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Medical Marijuana Update

Whew! There are medical marijuana bills all over the place, a leading Democratic politician gets targeted for her anti-medical marijuana stance, and the Kettle Falls Five (now Four) trial gets underway. Let's get to it:

National

Over the weekend, activists targeted Debbie Wasserman Schultz over her medical marijuana stance. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to move over to the US Senate, but she won't be getting any help from medical marijuana supporters. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative, and that has angered advocates. "She's voted repeatedly to send terminally ill patients to prison. And we're certainly going to make sure Floridians know that -- not to mince words," said Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has been joined by People United for Medical Marijuana in Florida, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access in coming out against Wasserman Schultz. She opposed last year's medical marijuana initiative.

California

Last Friday, Butte County hired six code enforcement officers to begin enforcement of Measure A, the voter-approved measure that restricts medical marijuana grows in the county. Code enforcement officers and deputies will go door-to-door in selected rural areas of the county to inform residents about the new restrictions.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, a bill to regulate medical marijuana got stripped down. Senate Bill 115, which seeks to make the state's medical marijuana system more like its recreational system, won preliminary approval in the Senate, but only after some of its more controversial proposals were stripped out. Now absent from the bill are a move to crack down on medical caregiver growers and rules requiring marijuana edibles to be refrigerated. The measure now renews the medical marijuana regulations that were passed in 2010.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won a committee vote. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). The bill was amended to restore a maximum 5% THC level (up from 3%) and to limit the personal information police can access when verifying a medical marijuana authorization, but an amendment that would have reinstated illnesses removed at the request of law enforcement failed.

On Wednesday, the House passed the CBD cannabis oil bill. The House approved House Bill 1, which allows for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizures and other major health conditions. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Kansas

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won a House committee vote. For the first time, a measure allowing some form of medical marijuana has won a vote in the state legislature. The House Health and Human Services Committee Monday approved House Bill 2282, which would allow for the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Minnesota

On Monday, medical marijuana workers unionized. Workers at Minnesota Medical Solutions, which will operate four medical marijuana dispensaries, have signed a labor agreement with the company under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), Local 1189. The union is also in discussions about representing workers at the other four planned dispensaries in the state, which will be operated by LeafLine Labs. The UFCW has also organized marijuana workers in California, Colorado, and Washington.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was set for a hearing. Rep. Dave Hinson's (R-St. Clair) House Bill 800 would allow for medical marijuana for eligible patients.

New York

On Monday, there was talk of kosher medical marijuana coming to the state. Orthodox Jews in New York may soon be able to get kosher medical marijuana. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, head of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification agency said he has held "preliminary discussions" with several companies seeking to obtain a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana. Click on the link for more.

North Dakota

Last Wednesday, the House killed a medical marijuana bill. A bill that would have brought medical marijuana to the Northern Plains was on a vote of 26-67. The bill, House Bill 1430, was opposed by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who warned of public safety and regulatory concerns and called it a step backward in fighting impaired driving.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill was delayed. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is delaying a bill that would legalize low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Lawmakers decided Tuesday to bump any action back by at least two weeks. The bill is House Bill 197.

Virginia

Last Wednesday, the legislature approved two CBD cannabis oil bills. The state Senate approved House Bill 1445, which would allow people suffering from epileptic seizures to use CBD and THC-A cannabis oils. It has already been approved by the House and now goes to the governor's desk. An identical companion bill introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 1235, has also already passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.

Washington

Last Thursday, the Kettle Falls Five became the Kettle Falls Four. Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 71-year-old Larry Harvey, elder member of the Kettle Falls Five, Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted despite pot being legal in the state and despite Justice Department policy guidance that would appear to preclude such prosecutions. The charges against Harvey were dropped because he's about to die of pancreatic cancer, which has spread to his liver. But his family members still face decades in prison for growing their own medicine. "I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a statement. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."

On Wednesday, the Kettle Falls Four trial got underway in Spokane. The trial of an Eastern Washington family accused of violating federal marijuana laws by growing their own medical marijuana legally under state law began today. The family is known as the Kettle Falls Five, but it's now the Kettle Falls Four after charges were dismissed against terminally ill patriarch Larry Harvey. The prosecution of the Harveys runs counter to Obama administration policy and congressional desire, but continues anyway.

West Virginia

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. On the last day to file Senate bills in the legislative session, Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley) introduced Senate Bill 546, the "Creating Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis." The bill would allow for medical marijuana for designated debilitating medical conditions and would require patients and caregivers to be registered with the state. The bill now goes before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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

This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

Marijuana is Now Legal in Washington, DC! [FEATURE]

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

As of midnight, it became legal to possess, grow, and consume small amounts of marijuana in the nation's capital. An initiative passed with the support of 70% of DC voters has now gone into effect.

Republicans' efforts to block the law have been to no avail. Congress passed a budget bill that blocked the District from spending money on easing marijuana laws -- and that has stopped the District council from moving forward with a bill to tax and regulate marijuana commerce -- but that came after voters had already approved the ballot measure, Initiative 71.

Though some Republicans have cried foul, DC interpreted that timing as meaning that the initiative would take effect. After the 30 legislative days Congress had to act to block the initiative ran out (after DC officially forwarded the November election result to Congress), Congress had 30 days to act to block the legalization it. It failed to do so, and the 30-day period ends today. Absent a court ruling to the contrary, the initiative is law.

District officials, from Mayor Muriel Bowser to Police Chief Cathy Lanier, have signaled that they intend to heed the will of the voters.

"DC residents spoke loud and clear," Bowser said at an event Tuesday with the council where she and other city leaders vowed to carry out the new law.

The city has even produced a Q & A pamphlet that seeks to clarify exactly what is and is not allowed under Initiative 71.

That is particularly useful because this is legalization with some caveats. Adults 21 and over can possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes, of which no more than three can be flowering. They can also give (but not sell) up to an ounce to other adults.

But there is no public consumption allowed, and there is no provision for taxed and regulated marijuana sales. There will be no legalized pot shops in DC -- at least for now -- although existing dispensaries will continue to operate to serve the medicinal market.

Anyone convicted of smoking or consuming marijuana in public faces a $500 fine and up to 60 days jail time. Selling marijuana carries a $1,000 fine and six months jail time. And any business that lets patrons use pot could lose its license.

It's still not legal on federal property. (wikimedia.org)
And the DC law doesn't apply on federal property. This is significant because 22% of the District is federal property. If you are caught with marijuana on the Mall or the Jefferson Memorial, for example, you can face federal marijuana charges.

DC now joins Alaska, Colorado, and Washington in having marijuana legalization in effect. In Oregon, where residents also voted to legalize it last November, the new law goes into effect on July 1.

"The sky isn't going to fall," predicted Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance national affairs office, which worked closely with the DC Cannabis Campaign, the group that sponsored Initiative 71. "But there will be some confusion about what this means. It's going to be very similar to other states that have legalized or are in the process. In those states, legalization went into effect and they didn't have tax and regulate for months, and there wasn't any chaos. There won't be any chaos here, either."

"I feel good," said long-time activist Adam Eidinger, the driving force behind Initiative 71. "I've stopped pinching myself."

Still, Eidinger said, he had nothing special planned to mark the day. "We'll plant some seeds, that's about it," he said.

He has certainly planted the seed of marijuana legalization in the nation's capital, but there is more to be done, he said, pointing to the huge racial imbalance in DC marijuana arrests. Blacks accounted for 91% of all marijuana arrests in the city and were arrested at a rate eight times that of whites.

Anger over the disparate enforcement of the pot laws was key to winning the initiative. Multiple civil rights, faith, and community advocacy groups campaigned for Initiative 71, seeing it as an opportunity to redress racial injustice.

"Marijuana has been effectively legal in the affluent and white parts of the District west of 16th Street for years," said Bill Piper, head of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "All Initiative 71 does is treat the black community the same way -- no arrests for minor marijuana violations."

The man with the plan: DC activist Adam Eidinger, with his daughter Arundhati. (twitter.com)
But without full legalization, Eidinger said, racially-biased enforcement will continue.

"Home cultivation and possession begin to address the racial justice end of this, but that will not be fully addressed until we have in-store sales," Eidinger said. "We will still have people selling marijuana illegally."

The experience has also reawakened the DC political gadfly's long-standing interest in home rule for the District.

"I've been very disturbed by the way Congress has been treating residents of the capital," he said. "The whole effort to overturn the initiative really opened my ears to how once and for all we have to have equal rights as a state. We're planning a big push for home rule in the spring. That would benefit marijuana, too."

But as earth-shaking as marijuana legalization in the shadow of the Capitol is, what is equally striking is the inability of Republican conservatives to stop it.

"The big story is not that DC legalized it," said Collins, "but that the Republicans couldn't stop this. They had 30 days to review this, they had the opportunity to hold a quick up and down vote, and they chose not to. The Republicans are split on this issue. A lot of them support marijuana reforms, and many more are not interested in being the anti-marijuana party."

"There is simply no organized, significant group of members of Congress willing to waste time fighting against marijuana legalization, an issue that has become extremely popular with voters everywhere," added Piper. "The Republican House voted five times last year to let states set their own marijuana policies. And the recent scandal over DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz shows that it is opposition to marijuana reform that is now politically toxic."

Now, the fight will turn to whether and how the District can move forward with taxation, regulation, and marijuana commerce. While some will be toking up in DC tonight, the battle is only half over.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in Alaska Tomorrow, Kosher MedMJ in NY, Chinese Meth, More (2/23/15)

Alaska's Measure 2 legalization begins to kick in tomorrow, the UFCW organizes medical marijuana workers in Minnesota, Chuck Schumer wants more drug war money, India bans the new synthetic drug mephedrone, and more. Let's get to it:

Mephedrone, now banned in India. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

First Phase of Alaska Legalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. As of Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the first phase of Alaska's voter-approved Measure 2 marijuana legalization goes into effect. Beginning then, people 21 and over can legally possess up to an ounce of weed and grow up to six plants in their home (only three flowering). Adults may also share up to an ounce of weed with other adults and give them up to six plants. Taxed and regulated marijuana commerce will come next year. Click on the link for more.

Maryland Legalization Bill Gets Hearing Tomorrow. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing in the General Assembly on Tuesday, February 24, to consider a bill that would regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Supporters of the bill, including representatives of the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, are expected to testify. The hearing will take place in Room 101 of the House Office Building at 1:00pm ET. The bill is House Bill 911, sponsored by Rep. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore).

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Workers Unionize. Workers at Minnesota Medical Solutions, which will operate four medical marijuana dispensaries, have signed a labor agreement with the company under the auspices of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW), Local 1189. The union is also in discussions about representing workers at the other four planned dispensaries in the state, which will be operated by LeafLine Labs. The UFCW has also organized marijuana workers in California, Colorado, and Washington.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Hearing Today. Rep. Dave Hinson's (R-St. Clair) House Bill 800, which would allow for medical marijuana for eligible payments, was set to get a House hearing today. Come back tomorrow for results.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. On the last day to file Senate bills in the legislative session, Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley) introduced Senate Bill 546, the "Creating Compassionate Use Act for Medical Cannabis." The bill would allow for medical marijuana for designated debilitating medical conditions and would require patients and caregivers to be registered with the state. The bill now goes before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Kosher Medical Marijuana Coming to New York? Orthodox Jews in New York may soon be able to get kosher medical marijuana. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, head of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification agency said he has held "preliminary discussions" with several companies seeking to obtain a kosher seal of approval for medical marijuana. Click on the link for more.

Law Enforcement

Chuck Schumer Lobbies to Restore HIDTA Funding Cuts. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday Congress should reject President Obama's plan to cut funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. "This is one area where I disagree with the president, and I'm going to fight to reverse his decision," Schumer said. He wants $100 million in drug war funding restored, in part to fight heroin use in his state.

International

UN Official Blames "Corrupt" Chinese Pharmaceutical Industry for Meth Production. Chinese police recently busted 2.4 tons of meth in Guangdong Province, provoking UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official Jeremy Douglas to say that "corruption in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries" in China was behind the easy availability of chemicals needed to mass produce the drugs. "To operate a lab like this, you need a lot of chemicals, which are legitimate, regulated chemicals from the pharmaceutical industry," Douglas said. "This group has been able to get their hands on the precursor chemicals necessary to produce the drugs. They've been doing it for a long time, which means they're getting these chemicals on a regular basis. There is some kind of corruption in the chemical/pharmaceutical industry taking place allowing this to happen."

India Bans Mephedrone. India has now classified mephedrone (also known as "Meow-Meow" or "M-Cat") as a psychotropic substance that falls under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. That means mephedrone will now be treated as a controlled substance like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Previously, the new synthetic was not regulated in the country.

Chronicle AM: Federal Marijuana Bills, CO Legal Marijuana Battles, VA Cannabis Oil Bills Pass, More (2/20/15)

It's all marijuana news today: Federal legalization bills are filed, battles break out over legalization in Colorado, the Kettle Falls Five is now the Kettle Falls Four, Virginia CBD cannabis oil bills head to the governor's desk, and more. Let's get to it:

Congress action
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced. Two congressmen from two states where marijuana is already legal under state law today filed two separate bills to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana without fear of federal intervention, while Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill that would tax marijuana at the federal level, in addition to any state taxes. The bills were not yet available on congressional web sites as of this afternoon. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

Democratic Congressman Calls on Holder to Reclassify Marijuana. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) this week sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. "I urge you to in your remaining time in office to take action, under existing federal law, to reclassify marijuana," Cohen wrote.

Marijuana Policy Project Calls for Holiday Inn Boycott Over Colorado Lawsuit. The group is calling for the boycott because one of two new lawsuits filed in an effort to undo Colorado's legalization of marijuana is in behalf of a Holiday Inn in the mountain town of Frisco. The suit claims that a marijuana shop scheduled to open nearby will damage its business. While the boycott targets the Intercontinental Hotels Group (Holiday Inn's parent company), the hotel is actually operated by New Visions Hotel Two. MPP points out that pressuring the corporate chain could help pressure New Visions to drop its lawsuit.

Former DEA Heads All Sign Brief Opposing Colorado's Legal Marijuana Law. All nine former DEA administrators have signed onto an amicus brief filed Thursday in support of the lawsuit brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma to try to kill legalization in the state. Colorado's legal marijuana "gravely menaces… the health, comfort, and prosperity of the people" of Nebraska and Oklahoma, the former administrators claimed.

Medical Marijuana

The Kettle Falls Five is Now the Kettle Falls Four. Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against 71-year-old Larry Harvey, elder member of the Kettle Falls Five, Washington state medical marijuana patients being prosecuted despite marijuana being legal in the state and despite Justice Department policy guidance that would appear to preclude such prosecutions. The charges against Harvey were dropped because he's about to die of pancreatic cancer, which has spread to his liver. But his family members still face decades in prison for growing their own medicine. "I'm thankful the charges against me have been dropped so that I can focus on my battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer," Harvey said in a statement. "However, if the Department of Justice truly has concerns for my well-being, it will dismiss the case against my entire family. I thought the law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to stop the DOJ from prosecuting my family, but so far, there's been little relief."

Virginia Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bills. The state Senate Wednesday approved House Bill 1445, which would allow people suffering from epileptic seizures to use CBD and THC-A cannabis oils. It has already been approved by the House and now goes to the governor's desk. An identical companion bill introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 1235, has also already passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bills Introduced [FEATURE]

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

Two congressmen from two states where marijuana is already legal under state law today filed two separate bills to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced a bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana without fear of federal intervention, while Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill that would tax marijuana at the federal level, in addition to any state taxes. The bills were not yet available on congressional web sites as of this afternoon.

marijuana bud (horsma/hamppuform wikimedia.org)
Polis's Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013) removes marijuana from the schedule set by the Controlled Substances Act; transitions marijuana oversight from the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and regulates marijuana like alcohol by inserting language into the section of the US code governing "intoxicating liquors."

"Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children," said Polis. "While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration -- or this one -- could reverse course and turn them into criminals. It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don't want, to have legal marijuana within their borders."

Blumenauer's Marijuana Tax Revenue Act (HR 1014) would, after federal legalization, impose a federal excise tax on the sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes as well as apply an occupational tax for marijuana businesses. The bill would establish civil and criminal penalties for those who fail to comply, like those in place for the tobacco industry.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (congress.gov)
The bill also requires the IRS to produce periodic studies of the marijuana industry and to issue recommendations to Congress. It phases in an excise tax on the sale by a producer (generally the grower) to the next stage of production (generally the processor creating the useable product). This tax is initially set at 10% and rises over time to 25% as the legal market displaces the black market. Medical marijuana is exempt from this tax.

"It's time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana." said Blumenauer. "Together these bills create a federal framework to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, much like we treat alcohol and tobacco. The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives. As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done, it's imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework."

The federal bills come as marijuana is increasingly accepted in the US. Now, nearly two-thirds of Americans live in a state or jurisdiction that allows for some form of legal marijuana use. Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use, while 23 others allow for medical marijuana. Eleven more states have passed laws allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis products to treat specified medical conditions.

By now, nearly half (46%) of all people 18 and over have tried marijuana at least once, and in the past few years, public opinion polls have consistently found support for legalization at or above 50%. But while states and localities have taken the lead in finding ways to accommodate legal marijuana, the federal government continues to not only criminalize marijuana, but to classify it as among the most dangerous illegal drugs.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (wikipedia.org)
The Obama administration has taken a relatively laissez-faire approach to medical marijuana and legal marijuana in the states, but that is a matter of policy, not law. And as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, policy can change with a new administration, or even if this one decides to take a different tack.

The congressional bills were met with approval by drug reform movement groups.

"As more state marijuana legalization laws come on board it's increasingly important for federal policy to catch up," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "The Obama administration's enforcement approach over the past few years has created some room for Colorado and Washington to implement their laws and show the world that legalization works. And we even saw the Republican-controlled Congress vote last year to stop the DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. Now it's time to fully and officially end the federal criminalization of marijuana so that states can move ahead with full certainty that the DEA won't be able to step in whenever the drug warriors that run the agency feel like it."

"Cops have better things to worry about than the recreational habits of responsible, nonviolent adults," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), a former Maryland narcotics officer and now executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals opposed to the drug war. "And dispensary owners have better things to worry about than whether the federal government is going to arrest them and/or seize their assets for acting in accordance with state law."

"These bills would regulate and tax marijuana, taking cultivation and sales out of the underground market and allowing it to be controlled by legitimate businesses under the close watch of authorities. Marijuana would be grown in licensed facilities instead of national forests and basements in the suburbs. It would be sold in stores that create good jobs and generate tax revenue, instead of on the street where it benefits cartels and criminals," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Congress has been ignoring our broken and outdated marijuana laws for decades," Riffle continued. "Their failure to let go of prohibition is causing serious problems for state governments and interfering in the lives of countless Americans. It's time for our federal representatives to come to grips with the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol and most people think it should be treated that way. Members who consider it unthinkable to return to alcohol prohibition need to ask themselves why they are clinging to the prohibition of a less harmful substance."

The bills are there. Now it's time to see whether Congress will act on them.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: NM Legalization Vote, CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Bill, VA Harm Reduction Bills, More (2/12/15)

Marijuana reform and medical marijuana bills continue to move, a broad coalition urges Congress to enact real sentencing reforms, harm reduction measures are moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

Naloxone kits can save lives. Legislators increasingly recognize this. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rules Committee today 5-4 to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in the state, marking the first time any legalization measure there has won a legislative vote. The measure is SJR 2. The legislation heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next.

North Dakota Decriminalization Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held a hearing on House Bill 1394, introduced by Rep. Lois Delmore (D-Grand Forks). The bill would make possession of less than a half ounce a civil infraction; it is currently a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. The committee took no action on the bill.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to End Organ Transplant Denials for Medical Marijuana Patients Filed. Assembly member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has introduced Assembly Bill 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, a bill aimed at preventing medical marijuana patients from being denied organ transplants. The Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act is sponsored by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has long advocated for patients seeking organ transplants, including Norman B. Smith, a medical marijuana patient who died in 2012 after being denied a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Michigan Legislature Prepares to Take Up Dispensaries Legislation. Supporters of medical marijuana are readying themselves to push a dispensary bill through the legislature. Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) announced today that he would sponsor a new bill to regulate "provisioning centers." The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site. Similar measures were expected to pass last year, but stalled at session's end.

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A group of legislators filed a full-blown medical marijuana bill Wednesday, House Bill 78. The state approved a CBD cannabis oil bill last year.

Oklahoma CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes House. The House approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, House Bill 2154, on a 98-2 vote Wednesday. The bill would authorize an investigation into the use of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

House Panel Signals Support for Asset Forfeiture Reforms. Members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations agreed at a hearing Wednesday that asset forfeiture reforms are needed. Lawmakers said they intended to go beyond reforms to the federal Equitable Sharing Program that Attorney General Holder announced last month. "There are systemic problems in the current system of civil forfeiture," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary Committee. His support will be crucial for bills to move.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday introduced a bill that would increase access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The committee will now consider the bill. If it approves it, it will get a House floor vote. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Virginia Harm Reduction Bills Moving. Three bills that would expand access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone are moving in the General Assembly. HB 1833, which would expand naloxone access to law enforcement agencies, has passed the House Courts of Justice Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House. HB 1458 and SB 1186, which would give first responders and the general public more access to naloxone, provide civil protection to those who administer the drug, and allow family and friends of opiate users to obtain prescriptions, are also moving. The House has passed HB 1458 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously endorsed SB 1186, which is now before the full Senate.

Sentencing Reform

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress. The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system. The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include. Click on the story link for more details.

International

UN Report Says Taliban Increasingly Relies on Criminal Financing. The Taliban is increasingly relying on heroin labs, illegal mining activities, kidnapping rings, and other criminal enterprises to finance its operations, according to a new report for the UN Security Council. The report says there is a new "scale and depth" to the group's integration with criminal networks, and that could make negotiating peace more difficult. "They are increasingly acting more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" a panel of experts who advise the Security Council on sanctions said in the report made public late on Tuesday. The report called for more sanctions.

Broad Coalition Calls for Serious Criminal Justice Reforms in Congress [FEATURE]

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

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, last week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

"We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system," the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

  • restore proportionality to drug sentencing;
  • promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming;
  • make sentencing reductions retroactive;
  • expand BOP's Compassionate Release Program; and
  • expand time credits for good behavior.

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as the Obama administration and members of both parties have all shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth. Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I've expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing," he said earlier this year. "White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there's an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity."

"It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration," said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. "To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry."

"It's clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "It's important that legislation doesn't just paper over the cracks."

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Veterans Administration hints at coming changes around medical marijuana, California and Washington see state-wide regulation bills filed, both houses in Virginia have passed similar CBD bills, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, the VA told a House committee it is actively exploring medical marijuana for veterans. A top Department of Veterans Affairs official told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today "there are active discussions going on now" about how to deal with the growing number of vets seeking to use medical marijuana for their ailments. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA's interim under secretary for health, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday "there's an incredible opportunity for us to learn from some of those experiences, but I think that we have to be careful given the variation in legal issues."

California

Last Thursday, Santa Ana held a lottery for dispensary owners to obtain permits. More than 600 people had paid a $1,690 application fee for a chance to be chosen. Now, the lottery winners must pay $12,086 for the next stage of permitting. Dispensaries will only be allowed in two areas zoned for industrial use.

Last Friday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a forfeiture action against the Berkeley Patients Group. The federal government had sought to shut down the landmark dispensary in May 2013, but the dispensary, its landlord, and the city of Berkeley fought back. The city was struck from the lawsuit for lack of standing, but appealed. It then sought to stay the forfeiture action until its appeal was resolved. Last Friday, US District Judge Jon Tigar agreed.

On Monday, a medical marijuana regulation bill supported by cops and cities was introduced. Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) filed Assembly Bill 266 with the backing of the California League of Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The bill seeks to impose state-wide regulation on the Golden State's medical marijuana scene, but California NORML says it has some objectionable features, including too stringent transportation regulations, inadequate provision for the licensing of current growers, and a prohibition on licenses for people with prior drug offenses.

Florida

On Tuesday, a second state medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed House Bill 683, which would only allow people with eight specified medical conditions to use it and which bars the used of smoked marijuana. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) earlier filed another, less restrictive medical marijuana bill. "The big differences are, it doesn't allow for smokeable marijuana," Steube said Tuesday of his bill and Brandes' bill. "Brandes, in his bill, says a doctor could prescribe (medical marijuana) if you had severe and persistent pain. That was taken out. We kept it to specific diseases."

Virginia

Last Thursday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Senate. The Senate approved Senate Bill 1235, which would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil. A similar bill is before the House of Delegates.

On Tuesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the House. The House of Delegates approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Washington

On Monday, a statewide medical marijuana regulation bill was introduced. Reps. Luis Moscoso (D-Kirkland) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) have introduced House Bill 2058 to create a licensed and regulated medical marijuana system for the state. The bill is identical to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in 2011 only to be vetoed by then Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) over fears of federal intervention.

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

Chronicle AM: IA MJ Penalty Bill Moves, NM Hemp Bill Moves, MD Heroin OD Homicide Bill Filed, More (2/11/15)

Missouri's marijuana lifer may get a shot at freedom, Colorado is raking in the tax dollars from pot, the VA is pondering how to deal with medical marijuana for veterans, medical marijuana regulation bills pop up in California and Washington, and more. Let's get to it:

Dealers who sell dope that someone ODs on could be charged with murder under a Maryland bill. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Took in $76 Million in Marijuana Taxes and Fees Last Year. The state collected $44 million in recreational marijuana taxes and another $12 million in recreational pot fees last year. Taxes and fees on medical marijuana added another $19 million, bringing the total revenues to $76 million. The recreational pot tax bonanza is less than what was estimated before legalization, but is still a hefty chunk of change.

Iowa Bill to Cut Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved Senate Study Bill 1121, which would make possession of less than five grams a simple misdemeanor with a maximum 30-day jail term. Currently, possession is punishable by up to six months in jail. Senators who approved the bill said it was an effort to address racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system. Iowa has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in pot busts of any state.

Missouri Governor Will Take "Hard Look" at Pardoning Marijuana Lifer. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said Tuesday he will review the case of Jezz Mizanskey, 61, who is serving life in state prison for a marijuana conviction. Mizanskey has been behind bars for 21 years already after being convicted of a third nonviolent pot offense. "It's a very serious amount of time," Nixon said. "If the laws change after someone is sentenced, then you want to give those things a close look." An online petition seeking Mizanskey's release has more than 386,000 signatures.

Medical Marijuana

VA Tells House Committee It is Actively Exploring Medical Marijuana for Veterans. A top Department of Veterans Affairs official told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today "there are active discussions going on now" about how to deal with the growing number of vets seeking to use medical marijuana for their ailments. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the VA's interim under secretary for health, told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs on Wednesday "there's an incredible opportunity for us to learn from some of those experiences, but I think that we have to be careful given the variation in legal issues."

California Regulation Bill Supported by Cops and Cities Introduced. Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) Monday filed Assembly Bill 266 with the backing of the California League of Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The bill seeks to impose state-wide regulation on the Golden State's medical marijuana scene, but California NORML says it has some objectionable features, including too stringent transportation regulations, inadequate provision for the licensing of current growers, and a prohibition on licenses for people with prior drug offenses.

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Filed; Would Not Allow Smoking It. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) has filed House Bill 683, which would only allow people with eight specified medical conditions to use it and which bars the used of smoked marijuana. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) earlier filed another, less restrictive medical marijuana bill. "The big differences are, it doesn't allow for smokeable marijuana," Steube said Tuesday of his bill and Brandes' bill. "Brandes, in his bill, says a doctor could prescribe (medical marijuana) if you had severe and persistent pain. That was taken out. We kept it to specific diseases."

Washington State Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Introduced. Reps. Luis Moscoso (D-Kirkland) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla) have introduced House Bill 2058 to create a licensed and regulated medical marijuana system for the state. The bill is identical to legislation that passed both the House and Senate in 2011 only to be vetoed by then Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) over fears of federal intervention.

Hemp

New Mexico Hemp Bill Advances. The Senate Conservation Committee Tuesday voted 9-0 to approve the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Senate Bill 94). Sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque), the measure would allocate $100,000 for the regents of New Mexico State University, the state's land grant university, to establish a seed bank and seed certification program for hemp. An additional $50,000 would be appropriated under the bill for the state Department of Public Safety to train officers to identify industrial hemp. A similar bill has been filed in the House by Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque).

Heroin

Maryland Bill Would Allow Heroin Dealers to Be Charged With Murder in ODs. Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery County) Tuesday filed House Bill 222, which would allow prosecutors to seek homicide charges in heroin or fentanyl overdose deaths that can be linked to a specific dealer. The maximum sentence would be 30 years in prison. The bill had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee the same day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Heroin Summit Tomorrow. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) is hosting a summit on heroin in Raleigh tomorrow. "Together with law enforcement, members of the NC medical and public health community, NC legislators, and people who have used or been impacted by heroin, we will engage in a series of panel events focused on discussing legislative solutions to heroin use and heroin-related overdose in the state," the group says. Click on the title link for event details.

Maine Governor Won't Support Expanding Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Tuesday that he would oppose efforts to expand access naloxone. Rep. Henry Beck (D-Waterville) has introduced HP 98, which would allow friends of drug users to carry the overdose reversal drug and has a Good Samaritan provision. A similar bill last year allowed family members and law enforcement to carry the drug, but the friends and Good Samaritan provisions were stripped out at LePage's insistence. Now, legislators will try again.

International

Transnational Institute Brief on Reforming Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America. The Institute has made available "Fixing a Broken System: Modernizing Drug Law Enforcement in Latin America," the latest of its series on legislative reform of drug policies. It argues that drug prohibition has mostly failed to reduce supply and demand while creating new problems and creating vast collateral damage. It has a number of recommendations; click on the link to read them.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Confirmed; ME, OH Pot Initiatives Get Going; WY Asset Forfeiture Reform, More (2/10/15)

2016 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are taking first steps in Maine and Ohio, Alaska lawmakers try to deal with implementing legalization there, Wyoming passes a bill ending civil asset forfeiture reform, CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in Virginia, we have a new drug czar, and more. Let's get to it:

Michael Botticelli (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Lawmakers Continue to Struggle With Implementing Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering a new version of its bill to implement marijuana legalization after an earlier version was criticized for only providing a defense in court for marijuana possession instead of legalizing it outright, as voters envisioned when they passed the legalization initiative last fall. The new version simply removes marijuana, hash, and hash oil from the state's controlled substances laws. Use of marijuana would still be illegal in some circumstances, including while driving and on ski lifts. The committee was set to take up the bill today.

Maine Group Submits Legalization Initiative for 2016. One of the groups interested in putting a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot has filed its initiative with the secretary of state's office. Legalize Maine is first off the blocks in the state and claims it will make Maine "the first state with a home grown group leading the charge to have local people and small farmers benefit from legalizing marijuana." Legalize Maine's initiative would allow adults 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their homes, require that 40% of cultivation licenses go to small-scale farmers, and allow marijuana social clubs, where people could buy and use the drug. It would also tax marijuana sales at 10%, a higher rate than the one that applies to prepared food, lodging and liquor. The Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project is also looking at a legalization initiative in the state. Initiatives will need some 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Ohio Legalization Group in First Phase of Initiative Signature-Gathering. Responsible Ohio has released summary petition language for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. The group now needs to file 1,000 valid voter signatures with the attorney general's office for this first phase of the initiative process. The group's plan is for 10 sites in the state to be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. The marijuana would then be quality-tested and distributed to state-regulated dispensaries (for patients) and retail marijuana stores. Marijuana would be taxed at 15%. There appears to be no provision for home cultivation. If approved for general circulation, the petition would need 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House of Delegates today approved House Bill 1445 on a vote of 98-1. Similar legislation has already passed the Senate. The bills would allow for the use of cannabis oil for children suffering medical conditions that bring on life-threatening seizures.

Hemp

Southern Oregon Farmer Gets First Hemp License. Edgar Winter, an Eagle Point farmer, has obtained the state's first license to produce industrial hemp and says he and a nonprofit group intend to plant 25 acres in hemp this spring. That's if they can get the seeds, which requires the approval of the DEA. Stay tuned.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming House Passes Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill requiring that an individual be convicted of a drug felony before his property could be seized passed the House yesterday. Senate File 14 passed the Senate earlier in the session. It's the first bill to make it through the state legislature this year. No word yet on if the governor plans to sign or veto it.

Harm Reduction

Lives Saved By Miracle Drug Naloxone Pass 300 in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition has received a report of the 300th state drug overdose reversed by the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. In the past year and a half, the coalition has distributed more than 7,300 naloxone kits through a network of staff, consultants, and volunteers. The coalition has also been instrumental in getting law enforcement on board with naloxone. Nine departments in the state currently carry naloxone.

Law Enforcement

Missouri Activists File Lawsuits Against Drug Task Forces. Show Me Cannabis has filed lawsuits against three Missouri drug task forces, accusing them of failing to comply with the state's Sunshine Law. "Missouri's drug task forces, who are trusted to enforce the law, routinely act as though they are themselves above it," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "The citizens of Missouri have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing on their behalf, and that is why the Sunshine Law was enacted. Missouri's drug task forces have repeatedly ignored their legal obligations, and today we are taking them to court to force them to follow the law." Read the complaint and related documents here.

Drug Policy

Michael Botticelli Confirmed as Drug Czar. The Senate last night confirmed acting drug czar Michael Botticelli as the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He had served as the office's deputy director and before that, he spent nearly two decades overseeing substance abuse programs for the state of Massachusetts. "Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It's not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow. What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad."

International

British Parliamentary Conference Will Discuss Drug Policy Alternatives. A conference next month hosted by the parliament's House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will discuss alternatives to Britain's much criticized drug laws and how to influence the looming international debate on drugs. It will feature a leading Liberal Democrat, officials from Mexico's foreign ministry, and harsh critics of the drug war status quo, including Danny Kushlick of Transform, and former Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs head Prof. David Nutt.

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