was better to give it a chance than to kill it at birth. I suspect many of Mujica's comments were made with that domestic audience in mind. In that sense, he's a smart politician.

And grumpy old man he may be; he's still the guy who is leading the first country to break with global pot prohibition. Adelante, companero.

Location: 
Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- May 2, 2014

Washington state should see marijuana retail stores open in July after license lottery winners were announced, limited CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move, a Washington state family of patients faces a federal trial, and the OAS wraps up its drug meeting in Washington, DC. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cannabis Credit Union Bill Modified Into Study Bill. A bill to create credit union-style financial institutions to handle money for the state's marijuana industry has been turned into a study bill. House Bill 14-1398 was amended in the House Finance Committee Thursday evening. Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) said he offered the amendment because he didn't feel comfortable approving a first-in-the-nation policy on short notice as the legislative session winds down. The session ends next week.

Colorado Bill to Seal Criminal Records for Minor Marijuana Convictions Fails. A bill to seal criminal records for some minor marijuana convictions died in a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 14-218 was defeated in the Appropriation Committee after having been amended to apply only to crimes that were considered petty offenses before legalization. Advocates had hoped the bill could open the door to a broader sealing of marijuana-related convictions.

Washington State Announces Winners of Marijuana Store Lottery. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has announced the winners of the lottery for marijuana retail licenses. Some 334 stores will be licensed, but there were 1,174 applicants; thus, the lottery system. Some jurisdictions with little or no competition didn't require lottery participation, but most had multiple applications for the same spot. The board says it expects to start issuing retail licenses no later than the first week of July, so stores could be open there by the end of that month.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Legislature Approves Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill; Governor Says He Will Sign It. In something of a surprise move, the House yesterday approved a bill allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for epilepsy. Senate Bill 1030 then went back to the Senate today, which approved it on the final day of the legislative session. Gov. Rick Scott (R) surprised supporters and told reporters late Thursday that if they pass it, he will sign it.

Latest Version of Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Bans Smoking It. The Senate Finance Committee has approved a medical marijuana bill, but one that doesn't allow patients to smoke it. Senate File 1641 would allow patients to use a vaporizer in non-public places, though. Sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) said he reluctantly included the smoking prohibition to appease opponents. Meanwhile, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, House File 1818, Rep. Carly Marlin (DFL-Hibbing) has now modified her bill to make it a limited clinical trial bill. It would also prohibit smoking. Medical marijuana advocates are split on the move, with some saying they feel betrayed. Minnesota is proving an awfully tough nut to crack when it comes to medical marijuana.

More Than Half of Oregon Cities and Counties Have Dispensary Moratoriums. The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday released a list of local governments that have imposed moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries. According to the state, 131 cities and 25 counties enacted moratoriums on dispensaries. Oregon has 242 incorporated cities and 36 counties. Oregon passed a law regulating dispensaries, but localities could enact moratoriums until yesterday. Those moratoriums can only extend through May 2015.

Pennsylvania Governor Now Supports Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill.Gov. Tom Corbett (R) remains opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use but now makes one exception: the use of a marijuana extract to treat severe seizures in children, his office said Thursday. Corbett's office first confirmed to The Associated Press that the Republican governor had met with several parents to tell them in person about his decision. The move came a day before patients and their families had vowed to stage at a sit-in at his office.

Washington State Family of Medical Marijuana Patients Fights Federal Drug Trafficking Charges, Faces Decades in Prison. A Kettle Falls family and a close friend are being tried as drug traffickers by federal prosecutors, even though they were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws and even though they don't appear to meet Justice Department criteria for prosecution. Larry Harvey, his wife, their son and his wife, and a family friend have refused plea offers that would have seen them sent to prison and are now preparing for trial. The Huffington Post has an extensive report; just click on the link.

Harm Reduction

Missouri Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Overdose Reversal Drug to Police and First Responders. The legislature Wednesday night gave final approval to House Bill 2040, which will allow police and emergency first responders to carry and administer the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). No word on if the governor intends to sign the bill into law.

International

OAS Drug Commission Concludes Biannual Conference. The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded on Thursday its 55th Regular Session with a review of current drug policies in the hemisphere, in compliance with the mandate that the hemispheric institution received from the leaders of the region at the Summit of the Americas in 2012. Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza highlighted the contributions that the hemispheric institution has made to the global drug problem, and called both the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas (Analytical Report and Scenarios Report), and the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala adopted by all Member States of the OAS at the 2013 General Assembly in in Guatemala, that calls for a Special General Assembly focused on the discussion of the issue, "substantial contributions to the discussions on this topic that are being developed around the world." Insulza added that the conclusions of the Special General Assembly that the OAS will hold on the world drug problem in September in Guatemala "will surely represent a major contribution to the debate on drug policy that the United Nations will undertake in 2016."

DEA Chief Opposes Marijuana Legalization, Supports Mandatory Minimums

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday to warn of the dangers of marijuana legalization and affirm her support for mandatory minimum sentences.

DEA administrator Michele Leonhart (usdoj.gov)
Leonhart's testimony put her increasingly at odds with the administration that employs her. The Obama administration has announced that it is not going to interfere with legal marijuana in states that have approved it -- unless some of its eight listed enforcement priorities are in play -- and it has made it very clear that it views mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed policy.

Leonhart mentioned two of the enforcement priorities -- the leakage of marijuana to non-legal states and the use of the herb by minors -- in her statement to the committee. She said she is worried by an increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and that the same thing could happen in Washington state. She also worried that increasing acceptance of marijuana would lead to increased use.

"The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen," she said. "In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana." But she did not provide any evidence tying the number of marijuana users to changing attitudes or laws.

The DEA is indeed concerned about marijuana legalization. Three months ago, DEA chief of operations James Capra called legalization in the states reckless and irresponsible and warned of looming disaster.

"It scares us," Capra said during a Senate hearing in January. "Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again."

Except that marijuana legalization has never been tried anywhere before Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington made the leap too recently to cite. In the Netherlands, where authorities turn a blind eye to sales at cannabis coffee shops and which is often cited as an example of "legalization," life goes on and marijuana use rates are well with European norms.

Leonhart continued singing the same old tune Wednesday, warning that emergency room visits related to marijuana increased by 28% between 2007 and 2011.

ER visits may be up, but it's the quality, not just the quantity that also matters. Marijuana has no fatal overdose potential; most marijuana-related ER visits are panic attacks or anxiety reactions, not life-threatening events.

Leonhart also had kind words for mandatory minimums, even though her immediate boss, Attorney General Eric Holder has said they create cruel, disproportionate punishments and contribute to federal prison overcrowding.

"Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations," said Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). "We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after."

Leonhart is a holdover from the Bush administration. It is unclear how long she can continue to fit in under an Obama administration that is moving forward on drug policy reform.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana continues hot and heavy in state legislatures across the country, there's a petition for a patient denied access to a liver transplant in California, two federal marijuana patients in Iowa also need some help, and a new federal medical marijuana bill has been filed. And more. Let's get to it:

National

On Monday, Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith introduced a federal medical marijuana bill. Griffith (R-VA) has filed House Resolution 4498, the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act. This bill would prohibit the federal government from preventing the prescription, possession, transportation, and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with applicable state law. The bill would also reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Arkansas

Last weekend, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act initiative went signature-gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

California

Last Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won an Assembly committee vote. A bill to impose regulation on the state's medical marijuana industry passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would make it illegal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot dispensary. It would also let the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforce laws regulating marijuana and develop plans to tax it beyond the sales tax now levied, while ensuring it is grown and processed safely and in ways safe for the environment. A competing bill favored by law enforcement, Senate Bill 1262 by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), was approved a day earlier by the Senate Business Professions and Economic Development Committee. It would regulate medical marijuana through the Department of Public Health and county health departments.

Last Wednesday, a proposal to consider allowing dispensaries in Colfax failed. Two council members voted in favor, and two voted against the motion, which would have instructed city staff to look into revising the 2009 ordinance prohibiting dispensaries in Colfax. The fifth council member abstained.

On Monday, a petition drive got underway for a patient denied access to a liver transplant because he uses medical marijuana. Stanford University Medical Center has removed Hep C and cirrhosis sufferer Richard Hawthorne from its list of people in line to get liver transplants because he uses medical marijuana to alleviate his symptoms. Stanford removed Richard from the list based on "national standards." It said: "The national protocols include factors that may lead to disqualification, which include both use of drugs and alcohol." Hawthorne uses medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. There were only 343 signatures on the petition to get him reinstated at press time. Click on the link to add yours.

Colorado

On Monday, a bill to make PTSD a qualifying medical condition died in a House committee. House Bill 14-1364 failed to pass the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a move decried by the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's insane that in a state with legal marijuana veterans don't have the same right as anyone else over 21 -- especially considering how many lives are at stake," said Art Way, senior Colorado policy manager for the group. "No veteran should have to risk benefits or feel stigmatized when they use medical marijuana."

Florida

On Monday, Florida sheriffs announced they would campaign against the state's medical marijuana initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Also on Monday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill allows low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to be used by patients suffering seizure disorders. Senate Bill 1030, also known as the Charlotte's Web bill after a certain high-CBD strain, now heads to the House, where its fate remains uncertain as leaders there raise questions about whether an extract could be made safe enough to distribute.

Iowa

Last Thursday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The bill gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol to treat seizures. Senate File 2360 would require patients or their caregivers to obtain a state-issued license to possess the drug and must have a neurologist's prescription in order to obtain the license.

Last Friday, a call went out to seek help for two Iowa federal medical marijuana patients. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Louisiana

On Tuesday, the state sheriff's association spoke out against a pending medical marijuana bill. Law enforcement agencies from across the state spoke out against a proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana at the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association. "As the current bill stands in Louisiana, this still does not correct the fact that it is illegal in the United States of America to possess or use marijuana," president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Tony Mancuso said. The bill, Senate Bill 541, proposed by Louisiana State Senator Fred Mills (D-St. Martin Parish), will be heard by the Committee on Health and Welfare today.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved a compromise medical marijuana bill. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the bill. Senate File 1641 now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Wednesday hearing. Companion legislation has also moved in the House.

Missouri

Last Wednesday, the House gave first approval to a CBD medical marijuana bill. The bill would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people suffering from seizures. Senate Bill 951 won first round approval by a voice vote. It needs one more vote in the House.

Montana

Last Saturday, medical marijuana supporters protested at businesses owned by the sponsor of an anti-marijuana initiative. The proposed initiative would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, Clark County (Las Vegas) reported receiving more than 200 applications for medical marijuana businesses.A total of 206 applications for medical marijuana businesses were filed by 109 legal entities with the county's Business Licensing Department before yesterday's deadline. That total includes 90 applications for dispensaries, 70 applications for cultivation facilities, 45 for production facilities and one for an independent testing laboratory. Businesses who met today's deadline will have until May 2 to submit a zoning application and the accompanying $5,000 fee for the special-use permits needed to operate a medical marijuana establishment. The county commission plans to review and award a limited number of special-use permits at a June 5 public meeting. Businesses can apply for one of four license types.

New Mexico

Last Wednesday, the medical cannabis program's Medical Advisory Board recommended adding Alzheimer's to the list of eligible conditions. The Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board voted unanimously Wednesday to add neurodegenerative dementia including Alzheimer's disease (AD) to the list of medical conditions eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary of Health will have the final decision. Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the states that authorize its use.

Pennsylvania

On Monday, a state senator and parents of sick kids said they would sit in at the governor's office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said. No word of any meeting as of today.

Rhode Island

Over the weekend, state law enforcement officials said they want to amend the medical marijuana law for "public safety" reasons. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Vermont

Last Wednesday, the House passed a dispensary bill that includes a study of legalization. The House gave preliminary approval to a medical marijuana dispensaries bill, endorsing an amendment that calls for a study of potential tax revenue from legalizing and taxing pot. Senate Bill 247 has already passed the Senate, but has to go back for concurrence with changes made in the House.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the bill. It will now be sent to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has expressed support for the measure. Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), will eliminate the cap on the number of patients who are allowed to access medical marijuana dispensaries. The measure will also increase possession limits for dispensaries, allow them to deliver medical marijuana to patients, and permit naturopaths to certify patients for the program.

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

Chronicle AM -- April 28, 2012

Medical marijuana continues to be contested terrain, a legalization bill gets a hearing in Boston, hemp is on the move in Hawaii and New York, New Zealand cracks down on its regulated synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

New Zealand is taking regulated synthetic drugs off the shelf until they can be proven "low risk." (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Seal Past Marijuana Convictions. Marijuana convictions that predate current Colorado law could be sealed under a bipartisan proposal being floated inside the Capitol -- a move that could potentially impact thousands of Coloradans. The proposal, sponsored by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westminster) and Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), allows anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that would now be legal under Amendment 64 to have their records sealed. Also, a draft of the bill says that a person convicted of "any other marijuana offense" beyond the scope of Amendment 64 would also be allowed to file a petition with a district attorney to have their record sealed. If the district attorney does not object, the court would then be required to seal the conviction record.

Massachusetts Legislators Hear Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on Judiciary held a well-attended and well-covered hearing on a marijuana legalization measure, House Bill 1632, Thursday. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act Initiative Goes Signature-Gathering. Hundreds of Arkansans volunteered over the weekend to collect signatures for the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act in more than 50 locations across the state. They need to collect more than 62,000 valid voter signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida Sheriffs to Fight Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida law enforcement authorities are set to begin a public awareness campaign to fight the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana, a question that will be put to voters in November. This winter, the Florida Sheriff's Association sent sheriffs across the state an email asking for their support of a resolution opposing the legalization of marijuana. A vast majority of the 67 sheriffs was in favor of fighting against any effort to legalize pot. That's a shocker.

Iowa Federal Marijuana Patients in Danger of Losing Access After Their Doctor Leaves the State. Two of the last remaining federal marijuana patients are facing a bleak future as a result of their physician relocating to another state. Patients Out of Time is issuing an urgent request for a Midwestern physician to come forward and help these individuals. No physicians in Iowa have stepped up so far. The patients, Barbara Douglass and George McMahon, are two of four remaining recipients of federal marijuana for medical purposes under the now defunct Compassionate IND program. For further information please call All Byrne of Patients Out of Time, (434) 263-4484, or email at al@medicalcannabis.com.

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Protest at Businesses Owned By Sponsor of Proposed Anti-Marijuana Initiative. Supporters of medical marijuana protested outside two of the businesses co-owned by the sponsor of a proposed initiative that would make all marijuana illegal in Montana. About 100 people demonstrated outside Rimrock Subaru and Rimrock KIA in Billings on Saturday. Steve Zabawa, a partner with the Rimrock Auto Group, is sponsoring an initiative that would "eliminate the disparity between federal law and state law." The potential law would make any drug on Schedule One of the Federal Controlled Substances Act illegal in Montana.

Pennsylvania Legislator and Parents of Sick Kids Plan Sit-In at Governor's Office. Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) and parents of sick children said Monday they have asked repeatedly to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett (R) to have a meaningful discussion about his opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 770. Now, after Corbett continues to stonewall their requests, Leach and family members said they will sit-in at Corbett's office until a meeting is scheduled. "If the governor chooses to forcibly remove sick children and the parents of those children, that is up to him. But we will not voluntarily leave until a meeting is scheduled," Leach said.

Rhode Island Cops Want to Amend Medical Marijuana Law for "Public Safety" Reasons. Law enforcement officials are pushing to amend Rhode Island's medical marijuana law to address what they say are public safety problems, but patient advocates say the changes would jeopardize access to medicine. The attorney general's office and municipal police chiefs say some licensed cardholders are growing excess amounts of marijuana under a program with inadequate oversight and some caregivers and patients have become targets of home invasions. House Bill 7610, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Tomasso (D-Coventry), would reduce the number of plants patients could grow from 12 to three and add more oversight by the Department of Health. The bill had a hearing earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee, but no vote was taken.

Hemp

Hawaii Hemp Bill Passes Legislature. Last week, Hawaii legislators approved a bill that will focus on the study of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and phytoremediation resource. The bill, House Bill 1700, authorizes the dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to establish a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program. It does have quite a few strict stipulations to prevent undesired consequences.

New York Hemp Bill Introduced. Growing industrial hemp for research purposes would be legal in New York under a bill proposed last week by a pair of Southern Tier lawmakers. An amendment to the federal farm bill this year allowed for hemp research programs in states that allow industrial hemp growth. The New York bill, Senate Bill 7047 is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwel), and Sen. Tom O'Mara (R-Big Flats).

Drug Policy

Big Congressional Drug War Hearings This Week. This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the drug war. On Tuesday, April 29, at 10:00am there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled "Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships," held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State. On Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00am, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, "Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration." The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. Click on the link for more details.

Drug Testing

Georgia Leaders Consider Expanding Drug Testing of Public Benefits Recipients. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said Monday he was exploring a plan that would require drug tests those who apply for unemployment benefits, and would set aside funding for treatment programs if they fail. The move would require legislative approval in 2015 as well as signoff by the US Department of Labor. He also hinted he would sign House Bill 772, which would require drug testing for some food stamp recipients. He said he believes it strikes a "delicate balance" between helping the neediest and protecting taxpayer dollars, though he would not say definitively whether he would sign the measure into law. He has until Tuesday to decide.

International

New Zealand Backpedals on Regulating Synthetics; Will Pull Drugs Off Shelves Until Proven Safe. All synthetic drugs will be pulled off the shelves within two weeks until individual testing has proven each brand is "low-risk," the government has announced. Citing reports of severe adverse reactions and the government's inability to determine which of the regulated synthetics are causing them, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he would introduce emergency legislation to remove the remaining 41 allowed synthetics from store shelves until they are tested. "I will bring to Parliament amending legislation to put this measure in place, to be introduced and passed through all stages under urgency on May 8 and come into force the day after receiving the Royal Assent," he said.

Israeli MP Admits Regularly Smoking Marijuana. Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said she occasionally smokes marijuana, which is illegal, in an interview Friday. Zandberg is one of the most outspoken proponents of legalizing cannabis in the Knesset, together with MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), who says he has never used the drug. "Like everyone else, I smoke sometimes. I'm not a criminal and I'm not a delinquent," she said.

Poppies Bloom in Egypt's Sinai. A sharp slump in tourism is rippling across the southern Sinai, where resorts catering to foreigners line the Red Sea coast, and as a result, Bedouins are turning to the opium poppy to make a living. The Christian Science Monitor has an in-depth report; just click on the link.

Mexican Vigilantes Must Turn in Weapons By May 10. Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups who have been battling the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan for more than a year have signed an agreement spelling out the timetable for the militias to disarm. The self-defense groups must begin surrendering their guns, which include AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, on Monday and completely disarm by May 10, officials said. The militia leaders inked the disarmament deal Friday in a meeting at the headquarters of the 43rd Military Zone in Apatzingan, Michoacan, the largest city in the crime-ridden Tierra Caliente region.

Brazil Marchers Demand Legalization. Brazilian police said about 2,000 people gathered in downtown Sao Paulo Saturday in a demonstration demanding the legalization of the production and sale of marijuana in Latin America's largest country. Several of the demonstrators were smoking marijuana cigarettes while carrying posters reading "Legalize Marijuana Now," and "Marijuana is Medicine." Police say the demonstration was peaceful. No arrests have been reported.

Chronicle AM -- April 24, 2016

Marijuana, weed, pot, cannabis, whatever you call it, it's sure making a lot of news these days. Plus, harm reduction comes to Georgia, and Bolivia wants to shoot down drug planes. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, Aims At 2016. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Wednesday filed a petition with the Nevada Secretary of State to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Silver State. The group needs to get 101,667 signatures by November 11 to move the process forward. If the signatures are collected on time, the initiative would then go before the state legislature in 2015. The legislature can approve it or vote it down, but if it is voted down, it would go before the voters in the 2016 general election.

Colorado Edibles Regulation Bill Passes House. A bill to tighten laws governing the sale of marijuana-infused edibles in Colorado was unanimously passed by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday after two deaths possibly linked to the ingestion of cannabis products shed light on the lack of guidelines for edibles. With House Bill 1361, Colorado lawmakers are aiming to limit the amount of concentrated marijuana that can be sold through a bill requiring more specific labeling of pot-laced products, such as candies and baked goods, as well as restricting the amount of the THC chemical in edibles.

Possession Of Marijuana In Brooklyn Decriminalized In Small Quantities. Marijuana users in Brooklyn will get slapped with a mere $100 fine for possession so long as they don't have a criminal record. Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said he will no longer be prosecuting marijuana smokers for possession provided they have no previous criminal history or have been busted for weed before. The DA said in a memo made public by the New York Post Wednesday that marijuana laws disproportionately hurt youths of color, especially those without previous records.

New York Poll Has Support for Legalization at 43%. A new Siena Poll has support for legalization in the Empire State at 43%, with 52% opposed and 5% undecided. There were majorities for legalization among Democrats, liberals, men, and people under 35. Medical marijuana fared better, with 51% backing a full medical marijuana law, 26% favoring Gov. Cuomo's (D) limited program, and only 21% opposed to any medical marijuana. Click on the link for the cross-tabs.

DC Legalization Initiative Gets Go-Ahead for Signature Gathering. The DC Board of Elections gave a green light Wednesday for campaigners to begin collecting signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot. The campaign must turn in approximately 22,373 valid signatures by July 7 to score a spot on the November ballot. More than 5 percent of registered voters in five of the eight city wards must sign the petition.

Medical Marijuana

Nevada's Clark County (Las Vegas) Receives More Than 200 Applications For Medical Pot Businesses. A total of 206 applications for medical marijuana businesses were filed by 109 legal entities with the county's Business Licensing Department before yesterday's deadline. That total includes 90 applications for dispensaries, 70 applications for cultivation facilities, 45 for production facilities and one for an independent testing laboratory. Businesses who met today's deadline will have until May 2 to submit a zoning application and the accompanying $5,000 fee for the special-use permits needed to operate a medical marijuana establishment. The county commission plans to review and award a limited number of special-use permits at a June 5 public meeting. Businesses can apply for one of four license types.

Vermont House Passes Dispensary Bill, Includes Study of Legalization. The House Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a medical marijuana dispensaries bill, endorsing an amendment that calls for a study of potential tax revenue from legalizing and taxing pot. Senate Bill 247 has already passed the Senate, but have to go back for concurrence with changes made in the House.

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to impose regulation on the state's medical marijuana industry passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. Assembly Bill 1894, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would make it illegal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot dispensary. It would also let the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforce laws regulating marijuana and develop plans to tax it beyond the sales tax now levied, while ensuring it is grown and processed safely and in ways safe for the environment. A competing bill favored by law enforcement, Senate Bill 1262 by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), was approved a day earlier by the Senate Business Professions and Economic Development Committee. It would regulate medical marijuana through the Department of Public Health and county health departments.

Missouri House Gives First Approval to CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil by people suffering from seizures. Senate Bill 951 won first round approval by a voice vote. It needs one more vote in the House.

New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board Recommends Adding Alzheimer's Disease to the List of Eligible Conditions. The Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board voted unanimously Wednesday to add neurodegenerative dementia including Alzheimer's disease (AD) to the list of medical conditions eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary of Health will have the final decision. Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the states that authorize its use.

Iowa CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate. A bill that gives prosecutorial immunity to people who possess cannabidiol to treat seizures passed the Senate Thursday. Senate File 2360 would require patients or their caregivers to obtain a state-issued license to possess the drug and must have a neurologist's prescription in order to obtain the license.

Drugged Driving

California Bill Would Impose "Per Se" Drugged Driving Standard. Members of the California Assembly are considering amending legislation, Assembly Bill 2500, to impose "per se" criminal penalties to individuals who drive with trace levels (2ng/ml or above) of THC or other controlled substances in their blood -- regardless of whether he/she is behaviorally impaired. NORML and California NORML oppose this bill.

Harm Reduction

Georgia Governor Signs 911 Medical Amnesty/ Naloxone Law.Governor Nathan Deal (R) signed House Bill 965 Thursday, also known as the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty bill. Effective immediately, the law grants limited immunity from arrest, charges, or prosecution to people who are experiencing or to those who seek help for a drug overdose in the event that law enforcement find small amounts of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia as a result of the person seeking help. The law also extends legal protections to people who call 911 to report underage drinking poisonings and to those who administer naloxone to someone experiencing a drug overdose. Georgia is the 15th state in the union to enact a 911 Medical Amnesty law and the 19th state to expand access to naloxone through legislation.

International

Bolivia Approves Downing of Drug-Smuggling Planes. A new Bolivian law authorizes the country's military to shoot down planes suspected of smuggling cocaine, though it cannot yet be put into practice because it doesn't have sufficient radar coverage. The law signed Tuesday by President Evo Morales requires that before starting the plan, Bolivia must first purchase and install radar systems, which its borders lack. Other countries in the region with similar shootdown policies include Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela, all cocaine transit countries. Peru had a shootdown policy, but halted it after it accidentally blew a US missionary and her infant out of the sky a decade ago.

DC Event on Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Monday. The Washington Office on Latin America is hosting a discussion Monday on "Launching Uruguay's New Law to Regulate Cannabis." Speakers include Julio Calzada, general secretary of the Uruguayan National Drugs Board, and Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the Transnational Institute Drugs and Democracy Program. Click on the title link for more details.

Uruguay to Limit Marijuana Purchases to 10 Grams a Week. In an attempt to thwart illegal resales, Uruguay is limiting licensed buyers of marijuana to 10 grams a week, as the South American country attempts to write its rules for its legal market in the drug, now two weeks overdue. The Uruguayan authorities are developing fees for pot sales to match highly-taxed cigarette and alcohol sales.

Report from the Denver 4/20 Celebration [FEATURE]

Legal marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, and now, just a few months in, Denver already appears to be well-placed to claim the title of America's cannabis capital. This past weekend, tens of thousands of people flooded into the city to celebrate the 4/20 holiday and attend the latest High Times Cannabis Cup.

There is a stage somewhere behind all that smoke.
For blocks around the north side expo center where the Cannabis Cup took place, thousands of eager pot aficionados clogged the streets, bringing traffic to a crawl, while inside, hundreds of exhibitors peddled their wares, demonstrating both the scope of cannabis-related commerce and the grasp of American entrepreneurs. Pot smoking was supposed to be allowed only in designated areas, which didn't include the lengthy lines of people waiting to get in the event, but that didn't seem to stop anybody.

Meanwhile, downtown at the Civic Center plaza facing the state capitol, the state's ban on public marijuana use was again ignored -- blatantly and massively -- at the Official 4/20 Rally. Despite Denver Police digital signs warning that public "Marijuana consumption is illegal" and "Marijuana laws enforced," at precisely 4:20pm on 4/20, the most massive, intense, and long-lasting could of pot smoke your reporter has ever seen wafted over the city. One hesitates to estimate how many pounds of marijuana went up in smoke in a few moments at the Civic Center.

Police made a few dozen arrests for public consumption over the course of the two-day rally, but the event was otherwise peaceable, and police generally kept a low profile.

Walking Raven and other retail marijuana outlets did big business over the 4/20 weekend.
And the city's marijuana retail outlets were doing brisk business, with lines of eager buyers, many from out of state, waiting for their chance to buy weed legally. In one pot store parking lot, middle-aged customers in a pick-up truck with Texas plates shared their happiness with a car-load of 20-somethings from Wisconsin, all of them drawn to Colorado by the chance to experience legal marijuana.

"I didn't think I'd live to see the day," said one of the Texans, smiling broadly, his brown paper bag filled with buds inside a blue prescription bottle with a child-proof cap and a label identifying the plant that grew the buds. "I don't know if I will live to see the day this is legal in Texas, so that's why we came here. This is history."

At the Walking Raven retail store on South Broadway last Saturday, proprietor Luke Ramirez oversaw a handful of employees tending to an unending line of customers. A favorite of customers and staff alike was Hong Kong Diesel, a 30% THC variety with a powerful aroma, going for more than $400 an ounce.

Like all of the first generation retail marijuana stores in the state, Walking Raven began as a medical marijuana dispensary, but transitioned into the adult retail business. That required time and money, Ramirez said.

"It was about $100,000 to start up, and it took about 100 days," he said, quickly adding that it was worth it.

"This is absolutely a profitable business model," Ramirez exclaimed between greetings to customers and issuing orders to his bud sellers. "We're paying a lot in taxes, but we have a large client base -- three million adults in Colorado, plus tourism."

Making the transition from a dispensary to an adult retail outlet also helped, Ramirez said.

"We've gone from about $3,000 a day in sales to $10,000," he explained.

The state of Colorado is making bank off Ramirez and his colleagues in the marijuana business. According to the state Department of Revenue, adult marijuana taxes and fees totaled $2 million in January and $2.5 million in February, the last month for which data is available. Observers expect that monthly figure to only increase as more stores open up.

Walking Raven proprietor Luke Ramirez
It's not all roses for Colorado's nascent pot industry, though. Ramirez ticked off the issues.

"The biggest obstacles are the government and its regulatory bodies," he said. "Will they increase or decrease taxes, what about zoning, how do we get out supply? Heavy regulation is an issue. And the seed-to-sale tracking program is very expensive; I have a full-time employee just for that."

And then there is that pesky federal marijuana prohibition. Although the Justice Department has made soothing noises about not picking on financial institutions that do business with the state's legal pot shops, most banks still have not gotten on board -- and there are other, related, issues, too.

"The federal law inhibits us from doing normal business," Ramirez said. "We can't get bank loans and we don't get the 280E federal tax break. We're classified as drug traffickers, so we can't write off our business expenses."

That's not to mention the security issues around dealing with large amounts of cash because the banks don't want to risk touching it.

"We have to have multiple safes and carry cash around," he said.

Still, Ramirez is open for business, and business is good. And not only is business good, Colorado's experiment with marijuana legalization seems to be advancing with few hiccups.

"Things are generally going quite smoothly," said Mason Tvert, an Amendment 64 proponent who is now a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Regulations are still being developed in certain areas, such as concentrates and edibles, but the system is up and running and working more or less as intended."

While it remains to be seen if the estimated $100 million in pot tax revenues this year actually happens, Tvert was confident the income would be substantial.

"We're now seeing a couple of million a month in tax revenues, and money from fees, as well," he said. "We will still see a lot more businesses opening in the future, so we anticipate revenues will increase. Also, all of the current stores were existing medical marijuana businesses that were able to make a tax-free transfer from medical to retail, but now they will have to start paying a 15% excise tax, which will bring in more than is currently being raised."

The state has, however, recently seen two deaths attributed to legal marijuana use, a college student from the Congo who fell from a balcony after eating a cannabis cookie, and a man who shot and killed his wife, also apparently under the influence of edibles (and perhaps pain pills). While the exact role of marijuana in those deaths is unclear, media and opponents have leaped on those tragedies.

The movement needs to address such incidents, said Tvert.

"We've known for some time that some people who have preexisting mental health conditions could find them exacerbated by marijuana," Tvert said. "People need to be educated about that. If marijuana were a major factor in these incidents, that is a rare thing, but it is something we should be looking and determining what we can do to better educate consumers and reduce the likelihood of any problems."

But such incidents notwithstanding, legalization is not about to get rolled back in Colorado. Instead, it's just getting started, and it's off to a pretty good start.

"This is the first quarter in the first year of a system just getting started," Tvert said. "Things are going pretty well."

Denver, CO
United States

It's 4/20 in Denver!

Denver is pot city this weekend, with the High Times Cannabis Cup, the 4/20 rally downtown, and dozens of related musical and cultural events.

The Walking Raven marijuana retail outlet on South Broadway, aka Denver's Green Mile.

On East Colfax Avenue this morning, people wearing their Sunday attire for Easter services are outnumbered by people wearing tie-dyes, 4/20 t-shirts, and pot leaf caps heading down to today's session of the 4/20 rally (it went on yesterday as well, with thousands in attendance.

The Cannabis Cup is massive! Organizers estimate more than 30,000 people attending each day, and for blocks around the expo hall, there are masses of stoned humanity wandering to and fro. Inside, the commodification of marijuana continues at a dizzying pace, with hundreds of vendors and exhibitors hawking their wares.

I visited the Walking Raven retail outlet yesterday and interviewed the owner. Look for some of that interview to appear in a feature article later this week on the state of play in Colorado. 

I also made my first legal marijuana purchase in the United States. It was a proprietary 30% THC strain called Hong Kong Diesel. It wasn't cheap, and prices are something I want to address in that coming feature.

The parking lot at Walking Raven was notable for the plethora of out of state license plates. People are coming from all over the country to take part in and celebrate the new reality of legal weed.

I'm off to the 4/20 rally in a bit; may post something later tonight. Then I basically disappear for a couple of days as I head off across Colorado, Utah, and Nevada on my way to Northern California. Look for regular Chronicl action to recommence by Wednesday.

Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

I'm Denver Bound, So No Chronicle AM for Friday

I'm driving from eastern South Dakota to Denver Friday in preparation for the 4/20 weekend there.

It's a long, lonesome drive to Denver...
660 miles of lonely prairie, until the Rockies rise in the distance.

The High Times Cannabis Cup is going on, and there's the 4/19-4/20 event at the civic center. Pot is legal in Colorado, but smoking it in public isn't. It'll be interesting to see how the Denver PD responds.

I expect to interview a retail outlet owner, among other people, too. I'll be writing about this next week, but first I have to drive from Denver to Northern California. I should be back in the regular swing next Wednesday.

Chronicle AM -- April 17, 2014

Marijuana legalization initiatives are in the news, the NCAA ponders relaxing marijuana penalties, a vaporizer company wants to drug test its workers, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Starts Signature-Gathering. Signature gathering began today for the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative. Backers need 87,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, and they say they are confident they will get them. Another initiative, Paul Stanford's Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative, is already in the midst of signature-gathering.

New Approach Oregon Legalization Initiative Gets $100,000 Donation from Fragrance Heir. Henry van Ameringen, heir to a fragrance fortune, has donated $100,000 to the New Approach Oregon legalization initiative.

Alaska Legalization Initiative Campaign Challenges Opponents. In a Wednesday morning press conference, supporters of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska stood outside a downtown Anchorage office building with a giant novelty check written out to "No on 2/ Project S.A.M." for $9,015 -- the same amount of money the alcohol lobby donated to former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy during his time in office. Kennedy is the cofounder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national group that opposes marijuana legalization. The event served as a challenge to opponents of the Alaska measure -- a group collectively known as "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake. Vote No On 2" -- to show the public the science proving that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.

Rhode Island House Panel Hears Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a marijuana legalization bill. The measure, House Bill 7506, sponsored by Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), would allow adults to possess up to one once and grow one plant, as well as establishing a system of legal marijuana commerce. The committee took no action. Click on the link to get the flavor of the testimony.

NCAA Ponders Reducing Penalties for Athletes Who Test Positive for Pot. The NCAA is mulling a proposal to reduce the penalty for a student-athlete's positive marijuana test from a full-season suspension to a half-season, according to CBSSports.com. The site's senior college football columnist, Dennis Dodd, reported that the idea, which is likely to be approved, reflects the association's view that marijuana use is not performance enhancing.

Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin Governor Signs Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has signed Assembly Bill 726, which would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a treatment for seizures.

Major Medical Marijuana Industry Company Announces Drug Testing Program, But Not for Pot. OPenVAPE, a vaporizer manufacturer that bills itself as "the nation's largest cannabis brand," announced today that it will begin a drug testing program for employees. But the company won't test for the drug its products are designed to be used with; instead, it will only test for "dangerous drugs." Click on the link to read their press release.

Sentencing

Drug Policy Alliance Intervenes in Case of Louisiana Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. The Drug Policy Alliance has filed an amicus brief with the Louisiana Supreme Court in the case of Bernard Noble, who is serving 13 years in prison for marijuana possession. "Thirteen years in prison for two joints is obscene," said Daniel Abrahamson, the lead author of the brief for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The punishment is so far out of proportion to the conduct that we really can't call it 'punishment' -- it is more like torture." Louisiana has some of the toughest drug laws in the nation.

Drug War Issues

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