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Budget Bill Curbs Federal Medical Marijuana, Hemp Enforcement

In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May.

No more DEA medical marijuana raids? (justice.gov)
The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

The hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.

"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."

The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."

"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."

If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.

"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."

Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.

Washington, DC
United States

GOP Effort to Block DC Marijuana Reforms Continues, Advocates Pressure Dems [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

Reflecting the will of the voters, the elected representatives of the people of Washington, DC -- the DC city council -- approved marijuana decriminalization earlier this year. District voters went even further than the council in last month's elections, approving an initiative to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot with a whopping 70% of the vote.

Now, congressional Republicans are working feverishly to block the District from putting the results of this exercise in democracy into effect. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for DC pot law reforms. Harris has crafted an amendment to the DC appropriations bill that would bar the use of federal or local funds to implement the reforms, and Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee, has agreed to include Harris's amendment in the bill.

And, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been deeply involved in DC marijuana reform efforts, "Democrats are rumored to be cutting a deal with Republicans" that would sacrifice legalization in order to save decriminalization."

[Update: Late Tuesday afternoon, DPA released the following report: "Currently, sources are reporting that Congress is considering allowing Initiative 71, approved by 70% of District residents, to stand while preventing future action on the District of Columbia's ability to tax and regulate marijuana. These reports stand in sharp contrast to a previously reported deal that would have stopped the ballot measure from taking effect."]

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hasn't exactly quelled those rumors. At a press conference last Friday, she said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. (Republicans are also seeking to use the appropriations bill to overturn DC firearms safety laws.)

The pressure is on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (house.gov)
"I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation."

That not-so-ringing endorsement of the District's ability to democratically determine its own drug policies, as well as the rumored deals, has prompted DPA and other reform supporters to ramp up the pressure on congressional Democrats. In an open letter to the Democratic leadership today, a number of civil rights and other advocacy groups, including DPA, DC Votes, and the DC branches of the ACLU, NAACP, and NOW, called on the Democrats to grow a backbone.

"As you conclude negotiations over the FY15 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, we urge you to reject all efforts to include undemocratic restrictions on DC's rights," said the letter addressed to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "As you know, the spending bill passed by the House included new provisions that would interfere in the District of Columbia's local affairs, including language intended to overturn the results of a local voter initiative. The undersigned organizations advocate on diverse issues, but are united in our opposition to the inclusion of social policy riders targeting the District of Columbia in the appropriations bill."

"Democratic leadership made it clear they would stand with voters on this crucial racial justice issue, and push back against Republican opposition to the DC law," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "Democrats have always made claims of supporting DC home rule now is their chance to stand with 70% of voters in the District who voted for marijuana reform," Collins said.

Advocates are particularly dismayed given the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws in the District. According to a 2013 ACLU report, not only did DC have the highest per capita number of pot possession arrests -- more than three times the national average -- but it also saw black people arrested for pot possession at a rate more than eight times that of whites. In that regard, DC was second, trailing only the state of Iowa among the 50 states.

The Republican efforts to interfere -- and block these moves to reduce racial disparities in the District -- takes on added salience in the context of weeks of protests nationwide over racially biased policing.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it is particularly disturbing that Congress would choose to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which was responsible for the passage of Initiative 71, the legalization initiative. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress is poised to undermine that."

But the Republican Party is no longer a monolith when it comes to marijuana law reform. On at least five votes this year, some Republican legislators voted in favor of such reforms. It is questionable whether the GOP could block DC's reforms on a straight up-and-down vote. By tying the effort to the broader appropriations bill, however, the issue is placed in the hands of the congressional leadership, and that could leave the District hanging out to dry. It's time for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to stand up for the District and for democratic principals, the advocates say, and they are prodding them today.

Chronicle AM: INCB Head Frets Over Pot, MS Welfare Drug Test Fiasco, SWAT Fights Back, More (12/5/14)

Global anti-drug bureaucrats are grumbling about marijuana legalization in America, one New York county decides to do asset forfeiture for misdemeanor drug offenses, Mississippi's food stamp drug testing program comes up snake-eyes, the SWAT boys fight to keep their military toys, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legalization Initiative Petition Open for Public Comment. A legalization initiative petition sponsored by Show-Me Cannabis has been submitted to the secretary of state's office, and Missouri residents now have 30 days to comment on the initiative petition. They can do so here (it's Petition 2016-009). This is essentially the same petition submitted a month ago, but has been resubmitted with grammatical fixes.

INCB Head Complains About Legalization in US States. Lochan Naidoo, president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is concerned about the implications of marijuana legalization in US states. "Legalization for recreational use is definitely not the right way to go," he told Reuters in an interview. "We do know about the damage that cannabis does to the brain," the South African physician said. "I'm not sure how well people are going to be able to protect their children." Naidoo added that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs requires countries to comply with its provisions banning marijuana, and the US should do so in "all its territories."

Asset Forfeiture

New York County Approves Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Cases. Legislators in Orange County Thursday approved a law that allows authorities to seize cash and cars from defendants in misdemeanor drug cases, but only after they have been convicted. The measure passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it and Democrats against despite fierce opposition from sitting Democrats and audience members. DA David Hoovler has portrayed the measure as means of keeping seized assets in the county instead of sending the money to the general fund in Albany, as required under the state's asset forfeiture law.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Welfare Drug Testing Program Has Only Two People Testing Positive. The state law that went into effect in August has so far resulted in 3,656 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamp program) applicants being screened for drug use, 38 being selected for drug testing, and a grand total of two testing positive for drugs. It's not clear how much the state has spent implementing the program, but Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, said the result was clear. "It's just a waste of money," she said. "Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier."

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Fights Back Against Policing Reforms in Wake of Ferguson. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which represents more than 1,500 SWAT teams across the country, has mobilized to protect the federal program that provided military surplus equipment to local law enforcement. NTOA sent emails to all 535 members of Congress urging them not to end or tighten up the Pentagon's 1033 program, which transfers equipment including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets to local departments. NTOA executive director Mark Lomax has also been busy, reaching out to congressional offices and testifying before both the House and Senate Homeland Security committees. And it looks like it worked -- Congress will take no action on the program as this year's session winds down. Click on the link for much more.

Chronicle AM: GOP Still Going After DC Pot Laws, FL Welfare Drug Test Law Blocked, More (12/4/14)

The GOP is yet to give up the ghost on blocking DC marijuana reforms, NYC Mayor de Blasio's new no-arrest pot possession policy is having an impact, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing bill gets rejected by a federal appeals court, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Republican Effort to Block DC Decriminalization, Legalization Still Lives. Key Republican House and Senate members are set to decide whether to accept a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that would block federal funds from being used to legalize or reduce penalties for pot, Roll Call reports. The rider is the form of an amendment to the DC appropriations bill. "It seems like the marijuana issue has been kicked up to the 'big four.' So that'll get settled," Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) said Tuesday, referring to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who are negotiating the spending package. Harris's amendment passed the House in June, but was not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Alaska Could Generate $7 Million in Pot Tax Revenues in First Year, Report Finds. A Legislative Research Service report commissioned by Alaska lawmakers estimates that the state could take in $7 million in marijuana taxes in its first year. But the report also noted that the cost of implementing rules and regulations to govern the newly legal industry could be about as much.

Georgia Lawmaker Files Legalization Initiative Bill. Sen. Curt Thompson (D-DeKalb County) has pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which would, if passed, put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana before the voters. "I anticipate us having a discussion this session. I don't know where it will lead, but if you don't ask you don't get," Thompson said.

New York City Mayor Says Pot Arrests Down Dramatically With New Policy. In the first two weeks of a new policy directing the NYPD to merely ticket -- not arrest -- people for small-time marijuana possession, pot arrests have dropped more than 60%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Wyoming Not There Yet on Legalization. A University of Wyoming poll found that only 35% approved of the personal use of marijuana by adults, with 60% opposed. But, hey, that's up 12 points from a similar question asked by the same pollsters in 2000. Cowboy State residents, however, do come down in favor of medical marijuana, with 72% approving. That number is unchanged from the 2000 poll.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Filed. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

DC Council Passes Bill to Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The council Tuesday approved a bill that will bar employers from drug testing potential new hires before a job offer is made. The bill is B20-0728, the "Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Emergency Act of 2014." While the bill bars pre-employment testing for marijuana, it does allow for on-the-job testing for marijuana, noting that employees "must still adhere to the workplace policies set forth by their employer."

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has upheld a lower court ruling that Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional. The ruling came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families and is in line with other federal precedent on the issue. The federal courts have held that, with few exceptions, suspicionless drug testing is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

Michigan House Approves Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 275, which would create a pilot program mandating suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The measure has already passed the Senate, but now awaits a concurrence vote after the bill was amended in the House. One of those amendments stripped a provision from the bill that would have allowed the Department of Human Services to provide cash assistance to "an appropriate protective payee" for children if their parents lose benefits because of failing the drug test.

New Synthetic Drugs

Another Bill to Ban New Synthetic Drugs Filed in Texas. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 199, which would add specified newly discovered synthetic drugs to the Texas Controlled Substances Act and create a provision designed to ban analogues as well. Two other bills aimed at new synthetics have already been filed for next year's session.

Chronicle AM: TX Marijuana, TN Asset Forfeiture Reformer, LA DA MedMJ Delivery App Lawsuit, More (12/314)

Houston's police chief criticizes marijuana prohibition, marijuana reform will be before the Texas legislature, LA's DA sues to block a medical marijuana delivery app, a Massachusetts activist pushes boundaries, a Tennessee DA vows to end civil asset forfeiture, and more. Let's get to it:

Will the Lone Star State become the Lone Leaf State?
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Reform Bills Coming in Next Texas Legislature. There will be at least two bills seeking to reform the Lone Star State's marijuana laws when the legislative session begins next month. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) has pre-filed HB 00414I, which would move simple possession from a more serious to a less serious misdemeanor, but would leave intact the possibility of arrest, as well as impose a stiff $500 fine. The Marijuana Policy Project says the bill doesn't go far enough and that it is working with Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to introduce a full-blown decriminalization bill, with no arrest and a maximum $100 fine.

Houston Police Chief Says Marijuana Prohibition Failed Policy, Feds Need to Step Up. In an in-depth interview with Dean Becker of the Drug Truth Network, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland described marijuana prohibition as a failed policy and said the federal government needed to address it. "Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot (continue) to criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use," McLellan said. "We can't, you just can't continue to do that, we understand that." Click on the links to hear the full interview.

Medical Marijuana

Head of Epilepsy Foundation Wants CBD Cannabis Oil Available Nationwide. Warren Lammert, chairman of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, and father of an epileptic child, has said he wants CBD cannabis oil used to treat seizures made available nationwide. The Epilepsy Foundation has determined that "an end to seizures should not be determined by one's zip code," and that more research is essential.

Massachusetts Activists Pushes Boundaries With Allston CBD Shop. Veteran Bay State marijuana reform activist Bill Downing has opened a shop called CBD Please in Allston. He claims that his operation is legal because the products he offers are made from high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils. And he's not too concerned about any reaction from authorities. "The state can do anything they want. They can throw me in jail. They can do whatever they want," said Downing. "But I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm doing it for the patients here in the state and I really don't care about the bureaucracies trying to stop me because they're immoral. And because the public does not support them." When asked if what he was doing was legal, Downing replied: "I don't know, and I don't care."

LA City Attorney Sues to Block Medical Marijuana Delivery App.The LA city attorney's office Tuesday filed a lawsuit to close down a mobile phone app that sets up home deliveries of medical marijuana. The lawsuit alleges that Nestdrop is a "flagrant attempt" to get around restrictions imposed by voters last year. The city argues that its medical marijuana ordinance only allows patients or caregivers to pick up the medicines themselves and does not allow delivery services. Nestdrop isn't the only the only app offering deliveries in Southern California, but it's the only one that's been targeted.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee DA to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Ray Crouch, DA for the 23rd Judicial District, has announced that his office will no longer pursue civil asset forfeiture cases. The state's civil asset forfeiture has come under repeated criticism for abuses, and Crouch is responding. "I will sit here and guarantee you do not have to be afraid of our office, of the Drug Task Force seizing your property if you're not committing a criminal act," Crouch said. "We're not going to be using civil forfeiture to take anybody's money. If we do, it will be in criminal court because you will be charged with a crime." Click for more detail on the policy changes under Crouch.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, S 2839, is a wide-ranging effort to deal with rising levels of opiate addiction and addresses prevention, naloxone access and training, alternatives to incarceration, "criminal justice medication-assisted treatment and interventions," and more. It has seven cosponsors -- five Democrats and two Republicans. The latest is Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reentry/Rehabilitation

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Gets New Sponsor. The measure, HR 3465 (companion legislation is S 1690) would extend and expand grants for drug treatment, "offender reentry substance abuse and criminal justice collaboration," and other grants under the 1968 omnibus crime control act. It has 46 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and nine Republicans. The latest is Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA). It is currently before the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths, Naloxone Price Hikes, How Weed Can Win in 2016, New Synthetics, More (12/2/14)

A new report suggests how to win pot legalization initiatives in 2016, a closely watched medical marijuana trial is delayed, there's naloxone and overdose death news, Mexican pot farmers are getting squeezed from competition north of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Moms Key Demographic for Winning Initiatives, Research Report Argues. Women between 30 and 55 are the key demographic group for winning marijuana legalization initiatives, according to a new report from the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The report, "Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012," analyzed the 2012 initiative efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as looking at the 2010 Prop 19 effort in California. The campaigns in Colorado and Washington successfully targeted that key demographic, the analysis found. The report also found that key messages to voters were that legalization would free up scarce law enforcement resources and that it would create new tax revenues. There's plenty more to read in the report; click on the link for the whole thing.

Marijuana DUI Breathalyzer Test Coming? Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that could detect THC on a driver's breath. The researchers said the device would probably not provide an exact reading of the amount of THC, but could help officers determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. But a follow-up THC blood test would still be necessary for use as evidence in court. Researchers said they hope to start testing this device in the first half of next year.

Arizona Legislative Analysts Say Legal Pot Could Generate $48 Million a Year in Tax Revenues. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has produced a report estimating tax revenues from legalization at $48 million a year. The report was produced in September, but details were not released until the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times obtained a copy Monday. The report was in response to a Democratic bill to legalize marijuana. That bill was killed in April, but could be back next year. And there is a legalization initiative effort underway for 2016, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical Marijuana

Trial Postponed, New Judge Assigned in Widely Watched Federal Medical Marijuana Case of Kettle Falls Five. A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

Los Angeles Has Shut Down More Than 400 Dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Members Save Over 200 North Carolinians From Drug Overdoses With Naloxone. The Coalition announced today that it had received a report of its 208th overdose reversal using the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Coalition has distributed over 5,100 overdose prevention kits containing naloxone since August 2013. That was made possible by the passage of a 911 Good Samaritan/naloxone access law in April 2013. For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, go here.

Naloxone Price Going Up Dramatically. Just as police departments across the country make plans to stock up on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, manufacturers are jacking up prices. In Georgia, police report the price of a kit jumped from $22 to $40, while New York City is reporting a 50% price increase. Manufacturers have not explained the increases, but some activists have suggested that with the surge in orders from government entities, the makers have seen a chance to grab windfall profits."We've had a pretty steady price for several years now,"said Matt Curtis, the policy director of VOCAL-New York, an advocacy group. "Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we're seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable."

CDC Reports Drug Overdose Deaths More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, more than 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, more than doubling the figure of 17,000 in 1999. Of the 41,000 drug overdoses in 2012, 16,000 were from opioid pain relievers (although that number actually decreased 5% from 2011), while nearly 6,000 were from heroin. Thus, legal and illegal opioids accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2012. The overall overdose death rate also doubled, from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. The highest rates of overdose deaths were in West Virginia (32 per 100,000), Kentucky (25 deaths per 100,00 people), New Mexico (24.7 per 100,00 people), Utah (23.1 per 100,00 people) and Nevada (21 per 100,00 people). The report is "Trends in Drug Poisoning Deaths, 1999-2012."

Law Enforcement

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is seeking an emergency appropriation for a "heroin surge" to combat increased heroin addiction and overdoses. He wants $100 million appropriated to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The move would increase HIDTA funding to $338 million nationwide, if the funding is approved in the federal budget.

Drug Testing

Kansas Welfare Drug Testing Law Not Catching Many. That's at least in part because the state is not actually testing many welfare applicants. After four months in effect, the state has tested only 20 applicants, of whom four tested positive. The testing is only required for people who are visibly using drugs, been recently arrested on a drug charge, or were found during a questionnaire screening to be likely to be using drugs. The state has paid $500,000 for the program so far, but has not achieved the $1.5 million in savings from people being disqualified for benefits earlier estimated because it has tested and disqualified so few people.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Synthetics and the Changing Global Drug Marketplace. Stanford University drug policy analyst Keith Humphreys has penned an informative piece on the increasing shift from natural, plant-based drugs to synthetic ones as well as the shift to on-line drug selling and buying. This phenomenon could "upend traditional understanding of drug markets and drug policy," he writes. There's much more; check it out at the link.

International

US Marijuana Production Hurting Mexican Pot Farmers. National Public Radio's John Burnett reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa that Mexican marijuana producers are being squeezed by made-in-America weed. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,"one grower there told him. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground." That grower said if matters continued as they were, he would plant opium poppies instead. The report also quotes a DEA official as saying Mexican cartels are now importing high-quality American weed to Mexico for high-end customers.

The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 and Beyond [FEATURE]

State-level marijuana law reform won big in this month's elections, with legalization initiatives triumphing convincingly in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. The Florida medical marijuana initiative lost, but only because it had a higher bar of 60% of the popular vote. It ended up with 57%, a clear sign of solid majority support. And don't forget Guam -- the US territory approved medical marijuana with 56% of the vote.

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform is laying the groundwork for 2016. (CCPR)
Local marijuana reform initiatives also fared well. In Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, activists built on earlier successes to win more victories this year, while in New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe voted in favor of decriminalizing pot possession.

All in all, a good year for marijuana law reform, the second good election year in a row. Since 2012, voters in four states and DC have been asked to legalize marijuana. They've now said yes in all of them.

And now, eyes to turn to 2016 and beyond. There are excellent prospects for more victories in the West, as well as in the Northeast. And there could be some surprises lurking out there in the middle of the country.

California, of course, is the big prize, and efforts are already well underway to ensure that legalization is on the ballot in 2016 -- and that it actually wins this time. Arizona and Nevada are also on the radar, and the Nevada initiative campaign has already turned in twice the number of signatures needed to make the 2016 ballot.

In the Northeast, both Maine and Massachusetts are initiative states, and legalization appears headed for the ballot in both. In Rhode Island and Vermont, the push will come in the state legislatures.

"Things are clearly headed in the right direction," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Mason Tvert, scanning the post-election terrain. "Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities."

MPP will be backing 2016 initiatives in five states, Tvert said, although the Nevada legislature could ease its burden by just approving an initiative rather than punting to the voters.

"In Nevada, the petition drive has just wrapped up. At this point, our goal there is to pass the ballot initiative; if the legislature chooses to take an objective look and give it some real consideration, that would be excellent, too," he said.

"We also have committees filed to support initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts," Tvert said. "In California, we want to begin to raise money to support that effort, but it's pretty early in the process. We expect to see very solid support for such a measure in California, especially running in a presidential election year when support for legalizing marijuana has been growing nationwide. Prop 19 got 47% in 2010; that will be six years ago come 2016."

"We have a pretty comprehensive statewide coalition working on this," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which is a key part of that grouping, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. "The coalition includes us, the Prop 19 people, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, MPP, the Emerald Growers Association, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a partner in this, too."

A little less than two years out, it's a work in progress, said Gieringer.

"Pretty much all the leading groups interested in drug reform are interested in collaborating, but exactly how that will work hasn't been settled yet," he said.

Now that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, Gieringer sees some political space for pushing the envelope.

"Home cultivation will be in it," he said. "They have that in Oregon and Colorado, and we're going to have it in California. I also want to provide for on-site consumption; we're working to get that instituted here in Oakland. In Colorado, they banned public use, which is one thing if you mean smoking pot on the street, but governments tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes public use, like a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. I think we can provide for licensed on-site consumption, at least by local option."

And no reason to make what he called "unnecessary concessions."

"We have a DUID law, and we don't need to change that," he said. "They didn't do that in Colorado and Oregon, and we don't need to do it. We learned a lesson in Washington -- that lack of an express DUID provision didn't make a difference -- and we're not going to repeat that."

Although more than any other group in the coalition, CANORML represents the interests of marijuana consumers, Gieringer said it's not pot smokers or growers who are going to make an initiative victorious.

Maybe Missouri's Show Me Cannabis will show us all.
"Marijuana users are 12% to 15% of the population here; we really have to depend on more than that," he said. "The users and growers will not determine this campaign. And I'm sure there will be people discontented with however the initiative turns out; there always are. But there aren't that many growers in the state, anyhow. Some growers didn't like Prop 19, but it failed for other reasons. It didn't win in Los Angeles County, and that's not because of the growers."

In some states, such as Massachusetts, activists have been piling up marijuana reform victories for years. MassCANN/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have an unbroken record of winning non-binding public policy questions on marijuana reform issues going back seven election cycles. Voters in the Bay State have also signaled their approval of marijuana law reform by passing statewide medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization initiatives (2012).

Now, Bay State Repeal has formed to free the weed in 2016, and it has a pot populist tinge to it. The group wants home cultivation, not just to keep prices down, but "to keep the cops from busting through the door just because there is marijuana growing there" and it wants taxation and regulation, but only "moderate," not "cash-cow taxation or giant licensing fees."

In Maine, where MPP has been active, putting successful municipal legalization initiatives on the ballot in Portland and South Portland (but losing one in Lewiston), there could be not one but two legalization initiatives unless differing actors come together. In addition to the MPP effort, a new group, Legalize Maine, is also moving forward with plans for an initiative.

As with Bay State Repeal, there is a pot populist tinge. Legalize Maine couches its argument not only in terms of justice and common sense, but also talks about jobs and economic development. And it wants marijuana regulated in a way that "focuses on people instead of large economic interests that seeks to dominate the marijuana industry."

Legalization could also pop up in some unexpected places, too. While the major movement organizations already have selected targets for 2016 and have plans well afoot, things could break faster than the big players anticipate, and local activists in some states -- Arkansas and Missouri, for example -- may manage to get initiatives on the ballot without significant outside support.

In Missouri, Show Me Cannabis has been undertaking a vigorous and energetic campaign to put an initiative on the ballot in 2016. It submitted its initiative to state officials earlier this month; the first step in getting the measure before the voters. Similar efforts by different groups are also underway next door in Arkansas.

Those Ozark-area efforts don't have the backing of big national organization behind them, but that could change.

The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann wants to see the polling. (OSI)
"If these initiatives are well-drafted and the polling is strong, we'll help as best we can, but we're not making any financial commitments," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "We have a major commitment in California, and we're helping MPP draft initiatives in other states. In Missouri, let's make sure there's a solid draft initiative, and if the polling is there, well, a victory in Missouri would be very compelling."

Seeing marijuana legalization creep along the West Coast, make inroads on the East Coast, and maybe even in the Ozarks would make for a very impressive 2016, but some Midwestern activists are looking further down the road.

Led by indefatigable Tim Beck, Michigan activists have managed to pass municipal personal legalization initiatives in all the state's largest cities in the past few years. This year, they went eight for 13 with similar initiatives in smaller Michigan communities.

Michigan voters also approved marijuana in a statewide initiative in 2008, but, for Beck, getting the state's dispensary situation settled -- not legalization -- is the first order of business.

"Although the state legislature is totally controlled by the GOP, we've been working with them, and they've kind of seen the light on a regulated system with a lot of local control, which is big with Republicans," he said. "We have one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, and it's going to get better with a regulated dispensary system, as well as ingestibles. We won 95-14 in the House, and it's going through the Senate now," he said.

"We have over 1.5 million people now living in cities that have decriminalized," Beck said. "And we liberated 140,000 this year -- on the cheap. This has an impact. When we have dispensaries and when we have decriminalization, local officials won't be able to say 'Oh, we don't want marijuana here,' because the voters do."

Legalization may not be the first order of business, but it is the ultimate goal, Beck said.

"My philosophy has never been that the solution is medical, but straight-out, unadorned legalization, but we're -having to do it on our own," he explained. "Michigan is fly-over country for the big players. It's a large state with a population of more than 10 million, so it's expensive to win a campaign, and it's a bit more conservative than the East or West coasts."

That means Michigan needs to be patient.

"Our realistic priority for the next couple of years is to work with the legislature," Beck said. "We have a new class of entrepreneurs who have come out of the closet, and we've been able to fund our own lobbyist to the tune of about $150,000. Once we get dispensaries, then we'll turn to decriminalization at the statehouse. We had a decriminalization bill this year, but it was introduced by a Democrat and went nowhere."

Beck is also waiting for the opinion polls to move further in the right direction.

"There's a weird dichotomy in our polling," the veteran activist explained. "We get well over 60% saying yes to reallocating police resources away from small-time marijuana users, but when it comes to legalization, that number drops dramatically. We might be at 50%; we'll do another poll at year's end, but I don't think much will change. It's hard to demand that anyone open their checkbook when you're only running 50%. We have to just keep going on an incremental basis. Maybe by 2018 or 2020, we'll be ready."

While Beck counsels patience, Nadelmann is counseling prudence. And while he is of course happy that all the legalization initiatives passed, he doesn't want people to think it's going to be a walk in the park from here on in.

"The downside is a sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself," he said. "That could make it more difficult to fundraise if there's a sense that you can put anything on the ballot and not anticipate serious opposition. There could be a sense in the industry that you can be free riders while the activists raise the money."

There are other potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope could push too far, Nadelmann said.

"Don't forget the Montana disaster," he warned, referring the wide open medical marijuana expansion there that created a backlash that drove the industry back into the ground. "Don't be short-sighted and greedy, and contribute and support the organizations working on this."

And don't forget federal pot prohibition.

It's one thing for a handful of states -- or even more -- to legalize marijuana, but as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, even the legal marijuana states could theoretically face a concerted federal effort to roll back the clock. Using federal marijuana prohibition as a hammer, a hostile Congress and president could wreak havoc with state-level regulation and taxation. (Ironically, a move to do that could result in marijuana being legal to smoke and possess in those states, but not to sell or be taxed or regulated.)

But if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go.

"A lot more states are going to have to approve this before it gets to the point where repeal can pass," said Nadelmann. "When you look at medical marijuana and how slowly that moves on Capitol Hill, you see that it wasn't until this year that we actually got something passed, and that was just to stop federal interference in medical marijuana states. I'm more optimistic about winning votes like that next year, to get the federal government out of the way."

Congress has not been especially responsive to growing support for marijuana legalization, and there's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, Nadelmann said.

"It's hard to imagine Congress playing any sort of leadership role on this stuff," he explained.

Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. That means there's still plenty of work to be done at the state house and the ballot box.

Medical Marijuana Update

Help for veterans could be on the way, plans for 2016 initiatives are getting underway, Arizona doctors win a court case, existing programs in the Northeast expand, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of legislators filed a bill to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona

Last Thursday,the Arizona appeals court ruled doctors can't be charged for making medical marijuana referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Connecticut

On Wednesday, a state doctors' panel heard requests to add more qualifying conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida

On Monday, Florida advocates announced plans for a 2016 initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fundraising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Iowa

Last Thursday, the state Pharmacy Board punted on reclassification. The Board has decided to defer a decision on whether to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law until its January meeting. The Board could have decided at its Wednesday meeting to recommend to the legislature that marijuana be rescheduled after a public hearing Monday, but while it said marijuana does have medical use, it also worried that it has high abuse potential. The board was (in)acting on a petition from Des Moines medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, state officials announced Nevada will honor out-of-state medical marijuana cards. Once dispensaries begin to open in the state next year, people holding medical marijuana recommendations from other states will be able to purchase marijuana there.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the state approved its fourth dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakota

Last Saturday, activists met to plot next moves on medical marijuana. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Washington

On Monday, a key state senator outlined her medical and recreational marijuana regulation bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult-- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Also on Monday, Seattle's mayor released his medical marijuana regulation plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

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

Chronicle AM: US Agents on Mexico Drug Raids, New Federal Cash Seizure Guidance, New Pain Pill, More (11/24/14)

Some House Republicans still want to mess with DC legalization, a key Washington state solon is planning a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the legal regulation system, federal officials issue a new code of conduct for highway asset seizures, US Marshals are reportedly going on drug raids in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

WA state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is moving to fold medical marijuana into the legal pot regulatory system.
Marijuana Policy

Some House Republicans Plan to Try to Block DC Legalization. While some GOP senators have no interest in blocking DC's legalization initiative, some GOP House members do. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said he "absolutely" intends to block implementation, but that he probably wouldn't try to do so until next year. Earlier this year, he successfully attached an amendment to the DC appropriation bill to block decriminalization, and that amendment passed the House, but was never taken up by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Harris called legalization "crazy policy."

Washington State Senator Outlines Marijuana Regulation Bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult -- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Okays Fourth Dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakotans to Try Legislature, But Hold 2016 Initiative in Reserve. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky 911 Good Samaritan Bill Proposed. At a press conference last Friday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to file a bill that would exempt drug overdose victims and people who seek help for them from being charged with drug possession offenses. "This should be another tool to keep people from dying, and that's what we're after," he said. But McDaniel also said such an exemption from prosecution could only be used once.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Officials Issue New Guidance for Highway Seizures. Officials with the White House's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program have issued new guidance for highway police in a bid to curb questionable civil asset forfeiture seizures of cash and property from drivers. The voluntary code of conduct reminds state and local police that the need to observe the Constitution and the civil rights of motorists. "Emphasize interdiction programs are NOT purposed for enhancing agency budgets," the code says. "Underscore forfeited ill-gotten proceeds be spent prudently in accordance with applicable statutes, sound policies and regulations." Asset forfeiture programs are currently under an intense spotlight in the wake of repeated revelations about abuses and aggressive enforcement by police.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Approves Second Hydrocodone-Only Pain Pill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Purdue Pharma's extended-release Hydrocodone tablet Hysingla for use. The agency said Hysingla is designed to be difficult to abuse, but acknowledged it could still be. It is the fourth opioid to be granted abuse-deterrent status, after Purdue's reformulated Oxycontin, it's oxycodone-naloxone combo Targiniq, and Pfizer's morphine-naltrexone combo Embeda. And it is the second hydrocodone-only pill approved by the agency. FDA approved Zohydro in October 2013.

International

US Marshals Are Going on Drug Raids in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal has reported that members of the US Marshals Service have been taking part in drug raids disguised as Mexican Marines. Mexican officials flatly deny the charge, but the newspaper reported that the Marshals Service sends small teams several times a year to help hunt drug suspects, some of whom are not even wanted by the US. The Journal cited a July incident in which a US Marshal was shot and wounded while attached to Mexican Marines patrolling a field in Sinaloa. Six cartel members were killed in the ensuing shootout.

Australian MPs to Introduce Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Members of parliament from the Labor, Liberal, and Green parties will this week file a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be grown under federal license. The bill would not require states to allow medical marijuana, but it would create a federal model and address how medical marijuana would be supplied. The MPs will brief colleagues on the plan Wednesday.

Australia's Tasmania Rejects Medical Marijuana. Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rejected an interim report calling for allowing the use of medical marijuana. He ruled out any changes to current laws, citing advice from the Tasmania Police. He said that Tasmania Police would not seek to criminally pursue terminally ill medical marijuana users.

Chronicle AM: Federal VA MedMJ Bill, CRS Report on Federal Pot Tax, Swiss Cannabis Clubs, More (11/21/2014)

Some Alaska officials are proving recalcitrant when it comes to legal marijuana, there could be a Senate hearing on pot legalization with DC in the cross hairs, congressional researchers release a report on a federal pot excise tax, asset forfeiture could play a role in hearings for the new attorney general nominee, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Who Will Chair DC Oversight Committee Wants Hearing on Legalization. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, said Thursday he wants to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization. He told reporters such a hearing would focus on how legalization has worked in other states. He also said he generally supports more autonomy for the District, but didn't say whether he thought DC should be able to legalize marijuana.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on Federal Marijuana Taxation. Congress's non-partisan research arm has released a comprehensive report on the federal government setting an excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. The report suggests that under nationwide legalization, a $50 an ounce federal excise tax would raise about $7 billion a year, and that prices could drop to as low as $80 a pound. Click on the link for more.

Washington State Pot Tax Revenues Exceed Expectations. State officials said Wednesday that they expect legal marijuana to generate $694 million in revenue through the middle of 2019. That's up from a September estimate of $636 million. The state expects to collect nearly $43 million in pot taxes by the middle of next year, $237 million more in the 2015-2017 budget biennium, and $415 million more in the 2017-2019 budget biennium.

Key Alaska Prosecutor Says Marijuana Prosecutions to Continue. John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's criminal division, said prosecutors will continue to move on marijuana cases despite the voters' approval of legalization earlier this month. "We are not blind or oblivious to the fact that there is a change coming, but the change is not here yet," he said. "We did communicate to our folks that right now it is business as usual. We are evaluating what to do in the future." After Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, many prosecutors quashed pending marijuana cases, and some prosecutors have done the same in Oregon this year.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Wants to Ban Pot Sales. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has prepared an ordinance to prohibit marijuana cultivation, production, testing and sales in Anchorage. Such a move would be legal under the provisions of Measure 2, which allows local option. She said she doesn't want the Alaska's largest city to be "a guinea pig" for the rest of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Files Federal Bill to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Doctors Can't Be Charged for Medical Marijuana Referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Could Be Issue for New Attorney General Nominee. President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, bragged back in January about how her office seized nearly a billion dollars through civil asset forfeiture. But with the issue in the limelight now, it may come back to bite her during her confirmation hearings. Asset forfeiture reform bills have been filed in the Congress, newspapers across the country are editorializing about abuses, and congressional Republicans are sure to use any ammunition they can to try to damage the president's nominee.

International

Cannabis Clubs Coming to Switzerland? Officials in Geneva are exploring whether to allow marijuana social clubs, while the city has joined Bern, Basel, and Zurich in creating an expert working group to craft details for a potential pilot project. Marijuana is not legal in Switzerland, but possession of less than 10 grams is effectively decriminalized. Click on the link for an informative overview.

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