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Chronicle AM -- April 4, 2014

Cops like to say they don't make the laws; they merely enforce them, but that wasn't exactly the case today in Louisiana, Oregon, and Washington, DC. Plus, decrim has a last hurrah in Maryland, an Alabama welfare drug testing bill passes, Vermont moves against the new pain reliever Zohydro, and more. Let's get to it:

Politicians worry about the dangers of Zohydro, but they have little to say about its benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Legislators Try to Revive Decriminalization Bill Today. An effort was underway in Annapolis Friday to revive a decriminalization bill just days after it was scuttled in committee. The effort to revive House Bill 879 is being led by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who will try to amend the bill on the House floor. It was turned from a decriminalization bill to a study bill earlier this week in the House Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario (D-Prince Georges).

Louisiana Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Derailed. Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) has pulled his measure to soften marijuana penalties from consideration in the House Criminal Justice Committee after testimony by the head of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. Association executive director Michael Ranatza said sheriffs fear the bill, House Bill 14, could lead to decriminalization of marijuana. Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country.

Oregon State Police Withdraw from Anti-Marijuana Summit. The Oregon State Police have withdrawn from an anti-marijuana conference scheduled for later this month after the police superintendent learned the event is closed to the public. OSP was listed as a cosponsor of the summit, which includes sheriffs from Malheur and Yamhill counties, a Medford police official and law enforcement officials from Colorado, Washington and Arizona, as well as anti-drug reform groups such as Drug Watch International, Save Our Society from Drugs, and the Drug Free America Foundation.

Medical Marijuana

Ammiano Reintroduces California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill. San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) has reintroduced his medical marijuana regulation bill. The new bill is Assembly Bill 1894. The previous version, Assembly Bill 604 had been pending in the Senate. The major change is the addition of language authorizing limited local transaction and use taxes.

Connecticut Picks Locations for Six Dispensaries. Locations for Connecticut's six medical marijuana dispensaries have been selected, the state Consumer Protection Commissioner said Thursday. The facilities in Branford, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hartford, South Windsor and Uncasville were authorized by the state's medical marijuana program to dispense Connecticut-produced marijuana products.

Drug Testing

Labor Department Says Texas Can't Make Drug Tests a Condition for Receiving Unemployment Benefits. The US Labor Department has ruled that Texas cannot enforce a law passed by the Legislature in 2013 which makes passing a drug test a requirement for some workers to get and keep unemployment compensation benefits. The law was watered down by the legislature to cover only people who are in professions where drug testing is a requirement, like truck driving and nursing. The feds say the law as it is written is too vague and it is unclear exactly what workers will qualify.

Alabama Legislature Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The legislature has approved a bill that would require welfare applicants who have a drug conviction in the last five years to undergo drug testing before receiving benefits. People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test. Senate Bill 63 now goes to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R).

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Innovative New Device to Reverse Opiate Overdose. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Evzio, a handheld device containing naloxone, designed for lay people to use outside of hospital settings. When activated, the device will give verbal instructions about how to use Evzio to deliver the medication.

Prescription Opiates

Vermont Issues Emergency Rules to Restrict Access to Zohydro. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and state officials announced Thursday that Vermont is moving to restrict access to the new opiate pain reliever Zohydro, the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug approved for patients in the US. New emergency rules require that prescribers of Zohydro conduct a thorough medical evaluation and risk assessment. This is only the latest move against Zohydro, which was approved by the FDA last fall -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) banned it outright earlier this week and a handful of congressmen have called for the FDA to reverse its decision. But Zohydro's maker, Zogenix, said the drug is no more potent than other hydrocodone medications. The company also says it has set up a board of experts to guard against abuse of the drug and that its sales representatives are not being paid based on the volume of sales, but rather on their efforts to ensure prescribers, pharmacists and patients are educated to understand the risks and benefits of extended-release opioids Politicians have been quick to raise the alarm about possible increases in addiction and overdose deaths with Zohydro, but they haven't been nearly as quick to talk about its usefulness in addressing the needs of legitimate pain patients.

Sentencing

Who Wants to Kill Sentencing Reform? No Surprises Here. The Huffington Post reports that law enforcement groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America's drug war three decades ago. The bill is the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Click the title link for the full story.

New Report Shows Failure of Connecticut's Sentencing Enhancement Drug Free Zones. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative finds that Connecticut's 1,500-foot sentencing enhancement zones are so pervasive that they blanket almost all urban areas, creating an "urban penalty" that increases the sentence imposed for a given offense simply because it was committed in a city rather than in a town. The report recommends the sentencing enhancement zones be shrunk to 100 feet. This would allow the law to actually create the specially protected places as intended. Connecticut Senate Bill 259, which just passed out of the Judiciary Committee, takes a similar approach and would decrease that size to 200 feet. The report is Reaching too far: How Connecticut's large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark." You can read it by clicking on the title link.

Chronicle AM -- April 3, 2014

British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson is banned from the US for admitting using coke, decrim dies for the year in Maryland, CBD medical marijuana bills continue to move, the resort to the overdose drug naloxone is spreading rapidly, Guatemala's president wants to legalize marijuana and license poppies for the medical market, and more. Let's get to it:

UK celebrity chef Nigella Lawson is too scary to allow in the US because she admitted doing coke. (Brian Minkoff via Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Decriminalization Bill Killed; Task Force Will Study It Instead. Marijuana decriminalization is dead for the year in Maryland after a bill to do just that -- House Bill 879 -- died without a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, the committee, led by reform foe Rep. Joe Vallario Jr. (D-Prince Georges), chose to form a task force to study the issue.

Washington State Will Issue First Marijuana Store Licenses by July, Impose Lottery System. Colorado is the only state where you can walk into a store and legally purchase marijuana, but not for long. Washington state regulators announced Wednesday that the first retail marijuana licenses will be issued "no later than the first week of July." The state has already issued licenses to eight growers. After eliminating retail license applications that did not return required documents or were incomplete, the state still has more than a thousand applications for the 334 stores it will allow to open, so it is imposing a lottery system to determine who gets those licenses.

Northern Mariana Islands Senate Ponders Legalization. The Senate of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US protectorate, discussed the possibility of legalizing marijuana Wednesday. The Fiscal Affairs Committee touched on legalization when discussing a decriminalization bill, and committee member Sen. Pete Reyes (IN-Saipan) said members had asked the Senate legal counsel to research Colorado's legalization model. "Yes, the committee is tinkering with the idea, whether it's a good idea to legalize it or not. But nothing is final. Nothing is decided," Reyes told The Saipan Tribune.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Patient Sues NJ Transit for Denying Him a Job. A former New Jersey Transit worker and medical marijuana patient who was denied a new position with the agency after testing positive for marijuana is suing in hopes of seeing marijuana recognized as a legitimate medication. Charlie Davis, 57, said he was denied both safety sensitive and non-safety sensitive positions with the agency. Courts in other medical marijuana states have generally upheld the rights of employers to fire workers who use medical marijuana even if it is legal.

Illinois Senate Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow children to use high-CBD cannabis oil to treat epilepsy passed the Senate Wednesday. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 now heads for the House.

Minnesota TV Ad Attacks Gov. Dayton for Opposing Medical Marijuana. Patients and medical marijuana advocates have unleashed an aggressive TV ad targeting Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) for standing in the way of medical marijuana legislation. The ad features a St. Paul mother and her seizure-ridden child, whom Gov. Dayton told to just find medical marijuana on the street!

South Carolina House Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday passed a bill allowing people suffering from severe epilepsy to legally use CBD cannabis oil to control their seizures. House Bill 4803 is less restrictive than a Senate measure passed last week. It's unclear what happens next.

Harm Reduction

Louisiana House Committee Passes Bill to Allow Overdose Reversal Drug. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday passed a bill that would allow first responders to provide the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). House Bill 754 now heads for a House floor vote.

Every Cop in New York Will Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Under a new initiative announced today by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), every state and local law enforcement officer in the state will be able to carry with them the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). The Community Overdose Prevention program will provide police with kits containing two syringes filled with naloxone, two inhalers of the drug, sterile gloves and a booklet on using them. The cost of the kit is roughly $60. Each has a shelf life of about two years.

Some New Jersey Cops to Carry Overdose Reversal Drug. Police throughout Ocean and Monmouth Counties soon will be armed with a drug that can save heroin users from fatal overdose, launching a program officials hope will be adopted statewide in New Jersey. All 32 Ocean County police departments are participating in a pilot program backed by Gov. Christie, who said Wednesday that equipping police with the drug, naloxone (Narcan), would help save lives.

Sentencing

Louisiana House Passes Harsh Heroin Sentencing Bill. The House voted 96-0 Wednesday in favor of a bill that imposes mandatory minimum prison sentence for heroin possession and increases sentences for heroin dealers. But first, it amended House Bill 332 so that, in addition to prison time, heroin users would also have to undergo court-approved drug treatment. Under the bill, heroin possessors would have to do at least two years in prison, while dealers would see their mandatory minimum sentence doubled from five years to 10. The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

Mexican Drug War Victims Criticize Lack of Progress on Tens of Thousands of Cases. Families of drug war victims who were hoping to see concrete policy shifts with the change of administrations a year and a half ago are growing impatient with the lack of progress on tens of thousands of cases of murders and disappearances. An estimated 100,000 Mexicans have been killed since former President Felipe Calderon turned drug prohibition policies into a militarized offensive. The whereabouts of another 26,000 are unknown. They are Mexico's "disappeared". Some are believed to have been kidnapped by criminals, others have vanished after being taken into police custody. Click on the link for the full report.

Guatemalan President Will Present Plan to Legalize Marijuana and License Opium Production. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said Wednesday his country could present a plan before year's end to legalize the production of marijuana and opium poppies. See our news brief today for more detail.

Albanian Cops Try Persuasion in Marijuana-Growing Village. Albanian Police peacefully visited the village of Lazarati this week in a bid to get school children to persuade their parents not to grow marijuana there. Lazarati is described as "a paradise for cannabis growers and criminals," and has been a no-go zone for police for nearly two decades. Villagers in the past have created armed groups to fend off eradication efforts, and even the kids didn't seem too keen on giving up the trade. "If you tell us to convince our parents not to grow cannabis, do you guarantee us that you will provide jobs for them? This is our way of life," one student replied.

British Celebrity Chef Nigella Lawson Denied Entry to US Over Cocaine Use Admission. Nigella Lawson was stopped from boarding a flight from London to the US because of her courtroom confession that she used cocaine. Lawson was never charged with a criminal offense over her confession, but the US can deny travel to foreigners who have committed offenses without being charged.

Guatemalan President Will Present Plan to Legalize Marijuana, Opium Production

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said Wednesday his country could present a plan before year's end to legalize the production of marijuana and opium poppies. His comments came in an interview with Reuters.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina (user surizar via wikimedia.org)
Perez, a conservative and former general, has been a harsh critic of the US-led war on drugs in Latin America, repeatedly denouncing such policies at international forums. He has also previously mentioned the possibility of moving to legalize marijuana and opium production, but has yet to put forward a concrete plan to do so.

But a presidential commission has been studying the issue of reforms in the country's drug laws, and Perez told Reuters he expected the commission to make its recommendations by October and that the measures could be presented by year's end. That could include a bill to legalize drugs, particularly marijuana, Perez said.

"The other thing we're exploring... is the legalization of the poppy plantations on the border with Mexico, so they're controlled and sold for medicinal ends," Perez said. "These two things could be steps taken on a legal basis."

While Afghanistan is by far the world's largest opium producer, accounting for nearly 90% of global production, poppies are also grown in the Western hemisphere -- in Mexico and Colombia, as well as Guatemala. Western hemisphere opium accounts for most of the heroin consumed in the United States.

Perez is keeping a careful eye on his northern neighbor, too. Mexico decriminalized drug possession in 2009, but has been loath to take further steps to end the drug war there, although there are now proposals afoot to legalize marijuana. Meanwhile, Mexican drug trafficking organizations, under pressure in their home country, have expanded their operations in Guatemala and other Central American nations.

Guatemala City
Guatemala

Medical Marijuana Update

A national clinical cannabis conference is coming to Portland next month, state legislatures continue to deal with medical marijuana and CBD bills, Colorado wants to crack down on high plant-count patients, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Friday, the American Academic of Neurology endorsed the use of medical marijuana for MS. The group recommended oral cannabis extract to help ease spasticity symptoms and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis, along with other therapies, in new, evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) recommendations.

On Monday, the announcement went out for the Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. The state-of-the-art conference, cosponsored by Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, will take place in Portland, Oregon, on May 8-10. Click on the link for more details and registration information.

Arizona

On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to overturn an Arizona court ruling ordering a sheriff to return medical marijuana seized from a patient. Yuma County had refused to return medicine seized from a California woman who was authorized to use medical marijuana. She sued, and Arizona courts agreed her medicine must be returned. Now, the Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the case.

On Wednesday, demonstrators protested the blocking of a bill that would allow approved PTSD research to go forward. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House.

California

Last Wednesday, the state Supreme Court upheld local cultivation bans. The state Supreme Court denied review of an appellate court decision upholding the rights of local governments to completely ban personal cultivation by medical marijuana patients. The ruling came in a lawsuit sponsored by California NORML, which had asked the high court to "depublish" the decision. "We are deeply disappointed by the court's decision," said CANORML Director and Prop 215 coauthor Dale Gieringer, "They have effectively undermined Prop. 215's stated purpose 'to ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.'"

Last Thursday, the Fresno city council appointed a committee to review medical marijuana growing. Council President Steve Brandau appointed a temporary panel charged with finding solutions to a problem that pits seeking to grow their medicine against neighbors who don't like it. The move comes after protests in the wake of the council's move last month to ban indoor grows.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles reported that 450 dispensaries had filed renewals to pay city business taxes next year. But under the Proposition D dispensary regulation measure passed by voters last year, only 140 dispensaries are allowed to operate in the city. The city has been attempting to force non-allowed dispensaries out of business, but it looks like they aren't going without a fight and are willing to pay taxes to the bitter end.

Colorado

Last Thursday, the Department of Public Health said it wants to limit high plant-count patient and caregiver grows. Currently, caregivers can serve more than five patients by applying for a "medical necessity" waiver from the department, and plant counts can be increased from just six with a doctor's recommendation, which is often the case with patients who make their own concentrates or edibles. Department officials said they would ask the legislature to draft new laws to tighten the "loopholes," but will seek public input first. Some patient advocates are not happy.

Florida

Last Thursday, a Senate committee approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe "non-euphoric" marijuana strains for seizure or cancer patient passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Senate Bill 1030 is now headed for the Appropriations Committee. A companion bill is also moving in the House.

Kentucky

Last Thursday, the House approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. The measure, Senate Bill 124, passed on a unanimous vote. The bill then went back to the Senate, which had already approved it, for approval of slight changes.

On Monday, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 124. The bill would allow Kentuckians to use cannabidiol in two cases: a prescription from a doctor at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville research hospitals or a trial from the US Food and Drug Administration. The bill will become law unless Gov. Steven Beshear (D) vetoes it.

Maryland

Last Thursday, the Senate approved a full-blown medical marijuana bill. The measure, Senate Bill 923 now goes to the House, where a similar bill has already been passed. The bill would allow seriously ill residents suffering from certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Possession limits and regulations governing cultivation and dispensary facilities would be determined by the state prior to implementation.

Massachusetts

On Monday, the Massachusetts Municipal Association released a report with recommendations for local governments trying to navigate the state's new medical marijuana law. The report, written by MMA legislative analyst J. Catherine Rollins, touches on the legal right cities and towns have to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and grow centers.

Missouri

On Tuesday, a Senate panel heard testimony on a CBD medical marijuana bill. The Senate General Laws Committee heard the testimony, but did not vote on the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 951, is not expected to pass this session.

Nevada

Last Friday, the Legislative Commission gave final approval for medical marijuana growing, processing, and selling rules. The regulations spell out requirements for testing laboratories, cultivation operations, processing facilities and dispensaries. Although dispensaries are legal in Nevada as of this week, it could be late this year before any are actually open for business and selling medicine to patients.

New York

Last Saturday, Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders failed to include medical marijuana in their state budget proposal, greatly lessening the chances for passage of the Compassionate Care Act this year. Advocates are calling on the Senate to act on the measure, which has passed the Assembly repeatedly in previous years, only to be bottled up in the Senate.

Oregon

Last Thursday, the Bandon city council approved a 120-day moratorium on dispensaries. The council said the move gives the city time to plan for siting and regulating such facilities. The ordinance also declared an emergency so the moratorium would go into effect immediately. Under a new state law allowing dispensaries, localities can ban them, but for no more than one year.

Last Friday, the Oregon Health Authority reported that 22 dispensaries have been approved statewide so far. Portland has the most registered shops with nine, followed by Eugene with five. Bend and Salem now have two each, while Springfield, Corvallis and Hermiston all have one. One shop declined to have its location disclosed. The agency has processed 102 of 301 applications submitted since March 3. A total of 41 applicants have been granted provisional licenses until their security systems are in place, and 39 applications have been denied. Reasons for denial include incomplete information or locations within 1,000 feet of a school or another dispensary.

On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority issued revised rules for marijuana edibles. Earlier draft rules had banned all edibles, but under the new ones, only edibles "attractive to minors" are forbidden. The agency revised the rules after receiving hundreds of complaints.

On Tuesday, Lane County commissioners voted down a proposed yearlong dispensary moratorium. The measure failed 1-4 after numerous people spoke out against it. Lane County followed the town of Veneta in considering but ultimately dropping a proposed moratorium in recent weeks. The Lane County communities of Florence and Junction City have enacted one-year bans, while city leaders in Springfield, Creswell, Coburg and Cottage Grove are still weighing the issue. The Eugene City Council has not scheduled a discussion.

Puerto Rico

On Monday, the Senate began debating a medical marijuana bill. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean island, but some legislators and health officials are wary.

Wisconsin

On Tuesday, the legislature approved a CBD medical marijuana bill. The measure, Assembly Bill 726, was approved by the state Senate on the last day of the session. It had already passed the Assembly and now goes to the governor's desk.

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

Obama Needs to Slap Down His Rogue DEA Chief

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart told a congressional committee today her agency is "fighting back" against Justice Department policies tolerating marijuana in states where it is legal. The president needs to dump her, or at least remind her who the boss is.

Your tax dollars at work (usdoj.gov/dea)
Thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project for the heads up on this. Here's their release on it:

DEA Administrator Tells Congress Her Agency Is “Fighting Back” Against Administration’s Tolerance of Marijuana Legalization                                                               

At a Wednesday House subcommittee hearing, DEA director Michele Leonhart publicly opposed Department of Justice position on legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington and warned of dangers of marijuana legalization … to pets.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), repeatedly criticized the Obama administration at a hearing Wednesday on the DEA’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

In a memo released in July 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would not interfere with the effective implementation of laws regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adults in Colorado and Washington. When asked by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) during a Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing whether the Obama administration’s tolerant views toward legal marijuana had affected morale at the DEA, which is a branch of the DOJ, Leonhart replied that “our agents are fighting back against those messages. It makes us fight harder.” She had earlier criticized the DOJ for a perceived delay in issuing a response to Washington and Colorado’s new laws, claiming there was “a lot of confusion in those 296 days.”

Leonhart also claimed that public opinion in Colorado is turning against the initiative making marijuana legal, yet two recent polls suggest Colorado residents are more supportive of the law than ever before. A Public Policy Polling survey from March showed that 57% of Colorado voters think marijuana should be legal, and a Quinnipiac poll from February showed 58% support for the state’s legalization law. It was supported by 54.8% of voters in 2012. Finally, Leonhart claimed legalization would be dangerous to pets in Colorado and warned of a surge in veterinary clinic visits due to dogs consuming marijuana.

The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a Change.org petition calling on the president to fire Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology. The petition currently has more than 29,000 signatures and is available at https://www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-fire-anti-marijuana-dea-administrator-michele-leonhart.

"Administrator Leonhart’s comments were shocking," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies. "The DEA is not simply ignoring the administration’s policies with respect to regulating marijuana, but actively undermining them. Publicly criticizing and questioning the competence of your supervisor would get anyone fired in the private sector. It’s frankly astounding to me that Ms. Leonhart is still employed and American taxpayers continue to foot her $165,000 salary to publicly campaign against the president’s policies. As more Americans recognize that marijuana is safer than alcohol, more think we need to start treating it that way. Michele Leonhart is standing in the way, and it is time for her to go."

Yes, it is time for Michele to go. I would nominate someone like Ethan Nadelmann or Eric Sterling to replace her, but honestly, Zippy the Pinhead would do as well.

Chronicle AM -- April 1, 2014

No April Fools' stories here -- the mayor of Washington really did sign a decriminalization bill, the Kentucky legislature really did pass a CBD medical marijuana bill, the US government really won't help Honduras shoot down drug planes, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Mayor Signs Decriminalization Bill. District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray signed the marijuana decriminalization bill already passed by the city council Monday. It's still not quite a done deal, though; it must still get past the Congress, which has 60 days to stop it. We will have a feature story on the signing later today.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative is Back and Seeking Signatures Again. The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which failed to meet a signature-gathering deadline earlier this year, has been re-filed and is again seeking to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The followers of legendary activist Jack Herer have tried each election cycle for years to qualify, but have never managed to do it. They need slightly more than half a million signatures by August.

Medical Marijuana

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics to be Held May 8-10; Registration Now in Progress. The medical marijuana organization Patients Out of Time and the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine are sponsoring the conference on the state of the art (and science) on medical marijuana in Portland, Oregon. Click on the link for all the details.

Arizona State Senator Blocks Funding for Long-Sought Medical Marijuana Research. Supporters of medical marijuana research are trying to put state Sen. Kimberly Yee in the hot seat because the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is blocking a bill that would allow monies collected under the state's medical marijuana program to be used to help fund an approved trial of medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans. The bill is House Bill 2333, which has already passed the House. A demonstration is set for tomorrow in Phoenix. Click on the title link for more details.

Kentucky Legislature Passes CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Monday gave final approval to a bill that would allow research hospitals to prescribe CBD cannabis oil to children with seizures. Senate Bill 124 now goes to the desk of Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Medical Marijuana Dropped from New York State Budget. On Saturday, Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Co-Presidents Dean Skelos and Jeffrey Klein announced that they had reached a budget agreement, but the deal excluded a medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. The Assembly had included the proposal as part of their one-house budget bill, but the Senate and governor refused to include the bill in the final budget. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, has bipartisan support in the Senate, and is supported by a super-majority of New York voters. But Senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon Health Authority Rethinks, Revises Rules to Allow Edibles, But. The Oregon Health Authority on Monday issued revised rules for marijuana-infused products, allowing the sale of baked goods and other sweets but banning marijuana-laced sweets "attractive to minors." The authority had recently issued draft rules banning edibles, but backed off in the face of strong opposition.

Puerto Rico Senate Debating Medical Marijuana. The Puerto Rican Senate is currently discussing the legalization of marjhuana for medical use and its cultivation. Advocates of the move argue legalization will dramatically cut crime and legal costs on the Caribbean Island. Click on the link for more details.

Prescription Drugs

Congressman Wants to Ban Zohydro. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch has filed a bill that would ban Zohydro, the powerful opioid pain reliever recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill is House Resolution 4241. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA).

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Wants to Slash Dope Squad Funding. Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is working to convince his colleagues to cut half of the money budgeted for Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, arguing that other city services demand higher priority -- such as disaster preparedness and pedestrian safety. He argues that the division is engaged in a "failed 40-year effort to interrupt the supply of drugs." He makes his case before the commission today.

International

US Won't Help Honduras Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes. The US will no longer provide radar information that could help the Honduran government shoot down suspected drug planes, US embassy officials in Tegucigalpa confirmed Monday. Honduras passed a law in January that allows military force against suspected drug planes if approved by the Honduran defense secretary.

Britain to Set Drugged Driving Per Se Standards. The British government is about to set drugged driving standards for a number of substances, some legal and some not. These are not "zero tolerance" standards, but will allow drivers to have small amounts of the substances in their blood without triggering drugged driving charges. Click on the link to see the limits for various substances.

Chronicle AM -- March 31, 2014

Garden State municipal prosecutors say legalize it, an Arizona sheriff has to give back medical marijuana seized rom a patient, Colorado wants to crack down on high plant-count patients, Louisiana takes a resolutely last century approach to heroin, Uruguay is going to seriously track its legal weed, and more. Let's get to it:

This much heroin could get you a two-year mandatory minimum sentence under a bill being considered in Lousiana (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Prosecutors Say Legalize It. The New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana possession. The support of the prosecutors association comes as two bills were introduced this month in the legislature. The board of trustees of the municipal prosecutors association on February 21 voted to endorse legalization, said its president, Jon-Henry Barr, who is municipal prosecutor in Kenilworth and Clark.

Poll Shows Virginians Split on Legalization, Strongly Favor Medical Marijuana. A new Quinnipiac poll has Virginians narrowly opposed to legalization, with 46% in favor and 48% opposed. Medical marijuana fares much better, with support at 84%.

Wisconsin Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) and 10 Democratic cosponsors have introduced a decriminalization bill, Assembly Bill 891. It has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice, but is not expected to go anywhere.

Wisconsin's Dane County (Madison) Votes Tomorrow on Legalization Advisory Referendum. Voters in Dane County, Wisconsin, will vote tomorrow on whether to approve an advisory referendum calling for marijuana legalization. The question was put on the ballot by County Board member Leland Pan.

Vermont Legislature Legalization Debate Killed. An effort to debate a proposal to study the impact of legalization on state revenues died in the state House. The effort came in an amendment to a miscellaneous tax bill from Rep. Kristina Michelsen (D-Hardwick), but was blocked when Rep. Thomas Koch (R-Barre Town) asked House Speaker Shap Smith to rule on whether it was germane. He ruled it wasn't.

Hundreds Rally for Marijuana Reform in Harrisburg. Supporters of medical marijuana, hemp, and decriminalization rallied by the hundreds at the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg Monday. They called it the Keystone Cannabis Reform Rally.

Medical Marijuana

US Supreme Court Denies Arizona County's Appeal; Sheriff Must Give Back Seized Medical Marijuana. The Supreme Court has refused to overturn Arizona court rulings ordering the Yuma County sheriff to return marijuana that was seized from a woman with a California medical marijuana authorization honored by Arizona.

Oregon Has Now Approved 22 Dispensaries. The Oregon Health Authority reported 14 more dispensaries had been approved by late Friday, on top of the eight approved the previous week.The agency has processed 102 of 301 applications submitted since March 3. A total of 41 applicants have been granted provisional licenses until their security systems are in place, and 39 applications have been denied. Reasons for denial include incomplete information or locations within 1,000 feet of a school or another dispensary.

Nevada Dispensary Rules Finalized. The Legislative Commission approved rules for growing, processing, and selling medical marijuana Friday. Nevada voters approved medical marijuana in 2000 but patients have had no legal way to acquire it other than to grow it. A law approved by the 2013 legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval set up a taxing and distribution system to make it accessible to patients. It could be late this year or early 2015 before medical pot is available for purchase.

California Federal Court Judge to Hear Motion on Declaring Unconstitutional Marijuana's Schedule I Classification. For the first time, a federal judge has granted a hearing on a motion to declare unconstitutional the continued classification of marijuana in Schedule I. The evidentiary hearing is currently set for June 2 before Federal District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento.

Colorado Health Officials Warn of Crackdown on High Plant-Count Patients. Beginning today, the state Health Department will send out letters to doctors who recommended that patients be allowed to grow elevated plant counts and the patients who benefit, requiring them to provide more documentation on the need for the extra plants. The department also unveiled a proposed bill that would strictly limit medical-marijuana caregivers -- people who grow cannabis for patients who can't grow for themselves -- to serving only five patients and growing no more than six plants per patient. Caregivers can currently apply for a waiver to serve more than five patients. The proposals did not go over well with medical marijuana supporters, with Health Department spokesmen being cursed at and called "fascists" in response.

Massachusetts Municipal Association Releases Report on State Medical Marijuana Law. The Massachusetts Municipal Association has released a report on the state's medical marijuana law, offering several suggestions for local officials trying to navigate it. The report, written by MMA legislative analyst J. Catherine Rollins, touches on the legal right cities and towns have to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and grow centers. Municipalities, Rollins said, have the power to create zoning bylaws, ordinances, special permits or host community agreements.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Governor Signs Mining Industry Drug Test Reporting Bill. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has approved a bill requiring employers in West Virginia's mining industry to report all positive drug and alcohol tests to the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. Prior to this law, which takes effect immediately, mine industry employers were only required to submit test results to the state if a miner was fired. Employers must notify the administration within seven days if an employee tests positive, refuses a urine sample, or has submitted an adulterated sample. Suspect employees will be suspended from work until they appear before a board of appeals. New hires must submit to a pre-employment urine test.

Alabama's Jefferson County (Birmingham) Suspends Employee Drug Testing Program. Mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of all new hires in Jefferson County has been suspended pending an inquiry into whether the program is unconstitutional. Ronald Sims, the court appointed receiver in charge of the county's Human Resources Department, this month halted across-the-board drug tests and medical examinations for new county workers because, Sims said, the drug tests "likely violate individuals' rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Law Enforcement

Friends, Family of Unarmed Man Killed in Drug Raid Rally in Tulsa. Deandre Starks was shot and killed last week by Tulsa police serving a drug search warrant. On Friday, friends and family members rallied at city hall demanding answers. Starks' mother said she believed her son was murdered. Police said they fired at him after he made a threatening movement, but Vanesta Starks wasn't buying that. "But to know that my son was shot when his hands was up in the air, surrendered. He tripped over a rail and that was the body movement. I know the story. I just want to know if somebody will come tell me why," she said.

Lawsuit Charges "License Plate Profiling" by Idaho Troopers. A 70-year-old Washington man who was arrested and his car searched by an Idaho Highway Patrol trooper solely because he had Colorado plates has filed a federal lawsuit charging "license plate profiling." Both Colorado and Washington are legal marijuana states, while Idaho is one of the most reactionary on marijuana policy. Click on the link for all the tawdry details.

Sentencing

Louisiana Bill Would Jack Up Sentences for Heroin Possession, Sales. A bill moving in the legislature in Baton Rouge would drastically increase prison time for heroin users and dealers, including a mandatory minimum two-year sentence for simple possession. House Bill 332 easily passed out of the House Criminal Justice Committee last week and is attracting bipartisan support, even among lawmakers otherwise skeptical of the "tough-on-crime" policies that have been blamed for Louisiana's nation-leading incarceration rate. The bill would also double the mandatory minimum sentence for heroin distribution from five years to ten.

International

Colombia's FARC Calls for "Humanized" Approach to Drug Policy. Colombia's counterdrug policies must have "a humanized approach in the context of integral agrarian reform" negotiators for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said in Havana Friday. Forced crop eradication and aerial fumigation are repressive and ineffective, the guerrillas said during ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government. The FARC supports crop substation programs as long as they are "participatory, concerted, gradual, [and] environmentally sustainable."

Uruguay to Track Marijuana from Seed to Stash With Genetic Markers, RTF Tags. Uruguay's drug czar says every legal marijuana plant in Uruguay will be registered and tracked using radio frequency tags, and that state-grown marijuana will be cloned to include genetic markers, making sure that what's grown there stays there. That's a much tougher tracking system than those imposed in Colorado and Washington, which recently legalized marijuana use. Unlike those US states, Uruguay wants authorities to be able to test the pot in any drug user's possession to determine if it came from a registered, legal source.

Jamaican Marijuana Growers Call on Government to Halt Crop Destruction. At a preparatory meeting of the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association (GFGPA) in Kingston this weekend, some participants called for an immediate end to the destruction of marijuana crops. "Please, Mr. Government, ask you police and the army to stop digging down the world number one brand ganja," Ras Arthur Newland shouted out emphatically. "We believe the persecution and the lock-up for ganja must stop immediately." That's not the official position of the GFGPA, which said it is going to concentrate on winning decriminalization first.

Chronicle AM -- March 28, 2014

Medical marijuana and CBD bills continue moving in state legislatures, Northeastern governors respond to opiates, the Department of Agriculture wants to buy Ukrainian hemp seed, and more. Let's get to it:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) declares a public health emergency to deal with opiate use. (mass.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Poll Has Legalization Initiative in Narrow Victory. A new Alaska House Majority Caucus poll suggests that the marijuana legalization initiative there should win at the polls in August, but it will be close. The poll had support for the initiative at 52%, with 44% opposed and only 4% undecided. Click on the poll link for cross-tabs and top lines.

New Jersey Governor Christie Rejects Legalization, Raises "Gateway" Specter. During Gov. Chris Christie's (R) "Ask the Governor" radio program Thursday, Christie rejected legalization in response to a listener's question. "Mike, I love you baby, but it ain't happening, not while I'm governor," Christie said to the caller. "I don't believe that legalizing an illegal drug for purposes of governmental profit is something that we should be doing. I believe that this is a gateway drug into other more serious drugs, I think it sends a wrong message to our kids and I don't think it makes anybody a better or more productive person," he said.

Vermont Lawmakers Want Marijuana Tax Revenue Study. Vermont lawmakers were expected to offer an amendment to a tax bill passed by the House Thursday to include a study on the revenue effects of legalizing marijuana. The proposed amendment would require the Joint Fiscal Office to report back to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee on specific revenue projections. The amendment calls on the Joint Fiscal Office to use the Colorado tax model for purposes of the report.

Medical Marijuana

Study Finds Marijuana Medical Access Not Linked to Crime Increases. A new study from University of Texas-Dallas criminologist Robert Morris finds no link between violent crime and the legalization of medical marijuana. "We're cautious about saying, 'Medical marijuana laws definitely reduce homicide.' That's not what we're saying," said Morris. "The main finding is that we found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization. In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault."

Colorado Health Department Wants to Restrict Caregiver, Patient Grows. The state Department of Public Health wants to limit the number of patients caregivers can serve and put a cap on the number of plants patients or caregivers can grow. The agency says it will ask legislators to craft new laws, but is still moving forward with its proposed rule change. Some patient activists are viewing this as a power grab by state regulators.

Maryland Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate approved a full-blown medical marijuana bill Thursday. Senate Bill 923 now goes to the House, where a similar bill has already been passed.

Mississippi House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House voted 112-6 Thursday to approve a measure that would allow the limited use of CBD cannabis oil as a medical treatment. House Bill 1231 is not quite done in the House yet, though. It was held over on a motion that could allow for more debate.

Florida Senate Committee Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe "non-euphoric" marijuana strains for seizure or cancer patienta passed a Senate committee Thursday. Senate Bill 1030 passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee and is now headed for the Appropriations Committee. A companion bill is also moving in the House.

Hemp

Ag Secretary Says US Seeking to Buy Ukraine Hemp Seed. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the US is looking to buy hemp seed from Ukraine in a bid to bolster the East European country's economy. "We are now involved in trying to figure out ways in which we might be able to use the industrial hemp seeds that are created in the Ukraine in the US," Vilsack told reporters. Ukraine is one of the world's largest hemp seed producers, and Vilsack said its hemp seed doesn't contain any THC, "so it probably does not run afoul of any of our drug laws."

Drug Policy

Maine Governor's Anti-Drug Bill Gets Some Balance, But ACLU Still Opposes It. Maine Gov. Paul LePage's (R) law enforcement-heavy bill to deal with drug problems in the state has been amended to cut the number of new drug agents, prosecutors, and judges and increase funding or drug treatment programs. The changes to Legislative Document 1811 came in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and could generate enough Democratic support to pass them, but the ACLU of Maine still says the measure should be defeated.

Massachusetts Governor Declares Public Health Emergency on Opiates, Calls for All First Responders to Have Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency Thursday to combat the growing abuse of opiates, directing that all the state's police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel be equipped with a drug that can quickly reverse heroin overdoses. Using his emergency powers, Patrick told the Department of Public Health to make Narcan available immediately to all first responders, as well as more accessible to families and friends of drug abusers. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, halts overdoses almost instantly. Unfortunately, however, the state will also prohibit the sale of Zohydro, an opioid pain reliever approved last year by the FDA.

International

"Women, Drug Policy, and Incarceration in the Americas" Events in DC, NYC Next Week. The Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Drug Policy Consortium, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the UN, and the Inter-American Commission of Women will be discussing women, drug policy, and imprisonment at meetings Monday in Washington, DC, and Thursday at the UN in New York City. Click on the links for details and/or to RSVP.

Canada's Alberta Arbitration Board Rejects Random Drug Testing. The Alberta Arbitration Board sided with union workers against Suncor Energy after the union filed a grievance over the company's random drug testing policies. The board ruled that the company failed to demonstrate "a significant problem or legitimate safety risk" to justify random alcohol testing and that its use of urinalysis to do drug testing "failed to identify current impairment." While the tests did find employees who had recently used drugs, "this did not meet the threshold of a legitimate business interest which would justify the significant intrusion into employees' privacy."

Clashes as Bolivians Protest New Anti-Drug Base in Coca-Growing Region. Coca growers blocked roads and hurled stones at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas, as protestors agitated against a new anti-drug military base being constructed near the Chapare, the country's main coca-growing region. Local leaders said people feared an increased law enforcement presence would lead to violence and abuses. The European Union is financing the base at a cost of $1.3 million.

Medical Marijuana Update

Whew! Busy, busy, busy at the statehouse, with both traditional medical marijuana bills and newfangled CBD medical marijuana bills getting lots of attention. And more. Let's get to it:

Alabama

Last Friday, the Alabama legislature unanimously passed a CBD medical marijuana bill. Senate Bill 174 now goes to the governor's desk.

Arizona

Last Friday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that marijuana extracts are legal for medical marijuana patients. Judge Katherine Cooper rejected the view of state Health Director Will Humble that the 2010 voter-approved law allows patients to smoke or otherwise consume only pieces of the actual plant. Cooper said nothing in the initiative backs that contention.

Arkansas

Last Friday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative. He rejected the wording for an initiative from Arkansans for Medical Cannabis, but another initiative, from Arkansans for Compassionate Care, has already been approved and is in the signature-gathering process.

California

On Tuesday, the Martinez city council voted to limited person medical grows to six plants. The 3-2 vote was a first vote; a second and final vote is set for April 2. The council voted for the restrictions over the objections of all but one speaker at the well-attended meeting.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors fined two people $73,000 for growing marijuana plants at their homes. Under the county's new cultivation ban, which took effect in February, the county can fine residents $1,000 per plant. A man from the Kerman area was fined $30,000 for planting marijuana in his garage. A woman who lives west of Sanger was fined $43,000 for each plant found at her mother's home. Her mother also can be on the hook through a property lien.

Also on Tuesday, Sonoma County supervisors rejected a proposed Santa Rosa dispensary. They said the proposed Sonoma County Collective dispensary was too close to a residential area and two school bus stops, but the collective claimed supervisors were just using zoning rules to prevent such businesses from opening.

Florida

On Monday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed a Senate committee. The measure passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would only allow patients to use extracts containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.5% THC. The House companion bill, House Bill 843, differs in several ways. The two measures would have to be reconciled if both pass their respective chambers.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill died as the legislative session ended. House Bill 885 fell victim to parliamentary maneuvering as the session neared an end. After it passed the House, Senate leaders tied it to a favored autism bill and approved that, but the House never voted on the merged bill. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), the bill's sponsor, vowed to try again next year.

Illinois

On Tuesday, a bill to let minors and epileptics use medical marijuana was approved by a Senate committee and now heads for the Senate floor. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), the measure is Senate Bill 2636.

Iowa

Last Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators filed a resolution for a legislative study of medical marijuana. The lawmakers, five Republicans and five Democrats, cosigned Senate Resolution 112, which seeks an examination on establishing a medical use of cannabis program in Iowa. Actual medical marijuana bills have gone nowhere in the Hawkeye State.

Kentucky

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for children suffering seizures passed the House Judiciary Committee last week and now heads for a House floor vote. Senate Bill 124 has already passed the Senate.

Maryland

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana expansion bill passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Senate Bill 923 was amended in committee to remove a cap on the number of growers in the state and include a study on how to best provide medical marijuana to veterans. It has already passed the House and now heads to the Senate floor.

New York

On Wednesday, advocates for medical marijuana rallied in Albany. Dozens of patients, caregivers and healthcare providers traveled from all corners of New York to call on the Senate to pass the comprehensive medical marijuana proposal known as the Compassionate Care Act. The bill has passed the Assembly four times, was included in the Assembly's budget proposal, and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate. But senate leaders have refused to let the bill come up for a vote.

Oregon

Last Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority released draft rules for dispensaries that bar the sale of edibles. Although medical marijuana will be available at the dispensaries, the agency wants to ban sweets containing the drug because they could be attractive to young people. But dispensary advocates say patients who take the drug orally need the sweetened pot products. They say a little sugar helps the bitter medicine go down.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill advanced to the Senate floor. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 1035, but only after it was amended to only include clinical trials testing federally approved drugs.

Tennessee

Last Wednesday, supporters of a medical marijuana bill pronounced it dead. The Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act died without action in the Senate. House Bill 1385, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) also got no respect in the House, where the Health Subcommittee heard unscheduled testimony opposing it from the Department of Health and the hearing ended without Jones being able to present an amendment to the bill and get a vote on it.

Utah

Last Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a CBD medical marijuana bill into law. The law will allow children with severe epilepsy to obtain a medical marijuana-derived extract they say helps with seizures. The bill is House Bill 105.

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

Chronicle AM -- March 25, 2014

Richard Branson speaks out on California drug policy reforms, a leading anti-drug group gives up the ghost on fighting marijuana legalization, the Canadian government is under attack from a couple of directions, and more. Let's get to it:

Richard Branson speaks out again on drug policy reform (David Shankbone/wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Drugfree.org Gives Up on Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign. The people who brought you "this is your brain on drugs" and similar anti-drug advertising campaigns have given up on fighting marijuana legalization. Formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the group and its CEO, Steve Pasierb, say they have rejected a request to launch a campaign against marijuana legalization because legalization "is happening in America." Here is the interview in Advertising Age where Pasierb speaks out.

Colorado Supreme Court Says Lawyers Can Work With Marijuana Businesses. The Colorado Supreme Court approved a rule change Monday that will eliminate the threat of ethics sanctions against attorneys who work with marijuana businesses. Lawyers "may assist a client in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes is permitted by these constitutional provisions and the statutes, regulations, orders, and other state and local provisions implementing them," Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote in the updated rule.

Delaware Poll Has Majority for Legalization, Two-Thirds for Decriminalization. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project finds that a narrow majority (51%) support legalizing marijuana, while an overwhelming majority (68%) support decriminalization of the possession of small amounts.

Illinois Decriminalization Bill Has Hearing Today. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana gets a hearing today in the House Restorative Justice Committee. The measure, House Bill 5708, was introduced by Rep. Kelley Cassidy (D-Chicago).

Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. A bill to legalize a special strain of low-dose medical marijuana passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Monday. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would only allow patients to use extracts containing at least 15% CBD and less than 0.5% THC. The House companion bill, House Bill 843, differs in several ways. The two measures would have to be reconciled if both pass their respective chambers.

Illinois Bill to Add Seizure Disorders Gets Hearing Today. A bill that would add seizure disorders to the list of diseases and conditions for which medical marijuana is approved gets a hearing today in the Senate Public Health Committee. Filed by Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), Senate Bill 2636 will be supported in committee by testimony from Kurt Florian, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago, as well as a family practitioner and parents of two children suffering from seizure disorders.

Drug Policy

Richard Branson Op-Ed Urges Support for California Drug Reforms. Virgin Airlines head and Global Drug Policy Commission member Richard Branson has penned an op-ed calling for support of an initiative campaign to decriminalize drug possession in California. Click on the title link to read the op-ed. Branson is also appearing this afternoon at an event in San Francisco, where Sundog Pictures will hold a special screening of its drug war documentary "Breaking the Taboo." That's at 5:30 pm at the New People Cinema on Post Street.

Law Enforcement

Pennsylvania Man Sues Philly Narcs for 13 Years of False Imprisonment. Philadelphia resident Kareem Torain has filed a lawsuit against a trio of current and former Philadephia narcotics officers, in which he claims they falsified evidence that led to him being convicted on drug charges and spending 13 years in prison. In addition to the individual narc, the lawsuit also targets the city of Philadelphia for "systemic deficiencies and deliberate indifference" that "have caused police officers, including defendant police Officers Monaghan and Reynolds, and former police Officer Walker in this case, to believe that they can violate the rights of citizens, with impunity, including the use of fraud and falsehood, without fear that their actions will be investigated." In recent years scores of drug cases have been dismissed by Philadelphia courts, and several lawsuits have been filed, claiming that narcotics officers routinely planted evidence and lied in court to secure convictions.

International

Russian Drug Czar Calls for New Plan to Combat Afghan Drug Threat. Viktor Ivanov, head of the Russian anti-drug agency, has called for the UN Security Council to address "planet scale" drug production in Afghanistan and for interested countries to create a global alliance for alternative development in Afghanistan through "forced industrialization." Ivanov is one of the Russian political leaders sanctioned as a result of the Crimea crisis, and last week, he suggested that the US was using the crisis to deliberately destroy the international anti-drug cooperation in order to hide its responsibility for the drug crisis in Afghanistan.

Canada Blocked Support for Harm Reduction at UN CND Meeting, Observers Say. Canadian diplomats in Vienna for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting blocked harm reduction health approaches abroad that are widely practiced at home, said Canadian Drug Policy Coalition director Donald MacPherson, who attended the conference. "Historically, Canada had been a leader in this area," MacPherson noted. "A substantial amount of the scientific research validating harm reduction measures was done right here in Vancouver, and we've implemented quite robust harm reduction policies at the provincial level across Canada. It's hypocritical for us to oppose adoption of these strategies internationally, especially since this is a matter of life and death in many countries with high levels of injection drug use and HIV." Similarly, Richard Elliot, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, described the position adopted by Canada in Vienna as "profoundly stupid."

Canada Court Hearing Request for Injunction to Allow Prescription Heroin This Week. The Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care will be in court this week to argue that participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness) should receive an exemption from recent amendments to federal drug laws that prohibit doctors from prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective. Pivot is representing five patients whose condition improved while in the SALOME study, operated by Providence Health, and who can no longer access the treatment now that their time in the study is over. Click on the link for more details.

Mexican Lawmakers Hit DC, NYC to Discuss Their Marijuana Reform Proposals. Legislators from the Mexican Congress and the Mexico City Assembly will be in Washington, DC, and New York City to discuss the bills they introduced to decriminalize the consumption and purchase of marijuana for personal use in Mexico City and to legalize medical marijuana countrywide. Mexico City Senator Mario Delgado and Mexico City Assembly member Vidal Llerenas, both from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), will be in DC on March 24 and 25 and in NY on March 26 to discuss the aims of the marijuana reform proposals in Mexico. Click on the link for more details.

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