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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 under legalization, 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 state'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.

Chronicle AM: USA Today Slams Asset Forfeiture, NY Times on AFT Drug Stash House Stings, More (11/20/14)

A new Maine legalization group lays out its vision, take your medical marijuana card when you go to Nevada next year, asset forfeiture gets ripped by USA Today, the New York Times takes a look at a questionable law enforcement practice, and more. Let's get to it:

Highway patrol or highwayman? Asset forfeiture gets more criticism. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

New Maine Legalization Group Wants Home Grows, Social Clubs. Calling itself Legalize Maine, a new group has emerged with a plan to free the weed there. Group organizer Paul McCarrier said his plan is "home grown" -- a jab at the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has been laying the groundwork for statewide legalization there for the past several years -- and would allow for home cultivation, the use of marijuana in social clubs, and an 8% tax on sales. MPP has not released details of what it will propose for the 2016 ballot, but its local initiatives in the state did not address home cultivation or allow for social clubs. Click on the link to read more detail on the Legalize Maine plan.

Medical Marijuana

Iowa Pharmacy Board Punts 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 Will Honor Medical Marijuana Cards from Other States. 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.

Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture Should "Go Away," Says USA Today. USA Today has joined the growing ranks of newspapers calling for state and federal civil asset forfeiture reform. In a Wednesday editorial, the country's third-largest daily circulation newspaper said asset forfeiture had come "unmoored" from its original intent of taking the profit out of crime and now appeared like something "one might expect in a banana republic, not the United States." The newspaper called for action on pending federal asset forfeiture reform bills and ended its editorial thusly: "Civil asset forfeiture is government at its absolute worst -- intimidating helpless citizens for its own benefit. It needs to go away."

Law Enforcement

New York Times Examines ATF Fake Drug Stash House Rip-Off Stings. The Times turns a jaundiced eye to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) use of imaginary stash-house stings, where undercover agents entice people into participating in what they thought were robberies of drug stash houses, only to be arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for decades. The newspaper notes that although most of the stings have survived legal challenges, some federal judges are now throwing out such cases. One federal judge in Los Angeles threw out a case earlier this year, citing "outrageous government misconduct" with the ATF "trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas -- all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past." Almost all of the people wrapped up in the stings have been brown or black. Clarence Walker has covered this issue for the Chronicle here and here.

International

Argentina As Latin America's Newest Drug Trafficking Hub. Argentina is emerging as a new drug trafficking hub, according to this analysis in World Politics Review. Author Benoit Gomis points to a number of factors ranging from geography to the size of the Argentine drug market, as well as infiltration by regional drug operations, weak law enforcement, and corruption. Gomis suggests one thing Argentina can do is emulate its neighbor Uruguay, which legalized marijuana last year in a bid to undercut the drug trade. Click on the link to read the whole thing.

Medical Marijuana Update

California continues to see dispensary battles, Rhode Island's third dispensary opens, medical marijuana is moving in the South, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

As of Wednesday, the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp had picked up three more cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapeutic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

California

Last Wednesday, the city of La Mesa was moving to shut down three dispensaries. The move comes after voters there failed to pass a municipal initiative to authorize and regulate the dispensaries. The dispensaries have until November 22 to close their doors, city officials said.

Last Thursday, San Diego moved ahead on shutting down unpermitted dispensaries. San Diego officials forced yet another unpermitted dispensary to shut down Thursday after shutting down four others three weeks ago. About 50 unpermitted dispensaries still operate in the city, which is going to allow permitted dispensaries to begin operating early next year.

Connecticut

Last Friday, state officials announced a hearing on adding new qualifying conditions. The state Department of Consumer Protection is considering whether to expand the state's quite restrictive list of qualifying medical conditions to include sickle cell anemia, Tourette's syndrome, "failed back syndrome," severe psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. The Board of Physicians will hold a public hearing on the matter on November 26. Click on the title link for more information.

Florida

Last Friday, a state judge rejected the Health Department's medical marijuana grower lottery plan. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Georgia

On Monday, a state legislator prefiled a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has pre-filed a bill that would legalize a form of medical marijuana in the state. At this point, House Bill 1 is little more than a mission statement, with details to be filled in later, Peake said. Peake tried to do the same thing in the just finished legislative session, but that bill died on the last day of the session.

Iowa

On Monday, a Board of Pharmacy committee heard debate on reclassifying marijuana. The board met Monday in Des Moines to hear debate on whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law. Such a move would be a step toward allowing medical marijuana in the state. The board is responding to a petition from long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen. The committee is expected to make a recommendation on the matter to the full Board of Pharmacy on Wednesday.

Maryland

Last Thursday, a state commission approved medical marijuana regulations. The commission charged with drafting the regulations approved them Thursday, but they still need to be approved by a legislative panel and the state's health secretary. The approval came after a delay last month, when some critics said fees for growers and dispensaries were too high. They still ain't cheap: Fifteen licensed growers will have to pay $250,000 every two years, while dispensaries will have to pay $80,000 every two years. The program isn't expected to be operational until 2016.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the state's third and final dispensary opened. The Summit Medical Compassion Center is set to open in Warwick tomorrow. There are two others in the state, one in Portsmouth and one in Providence. Three is all the state's medical marijuana law allows.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a state senator said he will introduce a medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who sponsored a successful low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, said Thursday he will sponsor a full-fledged medical marijuana bill next year. He made the announcement at a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Study Committee at Clemson University.

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

Chronicle AM: OR Pot Tax Battle, MA Mandatory Minimums Under Fire, More (11/19/14)

Oregon cities will fight to be allowed to tax marijuana, the CRS says state-level legalization leaves the US vulnerable to criticism on international drug treaties, federal reform bills pick up more sponsors, Hawaii medical marijuana patients get some rental protections, Iran is fine with executing drug traffickers, and more. Let's get to it:

Iran says drug traffickers deserve to be executed. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Research Service Says Legalization Leaves US Vulnerable to Charges It Violates International Drug Treaties. In a report released this week, the Congressional Research Service said state-level marijuana legalization challenges the international drug treaties, but that legalization in the District of Columbia would be the most direct affront because Congress has oversight over DC laws and the ability to void them. "This line of reasoning suggests that if Initiative 71 is permitted to take effect, this inaction by the federal government may strengthen the [International Narcotics Control] Board's argument that the United States has not fulfilled its commitments under the Single Convention," the report said. Congress could challenge DC legalization, but it appears there is little interest in doing so.

Oregon Cities Seek to Tax Marijuana. The League of Oregon Cities says it will ask the legislature to amend the voter-approved Measure 91 legalization initiative to explicitly allow local taxes imposed before the measure was approved earlier this month. Measure 91 sponsors say they will oppose the move because it could drive prices up high enough to encourage users to continue to resort to the black market. The legislature is considering forming a joint committee to consider this and regulatory issues in the wake of Measure 91's passage. Measure 91 allows for the state to tax marijuana, but not localities. Some 70 Oregon localities passed tax measures before Measure 91 was approved.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapuetic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

Hawaii Law Protecting Medical Marijuana Patient Housing Rights Goes Into Effect. As of this month, a new law voids provisions in state rental agreements that previously allowed for tenants to be evicted based on their status as registered medical marijuana patients. The Medical Cannabis Coalition of Hawaii fought for and now applauds this step toward protecting patient rights. The law does not, however, protect people living in government-subsidized housing.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 5212, would strengthen protections against asset forfeiture and require that seizures be proportional to the offense. It was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walhberg (R-MI) and now has 20 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and five Democrats. The latest is Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA). The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Drug Treatment

Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, S 2389, was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It would provide grants to community-based anti-drug coalitions, create treatment instead of incarceration programs, and provide for evidence-based opioid treatment interventions, among other provisions. It now has six cosponsors -- four Democrats and two Republicans. The latest are Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN). It is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Federal Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up New Cosponsors. The bill, HR 3383, was introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and would allow federal judges to sentence most drug offenders without regard to mandatory minimum sentences. It would also allow crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010 to seek sentence reductions. It now has 55 cosponsors -- 36 Democrats and 19 Republicans, and is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Cosponsor. The bill, HR 3465, was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and would expand federal grants to aid former prisoners reentering society. It has 45 cosponsors -- 37 Democrats and eight Republicans. The latest is Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Massachusetts Chief Justice Renews Call for End to Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. After a visit to Worcester Trial Court to meet with local court officials and employees, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants reiterated an earlier call to abolish mandatory minimums for drug offenders. He said he wants "individualized, evidence-based" sentencing. "Everybody sort of feels that the drug problem is not getting any better. I think everybody recognizes that we're not going to incarcerate ourselves out of the problem," he said.

Massachusetts Criminal Justice Panel Recommends Eliminating Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders. The Special Commission to Study the Commonwealth's Criminal Justice System has recommended ending mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses in the state. It is also calling for parole eligibility for all inmates who have served at least two-thirds of the lower end of their sentences, except for those convicted of murder or manslaughter. The commission is working on a report for incoming Gov. Charlie Baker (R). Baker signaled support for ending mandatory minimums for drug offenders during the campaign.

International

Iran Rejects Criticism of Its Resort to the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers. Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi Tuesday rejected criticism from human rights campaigners and UN human rights bodies over its frequent executions of drug traffickers. "We do not accept the statements made by the UN human rights bodies that drug-related convicts should not be executed," he said. He added that anyone who smuggles or deals drugs deserves to be executed.

Report on Drug Policy Progress in Asia. The Open Society Foundations Global Drug Policy Program has published "Moving the Needle on Drug Policy in Asia," which examines innovations in drug policy in an area that boasts some of the world's harshest drug policies. The report looks at harm reduction programs in Taiwan and drug treatment programs in Malaysia. Click on the title link to read it.

Chronicle AM: Congress Unlikely to Mess With DC Marijuana Legalization, Guatemala Could Legalize Next Year, More (11/17/14)

Congress may "just say meh" to DC legalization, Washington state's first pot auction was a success, it's back to the drawing board for Florida Charlotte's Web regulators, Lebanese hash farmers have an unusual problem, Guatemala's president said pot legalization could be coming soon, and more. Let's get to it:

There's too much hash in the hash fields of Lebanon. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Republicans Not Too Interested in Blocking DC Legalization. Congressional Republicans, eager to wage battle against President Obama and the Democrats on immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, don't appear that interested in trying to block the District of Columbia from implementing the marijuana legalization initiative voters approved on Election Day. The Washington Post quoted several senators who said they had other things on their minds. "That's pretty far down my list of priorities," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC). "I haven't given it one thought," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The Post also quoted a Heritage Foundation analyst as saying trying to block DC legalization could cost valuable political capital and expose a rift between GOP social conservatives and libertarians.

Washington State's First Pot Auction Brings in $600,000. In the first auction of legally licensed and produced marijuana in the state, Fireweed Farms sold more than 300 pounds of pot Saturday at an average price of $2,000 a pound. That's a $600,000 payday for the growers.

Pot Smoking Tickets Up Nearly Five-Fold in Denver. Through the first three quarters of this year, Denver police have cited 668 people for public pot smoking, compared to just 117 during the same period last year. That's a 471% increase. Even under legalization, public display and consumption of marijuana remains a no-no. Some advocates said public consumption will be an issue until the city allows for it to be consumed in bars or pot clubs.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Growers Lottery Plan, Sends Health Department Back to Drawing Board. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Scranton Times-Tribune Calls for Asset Forfeiture Reform. One of Pennsylvania's mid-level newspapers has jumped on the asset forfeiture reform bandwagon. In a Monday editorial, The Scranton Times-Tribune called for federal civil asset forfeiture reform. Citing "pervasive abuses" by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies, the newspaper called on the Congress to pass pending asset forfeiture reform legislation, and for Pennsylvania officials to examine whether the state's asset forfeiture law needs reform as well.

Prescription Drugs

DEA Pays Visit to NFL Teams Over Use of Pain Relievers. Spurred by reports of widespread use of prescription pain relievers in a recent lawsuit filed against the NFL, DEA agents Sunday visited several NFL teams to question medical staff members about their prescribing practices for drugs used to energize players before games and relieve their pain afterward. The DEA characterized the visits as "administrative," and nothing was seized and no one detained. "Our role is law enforcement, and we have the regulatory authority to make sure anyone who has a license operates within the law," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Recovery Alliance's Harm Reduction Gets Work Some Notice. The DePaul University newspaper The DePaulia has profiled the Windy City's Chicago Recovery Alliance and the harm reduction work in which it is engaged. The newspaper calls harm reduction "a small movement in the United States meant not to stigmatize drug users, but to safely educate and assist drug users with the ultimate purpose of reducing risk and eliminating drug-related complications and deaths." It's actually a pretty good overview of the harm reduction field.

International

With Lebanese Army Busy with Syrian Civil War, Hash Farmers Are Cursed By Oversupply. For the second year in a row, the Lebanese Army has been too concerned with the fighting on its borders to get around to eradicating marijuana crops in the Bekaa Valley, but the hash farmers can't win for losing. Now they face a flooded market and falling prices. Before the Syrian civil war and the glut, farmers were getting $1,500 for 1.2 kilos of hash; now that price has fallen to $500. Not only is the glut the problem, but political and military insecurity have made smuggling more difficult as well, feeding further downward price pressures.

Guatemala President Says County Could Legalize Marijuana Next Year. In an interview with TeleSur TV on Saturday, President Otto Perez Molina said Guatemala would decide early next year whether to follow Uruguay on the path to marijuana legalization. Perez Molina has also made similar noises about legalizing opium poppy production. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: Afghan Opium Funds Elections, Big WA Pot Auction, NV Signatures Handed In, More (11/13/14)

More poppies are growing than ever in Afghanistan, and they helped fund the recent presidential election; the UNODC head tsk-tsks at US legalization votes, Nevada petitioners hand in 2X the signatures needed, federal bills get more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

UN Anti-Drug Chief Says Legalization in US States Violate Drug Treaties. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said Wednesday that American states that have legalized marijuana are not in line with international drug conventions. "I don't see how (the new laws) can be compatible with existing conventions," he told reporters. Fedotov is coming to Washington next week to discuss the issue with the US State Department and other UN agencies.

US Representatives from Marijuana States Urge Colleagues Not to Interfere. Members of Congress from states that have legalized marijuana held a press conference in Washington, DC, today to urge Congress not to try to interfere with state-level legalization. Democrats from Colorado (Jared Polis), Oregon (Earl Blumenauer), and the District of Columbia (Eleanor Holmes Norton) were joined by Republican California Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher. With some congressional Republicans grumbling, DC would appear to be at some risk of interference, since Congress controls the purse strings.

Nevada Legalization Petitioners Turn in Twice the Number of Signatures Needed. It looks like Nevada is going to vote on legalization in 2016 (if the legislature doesn't act first). The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada Wednesday turned in 200,000 signatures for its proposed 2016 legalization initiative. It only needs 101,667 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Once the signatures are validated, the measure will head for the 2016 ballot unless the legislature decides to just pass it itself next year.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Has Updated FAQs for Recreational Marijuana. In response to public queries, the commission has updated its recreational marijuana FAQs page. Click on the link to see the updates. Here is the full FAQs page.

RAND Briefs Vermont Lawmakers on Legalization Issues; Public Hearing, Too. The RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center, which has been contracted by the state to prepare an in-depth report on the potential financial and social impact of legalization, briefed lawmakers Wednesday with the report's outlines. Center co-director Beau Kilmer told the lawmakers the report will cover the state's marijuana "landscape," analyze health and safety issues, review alternate approaches to taxation and regulation, and provide financial projections. Kilmer identified nine questions lawmakers should be asking themselves; click on the link to see them. The briefing was followed by a public hearing that took place on closed circuit television on towns around the state. The RAND report is due in January.

Virginia Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) has filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The bill will be considered in the new session beginning in January. It is SB 686.

Washington Pot Farmer to Auction Off A Ton of Weed. Well, this should help with those reported shortages plaguing the Washington state legal marijuana market. Fireweed Farm, a licensed marijuana producer in Prosser, has announced that its crop is in and processed, and it will be selling its one-ton harvest to the highest bidder (heh) on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Federal Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill would remove low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It's newest sponsors are Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Allen Lowenthal (D-CA). The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 32 cosponsors -- 18 Democrats and 14 Republicans. It has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce Committees.

Georgia Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Bill to Be Debated in January. Lawmakers who tried and failed to get a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana passed this year will be back at it in the coming session. The bill sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), said he will introduce an improved bill to be debated in January. He said he hopes to file it next month.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Picks Up New Sponsors. The bill, HR 5212, is sponsored by Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-MI) and would tighten requirements for asset forfeiture. The latest cosponsors are Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Henry Johnson (D-GA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI). The bill now has 19 cosponsors -- 15 Republicans and four Democrats. It is before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Pardons and Clemency

Arkansas Governor Pardons Son for Marijuana Conviction. Gov. Mike Beebe (R) has issued a pardon for his son, Kyle Beebe, who was convicted in 2003 of marijuana possession with intent to deliver. It is one of 25 pardons he is issuing before leaving office in January. Beebe has issued more than 700 pardons during his time in office, including a number of other first time drug offenders.

Sentencing

Federal Second Chance Reauthorization Act Picks Up New Sponsors. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the bill would expand grant programs aimed at helping people upon their release from prison. The House version, HR 3465, has now picked up Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), while the Senate version, S 1690, is now cosponsored by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD). The House version now house 44 cosponsors (36 Democrats and eight Republicans), while the Senate version, introduced by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), now has 22 cosponsors (17 Democrats, four Republicans, one independent).

Drug Testing

Key West Settles With Job Applicant Who Refused Drug Test. The city of Key West, Florida, will pay $75,000 to a former resident who refused to take a pre-employment drug test after applying for a position with the city and was then eliminated from consideration. The city will also pay $60,000 to the ACLU of Florida, which represented Karen Cabanas Voss. She had sued, arguing that the city's drug testing policy was unconstitutional, and a federal district court judge found in her favor.

International

Opium Helped Fund Afghan Elections, UNODC Says. The amount of land planted with opium poppies this year is at record levels, UN officials said Wednesday, and they said this year's presidential election campaign was part of the reason. "With the presidential election ongoing, there was a huge demand of funding," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a senior official with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "And that funding is not available in the licit economy, and that money has to come from somewhere, so they turned to the illicit economy." In its annual opium survey, UNODC found that the area under cultivation had increased 7%, while eradication decreased by 63% between last year and this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a quiet week on the medical marijuana front, perhaps a post-election lull. But there is news from California, Colorado, and Rhode Island. Let's get to it:

California

On Tuesday, activists complained that California veterans were being denied pain medications over their medical marijuana use. California NORML reported that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from Canorml and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado reported another $30 million month in medical marijuana sales. September sales were at $31.6 million, down slightly from August's $33.4 million. The all-time high was in February, when medical marijuana sales totaled $36 million. Recreational sales are also running about $30 million a month.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over medical marijuana employment discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a pain internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana initiative won in Guam, but the one in Florida lost despite winning a majority of the votes. There's other news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday,nine Lake County patients filed a $600,000 claim for damages for warrantless raids on their gardens. The move comes two weeks after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring such warrantless raids. The patients claim Lake County law enforcement entered their properties and seized their goods without their consent or a search warrant. They seek recompense for their stolen goods, as well as punitive damages.

On Tuesday, Election Day was a mixed bag for local medical marijuana initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 initiative won a solid majority, but fell short of victory. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Guam

On Tuesday, Guam voted approved medical marijuana. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Illinois

Last Saturday, the state began a second round of patient registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Iowa

On Tuesday, the Board of Pharmacy announced it would hold a hearing on medical marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

New York

Last Thursday, New York US Representatives asked the Justice Department to let the state import high-CBD medical marijuana for sick kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

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

Chronicle AM: Pot Legalization Trifecta, CA Sentencing Reform Passes, FL MedMJ Fails, More (11/5/14)

Marijuana wins in Alaska, DC, and Oregon; medical marijuana barely loses in Florida, California defelonizes drug possession offenses, New Jersey reforms the bail system, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy        

Alaska Legalizes Marijuana. In a trifecta for marijuana legalization initiatives Tuesday, Alaska has joined Oregon and Washington, DC, in voting to free the weed. That makes it the fourth state to do so. It won with 52% of the vote. Measure 2 allows adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants (three mature). It also allows individual growers to possess the fruits of their harvest. It will set up a complete system of commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution under the purview of the Alcohol Control Board -- or, if the legislature chooses to create it, a Marijuana Control Board.

Oregon Legalizes Marijuana. Oregon has become the third state to legalize marijuana. Voters Tuesday approved Measure 91, which will legalize personal marijuana possession and cultivation and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. According to election results compiled by The Oregonian, with two-thirds of the votes counted, the initiative was winning with 53.7% of the vote. [Update: Measure 91 finished up with an even more impressive 55.9%.] Under Measure 91, adults 21 and over will be able to possess a half-pound of pot and grow up to four plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be charged with drafting regulations and overseeing implementation of the will of the voters. It will act in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Health Authority.

Washington, DC, Legalizes Marijuana. Voters in Washington, DC, today overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which will make it legal for adults to possess and cultivate small amounts of marijuana in our nation’s capital. Partial election results from the DC Board of Elections Tuesday night had the initiative winning handily with around two-thirds of the vote. It was at 64.5% with 11% of precincts reporting at 10pm, the lowest figure of the day. [Update: Initiative 71 finished up with 64.7%.] That was enough for supporters to call the election. Because of District law, the initiative could address legal marijuana commerce. That is the purview of the DC city council, which has already demonstrated its friendliness to marijuana law reform by passing decriminalization earlier this year. The council is already considering a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce.

GOP Congressmen Threatens to Try to Block DC Legalization. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is saying he will try to block the legalization initiative just passed by DC voters. "Actions by those in DC will result in higher drug use among teens," Harris told The Washington Post. "I will consider using all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action, so that drug use among teens does not increase." Earlier this year, Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back a rider that would have blocked the DC city council's decision to decriminalize marijuana, but that rider didn't make it into the final DC appropriations bill.

South Portland, Maine, Votes to Legalize; Lewiston Does Not. Voters in South Portland voted 52% to 48% to approve a local legalization initiative, but voters in Lewiston did not. The measure there got only 45% of the vote. Portland, the state's largest city, passed a similar measure last year.

Massachusetts PPQs on Marijuana Legalization Pass. Non-binding public policy questions asking voters whether they approved telling their elected representatives they wanted to legalize marijuana passed in all 14 districts where they were on the ballot. Activists have been placing marijuana reform PPQs on the ballot each election since 2000, and they've never lost one. This year, most passed with more than 70% approval; the lowest passed with 54%.

Michigan Towns Split on Marijuana Initiatives. Marijuana legalization, decriminalization, or lowest law enforcement priority measures were on the ballot in 11 towns. They won in Saginaw, Berkeley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron, and Mt. Pleasant. They lost in Lapeer, Harrison, Onaway, Frankfort, and Clare. The state's largest cities have already approved similar measures.

New Mexico Non-Binding Decriminalization Initiatives Pass Big in Bernalillo, Santa Fe Counties. Non-binding, county level decriminalization initiatives won big in the state's largest and third-largest counties. Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) voted 59% in favor, while Santa Fe County (Santa Fe) produced an impressive 73% in favor.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Wins Majority, But Not Enough to Pass. Florida's Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative was defeated in today's election, even though it won a majority of votes. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Mixed Bag for California Local Initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Drug Testing

California Initiative to Drug Test Doctors Fails. Proposition 46, was drafted and backed by trial lawyers and was actually primarily about increasing the caps on medical malpractice liability payments. Drug testing doctors was added on after it proved popular in focus groups. Not surprisingly, Prop 46 was opposed by a powerful and deep-pocketed set of medical interests in what was one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history. It ended up with only 32% of the vote. [Update: With the rest of the votes counted, Prop 47 won with 58.7%, and Prop 46 lost with 32.8%.]

Sentencing Policy

California Initiative to Turn Drug Possession Felonies Into Misdemeanors Passes. Proposition 47, will change drug possession (and some other low-level non-violent offenses) from felonies to misdemeanors. It is viewed as a significant step in reducing mass incarceration and a retreat from the war on drugs. The popular vote in favor of Prop 47 comes just two years after voters approved another sentencing reform initiative, that one reforming the state's notorious "three strikes" law. Prop 47 got 57% of the vote.

New Jersey Bail Reform Initiative Passes. New Jersey voters have approved Public Question No. 1 to reform New Jersey’s bail system.  The narrowly-worded question allows judges to deny bail to dangerous individuals, but it ushers in broader bail reform because it is linked to comprehensive legislation, already signed by the governor, that overhauls the state’s broken bail system. The legislation implements wide-ranging reforms including non-monetary release options for low-risk individuals; a system under which pretrial release decisions are based on risk rather than resources; the use of risk assessments for suspects enabling courts to make individualized determinations of what conditions of release are appropriate; establishment of a pretrial services unit within the court system that will provide appropriate levels of monitoring and counseling for those awaiting trial.

Law Enforcement

NYPD Ordered to Quit Doing Marijuana "Buy Busts." The NYPD has been ordered by the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to quit doing penny ante pot "buy and bust" operations. The head of each borough's dope squad was summoned to NYPD headquarters last week and told to knock it off.  Police were told to focus on more dangerous drugs. The New York Post published the story, replete with unnamed law enforcement sources complaining about the move. 

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

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