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Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Bill, ND Legalization Init, CA MedMJ Tax Bill, More... (2/11/16)

It's all marijuana news today, with a legalization bill filed in Connecticut, a legalization initiative filed in North Dakota, a medical marijuana tax bill filed in California, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) today introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Effort Gets Underway. A group of Libertarian-leaning North Dakotans filed a petition with the Secretary of State's office Wednesday seeking to put legalization on the ballot this year. The initiative would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana, and it would bar the state from requiring a license to do so. If approved, the group will have until July 11 to gather 13,452 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Police Dogs No Longer Trained to Sniff Out Pot. With an eye toward looming marijuana legalization, Vermont police are no longer training their dogs to recognize the smell of marijuana. "The class that is going through right now is not being trained to alert on marijuana odor," said Robert Ryan, head of K-9 training at the Vermont Police Academy. "We started talking about it last year and we made the decision for this class not to do marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Calls on CDC to Look at Marijuana as Response to Opioid Use. In a letter sent Monday, the Massachusetts Democratic senator asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how medical and recreational marijuana might help alleviate the widespread use of opioids. She asked the agency "to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," including marijuana. She also asked the CDC to collaborate with other federal agencies to research "the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths."

California Bill Would Impose 15% Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales. State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 987, which would impose the tax. "We made a commitment last year as we were working through the huge undertaking of setting statewide regulations for medical marijuana that we would follow up on a statewide excise tax," Senator McGuire said. "This needed revenue will make our communities stronger by focusing on the impacts of cultivation and use of marijuana, including funding local law enforcement and neighborhood improvement programs, state parks, drug and alcohol treatment and environmental rehabilitation." The new tax is expected to bring in more than $100 million a year in new revenues.

Chronicle AM: WVA Welfare Drug Test Bill Advances, ME Voters Want Drug Decrim, More... (2/9/16)

Medical marijuana bills get filed not only in Iowa, but also Australia and Greece, a new poll shows enlightened drug policy attitudes among Maine voters, Republican US senators hold competing events for and against sentencing reform legislation, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing action at statehouses in the US and in foreign capitals. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Reemerges. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) Tuesday filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

Drug Policy

Maine Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Not Punitive Drug Policies, Poll Finds. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than seven out of 10 (71%) said substantially reducing incarceration rates was important to them. The poll comes as the state's Tea Party governor, Paul Le Page (R), is pushing legislation that would roll back reforms passed last year that make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

West Virginia Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate overwhelmingly (32-2) approved Senate Bill 6, which would create a three-year pilot program to drug test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if state employees have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. "Reasonable suspicion" can be triggered by applicants demonstrating "qualities indicative of substance abuse" or having been arrested on a drug charge in the past five years. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Bill Would Let Users Turn in Drugs Without Fear of Punishment. Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) has filed a bill that would allow addicts seeking treatment to turn in unwanted drugs without the threat of prosecution. A person "who, in good faith, enters a police station and seeks assistance or treatment for a drug-related addiction, or is the subject of a good faith request for such assistance or treatment, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance" if the evidence for such a charge was gained as a result of seeking treatment. The bill is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Republican Senators and Law Enforcement Leaders Rally for Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined law enforcement leaders today for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). The briefing, supported by Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, comes the same day two other Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, hosted an event to oppose the bill.

International

Australian Government Files Medical Marijuana Legislation. The federal government today filed legislation to allow the cultivation of marijuana for medical or scientific purposes. The bill would create a national scheme to regulate cultivation for such purposes.

Greek Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Twenty members of the governing Syriza Party Monday filed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. "The proven beneficial effect in cases of especially dangerous diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, malignancies make the legalization of cannabis as medicine -- already used in many developed countries -- imperative. The criminalization of cannabis use has resulted in leading many patients and their families to acquire cannabis through illegal channels, something that entails substantial loss of revenue for the State, organized crime activities and pushing patients to resort illegal activities," the lawmakers argued.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill Would Allow MJ Ad Mailings, Far-Reaching MD Bills Filed, More... (2/5/16)

Oregon's federal representatives fight to protect marijuana advertising, medical marijuana and CBD bills are moving in the states, a Maryland delegates files bills for drug treatment on demand, supervised injection sites, opiate maintenance (including heroin), and drug decriminalization -- quite a package! -- and more.

A Maryland bill could lead to the first supervised injection facility in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Federal Reps File Bill to Allow Published Marijuana Ads. Responding to warnings from the US Postal Service that mailing newspapers or magazines with marijuana advertising is prohibited even in states where it is legal, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined with two Democratic House members, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, to file the Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act (HR 4467). The bill would reverse the USPS policy. "Federal agencies must respect the decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state," Wyden said. "Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Michigan Legalization Campaign Getting Close to Signature Goal. The MILegalize campaign says it has already collected some 240,000 raw signatures and is seeking another 100,000 to ensure a comfortable cushion for invalidated signatures. The state requires 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Bill Would Expand Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introduced House Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids in Schools. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Utah Medical Marijuana, CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. A bill that would ban the increasing popular Southeast Asian herb, which some are using as an alternative to opiates or as a means to withdraw from them, has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bill, House Bill 73, would make possession of kratom a misdemeanor. A similar measure seeking to make possession a felony failed last year.

New Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill to Toughen Penalties for New Synthetic Drugs Advances. A bill that would increase penalties for possessing or selling new synthetic drugs has passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is House Bill 66.

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Package Attempts Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization, Harm Reduction Approach. A set of four bills being filed today would upend the way the state deals with drug use and related problems. One bill would provide for drug treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings, a second bill would allow for safe injection facilities (there are currently none in the US), a third bill would allow for opiate maintenance therapy, including with heroin, and a fourth bill would decriminalize the use and possession of personal use quantities of illicit drugs. The package is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County).

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law. Since Utah approved a welfare drug testing law, only 47 applicants out of nearly 14,000 have tested positive for drugs. That's enough for Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) to call for an end to the program. Her House Bill 172 would do just that. It is currently before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans? [FEATURE]

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

"According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran's participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other," the solons wrote. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

If patients can't get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can't access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors "likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history," the solons wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
Noting that there has been a "sea change" in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that "upon the directive's expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

"VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded," he said. "Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration."

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

"I've worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems," she said. "They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Vets can't get into dispensaries without recommendations. (wikimedia.org)
VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

"Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients," she said. "In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can't disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public."

"There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship," said Sisley. "Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It's only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options."

For Krawitz, it's about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

"I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment," he explained. "I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program."

Now it's up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He's heard from Congress, he's heard from patients, he's heard from doctors and scientists. We'll see if he's listening.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Maine Legalization Initiative On Target for Ballot, Narcan in the News, More... (2/1/16)

Maine's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot, Tommy Chong endorses Bernie Sanders, a new federal bill would fund needle exchanges, naloxone is in the news, and more.

Naloxone kits save lives. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Reform Not on His Agenda in Final Year. In a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said any progress on further federal marijuana reform would have to come from Congress, not the president. "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Tommy Chong Endorses Bernie Sanders. This is not exactly a shocker, but every endorsement helps. Iconic stoner comedian Tommy Chong has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic presidential nomination, citing his support of marijuana legalization. "Bernie does support that… legalization that I care so deeply about, legalization of the super-medicine marijuana. So I know this year, you and I are going to 'Feel the Bern,' go up to the polling booths, and light up, man, for progress and change." Chong also touted Sanders' positions on immigration, equality, and a living wage, and he jokingly referred to Sanders as the "commander-in-Kush."

Maine Legalization Group Submits Nearly Double the Signatures Needed to Qualify for Ballot. It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Today, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Seattle Medical Marijuana Shops Sue State Over Licensing Process. A handful of long-time Seattle dispensaries filed a lawsuit last Friday against the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, saying the agency isn't following its own rules in issuing a new round of licenses for retail pot shops. The agency is supposed to give priority to dispensaries that have played by the rules, but the plaintiffs say it isn't doing that.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Refuses to Expand List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New York Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Federal Bill Would Provide Funding for Needle Exchange Programs. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) last Friday introduced HR 4396 to address heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill has provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as grant programs for needle exchanges and to reduce overdose deaths. The bill has been assigned to four different committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Bill to Make Police Prove Seized Property Was Involved in Crime Wins Committee Vote. Rep. Brian Greene's (R-Pleasant Grove) House Bill 22, which would require police to prove seized property is involved in a crime, reversing the burden of proof requirement under the state's civil asset forfeiture law, has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill also includes a provision making the state pay citizens' attorney fees and costs is property is wrongfully seized. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention Drug Has Saved 2,000 Lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported last Thursday that the number of people whose opiate overdoses were reversed by naloxone (Narcan) had surpassed 2,000.

CVS to Make Overdose Prevention Drug More Widely Available in Ohio. The pharmacy chain announced today that it will make naloxone (Narcan) more available at stores throughout the state. Law enforcement had been skittish about using the drug, but as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp noted, "We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to save lives."

New Orleans to Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Over the Counter. People seeking naloxone (Narcan) will be able to pick it up without a prescription at the University Medical Center, city officials announced last Friday. City Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the move in a bid to reduce fatal overdoses."There are no side effects. There is no abuse potential," Kanter said. "The primary effect of this medicine is to save a life."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Medical Marijuana Update

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

National

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

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

Arizona

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

California

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

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

Florida

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

Georgia

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

Hawaii

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Ohio

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

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

Utah

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Club Ban Moving, Fed Lawmakers Want MedMJ Allowed for Vets, More... (1/27/16)

State legislators are getting busy, the DC city council resorts to sneakery to try to kill pot clubs, federal representatives ask the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was among those calling on the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
Marijuana Policy

Arizonans Rally to Support Legalization Bill. Marijuana reform advocates rallied at the state capitol Wednesday to support a bill that would legalize marijuana. Carrying signs that red "Cannabis Reduces Opiate Overdose" and "Cannabis is a Natural Alternative to Harmful Pharma," the ralliers urged passage of House Bill 2006, introduced by Rep. Mark Cardenas (D).

Vermont Legalization Bill Sees Tussles Ahead of Vote Tomorrow. The powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Burlington) has said he won't vote for his own committee's legalization bill if it allows for home cultivation, and he's also asking the committee to make additional changes, including moving some of the tax proceeds to the general fund and increasing penalties for adults who sell pot to minors. The measure is Senate Bill 137.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bill to allow for home cultivation of up to six plants has been introduced with bipartisan support in the legislature. Washington's version of legalization does not allow for home cultivation, but House Bill 2629 would change that, bringing Washington in line with other legalization states.

In Sneak Move, DC Council Moves to Ban Pot Social Clubs. With the public notified only moments before markup, the DC Council's Committee on the Judiciary voted today to permanently ban marijuana consumption in private clubs. A temporary ban was set to expire April 15, and advocates had hoped the Council would let it lapse. The bill approved by the committee bars entities from providing adults with private spaces other than a residence to consume marijuana, and requires the Mayor's office to revoke a business' license after only one instance of a patron consuming marijuana on the premises.

Medical Marijuana

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

Industrial Hemp

Hawaii Industrial Hemp Production Bill Filed. Reps. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) and Cynthia Thielen (R-Oahu) have introduced House Bill 2555, which would allow for industrial hemp production for research purposes. The bill is backed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform Tuesday took up Senate Bill 521, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Speaking in support were the Wisconsin ACLU and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty; speaking against were -- you guessed it -- representatives of law enforcement. No vote was taken.

Drug Testing

Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bills Killed. The Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee #1 narrowly defeated a combined pair of bills, House Bill 468 and House Bill 86, that would have required welfare applicants to undergo drug tests before receiving benefits. "VIEW recipients are no more likely statistically to be drug users than any other group and to target them would be unfair," Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said. "I am proud to have agreed with my colleagues across the aisle that there was a lack of evidence to warrant this practice. We would be better served, instead of this practice, to continue to invest money into the tangible obstacles to employment. Rightly, partisan politics did not stand in the way of doing what is right for our Commonwealth."

Sentencing

Maine Bill to More Harshly Punish Outsiders Bringing Drugs to State Gets Hearing. The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee heard conflicting testimony Monday on LD 1541, which creates the crime of "aggravated importation of scheduled drugs." The bill doesn't specify, but the measure is clearly aimed at heroin traffickers bringing the drug into the state. Not everyone was gung-ho, though: Tougher sentences are "just not the most effective tool against this scourge," said John Pelletier, a member of the Maine Criminal Advisory Commission. The measure would double prison sentences for importing heroin into the state from five to 10 years, and up to 30 years in some cases.

International

Mexico's National Marijuana Legalization Debate is Underway. Lawmakers met in Cancun Tuesday to open the first batch of debates on marijuana legalization. President Enrique Pena Nieto is opposed, but called for national debate after court rulings appeared to open cracks in the country's prohibition.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Drug Testing

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

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

Sentencing

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

Law Enforcement

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

Sentencing

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

International

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

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

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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