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This Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories

A lot went on in the realm of drug policy reform in 2010. Here is our summation of what we think are the biggest stories of the year.

fire truck lent by Dr. Bronner's for SSDP/Prop 19 campus tour
Marijuana on the Verge -- Prop 19, Public Opinion, and the Looming Sea Change

California's tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, ultimately failed to get over the top on Election Day, but it garnered 46.5% of the vote, the highest ever for a legalization initiative, and generated reams of media coverage, making it the most watched initiative of any in the land this year. The battle for Prop 19 also yielded the broadest coalition yet behind marijuana legalization, as unions, dissident law enforcement groups, and Latino and African-American groups got on the legalization bandwagon in a big way for the first time. Launched with over a million dollars of funding from Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Richard Lee, the initiative garnered significant additional support during the campaign's final months, including a late $1 million donation from George Soros, but too little and too late to make a difference in the nation's largest and most expensive media market. The coalition that came together around Prop 19 is vowing to stay together and work to place another initiative on the ballot, most likely in 2012.

If California has legalization on the ballot in 2012, activists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington all took steps this year to ensure that it won't be alone. Ill-funded and controversial legalization initiatives missed making the ballot in Oregon and Washington this year, but organizers in both states have vowed to try again, and Sensible Washington, the folks behind this year's effort there, already have a pro-legalization billboard up on I-5 in the Seattle area. In Colorado, organizers bided their time this year amidst the medical marijuana explosion there, but are busy laying the groundwork for a legalization initiative there.

This year also saw a legalization bill pass out of the California Assembly Public Safety Committee in January, a first in the US. While that bill died later in the session, sponsor Tom Ammiano (D-SF), reintroduced it in March and it awaits further consideration in Sacramento. In New Hampshire, a decriminalization bill passed the House in March, only to be killed in a Senate committee in April, while in Washington state, legalization and decriminalization bills got a January hearing before dying in committee later that same month. In Rhode Island, a decriminalization bill was introduced in February and a state legislative commission endorsed it in March, but the bill went nowhere so far. Later in the year, the California legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill there. And in November, a marijuana legalization bill passed the House in the US territory of the Northern Marianas Islands, marking the first time a legalization bill has passed a legislative chamber anywhere in the US. It was later defeated in the Senate. No legalization or decriminalization bills passed this year, but the day is drawing near.

A plethora of public opinion polls this year suggest why, as support for pot legalization is now hovering just under 50%. In January, an ABC News/Washington Post poll had support at 46%; in April, a Pew poll had it at 41%. By July, an Angus-Reid poll had support at 52%, while Rasmussen showed it at 43%. In November, a Gallup poll had support for legalization at 46%, its highest level ever and a 15 percentage point increase over just a decade ago. Some of these polls showed majority support for legalization in the West, which will be put to the test in 2012.

Medical Marijuana -- the Ongoing Battle

The acceptance of medical marijuana continued in 2010, as two states, New Jersey and Arizona, along with the District of Columbia, became the latest to legalize the medicinal use of the herb. It's worth noting, however, that medical marijuana is not yet being produced or consumed in any of those places, even though the New Jersey legislation was signed into law in January and the DC medical marijuana initiative was actually revived last year. To be fair, voters only approved the Arizona initiative in November, and regulators there have three more months to come up with enabling regulations.

But the acceptance is by no means complete, and resistance from recalcitrant law enforcement and local governments continues apace. A medical marijuana initiative in South Dakota and an Oregon initiative to create a system of state-licensed, nonprofit dispensaries both failed in November. And despite efforts to pass medical marijuana bills through numerous state legislatures, none beside New Jersey came to fruition this year. Bills have stalled in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin, among others, even as they are continually pared back to be ever more restrictive in a bid to appease opponents.

Medical marijuana states that have less loosely written laws -- all via the initiative process, including California, Colorado, Michigan, and Montana -- proved to be highly contested terrain in 2010. The blossoming of hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado this year led to the passage of regulatory legislation this summer, while a similar, if more limited outbreak of envelope-pushing in Montana has legislators there vowing to rein in the industry when they reconvene next year. In Michigan, law enforcement in some locales has arrested people in apparent compliance with the state law. In all three states, battles have also broken out at the city or county level, especially over efforts to ban medical marijuana operations. These fights will continue.

California is a world of its own when it comes to medical marijuana. The most wide open of the medical marijuana states, which, thanks to the language of Proposition 215, allows for medical marijuana to be recommended for virtually anything, it is also the state where legal and political conflict over medical marijuana is most entrenched. Despite more than a decade of litigation, the legality of selling medical marijuana remains unclear, and depending on the attitude of local authorities, dispensaries can be -- and are -- subject to raids and prosecution. The medical marijuana community dodged a bullet in November when Kamala Harris defeated dispensary arch-foe Steve Cooley, the Republican Los Angeles County prosecutor. Meanwhile, in communities across the state, battles rage over banning dispensaries, or, in happier circumstances, over how to permit and tax them. And medical marijuana is increasingly recognized for the big business it is. A growing number of California towns and cities this year voted to tax medical marijuana, and Oakland gave the go-ahead for massive medical marijuana mega-farms, although it may now retreat in the face of rumblings from the Justice Department. None of this got resolved this year, and the fight over medical marijuana in the Golden State is unlikely to wind down any time soon.

The DEA Continues to Misbehave

And then there's the DEA. It was in October 2009 that the Justice Department released its famous memo telling the DEA to butt out if medical marijuana operations in states that had approved them where not violating state law. While DEA raids have certainly declined from their thuggish heyday in the Bush administration, they have not gone away. After a Colorado medical marijuana grower had the temerity to appear on a local TV news program showing off his garden, the DEA raided him in February. The DEA also hit Michigan medical marijuana operations at least twice, in July and again early this month. The DEA has also raided numerous California medical marijuana operations this year, including the first collective to apply for the Mendocino County sheriff's cultivation permit program and a number of beleaguered San Diego area dispensaries. In most cases, the DEA is relying on the cooperation of sympathetic local law enforcement and prosecutors. Making the DEA live up to the Holder memo is a battle that is yet to be won.

The Obama administration's nomination of acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart is not a good omen. Despite a horrendous record at the DEA, including a stint as Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles during the height of the Bush administration raids on medical marijuana facilities, and in St. Louis during the Andrew Chambers "supersnitch" perjury scandal, Leonhart's nomination has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely to be approved by the Senate as a whole once she takes some actions to improve access to pain medications for seniors in nursing homes -- an issue on which Sen. Herb Kohl was said will cause him to place a hold on a floor vote until she and the agency address it.

Drug War Juggernaut Continues Rolling

While support for marijuana decriminalization and/or legalization continues to grow, and while a number of states have enacted sentencing reforms in response to fiscal pressures, the drug war juggernaut keeps rolling along, chewing up lives like so much chaff. US law enforcement made more than 1.6 million arrests on drug charges last year, more than half of them for marijuana offenses, marking the first year pot busts made up more than half of all drug arrests. The number is actually down slightly from the previous year, but only marginally so, as drug law enforcement keeps humming along. But in the current economic crunch, such a high level of enforcement and punishment may no longer be sustainable. A Pew report found that state prison populations had declined for the first time since the 1970s, if only by 0.4%, although the federal prison population, more than 60% of which consists of drug offenders, increased by 3.4%. Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported than US jail populations had decreased for the first time in decades, dropping by 2.3% over the previous year. The tiny turnarounds are a good thing, but there is a long, long way to go.

Rolling Back the Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity


For the first time in the modern drug war era, Congress this year rolled back a harsh drug sentencing law. The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses had been under the gun for more than decade as it became increasingly evident that the laws were having a racially disproportionate impact. Under the old law, five grams of crack would earn you a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, while it took a hundred times as much powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. Although a majority of crack users are white, blacks accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions. A bill to reduce, but not eliminate, the sentencing disparity passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in March and the Senate as a whole weeks later. The House Judiciary Committee had already passed a similar measure that would completely eliminate the disparity, but the House leadership chose to go along with the Senate, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but not completely eliminating it when it voted to approve the bill in July. President Obama signed the bill into law days later. While passage of the bill is a milestone, it leaves work undone. The sentencing disparity, while reduced, still exists, and thousands of prisoners sentenced under the harsh old law remain in prison because the new law lacks retroactivity.

Demands for Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients, the Unemployed, and Even Politicians

The impulse to score cheap political points by unleashing moralistic wrath on the poor and the unfortunate remained alive in 2010. As in years past, efforts to demand drug testing of unemployment recipients or people receiving welfare benefits went nowhere, but not for lack of trying. In fact, the year was bookended by such efforts, starting with a Missouri bill that would have mandated drug testing for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients upon "reasonable cause." That bill passed a Senate committee and the House in February, but died in the Senate after a Democratic filibuster. Similarly, drug testing bills in Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia all died, as did a silly Louisiana bill that would have allowed Louisiana elected officials to submit to a voluntary drug test and post the results on the Internet. Later in the year, successful Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott called for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, a call he has vowed to carry out as governor.

Attack of (on) the Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids marketed as incense under names like Spice and K-2 first showed up on the national radar last year, and by early 2010 the prohibitionist impulse began rearing its ugly head in state legislatures across the land. Containing synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 or JWH-073, synthesized by a university researcher in the 1990s, the stuff was available at head shops, smoke shops, and corner gas stations everywhere, as well as on the Internet. Although no overdose deaths linked to synthetic cannabinoids have been reported, there have been reports of emergency room visits and calls to poison centers by people under its influence. But it wasn't the alleged dangers as much as the fear that someone, somewhere could be getting high without getting into legal trouble that impelled a series of statewide and municipal bans. In March, Kansas became the first state to ban synthetic cannabinoids, followed by Alabama in April, Georgia in May and Missouri in July. Also banning the compounds this year were Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Similar legislation was also proposed in several more states, including Florida, Ilinois, and New York. Then, in November, the DEA announced an emergency nationwide ban to go into effect in 30 days, meaning you have until Christmas to use the compounds legally. After that, you're a federal criminal.

SWAT Raids and Drug War Killings

It's not just the massive extent of the drug war that generates criticism, but the law enforcement violence and overkill that too often accompanies it. This year, the now infamous SWAT team raid in Columbia, Missouri, in February that left a dog dead and a family traumatized in a raid over marijuana went got national attention when a video of the raid went viral on the Internet at mid-year. Another SWAT raid in Detroit in May generated outrage when it resulted in the death of 7-year-old girl shot by a raider, and that same month, a Georgia grandmother suffered a heart attack when her home was mistakenly hit by the local SWAT team and DEA agents. And then there was the case of Trevon Cole, a 21-year-old black man killed as he knelt in his own bathroom as the apartment he shared with his pregnant girlfriend was raided over small-time pot sales. The police shooter, of course, was found innocent of any wrongdoing in a coroner's inquest, and now Cole's family is suing. So is the family in the Columbia SWAT raid.

Sentencing Reforms Continue in the States

In a bid to reduce corrections spending, a number of states in the last decade have moved to implement sentencing reforms, and 2010 saw the trend continue. In May, Colorado passed reforms that will reduce some drug use and possession sentences, allow greater judicial flexibility in sentencing, and keep some technical parole violators from being sent back to prison. But the package also increases some drug sales and manufacturing sentences. In June, South Carolina passed reforms that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. In August, Massachusetts passed reforms that will eliminate some mandatory minimums in a bill that was watered down from an earlier Senate version.  In all three cases, it was not bleeding hearts but bleeding wallets that was the impetus for reform.

A Congressional Drug Warrior Goes Down in Flames

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. This year is also notable for the spectacular May end to the career of inveterate congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). The doughy cultural conservative crusader from the heartland resigned from Congress after admitting at a press conference to having an affair with a female staffer with whom he had once made abstinence videos. Souder is best known to drug reformers as the author of the "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision of the Higher Education Act, and thus deserves credit for almost singlehandedly causing the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. But his enthusiasm for the war on drugs also led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. To be fair, Souder did offer committee legislation in 2006 to restrict the reach of his student aid penalty, and he was also a key Republican supporter of the recent "Second Chance" prisoner reentry funding legislation. Still, reformers are happy that one of the staunchest and most active drug warriors is out of Congress now, struck down by his own hypocrisy.

Marijuana Bust No Longer Automatic Arrest in New Orleans

In a bid to reduce congestion in the city's criminal courts, the New Orleans City Council voted last Thursday to make marijuana possession, prostitution, and two other minor crimes municipal offenses. That gives police the option to issue a summons instead of making an arrest.

The New Orleans City Council just made life a bit easier in the Big Easy.
Up until now, pot possession and the other offenses have only been addressed by state laws, which required police to arrest and book offenders. With the offenses now municipal, police are no longer required to make arrests, saving the city the expense of booking, housing and feeding jailed pot smokers. The move will also reduce the caseload of judges and prosecutors, who also handle serious felonies.

"These ordinances will contribute significantly to the city's efforts to promote greater efficiency and equity in our criminal justice system, particularly for our police officers, the District Attorney's office and in the criminal court," said Councilwoman Susan Guidry, co-chair of the council's Criminal Justice Committee. "These measures have unanimous support from the City's criminal justice agencies, and we are thankful for the many people who have worked so hard on this initiative."

Possession of marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids, prostitution, a driver's failure to stop when a police officer has used flashing lights and a siren to signal the driver to stop, and refusing to leave the scene of a crime or accident when ordered to do so by police are the four offenses that will now be dealt with by summonses.

While it is a scaling back of marijuana enforcement, the council's move does not amount to true decriminalization. Like Louisiana state law, the new city municipal ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro complained mightily when he took office in 2008, only to find more than a thousand marijuana possession cases clogging his docket. At his urging, the city already tries pot possession cases in municipal court, but Thursday's ordinances mean the prosecution of those cases can be shifted from Cannizzaro's office to the city attorney's office.

The ordinances are a continuation of ongoing efforts by the city council to reduce the number of people arrested and jailed for minor offenses in the city. Two years ago, the council passed ordinances directing police to issue written summons instead of arresting people found with outstanding traffic warrants and a number of municipal offenses, including disturbing the peace, trespassing, making threats, urinating in public, playing loud music and public intoxication.

New Orleans police arrested 58,219 people in 2007. Half of those arrested were for municipal or traffic offenses. Although no hard numbers are available, the measures undertaken since then have certainly decreased that percentage, and Thursday's ordinance should see it decline further.

New Orleans, LA
United States

NJ Senate Demands Governor Fix Medical Marijuana Regulations

The New Jersey Senate Monday sent Gov. Chris Christie's (R) proposed medical marijuana regulations back to the drawing board. The Senate passed a resolution rejecting the draft regulations, and the state Department of Health and Senior Services now has 30 days to come up with regulations that actually fit with the state's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act as passed by the legislature and signed into law at the beginning of this year.

The State Senate steps up to protect the medical marijuana law. (image from wikimedia.com)
Although it has been eleven long months since the act became law, Gov. Christie and his administration have been dragging their feet. First, Christie sought a delay in implementing the law and won a three-month reprieve from the legislature. Then, the administration released its draft regulations in October, only to be met with strong criticism from patients, advocates, and legislators. The regs were criticized for conflicting with the law as passed and being so restrictive as to make the program unworkable.

Last week, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton), one of the key sponsors of the law, announced he had struck a deal with Christie, but that Faustian bargain was roundly criticized by patients and other legislators alike. Medical marijuana supporters in the state Senate refused to accept the deal, and Monday made that rejection official.

The New Jersey medical marijuana law was already the most restrictive in the nation before the Christie administration moved to make it even more so. It allows patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. It calls for the licensing of Alternative Treatment Centers where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana.

The Senate criticized four specific provisions of the regulations that are "not consistent with the intent of the legislature as expressed in the language of the Compassionate Use Act," including the requirement all qualifying medical conditions for which a patient may get medical marijuana be resistant to conventional medical therapy.  In the original legislation only certain medical conditions were required to meet this threshold.

It also rejected the limit of two Alternative Treatment Centers that will grow medical marijuana and four that will dispense marijuana. The original bill called for at least two Alternative Treatment Centers in the north, central and southern parts of the state.

And it rejected the draft regulations' arbitrary limit on the permissible levels of THC the medical marijuana may contain.  There was no such restriction in the original bill.

Finally, it objected to the two year waiting period mandated by the regulations before patients can petition to have new conditions added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be accessed. No such waiting period was included in the original legislation.

"We urge the department to move swiftly to change the problematic sections of the regulations," said Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, which spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation.  "We are approaching the one year anniversary of the bill becoming law and patients are still suffering and still no closer to having safe and legal access to their medicine."

"I’m tired of fighting for what I deserve," said Diane Riportella, who suffers from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease).  "I don't have much time left and want to see this program started before I'm no longer here."

Also playing important roles in passing the medical marijuana law and ensuring that it is implemented in accordance with the will of the legislature were the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Faith is Our Pathway, and the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Now, the clock is ticking on the Christie administration. Its delays have been used up, its overly restrictive regulations have been rejected, and now it is time for it to just buckle down and do the right thing.

Trenton, NJ
United States

New Jersey State Senate Passes Resolution Invalidating Medical Marijuana Regulations (Press Release)

DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE

www.drugpolicy.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 13, 2010                                   

CONTACT: Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243                                                                    

New Jersey State Senate Passes Resolution Invalidating Medical Marijuana Regulations

Department of Health and Senior Services Now Has Thirty Days to Rewrite Regulations

Patients and Advocates Urge Health Department to Act Quickly So Program Can Move Forward

Trenton, NJ— Today, the New Jersey State Senate passed a resolution invalidating the Christie Administration’s regulations for implementing the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.  The Department of Health and Senior Services now has thirty days to rewrite the regulations to make them comport with the original legislation.  The New Jersey State Assembly passed the resolution on November 22nd.

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law on January 11th by outgoing Governor Jon Corzine. The Christie Administration released its draft regulations in October, but legislative sponsors, patients and advocates have criticized the regulations for conflicting with the original law and being so restrictive that they make the program unworkable.  In light of the vote, patients and advocates urge the Christie Administration to move quickly to make changes to the regulations and get the program up and running.

“We urge the Department to move swiftly to change the problematic sections of the regulations,” said Roseanne Scotti, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, which spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation.  “We are approaching the one year anniversary of the bill becoming law and patients are still suffering and still no closer to having safe and legal access to their medicine.”

“I’m tired of fighting for what I deserve,” said Diane Riportella, who suffers from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  “I don’t have much time left and want to see this program started before I’m no longer here.” 

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was passed after five years of intense advocacy by patients, families and a coalition of medical and professional organization.  The Act will allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.  The bill will also allow for the licensing of Alternative Treatment Centers where qualifying patients could safely access medical marijuana.  The program will be administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. The Act is the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the nation.

The Senate resolution addresses four specific provisions in the regulations:

·         The requirement all qualifying medical conditions for which a patient may get medical marijuana be resistant to conventional medical therapy.  In the original legislation only certain medical conditions were required to meet this threshold.

·         The limit of two Alternative Treatment Centers that will grow medical marijuana and four that will dispense marijuana.  The original bill called for at least two Alternative Treatment Centers in the north, central and southern parts of the state.

·         The draft regulations’ arbitrary limit on the permissible levels of THC the medical marijuana may contain.  There was no such restriction in the original bill.

·         The two year waiting period mandated by the regulations before patients can petition to have new conditions added to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be accessed.  No such waiting period was included in the original legislation.

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act is supported by a coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the New Jersey League for Nursing, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey chapters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Faith is Our Pathway, and the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. 

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Location: 
NJ
United States

N.J. Senate Weighing Defying Governor Over Medical Marijuana

Location: 
NJ
United States
New Jersey's Senate may vote Monday to defy Gov. Chris Christie over his proposed strict medical marijuana regulations. The vote is scheduled even though Christie and the state Assembly's prime sponsor of medical marijuana struck a deal on regulations last week.
Publication/Source: 
Courier-Post (NJ)
URL: 
http://www.courierpostonline.com/article/20101210/NEWS02/101210058/N.J.-Senate-weighing-defying-governor-over-marijuana

New Data: Pursuit of Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession Costs Vermont Over $700K Annually, Rep. Lorber Calls for Decriminalization (Press Release)

CONTACT: Rep. Jason Lorber, 802-863-9429 or jasonplorber@gmail.com

New Data: Pursuit of Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession

Costs Vermont Over $700K Annually

Rep. Lorber Calls for Decriminalization

Burlington, VT – Dec. 9, 2010 – New data unveiled today shows that Vermont state government spends over $700,000 annually to pursue Vermonters for possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

Based on the new findings, Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) today announced plans to introduce a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

“We should stop wasting $700,000 a year on a failed policy,” said Rep. Lorber. “It’s time for a smarter approach.  That means decriminalization for an ounce or less of marijuana.”

“In a time of great fiscal strain, it is critical that we focus law enforcement resources on offenses that pose the greatest threats to public safety,” said Windsor County State’s Attorney, Robert Sand. “Possession of small amounts of marijuana does not fall into this category. Converting misdemeanor marijuana crimes into civil violations is an appropriate and laudatory legislative endeavor.”

Today’s announcement follows the release of a memo written for Rep. Lorber by the non-partisan Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office (JFO).  The report detailed costs totaling $716,021, broken into categories of Police ($45,257), State’s Attorneys ($10,429), Defender General ($19,768), Court Diversion ($169,500), Judiciary ($105,344), and Corrections ($365,725).  It involves 801 arrests, 76 Vermonters serving time behind bars, and 270 on field supervision.  JFO estimates that the true costs could be 20% more or less than the $716,021 figure.  The study focused on cases in which possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana was a stand-alone charge.

Strong Support for Decriminalization in Vermont and Nationally

Marijuana has been decriminalized in 13 states, including New York, Maine, and Massachusetts. A 2009 Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters in Vermont showed over 2-to-1 support for marijuana decriminalization, with 63% in support, 27% opposed, and 10% undecided

“Decriminalization is different from legalization,” Lorber was quick to point out. “I am crafting a bill that would keep it illegal to sell or use marijuana, and not change the penalty for driving under the influence. This would simply change the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a civil, rather than criminal offense. It would be a ticket, not jail time.”

This news follows an August 2010 panel discussion in which Rep. Lorber and then-gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin called for decriminalization of possession of under an ounce of marijuana.

Rep. Lorber has served in the Vermont House of Representatives since 2005.  He co-authored sweeping legislation called “Justice Reinvestment,” which reduces prison costs while improving safety by finding less costly and more effective alternatives to prison.  In 2005, he authored a 42-page report “53 Voices on Corrections in Vermont” chronicling the stresses placed on the Department of Corrections by overcrowding. 

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Location: 
VT
United States

Texas Medical Marijuana Supporters Look to Conservatives

Location: 
TX
United States
Last month's greater-than-anticipated electoral gains by the Republican Party of Texas could be interpreted as the death knell for any advance of medical marijuana laws in the 82nd legislative session. But advocates for an affirmative defense bill — including those who earlier this year named Democrats as the most likely sponsors — are holding fast to hopes that the specter of an ever-encroaching government will resonate with Tea Party and like-minded lawmakers when the session convenes in January.
Publication/Source: 
The Texas Tribune (TX)
URL: 
http://www.texastribune.org/texas-special-interest-groups/interest-groups/medical-marijuana-supporters-look-to-conservatives/

NJ Pols Strike Medical Marijuana Deal, Patients Unhappy

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton), a key sponsor of Garden State medical marijuana legislation, have announced a deal to end the impasse over the implementation of the state's medical marijuana law. But the medical marijuana community and patient advocates are saying not so fast.

A deal in Trenton? Not so fast, patients say. (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The state legislature passed a medical marijuana law at the end of last year, and it was signed into law by outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) days before he left office. Since then, Gov. Christie and his minions in state government have sought first to delay the implementation of the law and then to impose onerous and unnecessary restrictions on the way the program would operate.

That led to public hearings last month and passage of a resolution harshly critical of the proposed regulations on November 22. But now Gusciora has agreed to a compromise with the governor. Under the agreement, the state would see six growing and distribution sites instead of the two grows and four dispensaries that Christie had wanted.

New Jersey would also become the first medical marijuana state to impose potency restrictions on the medicine. Under the agreement, medical marijuana can contain no more than 10% THC. The agreement also requires patients with three nonfatal conditions -- seizures, glaucoma, and muscle spasms -- to exhaust all other treatments before receiving medical marijuana. And it requires doctors to attest that they have "provided education for the patients on the lack of scientific consensus for the use of medical marijuana." The agreement also undoes a provision that would have allowed for home delivery of medical marijuana to patients.

The agreement is "the best way to move forward on a responsible, medically based program that will avoid the significant fraud and criminal diversion that other states have experienced," Christie said. 

But patient advocates are not so sure. While welcoming the increase in the number of grows and dispensaries (back to the levels mandated by the law) and the removal of language requiring that all patients exhaust all other treatment options before using medical marijuana, the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey also had a long list of problems with the agreement hammered out by Christie and Gusciora.

The cap on THC levels is "arbitrary, capricious, and inappropriate," the group said. A requirement that physicians register with the state in order to recommend medical marijuana is "unnecessary, outside the scope of the law, and will have a chilling effect on the program," the group continued. The compromise also blocks out all pain patients except those suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS.

"Tens of thousands of New Jersey pain patients who have waited for the Compassionate Use Act to take effect will now find that the very law that was passed to protect them and provide them relief still does not protect them," the group said. "Medical decisions about this program are being made not in the realm of science, but in the realm of politics. The Health Department should function for public health, not a political agenda."

It's not completely a done deal. While, thanks to Gusciora, the Assembly has signed on, the Senate has to vote on a resolution demanding substantive changes in the regulations. That vote is set for next week and could force a month-long reevaluation of the health department's proposed regulations. Look for advocates to continue to fight to get the best -- not the most restrictive -- regulations possible.

Trenton, NJ
United States

Obama Administration Warns Oakland on Medical Marijuana Farms

Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States
The Obama administration has warned Oakland over the licensing of four giant medical marijuana farms, saying the plan is in violation of state and federal law and could trigger multiple legal actions against the city. Officials from the Justice Department’s civil division and the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco delivered the blunt message to Oakland City Attorney John Russo, according to two officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk about the meetings. At issue is an ordinance, approved by the Oakland City Council last July, to license four industrial facilities to cultivate and process medical marijuana and sell the product to dispensaries around the state.
Publication/Source: 
California Watch (CA)
URL: 
http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/obama-administration-warns-oakland-pot-farms-7234

Planners OK Medical Marijuana Zones in Battle Creek

Location: 
Battle Creek, MI
United States
The Battle Creek Planning Commission recommended changing the city's zoning rules to allow growing marijuana for medicinal use in certain commercial zones. Compassion clubs, operations that provide support services for medical marijuana patients, would be allowed in some zones and would give patients a second place to use their medicine besides their homes.
Publication/Source: 
Battle Creek Enquirer (MI)
URL: 
http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/article/20101202/NEWS01/12020314/Planners-OK-medical-marijuana-zones-in-B.C.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School