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Medical Marijuana Update

Congress again blocks the Justice Department from messing with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, California localities scurry to regulate or face losing that authority to the state, Maryland patients find out they face more delays, and more.

National

Last Friday, Congress passed a budget bill barring the DOJ from interfering in medical marijuana states. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

On Wednesday, the DEA eased requirements for natural marijuana-derived research. The DEA eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

California

For the past few weeks, localities across the state have been acting to ban or regulate medical marijuana before the state assumes the power to regulate it itself. Once the three bills that comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act go into effect March 1, cities or counties that do not have a land use regulation or ordinance governing cultivation and delivery in place will lose control and the state will become "the sole licensing authority" for those enterprises. There are getting to be too many of them for us to list them all.

Florida

Last Friday, the Supreme Court okayed medical marijuana initiative ballot language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supports collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, the Health Department issued dispensary rules. The Health Department released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

Maryland

On Monday, patients got news they will have to wait until 2017 to get their medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission announced that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Detroit city council approved a restrictive dispensary ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, officials announced they will begin issuing medical marijuana ID cards. State officials said that they will begin issuing the cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

New Jersey

On Monday, a Senate panel approved employment protections for patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

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

Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Ireland to Allow SIF, Congress Renews DEA Funding Ban in MedMJ States, More (12/16/15)

Congress continues to block DEA harassment in medical marijuana states, Washington state could see a lot more pot shops, it looks like Florida will vote again on medical marijuana, Ireland is moving toward setting up a supervised injection site in Dublin, and more.

A supervised injection site is coming to Dublin next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Congress to Continue Blocking DEA Interference With Medical Marijuana States. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

Washington Could Allow Lots More Marijuana Stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) today heard a staff recommendation to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from 334 to 556. The move is expected to be finalized in emergency rules to be announced January 6.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Already Has 900,000 Signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Illinois to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Legislators Compete Over How to Restrict Access to Cold Medications. Faced with a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to obtain cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, two lawmakers have come up with an alternative measure that would instead allow pharmacists to decide whether or not customers could buy the cold medications.

Drug Treatment

Most People in Treatment for Marijuana Are Sent There By Courts. A report this month from the US Department of Health and Human Services finds that between 2003 and 2013 52% of people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal justice system. Only 18% were in treatment because they sought it themselves.

International

Irish Cabinet Approves Supervised Injection Site in Dublin. The cabinet has approved a pilot plan for a medically supervised injection facility in the nation's capital. The move came yesterday and was at the behest of Aodhan O'Riordain, the minister in charge of the National Drug Strategy. The country's drug law must first be amended to allow for such facilities, which should happen early next year.

Chronicle AM: Activists Block Bad MI MedMJ Bills, Jeb Bush Now Open to Decrim, More (12/14/15)

San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization, a Kentucky state senator wants it there too, Ohio legalizers spent millions losing last month, a federal drug and mental health treatment bill passes the Senate, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Jeb Bush Now Supports Decriminalization, But Still Calls Pot a "Gateway Drug." GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush last Friday said he could live with decriminalization. "It's one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that," he said in an interview with Joe Mathieu of Boston' WBZ NewsRadio. While that is an advance for the former Florida governor, he added that he rejected legalization and brought out the discredited gateway theory for support. "Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug," Bush continued. "Of course it is, every study shows that."

Kentucky Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) announced last Friday that he has pre-filed the Cannabis Freedom Act, which would repeal pot prohibition and replace it with a regulatory framework that would "promote public safety and responsible cannabis consumption by persons over 21 years of age." The bill will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts January 5.

Michigan Supreme Court Okays Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The state high court has rejected a challenge to the ordinance's legality from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, makes possession or sharing marijuana a civil infraction, punishable only by fines. Forsyth had argued that the ordinance was an illegal restriction on his power to enforce state drug laws, but he lost in circuit court and the Court of Appeals. And he lost again, and finally, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Ohio Legalizers Spent Nearly $22 Million in Failed Initiative Campaign. Ouch, that's gotta hurt! ResponsibleOhio and its deep-pocketed backers, who hoped to win monopolistic marijuana concessions, spent more than $21 million in their campaign, only to get trounced last month. The campaign spent $12 million between July and October and had burned through nearly another $10 million just getting on the ballot.

Eyeing Looming Legalization, San Francisco Creates Marijuana Task Force. Last week, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted to appoint 11 people to a task force aimed at helping to guide the city's policies in the face of seemingly inevitable marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Stop Dispensary Bills. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

Heroin

New Hampshire Attorney General Will Seek Murder Charges in Heroin Overdoses. Attorney General Joe Foster (D) says he plans to aggressively seek murder charges against dealers of drugs involved in overdose deaths. "The message to dealers is: If you sell this stuff here and we can (figure) the facts out, you will be going to jail for a very, very long time," Attorney General Joe Foster said. Overdose deaths are expected to top 400 in the state this. Foster also said he is seeking $115,000 for a new prosecutor for drug cases and exploring a federal grant to hire another drug prosecutor.

Drug Policy

Federal Synthetic Drugs Bill Filed. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) has filed HR 4229, which seeks to "address the continued threat posed by dangerous synthetic drugs by amending the Controlled Substance Act" to make it easier to go after drug analogs. It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentences for violations are "appropriately severe."

Drug Treatment

Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act Passes Senate. The act, S 993, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), passed the Senate last Thursday. It is aimed at facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, veterans treatment services, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Medical Marijuana. In a plenary session last Friday, the Colombian Senate approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. President Santos had said he would do it through an executive order, but the Senate decided not to wait. The bill now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will be debated early next year.

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

Chronicle AM: Naloxone News in NC & NYC, DC Pot Social Club Fight, CO Pot Tourism, More (12/10/15)

Legal weed is drawing tourists to Colorado, DC activists fight for pot clubs, a federal appeals court rules that all students at a technical college can be subjected to drug testing, there's naloxone news from New York City and North Carolina, and more.

NCHRC reports 1,500 overdoses prevented with Naloxone in 2 1/2 years.
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana is Boosting Colorado Tourism. Pot businesses have long claimed as much, and now they have some solid evidence. A Colorado Tourism Office study released Wednesday shows that the state's marijuana laws influenced nearly half (49%) of decisions to vacation in the state. Some 22% of survey respondents said marijuana was "extremely influential" in their decision to visit Colorado. Twenty percent said it was "very much influential" and nearly 7% said it was "somewhat influential."

DC Activists Fight Back Against Bill That Would Ban Pot Clubs. The city council is today hearing a bill that would make permanent a ban on businesses allowing patrons to smoke marijuana on premises, but that's not sitting well with the people who got weed legalized in the District. "It's unnecessary. The current law prohibits any venue from selling marijuana or promising marijuana in exchange for admission. But what they're doing with this bill is banning any kind of use of use outside the home. There's a big problem with that, because there are lots of people who have nowhere to use their cannabis," said Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful 2014 legalization initiative. Eidinger is warning that if the council passes the bill, he could push more ballot initiatives, including one allowing marijuana to be treated like tobacco and one that would impose term limits on council members.

Illinois Lawmaker Files Decriminalization Bill. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) announced today that she is filing House Bill 4357, which would make possession of up to 10 grams a civil offense punishable only by a fine. A similar bill passed earlier this year only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who proposed amendments to it at the time of his veto. The new bill addresses those amendments.

Michigan Legalization Campaign to Extend Signature Gathering. MI Legalize is extending its signature gathering campaign and turning to paid circulators to qualify for next year's general election ballot. Under state law, petitioners have 180 days to gather signatures, but that is a clock that runs backward from the time signatures are actually turned in. The campaign's original turn-in date was December 21, but it will now go longer. That means early gathered signatures may not be counted. For example, if the campaign turned in signatures on January 21 instead of December 21, the first 30 days' worth of signatures would not be counted, but more recent signatures would.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Commission Rejects Growing It In-State. The Commission on Medical Cannabis voted 9-5 against allowing medical marijuana to be grown in the state, but the main proponent of expanding the program, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was still optimistic he can get in-state cultivation approved. "I think we can still make a compelling argument to the governor," Peake said. "I think we can address the fears of law enforcement. I think we can address the issue of potential demand. I'm absolutely certain we can provide legislation that both maximizes the benefit for our citizens and minimizes the risk to public health in our state."

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature-gathering. Read the initiative here.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court Rules Missouri College Can Drug Test All Students. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Monday that the Linn State Technical College can require all students to take drug tests. The appeals court decision overturns a federal judge's 2013 decision that the college could only drug test students in five particularly safety-sensitive programs. The school policy had been challenged by the ACLU of Missouri, which said such widespread, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment.

Harm Reduction

New York City Makes Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Available Without a Prescription. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Monday that the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) will now be available without a prescription in pharmacies in the city. "The deaths are what we all struggle to avoid… but that's just the tip of the iceberg," de Blasio said during his announcement at a YMCA. "For every death, there are literally hundreds who struggle with addiction."

North Carolina Sees 1,500 Lives Saved With Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. In just under 2 ½ years, more than 1,500 overdose deaths have been prevented with the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported today.

Law Enforcement

Rep. Steven Cohen Rips Use of Student Snitches. In the wake of a 60 Minutes report last Sunday and earlier reporting by Reason, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) ripped into the practice of using nonviolent, first-time drug offenders as confidential informants. "It's time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how the behavior of confidential informants not only threatens to ruin young lives, but in some cases, end their lives," he said, adding that he intends to file reform legislation.

International

Scotland To Begin Ticketing, Not Prosecuting, People With Pot. Starting next month, Scottish police will issue warnings to people caught with marijuana rather than prosecuting them. The move is part of a broader effort to change how police deal with petty crime, freeing them up to deal with more serious offenses.

Why the End of Federal Marijuana Prohibition May Be Only Five Years Away [FEATURE]

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

Rob Kampia thinks so, and he's a very well-placed observer. As head of the Marijuana Policy Project, Kampia has his finger on the pulse of pot politics as well as anyone, and he made a pretty startling prediction at the International Drug Reform Conference in suburban Washington last month.

MPP's Rob Kampia (YouTube)
At a panel on "Marijuana Reform in Congress," Kampia suggested that a handful of state-level marijuana legalization victories next year is going to set in motion a congressional debate on legalization that could see an end to federal marijuana prohibition before the end of the decade.

Legalization campaigns are already well-advanced in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, and while getting on the ballot is no guarantee of victory next November, polling so far suggests that most of them will win. And next year could also be the year the first state, and even perhaps a second, legalizes it through the legislative process.

Kampia said, "Vermont is most likely to legalize through the legislature, and Rhode Island has a good shot, but those are the only two states in play."

But then there are the initiative states.

"It could be that four or five initiative states legalize it, and then all of this is facing Congress in 2017," Kampia continued. "Then there will be a vigorous debate on legalization, and then, I predict, Congress could pass the states' rights bill in 2019."

Kampia is talking about something along the lines of this year's Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015 (HR 1940), sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that it would not apply to persons in compliance with marijuana laws in their state.

Passage of such a bill would not make marijuana legal everywhere -- that would be up to the individual states -- but would end the federal government's role in enforcing marijuana prohibition.

Kampia even suggested that Congress might get around to passing a bill to end federal pot prohibition before it gets around to passing a bill allowing states to enact medical marijuana laws without federal interference. That means legislation similar to this year's Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015 (S 683), sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) could languish while Congress leapfrogs its way to embracing legalization (or at least getting out of its way).

"All the attention will be on legalization," Kampia said, "and there's not a lot of tax revenue for the federal government with just medical marijuana, but if you're talking about the whole ball of wax, with substantial tax revenues, Congress might be inclined to go for the whole enchilada."

The MPP leader wasn't the only one in the room sounding upbeat that day. Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper said that when it comes to marijuana legalization, the train has already left the station.

"I'm very optimistic," Piper said. "The toothpaste is out of the tube. Even Chris Christie can't stop marijuana legalization. Once these initiatives pass in 2016, there's no way back."

The conventional wisdom among drug reformers used to be that we might see federal pot prohibition crumble by the middle of the next decade. But given the lack of disaster and the bonanza of tax revenue in legalization states so far, and the likelihood that a handful more will legalize it next year, that timetable is accelerating.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Overdoses Top Priority, Just One MA Init Left, More (12/3/15)

The drug czar is concerned about the rising toll of heroin overdose deaths. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Not a High Priority for Californians. Californians are more concerned with school funding, increasing the minimum wage, and tax levels than they are with marijuana legalization, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The poll found that 88% thought school funding was "very" or "somewhat" important, 80% though increasing the minimum wage was, 76% thought extending tax increases was, but only 49% though legalizing pot was. Fully one-third (32%) of respondents said legalization was "not at all important."

Down to One Legalization Initiative in Massachusetts. The legalization situation is clarifying. Bay State Repeal, which had mounted a grassroots effort to get its own legalization initiative on the ballot next year, has conceded that if failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That leaves the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as the sole possible contender next year. The latter group turned in more than 100,000 voter signatures earlier this week; it needs some 67,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Says Heroin, Prescription Opiate Overdoses Top Priority. Michael Botticelli, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), told a congressional hearing Wednesday that heroin and prescription opiates overdoses are the most urgent issue facing his agency. "There is no more pressing issue," said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation's drug policy. "We have seen a reduction in prescription drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths. We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before." He said that more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013 and that he expects last year's figure to be substantially higher.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Poll Shows Broad Support for Repealing Mandatory Minimums. A poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) found that voters there support repealing mandatory minimum sentences by a margin of three-to-one. Some 62% supported repeal, while only 21% were opposed. Other poll questions showed broad support for sentencing reforms as well. "Massachusetts voters get it," said Barbara J. Dougan, Massachusetts project director for FAMM. "They know that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are a failed public policy. They want these ineffective and expensive laws repealed. The only question left is whether state lawmakers will listen to their constituents."

International

Malaysian Truck Driver Faces Death Sentence for Less Than a Pound of Pot. Abdul Sukur Saiful Bahri, 38, a driver for a government agency, faces a mandatory death sentence after being charged under the country's draconian drug trafficking laws. He was caught with 305 grams of marijuana, about 11 ounces of weed.

Australian Government Creates National Medical Marijuana Licensing Scheme. The federal government has announced a national licensing plan that will remove the need for states and territories to come up with their own regulatory schemes. The national government will now oversee all regulations for medical marijuana. A bill is being drafted to turn the plan into law. That's expected to happen next year.

Police Took More From Citizens Than Burglars Did Last Year

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

When you think about getting property stolen, you think about criminals, but maybe you should be thinking about the police. Law enforcement use of asset forfeiture laws to seize property -- often without a criminal conviction or even an arrest -- has gone through the roof in recent years, and now the cops are giving the criminals a run for their money -- and winning.

According to a new report on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice, police seized $4.5 billion in cash and property through civil forfeiture last year. That exceeds the $3.9 billion worth of property stolen in burglaries during the same period. The valuation of burglary proceeds is from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Now, not every dollar seized by police is "stolen." Some of it is seized legitimately from real criminals who should pay for the damage their crimes cause. But in too many cases, property is seized from people who have not been convicted of anything, like Charles Clarke.

Clarke, a 24-year-old college student, was relieved of $11,000 in cash by federal agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport after a ticket agent reportedly told them he smelled like marijuana. They stopped and searched him at the airport, found no drugs or other banned items, and never charged him with a crime, but they took his money.

Clarke says the cash was money he had saved over five years for college tuition. A federal judge this month said he was inclined to believe Clarke and has ordered the feds to actually show he made the money from drug dealing, as they claimed.

Clarke may get his money back, but it is an uphill battle. Unlike criminal law, where prosecutors must prove the guilt of the defendant, under civil asset forfeiture law, the burden of proof falls on the person from whom the money or property was seized. The property owner must prove that the property was not the proceeds of crime. And he must pay attorneys to fight for him. And he may not win.

With police racking up billions in seizures each year, law enforcement itself begins to take on the appearance of a criminal enterprise. It's an enterprise with an ever-expanding appetite. According to Armstrong Economics, federal prosecutors seized an estimated $12.6 billion between 1989 and 2010, and the trend is upward. Federal asset forfeiture proceeds hovered at just under a billion dollars a year until 2007, doubled to two billion by 2009, and doubled again to over four billion in both 2013 and 2014.

Abuses of civil asset forfeiture have struck a chord with the public, and states are now beginning to pass laws banning or severely restricting civil asset forfeiture. Both New Mexico and Michigan did this year, and so did Wyoming, but that law fell victim to a governor's veto.

Likewise, the issue is again gaining attention in Congress, which passed minor asset forfeiture reforms after a similar outcry 15 years ago. There are at least two bills going after civil asset forfeiture in this Congress, including one from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and a bipartisan bill that would bar the use of civil asset forfeiture funds by the DEA to eradicate marijuana.

But until federal legislation actually passes, it's still open season on the citizenry.

Chronicle AM: AK to Allow Some Social Pot Smoking, Sentencing Reform Moves in Congress, More (11/23/15)

Marijuana Policy

You'll be able to toke up with this at some Alaska pot shops. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Will Allow Marijuana Use at Some Stores. The state's Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 last Friday to allow consumption at some pot shops, making it the first state to do so. Board Chairman Bruce Schulte said there seemed to be public demand for such an option.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Going Up, Not Down. Even as state legislators discuss marijuana legalization, New Jersey cops are busily arresting pot smokers at a record pace. Marijuana arrests jumped 10% in 2012 and 10% again in 2013, according to New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reports. The 24,765 marijuana arrests is the highest number in 20 years, and nearly double the amount in 1993.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Release Report. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has released a report outlining a legalization framework for state lawmakers. The report calls for home grows of up to nine plants, craft growers who could grow up to 99 plants, and large-scale operators, who could have a grow space of up to 30,000 feet. There's much more at the report link.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Heroin and Prescription

Maryland Legislator Proposes Heroin Maintenance Program. Delegate Dan Morhaim (D) said last Thursday he plans to offer legislation next year to provide free heroin to addicts in a bid to reduce crime.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Senators Sue Albuquerque Over Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan pair of state senators have filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque over its vehicle seizure program, which they say violates the state's recently passed asset forfeiture reforms. Sens. Lisa Torraco (R-Albuquerque) and Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) are seeking an injunction to stop the city from seizing vehicles without the owner first being convicted of a crime.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Narcan Nasal Spray. The Food and Drug Administration last Thursday approved a naloxone nasal spray to stop or reverse opiate overdoses. The FDA said it was as effective as the injectable form of the drug.

Sentencing

Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee. Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by thirty other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive. The bill is also moving in the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its version last month.

International

China Bans More Than a Hundred New Psychoactive Substances. China last month banned more than a hundred new psychoactive substances, including alpha-PVP, more widely known as "flakka." It is now illegal to distribute flakka, synthetic opiates, and a score of other chemicals.

Drug War Issues

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