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Seven Ways New York's Medical Marijuana Program Falls Short [FEATURE]

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

New York's long-delayed medical marijuana program finally rolled out this month, not with a bang, but with a whimper. What looks to be the country's tightest medical marijuana program has an extremely limited number of producers and retailers, a tiny number of eligible patients, a dearth of doctors, and forbids both smoking marijuana and using edibles.

For patients and advocates, the very limited arrival of medical marijuana in the Empire State is not the end point they hoped to achieve. Now, instead of resting on their laurels, they will have to continue to fight to make the program one that actually serves the needs of New Yorkers.

"It's a start," said the Drug Policy Alliance's Julie Netherland, until recently the deputy director of the group's New York Policy Office, where she was deeply involved in massaging the law through the legislature and past a reluctant governor. "It's the first time New Yorkers can legally purchase medical marijuana, and it's the result of the hard work of thousands of patients and family members across New York."

But, she was quick to grant, the program has some serious issues, immediate ones in the way the program has been rolled out and longer-term ones with the statute itself.

Here are seven ways New York's medical marijuana program falls short:

Not Enough Access to Doctors

Under the law, before doctors can recommend medical marijuana to patients, they must complete a $249 four-hour course on the drug and then register with the Health Department. As of Thursday, only 306 physicians had done so. Unlike neighboring New Jersey, the Health Department maintains no public registry of doctors certified to recommend medical marijuana, making it that much more difficult for potential patients to find doctors who might certify them to purchase it. So far, only 465 patients have been certified by the department to buy medical marijuana.

"This is the number one complaint of patients," said Netherland, sketching out an almost Kafkaesque process. "The Health Department is telling me if I'm a patient, I should go see my doctor and see if he participates in the program and if not, to encourage him to register," she said. "If the doctors says he's not going to register, then I'm supposed to ask him for a referral, but the doctor isn't going to know about any list of certified doctors to refer me to, and then it's incumbent on me to tell him. It's just another set of hoops for patients to jump through."

At least the Health Department has now agreed to make the list of certified physicians available to patients.

Not Enough Dispensaries

In a state of 20 million, only eight dispensaries opened January 7, and only another dozen are envisioned under the June 2014 medical marijuana law. Weedmaps lists only three for New York City -- one each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. By way of comparison, Los Angeles had 135 permitted dispensaries and probably three times as many actually operating.

New York is not only heavily populated, it's big. With only 20 dispensaries, large geographical swathes of the state will remain without access. Long Island, for instance, will have two dispensaries, but right now, it's a two-hour drive into the city.

"I'm disappointed that only eight dispensaries will open by the deadline," said Missy Miller from Atlantic Beach. "There are none opening on Long Island, which leaves my son Oliver, who suffers from life-threatening seizures, out of luck. This only highlights concerns we have had all along that the state has licensed way too few producers and dispensaries to serve a state as populous and geographically large as New York."

No Personal Cultivation

Unlike the majority of medical marijuana states, patients can't just grow their own. That means they are dependent on the dispensary system, with all its limitations.

Access Is Limited to Specified Qualifying Medical Conditions

The state law only allows medical marijuana for a list of specified medical conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. The law allows the Commissioner of Health to add other diseases and conditions, but just last week, he refused to add PTSD, Alzheimer's, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, rheumatoid arthritis.

"We're hearing every day from patients with all kinds of conditions," said Netherland. "The commissioner was directed by law to consider those five additional conditions, but he declined to add any. That was a huge blow to patients across the state hoping he would do the right thing. Half the medical marijuana states include PTSD; we thought there was strong scientific evidence to include it."

Limitations on Forms of Ingestion

The law bans the sale of smokable marijuana. New York joins Minnesota as the only two medical marijuana states that ban smoking; 21 others do not. The state will only allow oils and capsules that can be administered orally, and liquid forms of marijuana may also be vaporized.

"The law prohibits any smoking, but regulations prohibit any access to the whole plant," said Netherland. "That means all the products will be extracts, oils, or tinctures. This is also an issue for a lot of our patients.

Limitations on Strains

The law only provides for five producers, and each producer can only grow five strains.

"We know there are dozens and dozens of therapeutic strains," said Netherland. "We'd like to have the flexibility to match symptoms with strains. One of the issues is that all of the products have to be approved by the Health Department."

Access for Limited Income Patients

Advocates sought unsuccessfully to get provisions to ensure access for low income patients. Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, and could run between $200 and $1300 a month, depending on the product and the condition. Now it will be up to the charitable instincts of dispensaries.

"We had encouraged the state to create incentive programs for producers to have programs for low income access, and we also encouraged the state to set up a program itself. It chose to do neither," Netherland said. "Now, patients are basically waiting to see if dispensaries will step up."

"There's lots of room for improvement," she said. "We anticipated a lot of these problems when the law was passed, and we're looking at going back to the legislature. We'll be back in Albany in the coming months talking about the need to expand the program and make it work from the patient's standpoint."

It looks like there's plenty of work to be done.

NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Members of Congress urge the VA to get out of the way on medical marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project eyes an Ohio initiative this year, Florida will vote on an initiative this year, California legislature is trying to fix a mess of its own making, and more.

National

On Wednesday, federal lawmakers called on the Veterans Administration to let doctors recommend medical marijuna to vets. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

On Thursday, Americans for Safe Access released a report on state medical marijuana programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded toughhly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

Arizona

On Monday, a GOP politician withdrew a bill that would have crippled the medical marijuana program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

California

On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to slow medical marijuana bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, the Assembly approved the bill. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida

On Wednesday,the Florida medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot The group behind the effort, United for Care, said the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a state representative admitted breaking the law to help families obtain CBD cannabis oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii

On Monday, a bill to ban patients from growing their own was filed. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illinois

This week, a petition is seeking to prod the governor to expand qualifying medical conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 signatures and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Indiana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana bills were pronounced dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced plans for Ohio. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Last Friday, the attorney general rejected the wording on a medical marijuana initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Utah

Last Wednesday, a "whole plant" medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Last Thursday, the Republican governor signaled support for medical marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

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

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Decrim Killed in VA, Ireland Ponders Pill Testing for Festivals, More (1/26/16)

Alaska's commercial marijuana regulations advance, so does a Kansas bill lowering pot penalties and a pair of Florida asset forfeiture reform bills, the Irish government ponders pill testing for nightclubs and festivals, a medical marijuana bill is filed in Mexico, and more.

Hillary Clinton reiterates support for state-level legalization without federal interference. (state.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Hillary Clinton Reiterates Support for Letting States Legalize Marijuana. In an interview Monday, the Democratic presidential contender restated her position that the federal government shouldn't interfere with state-level legalization. "I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that's being done, what we learn from what they're doing,"said Clinton. "I think that the states moving forward is appropriate and I think the federal government has to move to make this more available for research that they can then distribute to interested people across our country."

Alaska Legal Marijuana Rules Advance, With Two Exceptions. The Marijuana Control Board's rules and regulations for commercial marijuana activity have been approved by the state Law Department, with two exceptions. The Law Department struck down a requirement for a national criminal history check, saying that authority must come from statute, not regulations, and it struck down marijuana testing requirements for rural growers. The Law Department said the Board's allowance of "alternative means of testing" for rural growers lacks standards. The Board said the legislature is already working on a fix for the background checks, but it doesn't yet have a fix for the rural grower issue.

Kansas Senate Panel Okays Lessening Pot Penalties, Legalizing CBC Cannabis Oil. The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Tuesday approved bills lessening marijuana possession penalties and allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil for people with epilepsy. The bills now head for the Senate floor.

Virginia Decriminalization Bills Killed By House Committee. The House Courts of Justice Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Law Monday voted down a pair of bills that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the Commonwealth.

New Orleans Ordinance Would Give Police Discretion to Ticket Marijuana Possessors. Currently, only first-time pot possession offenders are eligible for a summons instead of an arrest, but Councilwoman Susan Guidry is offering a measure that would allow police to only ticket pot possessors no many how many offenses they had. The measure is on the council's agenda today.

Medical Marijuana

California Senate Approves Bill to Slow Medical Marijuana Bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bills Win Committee Vote. Two competing reform bills passed a Senate panel Tuesday. A bill from Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) would leave civil asset forfeiture intact, but increase oversight, while a bill from Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would require a criminal conviction before seizure of assets. Law enforcement supports the first bill, but not the second. The committee passed both measures.

Drug Policy

Poll: New Hampshire Voters Support Drug Decriminalization. Two-thirds of state voters supported not arresting small-time drug possessors, but instead offering them counseling and treatment. And nearly three-quarters (73%) supporting doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession offenses.

International

Ireland Considering Pill Testing for Nightclubs, Festivals. In the wake of the drug-related death of a teenage clubber last week, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the government is considering allowing pill testing kits for music venues. But he said that prevention is the first pillar in the department's approach to the problem.

Mexico Medical Marijuana Bill Coming. A senator from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has proposed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and says she thinks it can pass by May. Sen. Cristina Diaz said she hoped the national debate on marijuana, which began this week, would help the bill progress.

(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

A handful of dispensaries open in New York, dispensary applications are now available in Hawaii, it looks like Florida will get another chance to vote for medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Friday, a federal court okayed firing an employee for medical marijuana use. A federal district court in New Mexico has held that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana, even when the drug had been supplied to the employee by a state-legal medical marijuana program. The ruling came in the case of an AIDS patient whose job offer was yanked after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites during a pre-employment drug test. The court noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Arizona

As of Wednesday, Arizona GOP legislators are trying to chip away at medical marijuana access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

California

As of Wednesday, a fix was in the works for the state's medical marijuana regulation deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Florida

Last Monday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign handed in signatures. United for Care, the group leading the campaign, handed in more than one million raw signatures to state officials. The group needs only 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. In 2014, United for Care's initiative failed even though it won 58% of the vote. Because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, dispensary applications became available online. Applications must be submitted online and will only be accepted during the application period of Jan. 12, 2016, 8:00am Hawaii Standard Time (HST) to Jan. 29, 2016, 4:30pm HST. Get the online application here. There's a $5,000 application fee. Read about dispensary license requirements here.

Missouri

On January 7, a medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature gathering. An initiative from New Approach Missouri has been approved for circulation by the secretary of state's office. The group is seeking 250,000 raw signatures to ensure it meets the requirement of 160,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign estimates it will cost $800,000 for paid signature gathering and is trying to raise funds now.

New Hampshire

Last Friday, the state approved its first medical marijuana production facility. The Department of Health and Human Services said last Friday that it has approved the first of three locations to grow medical marijuana and started mailing out ID cards. Some 176 Granite Staters have qualified to use medical marijuana so far.

New York

On January 7, the state's first dispensaries opened for business. Eight dispensaries opened in the state, a slow start to a medical marijuana program in a state with nearly 20 million people. The state has authorized another 12 to open later this month.

Last Monday, the state failed to approve PTSD and other health conditions for medical marijuana use. The state Health Commissioner determined there is not yet enough evidence of effectiveness to approve the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD, Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis. The commissioner can, however, add qualifying conditions at any time and will be meeting with specialists to evaluate new scientific evidence as it becomes available.

Ohio

Last Thursday, lawmakers formed a medical marijuana task force. Ohio House Republicans unveiled details on a new task force on medical marijuana. In November, voters rejected Issue 3, which would have included medical marijuana in a broader legalization initiative, but there is broad popular support for medical marijuana in the state. Recent public opinion polls show 85% support medical marijuana.

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

Dabs, the Latest Pot Trend Police and Media Are Needlessly Freaking Out About [FEATURE]

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

A highly potent form of marijuana has made its way to the East Coast, and law enforcement and "advocates" are very worried. In fact, they're so worried that they are making false and baseless claims about its dangers.

A little dab'll do ya. (wikipedia.org)
The stuff is basically butane hash oil, which is now generically called "dabs." It can come in the form of oils, "budder," or "wax." The stuff known as "shatter" has THC concentrated to extremely high levels, reportedly as high as 90%. The stoniest buds from pot plants, on the other hand, have a THC level of around 25% to 30%.

Shatter is the hash oil derivative in the form of marijuana wax, and is typically produced as a thin, hard, translucent sheet, which will shatter in pieces if dropped to the floor. It is generally vaped, rather than smoked.

Make no mistake -- dabs is strong stuff. One toke of dabs contains about as much THC as a joint of pot, and even experienced pot smokers have been known to have unpleasant experiences after biting off more than they can chew. And some of the processes used to extract dabs from raw marijuana are dangerous, leading to explosions that have damaged property and cost lives.

Just before Christmas, police in Virginia busted a truck carrying hundreds of pounds of marijuana and 15 pounds of shatter, the largest shatter bust ever on the East Coast. With the stuff going for $60 a gram in legal and medical marijuana states, police estimated the value of the shatter seizure at $270,000.

That bust appears to have set off some over-the-top warnings from cops and people like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Even though dabs is business-as-usual in legal marijuana states, "experts are warning that Shatter is dangerous, for a variety of reasons," New Jersey 101.5 reported.

dabs (Erik Fenderson/Wikimedia.org)
The "expert" in question was Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, who quickly conflated shatter production with shatter consumption.

"This is extremely dangerous, there are many home explosions in this process," Valente said. "So there's not only concern about the use of this type of a chemical going into a child or a young person's body, but also the immediate concern about explosions that we might be seeing in the state of New Jersey." The bottom line, he said, was that it was important for local residents "to become aware of just how dangerous Shatter and any other illegal drugs can be to them, both short term and long term."

The Middletown Patch went a step further. "'Shatter' is five times more potent than pot, and can cause explosions once lit," read the sub-head to its headline about "Dangerous New Form of Marijuana Out There, Police Warn."

After explaining that shatter is made by mixing marijuana and butane, the Patch wrote that "police departments across the country are reporting explosions, fires and injuries after teens lit the drug on fire to smoke it."

This is just bad reporting. Shatter does not "cause explosions once lit" and police departments are not "reporting explosions, fires, and injuries after "teens lit the drug on fire to smoke it." The Patch has confused what can happen with home hash oil extraction efforts (you can blow up) with what does not happen with hash oil consumption (you don't blow up).

more dabs (youyube.com)
It isn't just New Jersey where small local media outlets are perpetrating hysterical reporting. WWLP News 22 in Lafayette, Indiana, spoke with "national trainer and speaker for drug prevention" Officer Jermaine Galloway and came away with the bottom line that dabbing "takes marijuana to a new and potentially deadly level" because the THC level "can be nine times higher than regular pot smoking."

That's wrong in a couple of different ways. First, shatter is three, four, or maybe five times stronger than high-grade buds, not nine times. And second, it still doesn't kill you.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, produced a much more level-headed piece on the phenomenon:

"Although the high potency of shatter is troubling to parents and law enforcement officials, marijuana advocates point out that no one has died from ingesting marijuana. 'As long as people are educated about the proper dosage,' said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, 'it hasn't presented any problem.' He likened the difference between shatter and regular marijuana to the difference between whiskey and beer.

"Ry Prichard, a writer and photographer for The Denver Post's Cannabist blog, noted that hash oil is not new, but shatter is a relatively recent refinement as a result of proliferating medical and recreational cannabis programs.

"'Shatter and other concentrated cannabis products,' Prichard said, 'give a stronger, more immediate effect and have shown to have great benefits with a variety of medical conditions because of the quick-acting nature of inhalation or vaporization.'

"He noted that more than half of the daily sales for dispensaries in Colorado come from concentrates, primarily in edible cannabis products."

The Post also addressed the issue of hash oil explosions:

"Fox said legalizing and regulating marijuana was the way to protect homes from hash oil extraction fires, 'so businesses are doing it, instead of people making it themselves.'

"Prichard said legal makers of shatter and other concentrates in Colorado are highly regulated, and those who make it illegally are subject to felony charges."

Okay, shatter has made it to the East Coast. It's stronger than buds, so dabs newbies should be careful to not overdo it, but it's not going to explode in your face while doing it and it's not going to kill you. Just don't mess around with trying to make it at home. That could explode in your face and that could kill you. It's good that at least some media outlets are now taking the trouble to get the story right.

Chronicle AM: Top Cops Call for Sentencing Reform, GOP Senators Split On Reform, More... (1/20/16)

GOP legislators are busy filing retrograde drug bills across the land, from chipping away at medical marijuana in Arizona to public benefits drug testing bills in several states. Meanwhile, a battle looms over federal sentencing reform.

The fight is heating up over a federal sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legislators Face Plethora of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session has barely started, but lawmakers in Jefferson City have already filed nearly 20 bills aiming at reforming marijuana policy. The bills range from legalization and medical marijuana to barring asset forfeiture in pot cases and expunging the record of nonviolent offenses, including marijuana offenses. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Legislators Try to Chip Away at Medical Marijuana Access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list of doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Fix in the Works for California's Medical Marijuana Local Regulation Deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) has filed Senate Bill 245, which would require people applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing if they were fired for drug use or if they work in an occupation the federal Bureau of Labor has determined is one where drug testing is common. The bill had a hearing set for today.

West Virginia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require drug testing of food stamp recipients passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would only require testing of those for whom state officials had a "reasonable suspicion" were drug users. The measure is Senate Bill 6.

Sentencing

Police Chiefs, Prosecutors Urge Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform. More than 70 top police chiefs and prosecutors organized as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration today called on Congress to pass sentencing reform. They are urging support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 2123). The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform. "Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country's high levels of incarceration are not making us safer," said the letter they sent out today.

GOP Split on Mandatory Minimums Threatens Sentencing Reform Bill. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is keeping mum about how he plans to proceed on the bill, which is cosponsored by several Republicans. GOP hardliners are balking, threatening passage of the measure. "I don't think it’s a healthy thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a fervent opponent of the justice bill. "If we lay off drug prosecutions, we're going to see even more murders and crimes, deaths and destruction. I think we need to slow down, be careful about this." The bill had appeared to be one of the few areas where bipartisan support could ensure passage, but now GOP support looks to be eroding.

International

Indian Has a Booming Industry Manufacturing New Psychoactive Substances. Recent raids by drug police have uncovered a domestic party drug manufacturing industry cranking out drugs by the ton. Police busted more than 1,200 pounds of mephedrone in one bust, 750 pounds in another, and more than 2500 pounds of ketamine in yet another. The drug makers are behaving like legitimate drug manufacturers, finding factories, chemists, and workers, then obtaining licenses to manufacture legitimate drugs, then cranking out party drugs.

Costa Rica Court Clears Activist of Marijuana Cultivation Charges. In a case that could be a step down the path to decriminalization, a court refused to convict Cerdas Salazar on drug trafficking charges for growing his own marijuana. Police contended he grew for sale, but provided no evidence of that. "Yes, marijuana cultivation is illegal; nonetheless, it is not a crime if it is not utilized for sale," the judge hearing the case, Carolina Leitón, said.

Chronicle AM: CA Dems Endorse Legalization, Fed Court Upholds MedMJ Firing, More... (1/18/16)

California Democrats have endorsed marijuana legalization, Bernie Sanders ties together racism and pot prohibition, a federal court upholds employers' rights to fire medical marijuana users, and more.

Marijuana Policy

At Democratic Debate, Sanders Ties Together Racism and Marijuana Prohibition. "We have a criminal justice system that is broken," he said. "Who in America is satisfied that we have more people in jail than any country on earth, including China -- disproportionately African-American and Latino. Who is satisfied that 51% of African-American young people are either unemployed or under-employed? Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEOs of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records? We need to take a very hard look at our criminal justice system, investing in jobs and education -- not in jails and incarceration."

California Democratic Party Calls for Marijuana Legalization. On the final day of the state Democratic Party's annual convention, delegates on a voice vote approved a platform plank saying the state's Democrats "support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Toledo Decriminalization Now in Effect, Despite Legal Challenge. The courts in Toledo are sentencing marijuana users to no fines and no jail time under a decriminalization measure that passed in September, even though state Attorney General Mike DeWine has challenged other portions of the law. Those sections attempted to rewrite state law regarding felony amounts of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Approves First Medical Marijuana Production Facility. The Department of Health and Human Services said last Friday that it has approved the first of three locations to grow medical marijuana and started mailing out ID cards. Some 176 Granite Staters have qualified to use medical marijuana so far.

Federal Court Okays Firing for Medical Marijuana Use. A federal district court in New Mexico has held that an employer is not obligated to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana, even when the drug had been supplied to the employee by a state-legal medical marijuana program. The ruling came in the case of an AIDS patient whose job offer was yanked after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites during a pre-employment drug test. The court noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Asset Forfeiture

Maryland Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. Sens. Michael Hough (R-Frederick), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), and Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) have filed Senate Bill 161, which would reform civil asset forfeiture by barring state law enforcement agencies from doing an end run around state asset forfeiture laws by handing their cases over to the federal government. The move comes as the state Senate prepares later this week to try to override a gubernatorial veto of an earlier asset forfeiture reform bill.

International

Vietnam Sentences Two to Death for Drug Smuggling. A court in the northern province of Lang Son has sentenced two people to death for selling drugs. Lurong Van Ty and Lu Thi Thuong were given the death penalty in the case; two others were sentenced to life, while other members of the smuggling ring received shorter sentences.

Ten Dead in Cartel Violence in Mexico's Michoacan. Ten people were shot and killed in Michoacan over the weekend in apparent cartel feuds. The violence-plagued states is home to at least seven drug trafficking groups: the Familia Michoacana, Guerreros Unidos, Caballeros Templarios, Los Viagras, Jalisco Nueva Generacion, and the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.

(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: Another Poll Has Legalization Majority, OH Pot Politics, Brazil Approves Ibogaine, More... (1/15/16)

The drumbeat of national polls with majorities for marijuana legalization continues, one Ohio legalization effort gives up the ghost while another vows to continue, Brazil opens its doors to ibogaine, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Another Poll Has a National Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new YouGov poll has support for marijuana legalization at 52%, up four points from the last YouGov poll in March 2015. The numbers are in line with other national opinion polls showing support for legalization consistently above 50%. Majorities of independents (66%) and Democrats (51%) support legalization, but only 36% of Republicans do.

Arizona Initiative Campaign Getting Close to Making Ballot. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol reports that has gathered nearly 150,000 raw signatures. It needs 150,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot and says it aims to collect 225,000 raw signatures to have a safety cushion.

ResponsibleOhio Calls It Quits. The group behind last year's failed "monopoly" marijuana legalization initiative is giving up the ghost. ResponsibleOhio founder Jimmy Gould said Thursday the group will not be back with another constitutional amendment and that it is also giving up efforts to pass the Fresh Start Act initiative, which would have allowed for the removal of previous marijuana convictions. Gould said the best route forward was for the legislature to enact medical marijuana. He and another ResponsibleOhio organizer are among the appointees to a state legislative task force on medical marijuana supported by the Republican House speaker.

But Another Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Presses Ahead. Ohioans to End Prohibition co-founder Jacob Wagner said today that it is moving forward with signature gathering for its legalization initiative. The group has some 60,000 to 70,000 raw signatures at this point and is looking for funding to continue. The group will need some 305,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Brazil Approves Use of Ibogaine. The head of the National Association of the Study of Drug Policy in Sao Paulo has approved the use of ibogaine "in a hospital environment, with medical supervision and control, meeting the exercise of the profession and the recommendations of good clinical practice, including rigorous clinical and psychiatric examinations and psychological assessment and psychotherapeutic monitoring." The move currently only applies to the state of Sao Paulo, but will be extended to the rest of the country in coming months. Ibogaine is used in the treatment of various addictions.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Shrinks MJ Buffer Zones, 2nd Chance Reauth Heads for House Floor, More... (1/14/16)

Seattle moves to ease zoning restrictions on pot businesses, Ohio GOP lawmakers form medical marijuana task force, Mexico creates marijuana debate website, and more.

Will there be justice for Troy Goode? (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Lawmakers Propose Tweaks to Legal Marijuana Market. The joint committee on marijuana implementation has rolled out its "base bill" containing a number of modifications they hope to get passed during the 35-day short session that starts February 1. One change would end the requirement that would-be pot entrepreneurs prove they lived in the state for the past two years; another would reduce sentences for many marijuana-related offenses. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Seattle Dramatically Reduces MJ Business Buffer Zones.The city council Monday night agreed to reduce the minimum distance between marijuana businesses and sensitive areas, such as schools, public parks, and day care centers, from 1000 feet to 500 feet in most areas, and down to 250 feet in the downtown core. The new city rules could mean up to 21 more pot shops for the city.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawmakers to Form Medical Marijuana Task Force. Ohio House Republicans will later today unveil details on a new task force on medical marijuana. In November, voters rejected Issue 3, which would have included medical marijuana in a broader legalization initiative, but there is broad popular support for medical marijuana in the state. Recent public opinion polls show 85% support medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers File Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Members of the House Judiciary Committee have filed a bill that would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized, effectively ending civil asset forfeiture in the state. The measure, House Bill 14, is sponsored by Reps. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) and Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan). Republican Gov. Matt Mead vetoed similar legislation last year.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Lawmaker Wants to Drug Test Food Stamp Beneficiaries. Rep. Chris Corley (R-Graniteville) has filed four bills designed to tighten the screws on food stamp recipients, including one that would require them to submit to drug testing. The measure is House Bill 4412.

Law Enforcement

Family of Memphis Man Killed By Police Hogtie After Freaking Out on LSD Files Lawsuit. The family of Troy Goode has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Southhaven, Mississippi, and the Southhaven Police Department over his death after being hogtied by police when he freaked out after ingesting LSD before a Widespread Panic concert. The official autopsy report blamed his death on "LSD toxicity" (Ed: a fictional notion at least in this context), but an independent autopsy ordered by his family found that his death was caused by being hogtied, which led to breathing problems that sent his heart into cardiac arrest.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Heads for House Floor. The bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday and now awaits a House floor vote. Its companion measure, Senate Bill 1513 awaits a floor vote in the Senate.

International

Jodie Emery Calls for Moratorium on Marijuana Arrests in Canada. There is no reason for Canadians to any longer face arrest for pot crimes, said Vancouver-based activist Jodie Emery, the wife of Canada's "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. "Our movement is asking the Liberals to stop all marijuana arrests. We need a moratorium on marijuana arrests because money is being wasted going after people for pot and the longer we wait to really move forward on this file, the more lives will be negatively impacted."

Mexican Government Unveils Marijuana Website Ahead of National Debate. The government has launched a new Marijuana Debate web site as it prepares for a national conversation on marijuana policy later this month. The site seeks to promote "a broad and inclusive" discussion and will include links to information about marijuana legislation in 14 countries and three US states, as well as academic research and articles on all aspects of marijuana policy. The first debate will be in Cancun this month, to be followed by forums each month through April.

Chronicle AM: Drug Policy in Obama's SOTU Speech, New England Legalization Bills Heard, More... (1/13/16)

As New England states ponder marijuana legalization, Colorado is raking in the revenues. Plus, the president touches on drug policy in his SOTU speech, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Will Have Taken in More Than $100 Million in Adult Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. Based on official figures through the end of October, the state will have collected more than $100 million on pot taxes and fees through the end of 2015. The state had already collected more than $109 million by the end of October, but some $17 million of that was for medical marijuana. Still, with the last two months of the year yet to be accounted for, and with tax revenues at $9 million for the lowest month in 2015, the state will certainly top the $100 million mark by the time everything is counted.

Massachusetts Legislative Committee Holding Hearing on Legalization Bill. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary is holding a hearing today on House Bill 1561, filed by Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge). The bill would regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state.

Vermont Senate Committee Hears Legalization Bills. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony for and against two legalization bills, Senate Bill 95, introduced last session by Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) and Senate Bill 241, from Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham). If the committee decides to approve one or both bills, it must do so by January 29. In Tuesday's testimony, representatives from law enforcement expressed strong opposition to legalization, especially citing fears of stoned driving.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Hands in Signatures. It looks like Floridians will get a second chance to approve medical marijuana. United for Care, the group leading the campaign, handed in more than one million raw signatures to state officials Monday. The group needs only 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. In 2014, United for Care's initiative failed even though it won 58% of the vote. Because it was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Drug Policy

President Obama Touches on Drug Policy in State of the Union Speech. The president's State of the Union speech included a call to imprison fewer people. "I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse," the president said. Obama also mentioned people who have reentered society after being imprisoned: "I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over -- and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe."

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