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Indiana Lawmakers to Study Marijuana Legalization

Lawmakers in Indiana will convene between legislative sessions to study whether the Hoosier State should change its marijuana laws. Under a bill passed into law earlier this year, the General Assembly's Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy study committee is charged with reexamining the state's approach to pot.

The commission's first meeting is set for next week, although it's not clear if marijuana policy will be on the agenda then or during future meetings.

The bill, Senate Bill 192, gives the commission a broad mandate. It asks the commission to report back on whether the use and possession of marijuana should continue to be illegal in Indiana, and if so, what penalties and quantities related to its possession are appropriate. It also asks the commission to assess whether marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol, whether Indiana should implement a medical marijuana program, and "any other issue related to marijuana."

Under current Indiana law, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, although conditional discharge is possible for a first offense. Possession or sale of more than 30 grams is a felony, with a sentence of up to three years. A second pot paraphernalia offense can also earn a three year sentence. There is no provision for medical marijuana under Indiana law.

Indiana has "draconian" pot laws, state Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes), who pushed for the study commission, told the Associated Press. "One day, I watched three young kids plead cases on possession of small amounts," Tallian said. "I thought, 'Why are we spending all of the time and money to do this?' Frankly, I put marijuana in the same category as alcohol."

Tallian said she is lining up speakers for the meeting when marijuana law reform is on the agenda.

"I've got testimony from all different groups," she said. "They keep calling me wondering when it's going to be. I had them lined up when the bill was in the senate -- medical people, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement. There are a wide range of people interested in the topic."

One of the Republicans who supported the study commission was Rep. Tom Knollman -- who aptly hails from the town Liberty -- a multiple sclerosis sufferer. He told his colleagues during debate earlier this year that he wished he could try medical marijuana to ease his pain. Knollman described himself as among the most conservative of state legislators, but said he hoped he could be a law-abiding citizen and make use of one of "God's plants."

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Mississippi Tea Partiers Push Welfare Drug Testing Initiative

Mississippi Tea Party groups are busily collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would require welfare recipients and state employees to undergo drug testing. The measure, officially known as Ballot Initiative #33, is part of a broader push by Mississippi Tea Partiers against "un-Constitutional welfare programs" and illegal immigration. The initiative would also require anyone receiving state benefits to prove his or her US citizenship.

(image via wikimedia.org)
While the umbrella Mississippi Tea Party is playing a role in supporting the initiative campaign, most of the energy behind it appears to be based in the Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project, an influential South Mississippi Tea Party group affiliated with conservative former Fox News program host Glenn Beck's national 912 Project.

The Mississippi Tea Party sent a December letter to legislators demanding that they take action to drug test welfare recipients, act against illegal immigrants, reactivate the legislature's un-American activities panel, and nullify a number of federal programs under the rubric of state sovereignty, among other proposals. When the legislature failed to pass welfare drug testing, Ballot Initiative #33 was the result.

"Initiative #33 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require that persons receiving public assistance, as well as state contractors, subcontractors, and state employees, must undergo random drug testing," says the initiative's official summary. "Failing two drug tests results in loss of benefits. Persons not currently receiving public assistance must pass drug testing before receiving benefits. This initiative also requires that persons residing in the state illegally are prohibited from receiving public assistance or state salary of any kind."

The initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, is broader than the failed bill it substitutes for. It also includes state contractors, subcontractors, and employees.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project needs to collect 90,000 valid voter signatures by mid-October, which is the deadline for getting the initiative on the 2012 ballot. If organizers can't gather 90,000 signatures by mid-October, but can get over the top by the next deadline, mid-December, they could qualify it for the 2012 ballot.

The random, suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by a federal appeals court as unconstitutional -- a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches -- when Michigan tried it a decade ago. Another such program went into effect July 1 in Florida, and will face a similar constitutional challenge. If Initiative #33 is ever enacted, Mississippi taxpayers will be the next to have to defend an already invalidated program.

MS
United States

Montana Judge Blocks Restrictive Medical Marijuana Provisions

A state judge has blocked some of the most onerous provisions of a new law designed to rein in Montana's medical marijuana industry from taking effect. But other provisions of the law, which will make life more difficult for patients and providers, are now in effect.

medical marijuana containers and vaporizer (image via wikimedia)
District Court Judge James Reynolds issued a preliminary injunction late Thursday to block those portions of the law from going into effect hours later. But the rest of the repressive "reform" is in effect as of July 1.

Reynolds ruled that lawmakers went too far in trying to clamp down. He blocked a provision of the new law that outlawed anyone making money in the business, including growers being compensated for their efforts. He blocked the law's ban on advertising and promotion of medical marijuana. And he threw out the new law's provision limiting providers to growing for no more than three patients.

"The court is unaware of and has not been shown where any person in any other licensed and lawful industry in Montana -- be he a barber, an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor -- who, providing a legal product or service, is denied the right to charge for that service or is limited in the number of people he or she can serve," Reynolds wrote.

Those provisions in the law "will certainly limit the number of willing providers and will thereby deny the access of Montanans otherwise eligible for medical marijuana to this legal product and thereby deny these persons this fundamental right of seeking their health in a lawful manner," Reynolds continued.

The lawsuit against the new law was brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, which is also organizing a referendum effort to block the law from going into effect until it can go before the voters in November 2012. Montana voters approved the old, less restrictive, medical marijuana law in 2004 with 62% of the vote.

The association called the ruling "a partial victory," noting that "caregivers" have been eliminated and must now become registered "providers." "This, of course, temporarily breaks down the entire system, Yet, it was clearly the judge's intention to allow commercial activity," the group noted.

For a more detailed look at the new law and how the judge's order modified it, visit this Montana NORML web page.

Helena, MT
United States

Montana Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative Petition

The state of Montana Tuesday officially approved the petitions medical marijuana advocates want to circulate in an attempt to suspend or overturn a highly restrictive medical marijuana law approved by the legislature this year. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch notified the initiative's sponsor, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, that Attorney General Steve Bullock had found the petition's language legally sufficient.

The changes in the law, which would wipe out the state's heretofore thriving dispensaries, are set to take effect Friday. But that might not happen. The association filed suit in district court seeking to temporarily block the new law. District Judge James Reynolds of Helena is expected to issue an order Thursday blocking parts or all of the law from taking effect.

Signature gathering will begin after the association trains the hundreds of volunteers who will be collecting signatures, association spokeswoman Kate Cholewa told The Missoulian Tuesday.

"We want to get everyone trained and trained well," Cholewa said. "There will be some petitions out on the street over the Fourth of July weekend. Everyone wants to do something to contribute, and this is certainly an opportunity."

To suspend the new law, organizers must obtain the signatures of 15% of the voters in 51 of the 100 House districts. That will mean somewhere between 31,238 and 43,247 valid signatures, depending on which House districts are used.

Signatures must be turned in by September 30. If enough voters reject the new law, the 2004 medical marijuana initiative that became law with 62% of the vote would be back in effect.

Montana's medical marijuana melee is far from over.

Helena, MT
United States

More States Go After Synthetic Drugs

Although new synthetics are coming to market faster than governments can ban them, a number of states have moved in recent weeks to criminalize their possession and distribution. In Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, state governments have enacted bans on synthetic cannabinoids ("fake pot") or synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), or both. In South Dakota, they took a slightly different path to arrive at the same end.

Fake pot goes under many brand names. Spice is one. (image via wikimedia.org)
Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "incense" under a variety of names, including Spice and K-2. They are currently the subject of a one-year emergency ban by the DEA, which is set to expire at the end of February. "Bath salts" are made from methcathinone analogues, typically mephedrone and MDPV, and produce a high likened to cocaine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. The DEA lists them as a "drug of concern," but has yet to act against them.  They are sold under names like Bliss, Ivory Wave, and the less mellow-sounding Charley Sheene and Drone.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law House Bill 1039 on May 31. It criminalizes the possession of "bath salts" by making them a Schedule I controlled substance. The new law makes permanent an emergency ban on the drugs that went into effect in January.

In Louisiana, the legislature has passed House Bill 12, which bans both synthetic marijuana and "bath salts." Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in January issued an executive emergency ban on the synthetic stimulants and who made this bill part of his legislative agenda, is expected to sign it shortly. Under the bill, both fake pot and "bath salts" will be classified as Schedule I drugs and their possession or distribution will be punished accordingly. This bill is set to go into effect July 15.

In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has signed into law HF0057, which criminalizes bath salts, fake pot, and 2-CE, as well as any substances that are "substantially similar" in chemical structure and pharmacological effects to illegal drugs. That law goes into effect Friday. Although all of the substances are placed on Schedule I of the controlled substances list, possession of fake pot is a misdemeanor and sale of fake pot is a gross misdemeanor. Possession or sale of bath salts or 2-CE is a felony.

"Please do not use as SNUFF," a web site that peddles "bath salts" helpfully advises (ivory-wave.com)
In Minnesota, at least, retailers are fighting back. Three of them filed suit in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) District Court Monday charging that the law is too vague and broad and is not backed by scientific proof. They also argue that the law provides no criteria for determining if a substance is "substantially similar" to an illegal drug and that the ban infringes on individuals' right to privacy and pursuit of happiness.

Consumers and retailers won't know "if they're committing a crime or not," said attorney Marc Kurzman, who is representing the stores. "You shouldn’t have to get the answer by being charged and going through criminal trials," he said. 

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 1006, which bans the possession, sale, and use of fake pot, "bath salts," and, for good measure, the psychedelic designer drug 2-CE and salvia divinorum. Possession of the proscribed substances can earn you a year in prison, while sales or possession with intent can get you five years. The law will go into effect in late August, 60 days after it was signed into law.

"If left unchecked, synthetic drugs could have developed into the most dangerous drug crisis since methamphetamine labs found their way into our state,'' Corbett said in a press release announcing his signature. "This ban on synthetic drugs sends a strong message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate the use of these chemicals."

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) back in March signed into law Senate Bill 34, which will go into effect Friday. In deals with the fake pot and "bath salts" "threat" not by criminalizing them, but by making it a crime to use, possess, manufacture, or distribute them -- or any other substance -- to get high. In South Dakota, it is already a crime to have ingested an illegal drug; now, it will be a crime to ingest legal substances if it is for the purpose of intoxication.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week signed into law Senate Bill 54 criminalizing the sale, manufacture, and possession of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants. Possession of synthetic cannabinoids is now punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and three years in prison for a second offense, while manufacture or distribution garners up to six years in prison. Possession of synthetic stimulants now garners up to a year in jail for a first offense, while distribution of manufacture earns a number of years in prison, depending on the quantity involved.

"By classifying dangerous synthetic narcotics as illegal in the state of Wisconsin we are giving law enforcement the ability to take these destructive substances off of our streets and out of our neighborhoods," Gov. Walker said in a signing statement.

For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling mephedrone and MDPV ("bath salts"), go here. For a master list of states that have banned or are considering banning or otherwise controlling fake pot, go here.

Maine House Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Maine House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reject a bill that would have brought the state closer to legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The bill failed on a vote of 107-39.

The Maine state capitol. There is no joy for pot fans in Augusta this week. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Introduced by Sen. Diane Russell (D-Portland), the bill, LD 1453, would have legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use and placed a 7% tax on pot sales. But the bill was amended in committee to propose a statewide voter referendum on the issue and to add a caveat that it would not take effect until marijuana was legal under federal law.

Even that watered down version of the bill was too much for opponents.

"I don’t believe the time has come yet for this," said Rep. Michael Celli (R-Brewer) during debate. "We have to let the federal government make the first move."

Supporters of the measure argued in vain that Maine was wasting $26 million a year enforcing the pot laws and that citizens should at least be given the chance to decide the issue. They also disputed statements by opponents that pot is a "gateway drug."

"It is time to stop turning law-abiding people into criminals," Russell said.

Not all Republicans opposed the bill. Libertarian-leaning Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterloo) said the federal government is trampling on states' rights and the constitution.

"We should follow the constitution and stop trying to police moralities," Libby said.

That's not going to happen this year, though. The same day the House rejected the bill, it went to the Senate, which concurred with the House vote. The bill is now dead for the session.

Augusta, ME
United States

Daniels Vetoes Indiana Asset Forfeiture "Reform"

A bill that would have given 90% of the proceeds from seized cash and goods to local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies involved in the case has been vetoed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). The remaining 10% would have gone to the Common School Fund.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has vetoed a smelly asset forfeiture bill. (Image courtesy state of Indiana)
Under the Indiana constitution, all proceeds from seized items must go to the Common School Fund, but county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have found several means of skirting the law. Some county prosecutors have contracted out asset forfeiture cases to private attorneys, leading to lucrative pay-outs to lucky litigators. Others have claimed ludicrous law enforcement "expense of collection" costs to justify keeping hold of their looted lucre.

In vetoing Senate Enrolled Act 215, Gov. Daniels said paying out 90% of every forfeiture dollar to police and prosecutors for "expense of collection" was improper. "That is unwarranted as policy and constitutionally unacceptable in light of the Supreme Court's recent guidance and the plain language of Article 8, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution," Daniels said in his veto message.

On April 27, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed that asset forfeiture funds must be paid to the Common School Fund. But two days later, the Republican-led General Assembly voted to approve the change in asset forfeiture distribution anyway.

Now, Gov. Daniels has stood up for Indiana schoolchildren -- and the rule of law -- in the face of the law enforcement lobby and despite the wishes of his own Republican peers.

Indianapolis, IN
United States

Connecticut Legislature Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The Connecticut Senate Saturday narrowly approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The vote was an 18-18 tie until Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman (D), in her position as president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote to put the measure over the top.

Connecticut is about to join the ranks of the decrim states. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
On Tuesday, it passed the House. It is supported by Gov. Dan Malloy (D), who Saturday urged the House to pass it.

Under current law, the possession of "any usable amount" of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000. The fine jumps to $3,000 for subsequent offenses.

The bill, Senate Bill 1014, would make possession of less than a half-ounce of pot a civil infraction punishable by a maximum fine of $150. Fines jump to from $200 to $500 for subsequent violations. People under 21 would see their drivers' licenses suspended for 60 days, similar to the punishment for minors in possession of alcohol. Under an amendment by marijuana foe Rep. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) and accepted by Democrats, anyone thrice cited for small-time possession would be required to seek drug treatment.

Supporters of the bill argued that slapping people with a criminal record for small-time pot possession unfairly burdened them and the criminal justice system, but opponents said it sent the wrong message.

"It puts into jeopardy the future endeavors of such young people," said Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield) co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee. "Decriminalizing the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana is a better course and in the best interest of young people whose judgment may not be fully matured."

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) stressed that lawmakers were not legalizing marijuana. "We are not enforcing the use of illegal drugs. We strongly disapprove of their use, but we're trying to realign their punishment that is more appropriate," he said, adding that the state should be focusing its scarce criminal justice resources on dangerous offenders.

But Boucher had dire warnings for Connecticut if the bill passed. "When we do this, and it has been shown in other states that have gone down this path, there is both an increase in use and an increase in crime," said Boucher, who also opposes another bill that would fully legalize the medical use of marijuana.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield) used a version of the discredited gateway theory to bolster his opposition. He told solons his old sister had started with marijuana, then went on to become addicted to cocaine and other drugs before getting clean after treatment.

"For me, a policy that lessens the severity of drug use is a bad one," he said. "I don't believe we should just give up."

After the bill passed the Senate, Gov. Malloy urged the House to approve "a commonsense" criminal justice reform. The state is "doing more harm than good when we prosecute people who are caught using marijuana -- needlessly stigmatizing them in a way they would not if they were caught drinking underage," he said.

Now, the legislature has done as the governor asked. Expect Malloy to sign the bill shortly.

Hartford, CT
United States

Not a Good Year for Marijuana So Far in Sacramento

Last Friday marked a critical deadline in the California legislature, and with the passing of that day, a number of marijuana reform measures saw their prospects snuffed out or deferred until next year, while some not so friendly measures are still alive. Friday was the last day to get bills out of the chamber where they were introduced; if they hadn't moved to the other chamber by then, they died.

The California Senate chamber. There's not a lot of good news coming out of Sacramento this year. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
On the medical marijuana front, Senate Bill 129, introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana users, but stalled after passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2008, only to be vetoed by then Gov. Schwarzenegger (R), but support has since slipped among moderate Democrats and labor, according to California NORML.

Sen. Leno asked that the bill be put on the inactive bill while he attempts to gin up more support. That means the measure will be held over until January, when it can be reconsidered.

A bill that would have established a statewide commission to make recommendations on how to overcome the state's medical marijuana distribution mess, Senate Bill 626, also failed to move. That bill was bottled up in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and sponsor Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Los Angeles) is pondering how to revive it next year.

A couple of bills that did move were not favorable for medical marijuana dispensaries. Assembly Bill 1300, sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Los Angeles), started out clearly stating that dispensing medical marijuana was legal under state law. As such, it garnered the support of state and national reform groups. But it was gutted in committee, and that language was removed, leaving only language allowing localities the option of regulating collectives. That bill now heads to the Senate.

To add insult to injury, an even worse bill passed the Senate and is headed for the Assembly. Senate Bill 847, introduced by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), would impose statewide zoning restrictions on dispensaries. Under the bill, dispensaries would have to be at least 600 feet from a residential area unless the locality chooses to have a more permissive zoning law.

On the non-medical front, what would have been groundbreaking legislation giving judges and prosecutors the option of trying cultivation offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies is down, but not quite out. Assembly Bill 1017, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), was defeated last week on a vote of 24-36, but won a motion to reconsider, meaning the Assembly can revisit the bill in January.

"The state legislature has once again demonstrated its incompetence when it comes to dealing with prison crowding," commented California NORML Director Dale Gieringer. "With California under court order to reduce its prison population, it is irresponsible to maintain present penalties for nonviolent drug offenses. It makes no sense to keep marijuana growing a felony, when assault, battery, and petty theft are all misdemeanors. Legislators have once again caved in to to the state's law enforcement establishment, which has a  vested professional interest in maximizing drug crime."

And last but not least, a hemp bill, Senate Bill 676, also authored by Sen. Leno, passed the Senate and awaits action in the Assembly. That bill authorizes hemp to be grown only in a handful of Central Valley counties and Imperial County on the Mexican border, where distance and prevailing winds should keep its pollen away from Northern California's lucrative marijuana crops.

Some small glimmers of light, but all in all, a pretty disappointing year so far for marijuana reform in Sacramento.

Sacramento, CA
United States

CHA Gets Angry Earful Over Drug Testing Proposal

As we reported last week, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has proposed requiring all adults living in public housing -- including senior citizens -- to take a drug test. If the person failed the drug test, he or she would be evicted. It also proposed evicting any resident whose family members gets arrested on drug charges.

Lake Parc Place residents let CHA CEO Lewis Jordan know what they thought of his bright idea. (Image courtesy CHA)
The CHA held a public hearing Thursday night, and if the response was an indication, that trial balloon is going over like a lead balloon. While one speaker supported the plan, the rest lashed out at the CHA and its new CEO, Lewis Jordan, the man who crafted the proposal.

"We all want a safe, healthy and drug-free environment, but the reality is we don't live in a drug-free world, a drug-free Chicago, a drug-free Illinois," said Darlene Hale, a CHA resident, in remarks reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. "How in the world can you demand that poor people be subjected to rules and regulations that is going to put them on the street and create more homeless people?" she asked.

Renaud Tatum, an 11-year resident at Lake Parc Place, said he was "highly offended" when he read about drug testing aimed at the poor. "I challenge Mr. Jordan to hire a third-party consulting firm to do scientific research to substantiate a correlation between low-income people having a higher use of drugs then people with higher incomes," he said.

Audrey Motes, a Lake Parc Place resident, told CHA officials she faces eviction because her adult son, who doesn't live with her, was arrested on a drug offense. She pleaded with Jordan to be able to stay.

"I'm not the one who did anything wrong," she said. "He is a 28-year-old man, and I raised him to do better. "I was at work just like I am now and he was out here getting into trouble. Why should that affect me? I don't feel that is right."

But Jordan wants to remove language that says the "resident may raise a defense that the resident did not know, nor should have known, of said criminal activity."

"Removing the innocent tenant defense from the lease agreement will, in my opinion, do nothing to reduce crime at public housing developments," said Lawrence Wood, an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation for Metropolitan Chicago. "All it will do is ensure that innocent people are evicted for crimes that they did not foresee and that they could do nothing to prevent."

Under the current language, Motes can stay -- if she bars her son from coming to see her.

"If I agree to be on probation for six months and bar him from visiting the building, then I can keep my apartment," she said. "But I am going to fight it to the end. They are destroying these people's families. You've got to put your child out and bar them from the building. They are breaking up people's families. It's just ridiculous."

"These policies are wrong and should not be applied to our people." Alderman Pat Dowell told Jordan.

As the public hearing ended, Jordan tried to be conciliatory. He had broached the ideas after hearing from frightened residents, he said.

"Because of the drug environment, sometimes they feel very unsafe," Jordan said. "We're just trying to find a balance and again I just want to stress the fact that we're here to listen and a final decision hasn't been made."

We will shortly find out whether Jordan actually did listen to CHA residents. If he did, he will drop the proposals in short order.

Chicago, IL
United States

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