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Chronicle AM: Sanders Endorses CA Init, Congress Moves to Help Vets Get MedMJ, More... (5/19/16)

Marijuana activists prepare to march on the White House, Congress moves on medical marijuana for veterans, Bernie Sanders endorses California's AUMA legalization initiative, and more.

The Democratic contender endorses California's AUMA legalization initiative. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizers, Veterans to Protest at White House Friday. A demonstration headed by the DC Cannabis Campaign and Weed for Warriors is set for the White House Friday after the Obama administration failed to respond to the groups' requests for "higher level consultations" following an initial meeting with White House staffers last month. Organizers are saying the event won't be a smoke-in, but it will come close. "This will be an unpermitted event with mass cannabis consumption and escalated civil disobedience," demonstration promotional materials say.

Bernie Sanders Endorses California's Legalization Initiative. Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative at a rally in Vallejo Wednesday. "I do not live in California," the Vermont senator told supporters. "But if I lived in California, I would vote 'yes' to legalize marijuana." Sanders has previously supported legalization in general, but hadn't taken a stand on the AUMA.

Illinois House Passes Decriminalization Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 2228, which would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. Offenders would be hit with fines of between $100 and $200. Currently, possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Moves to Allow VA Physicians to Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans. The House and Senate on Thursday approved amendments to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that should ease access to medical marijuana for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), serious wounds, and other debilitating conditions. The measure would bar the spending of federal funds to enforce a Veterans Health Administration policy that prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal. Once the measure becomes law, VA docs would no longer face penalties for discussing medical marijuana with patients or for providing recommendations for patients to participate in state-legal medical marijuana programs.The House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill have to be reconciled by a conference committee and passed again by both chambers. The medical marijuana amendments passed 233-189 in the House and 89-8 in the Senate.

Louisiana Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) Wednesday signed into law Senate Bill 271, which expands the state's existing cannabis oil program and expands the number of qualifying conditions. The bill also includes provisions for manufacturing cannabis oil in the state. Under the old law, there was no legal means of obtaining cannabis oil in Louisiana.

DEA Raids Montana's Largest Dispensary. The DEA, assisted by local law enforcement, has raided Montana Buds, the state's largest dispensary. Witnesses reported agents removing items from the dispensary. One woman was seen sitting hand-cuffed in front of the building. Agents had no comment other than to say that "this is now a federal investigation." The state Supreme Court ruled in February that dispensaries were illegal, but that ruling doesn't take effect until August. Earlier this week, state medical marijuana interests asked the US Supreme Court to overturn the state Supreme Court ruling.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Bill to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture Introduced. A bipartisan group of legislators Thursday introduced the Due Process Act, which would require that authorities in civil asset forfeiture cases prove there was "a substantial connection" between the property being seized and any criminal activity. Under current federal law, the burden of proof is on the owners of asset to show they are not derived from crime. The bill has not yet been assigned a number.

Harm Reduction

DC Expands Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug Access. The DC Department of Health has launched a pilot program to expand access to naloxone (Narcan), the overdose reversal drug. Previously, the drug had only been available at a single location in the city, but under the new plan, the drug will be available at two more locations, and harm reductionists will be handing them out at various other locations.

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

Congress Moves to Allow VA Physicians to Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans

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

The House and Senate on Thursday approved amendments to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that should ease access to medical marijuana for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), serious wounds, and other debilitating conditions.

Sponsored in the House by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Joe Heck (R-NV), and in the Senate by Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the measure would bar the spending of federal funds to enforce a Veterans Health Administration policy that prohibits VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal. Once the measure becomes law, VA docs would no longer face penalties for discussing medical marijuana with patients or for providing recommendations for patients to participate in state-legal medical marijuana programs.

The House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill have to be reconciled by a conference committee and passed again by both chambers. The medical marijuana amendments passed 233-189 in the House and 89-8 in the Senate.

With the ban in place, even in states with medical marijuana laws, veterans must go outside the VA system to get a recommendation or even discuss medical marijuana with their doctors. That VA policy actually expired at the beginning of this year, but would remain in force without congressional action. And Congress has acted.

"Today is a monumental day for us vets," said TJ Thompson, a disabled U.S. Navy Veteran who lives in Virginia. "Congress has recognized our right to heal, allowing us access to medical cannabis within the VA.

Marijuana policy reformers, who have long fought to remove obstacles to veterans' use of medical marijuana, were pleased, too.

"Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana does nothing to help our veterans," said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Current VA policy is preventing physicians from thoroughly monitoring patients' medication decisions and engaging in frank conversations about available treatment options. It dramatically undermines the doctor-patient relationship."

"It's looking like this could finally be the year the federal government stops making veterans jump through costly, time-consuming hoops just to get legal access to medical marijuana," said Tom Angell, head of Marijuana Majority. "Cannabis has shown great promise in helping veterans deal with PTSD and treat chronic pain, and it's an increasingly attractive alternative to opioids. There's absolutely no reason the VA should be preventing its doctors from helping veterans who served our country find relief with medical marijuana."

"We are delighted to lift this outdated, discriminatory policy, which has negatively impacted the lives of so many veterans." said Michael Collins, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We need all options on the table to treat veterans, and finally Congress has seen sense and will allow veterans to be on an equal footing to other residents of medical marijuana states."

After today's votes, the two chambers will take up reconciling and differences between the two versions of the appropriations bills before sending them to the president.

Washington, DC
United States

Frustrated Marijuana Legalizers Head for the White House

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

A demonstration headed by the DC Cannabis Campaign and Weed for Warriors is set for the White House Friday after the Obama administration failed to respond to the groups' requests for "higher level consultations" following an initial meeting with White House staffers last month.

Headed by longtime DC political gadfly Adam Eidinger, the DC Cannabis Campaign is the group behind the District's successful 2014 marijuana legalization initiative. The campaign's White House demonstration last month led to that initial meeting and to the campaign's call for further meetings.

Weed for Warriors is a group dedicated to working with the Veterans Administration to ensure that vets "have the freedom to use medical marijuana as a recognized medical alternative to harmful psychiatric drugs."

Organizers are saying the event won't be a smoke-in, but it will come close. "This will be an unpermitted event with mass cannabis consumption and escalated civil disobedience," demonstration promotional materials say.

"Support veterans risking arrest!" the groups say. "They will lead a mass die-in calling for an end to the war on drugs."

The groups are calling on the Obama administration to deschedule -- not reschedule -- marijuana before the president leaves office in January. But they are also clear that the ultimate goal is ending prohibition.

"You should understand our protests are not just for medical research into cannabis, but ending cannabis prohibition once and for all," the DC Cannabis Campaign said in its letter to the White House earlier this month. "You have the opportunity to heal the national wound of unjust cannabis policies that have always targeted minorities, hurt patients and corrupted policing in America for nearly 80 years."

The date, May 20, is no accident. It's the birthday of arch-prohibitionist Harry J. Anslinger, who, as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for decades in the mid-20th Century, was a founding father of the modern war on drugs. The protestors note that Anslinger built support for pot prohibition by resorting to racist and xenophobic justifications, as Anslinger's own words make clear:

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."

"… the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."

"Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."

"Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."

"Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing."

"You smoke a joint and youre likely to kill your brother."

"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind."

The bigotry and racism behind Anslinger's attack on marijuana have remained embedded in prohibition, with black people being arrested at a rate nearly four times that of whites. And five million people have been arrested on marijuana charges since President Obama has been in office -- nearly 90% of them for simple possession.

"Given the compelling and staggering facts as to why these failed cannabis policies harm Americans, we are sure you can understand why we cannot tolerate your inaction on these important issues any longer," the groups said in their letter to the White House. "We simply cannot stand on the sidelines and watch while everyday more Americans are harmed by what is clearly racist and unconstitutional failed drug policies. This is why we are requesting a formal response regarding the above from your administration before May 20th."

That formal response didn't happen, so Friday's demonstration at the White House is happening.

Medical Marijuana Update

In Oklahoma and Ohio, medical marijuana half-measures are being challenged by initiative campaigns, Oakland tries to create some racial equity in the industry, Maryland medical marijuana hits another delay, and more.

California

On Tuesday, Oakland passed an ordinance designed to encourage minority participation in the industry. The city council unanimously approved a medical marijuana ordinance with an "equity program" that would reserve half of the city's new cannabis permits for people who live in a designated high-crime police beat in East Oakland or were imprisoned for marijuana-related crimes in Oakland in the past 10 years. But the plan is coming under fire from industry leaders who say it may actually be counterproductive to encouraging minority participation and could undercut a pot economy expected to boom if and when the state legalizes marijuana.

Louisiana

Last Wednesday, the House passed a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. The House approved Senate Bill 271, but because it amended it, the bill must now go back to the Senate for a final vote. Last year, legislators legalized CBD cannabis oil, but only for a handful of conditions. This bill expands those conditions to include seizure disorders. No one can currently use CBD cannabis oils because the legislature is still figuring out how to regulate them.

Maryland

On Tuesday, the Medical Cannabis Commission announced continuing delays in implementing the program. The state approved commission, which was created in April 2014 and is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Missouri

Last Wednesday, the House rejected a medical marijuana bill. The House killed the bill on a 71-85 vote. That leaves an open path for a medical marijuana initiative whose supporters have handed in signatures and are awaiting confirmation that the initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Montana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana supporters appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association filed a petition with the US Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state Supreme Court decision that guts the state's once-thriving medical marijuana industry. Petitioners argue that the state Supreme Court mistakenly held that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law and point to the Obama administration's decisions to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, the governor signed a CBD cannabis bill into law. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed into law a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Last year, the state approved the use of the oil, but only for people under 18. This bill removes that age restriction.

Last Saturday, medical marijuana advocates began an initiative signature gathering drive. CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahomans for Health, which began gathering signatures over the weekend for a full-blown medical marijuana initiative. The group has 90 days to gather 66,000 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for medical marijuana at very high 90%. The poll comes as a restrictive medical marijuana bill is working its way through the legislature and as a medical marijuana initiative is in the signature-gathering phase. The poll also asked about support for legalization, which came in at 52%.

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

Chronicle AM: MD MedMJ Delay, Ohio's Bad "Good Samaritan" Bill, No RI Referendum, More... (5/17/16)

Another New England legislature fails to act on pot legalization, Maryland's long-awaited medical marijuana program is again delayed, Wisconsin's GOP attorney general wants all employers to drug test their workers, and more.

No medical marijuana for Maryland patients for at least another year. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Chances Fade for Rhode Island Referendum on Pot Policy. For six years, marijuana legalization bills have failed to even get a vote in the legislature. This year is no exception. There has been some talk of a non-binding referendum to plumb public sentiment on the issue, but it now looks like even that is going nowhere. "A referendum on this year's ballot is unlikely," House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told The Providence Journal in an email Monday. "I am keeping an open mind on the issue and will continue to analyze it over the summer and fall."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Announces Continuing Delays in Implementing Program. The commission, which is charged with establishing the state's medical marijuana program, announced Tuesday yet another delay in getting the program up and running. The state approved medical marijuana more than two years ago, in April 2014, making this one of the slowest roll-outs yet. The commission now says patients probably won't have access to medical marijuana until the late summer of 2017.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Attorney General Wants Every Workplace to Test for Prescription Drugs. Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), championing his Dose of Reality program aimed a prescription opioid use, has called on all employers in the state to institute drug testing programs. "We have 163,000 in Wisconsin abusing opiates in some manner. We need to get them help," Schimel said.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Ohio Legislature Considers 911 "Bad" Samaritan Law That Could Increase Overdose Deaths. As early as Wednesday, the Ohio Senate could consider a bill, House Bill 110, that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended so badly it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 "Bad" Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result. The bill would limit the number of times people could get immunity from prosecution for reporting an overdose and it requires medical providers to give patient information to police.

Law Enforcement

Texas Trucking Company Owner Asks Supreme Court to Hear Case Against DEA. The owner of trucking company whose semi was used without permission by DEA agents in a failed Zetas sting that left the driver dead wants the US Supreme Court to take up his case. Craig Patty, the owner, had filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages in the 2011 incident, which led to a wild shoot-out in northwest Houston. A New Orleans-based appeals court throw out his case in March; now, Patty wants it reinstated. A Patty employee working as a DEA informer took the truck to the Mexican border, then drove a load of Zetas marijuana to Houston, where DEA and local police would swoop in and make arrests, but the truck was attacked before the bust could go down.

Chronicle AM: MJ Taxes Could Generate Billions, Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin, More... (5/16/16)

A Tax Foundation study finds that legal pot could generate $28 billion a year in tax revenues, CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahoma medical marijuana activists, Canada will allow prescription heroin, and more.

DC activists and veterans head for the White House next week to press for end to marijuana prohibition. (Adam Eidinger/Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Study Finds Legal Marijuana Could Generate Billions a Year in Tax Revenues. A new report from the Tax Foundation estimates that a nationwide "mature marijuana industry" could generate up to $28 billion a year in federal, state, and local tax revenues. That would include $7 billion for the feds, $5.5 billion in business taxes, and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes. The report also estimated that a 10% federal surtax could generate $5.3 billion a year.

Veterans, DC Activists to Rally at White House on May 20. Organizers with the Weed For Warriors Project and the DC Cannabis Campaign are planning to rally in front of the White House to call on the Obama administration to end federal marijuana prohibition. The date, May 20, marks the 124th anniversary of the birth of arch-prohibitionist and proto-drug warrior Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for three decades in the mid-20th Century.

Medical Marijuana

Montana Medical Marijuana Supporters Appeal to US Supreme Court. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association last Thursday filed a petition with the US Supreme Court seeking to reverse a state Supreme Court decision that guts the state's once-thriving medical marijuana industry. Petitioners argue that the state Supreme Court mistakenly held that marijuana is universally illegal under federal law and point to the Obama administration's decisions to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws.

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has signed into law a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill. Last year, the state approved the use of the oil, but only for people under 18. This bill removes that age restriction.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Begin Initiative Signature Gathering Campaign. CBD cannabis oil isn't enough for Oklahomans for Health, which began gathering signatures over the weekend for a full-blown medical marijuana initiative. The group has 90 days to gather 66,000 valid voter signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Congress Passes Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Both houses of Congress have approved the measure, Senate Bill 524 and HR 953, which now goes to President Obama. The bill would expand the availability of naloxone, increase prescription drug monitoring programs, increase jail- and prison-based drug treatment, and bar the Education Department from asking about drug convictions on federal student loan application forms, among other provisions. The bill does not include extra funding to pay for its measures.

Obama Administration Calls on Congress to Fund $1.1 Billion for Opioid Effort. Last Thursday, as Congress was passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the Obama administration noted that Congress didn't allocate money to pay for it and called on Congress to come up with $1.1 billion in additional spending to do so.

International

Canada to Allow Prescription Heroin. Health Canada announced Friday that it is proposing new regulations to allow access to prescription heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP). That program allows for emergency access to drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed or are unsuitable. "A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic, relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the statement said.

Macedonia Will Have Medical Marijuana by Month's End. Health Minister Nikola Todorov said Saturday that medical marijuana products will be in pharmacies across the country by the end of the month. The country had earlier amended its Law on the Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances to allow the move.

Chronicle AM: Millions Would Grow Pot If They Could, Hemp Returns to WV, More... (5/12/16)

Congress acts on opioid and drug trafficking bills, million want to grow pot if it's legal, a CBD cannabis oil bill moves in Louisiana, a medical marijuana bill is killed in Missouri, and more.

Safe injection sites are coming to Ireland. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Millions of Americans Would Grow Pot at Home If It Were Legal, Survey Finds. A new Harris Poll conducted for Green State Gardener has found that a whopping 44.5 million adult Americans would grow their own at home if it were legal. That's 18% of all adults, up from 10% only last year. "A year or two of research doesn't establish a trend yet, but the jump in these numbers is pretty significant," said industry analyst Bruce Butterfield. "The largest number of adults most likely to grow marijuana themselves is 18 to 34 year olds, followed by baby boomers aged 55-plus." The poll also found that 59% said marijuana should be legal, in line with other recent polls showing consistent, if narrow, majorities for legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Houses Passes CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. The House approved Senate Bill 271 Wednesday, but because it amended it, the bill must now go back to the Senate for a final vote. Last year, legislators legalized CBD cannabis oil, but only for a handful of conditions. This bill expands those conditions to include seizure disorders. No one can currently use CBD cannabis oils because the legislature is still figuring out how to regulate them.

Missouri House Rejects Medical Marijuana Bill. The House Wednesday killed the bill on a 71-85 vote. That leaves an open path for a medical marijuana initiative whose supporters have handed in signatures and are awaiting confirmation that the initiative has qualified for the November ballot.

Ohio Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Medical Marijuana. A new Quinnipiac University poll has support for medical marijuana at very high 90%. The poll comes as a restrictive medical marijuana bill is working its way through the legislature and as a medical marijuana initiative is in the signature-gathering phase. The poll also asked about support for legalization, which came in at 52%.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia to See First Legal Hemp Crop Since World War II. Scientists with West Virginia University are set to plant hemp next week in Morgantown as part of a research study on phytoremediation (reinvigorating depleted or polluted soils). The second phase of the study will explore hemp's industrial applications.

Drug Policy

House Passes 10-Bill Package Aimed at Opioid Addiction. The House Wednesday approved 10 bills that are part of an 18-bill legislative package designed to fight opioid addiction. One bill would concentrate on best prescribing practices for opioids, another would provide funding for care for babies of mothers addicted to opioids. The rest of the package is due for consideration today or tomorrow.

Congress Passes Transnational Drug Trafficking Act. The act, Senate Bill 32, now heads to the White House for President Obama's signature. The bill would criminalize foreign drug manufacturers if they intend, know, or have probable cause to believe the substance will be illegally imported into the US. It would also increase penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs.

International

Irish Government Makes it Official: Safe Injection Sites Are Coming. The government released its Program for Government Tuesday, and the document commits the Fine Gael-led administration to supporting "a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use, including legislation for injection rooms."

Obama's Effort to Free Drug War Prisoners Hits Bureaucratic Roadblocks [FEATURE]

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

With the sentence commutations announced last week, President Barack Obama has now cut more than 300 harsh drug war prison sentences, more than the previous six presidents combined. Thousands more could be eligible for commutations, but bureaucratic obstacles inside the Justice Department mean the clock could run out before Obama gets a chance to free them.

Thousands could go free with sentence cuts this year -- if bottlenecks are fixed. (nacdp.org)
As part of the Obama administration's emphasis on criminal justice reform and reducing the federal prison population, then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole called on nonviolent federal drug war prisoners to seek clemency in April 2014.

"In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing unfair disparities in sentences imposed on people for offenses involving different forms of cocaine, but there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime -- and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," said Holder at the time. "This is simply not right."

Holder noted that Obama had granted commutation to eight people serving time for crack offenses the previous December.

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences," Holder said.

The mass clemency program is one of Eric Holder's sentencing reform legacies. (justice.gov)
Under Holder's criteria for clemency, low-level drug offenders who had served at least 10 years, had good conduct in prison, had no significant criminal history or connection to gangs, cartels, or organized crime, and who would probably receive a "substantially lower sentence" if convicted of the same offense today would be eligible for sentence cuts.

Of roughly 100,000 federal drug prisoners -- nearly half the entire federal prison population -- more than 36,000 applied for clemency. Many of them did not meet the criteria, but the Justice Department has reviewed nearly 9,500 that did. Of those, only the 306 have actually been granted clemency; applications are still pending for 9,115 more. (An additional 8,000 pending applications are being handled by a consortium of private attorneys, the Clemency Project.)

Many of those might not make it to Obama's desk before the clock runs out on his term because the Justice Department has stumbled in administering the program. Thousands of prisoners doing harsh drug war sentences could lose their chance for early freedom because Justice didn't get around to hiring enough people to handle the flood of applications it generated.

The situation so infuriated Office of Pardons attorney Deborah Leff, who was hired to oversee the project, that she quit earlier this year. Her resignation letter to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates made it clear why.

Despite her "intense efforts" to do her job, Justice had "not fulfilled its commitment to provide the resources necessary ffor my office to make timely and thoughtful recommendations on clemency to the president," she wrote. "The position in which my office has been placed, asking us to address the petitions of nearly 10,000 individuals with so few attorneys and support staff, means that the requests of thousands of petitioners seeking justice will lie unheard."

It wasn't just that Justice wasn't adequately staffing the pardons office -- it had a total of 10 staff attorneys -- but Yates was overturning the pardon attorneys' recommendations and blocking the office's traditional access to the White House, Leff complained.

"I have been deeply troubled by the decision to deny the Pardon Attorney all access to the Office of the White House Counsel, even to share the reasons for our determinations in the increasing number of cases where you have reversed our recommendations," Leff wrote in her resignation letter to Yates.

US Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff resigned in frustration.
"It is essential that this groundbreaking effort move ahead expeditiously and expand," she wrote, implying that the Justice Department process was stalling justice.

The staffing problems had been apparent early on, which is why the Department turned to the Clemency Project to help out last year. But that effort, which involved some 4,000 attorneys from 30 law schools, 70 large law firms, and more than 500 small firms and solo practitioners doing pro bono work, has also been slow to get rolling.

Now, with the days slipping away and freedom for thousands in the balance, both the Justice Department and the Clemency Project are feeling the heat. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston told the Washington Post last week that many more petitions will be granted in Obama's final months and that the Justice Department has doubled the number of lawyers at the pardon office. And administration officials said that President Obama wants to see more petitions on his desk.

"The President is deeply committed to the clemency initiative. That is evident not only by the historic number of commutations he's granted to date, but by his wholesale approach to revamping the way the government approaches commutations," White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in a statement.

The Justice Department said it was working hard, too.

"The Justice Department has dedicated the maximum amount of resources allowed by Congress to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, and we have requested additional funds from Congress for each year the initiative has been in place," spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement.

But it may be too little, too late for the thousands of men and women behind bars who could see freedom being waved in front of them only to vanish when the clock runs out, if things don't change quickly.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Bumper Afghan Opium Crop, No Monopoly Needed for MJ Research, Says State, More... (5/5/16)

It's harvest time in Afghanistan and the poppy crop is bountiful, the State Department says UN drug treaties don't require a NIDA monopoly on research marijuana, CBD bills get signed by the governor in Alabama and go to the governor in Oklahoma, South Dakota's internal possession law is obstructing sentencing reforms, and more.

It's a bumper crop of opium poppies for Aghanistan this year. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Foes Attack Marijuana Potency. The anti-legalization Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, led by Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (D), and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), is set to make an issue of marijuana potency as it attempts to blunt support for the state's legalization initiative. It's a 21st Century version of former drug czar William Bennett's "not your father's marijuana."

Oregon To Allow Recreational Edibles Sales Beginning in June. The Oregon Health Authority issued draft temporary rules Wednesday that will allow the sale of marijuana edibles to recreational users at medical marijuana dispensaries beginning in June. Recreational pot shops aren't open yet, but adults who want to purchase marijuana have been able to do so at dispensaries. Now, they will be able to buy edibles there, too.

Medical Marijuana

State Department Says NIDA Monopoly on Research Marijuana Unnecessary. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department has gone on record stating that the United States could issue multiple licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes without violating the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. The statement came in response to a direct request from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) regarding whether issuing multiple licenses to grow medical marijuana was a violation of the Single Convention. The State Department's interpretation is at odds with that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has always maintained that the treaty only allows a single license, which is granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This has created what is referred to as the "NIDA monopoly on cannabis," which has stalled medical cannabis research for years.

Alabama Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) Wednesday signed into law "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, which will allow the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat people suffering from debilitating seizures. The bill is named for Leni Young, a child whose family had to move to Oregon because her CBD treatment was illegal in Alabama. The family reports a dramatic reduction in seizures since using cannabis oil.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Wednesday voted 69-14 to approve a bill expanding the medicinal use of CBD cannabis oils. Last year, the state approved CBD cannabis oil, but only for people under 18. This bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, removes that age restriction.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Connecticut Bill Would Increase Penalties for Synthetic Opioids. The legislature is considering House Bill 5524, which changes the definition of narcotic substances to include fentanyl and its derivatives. This would expose fentanyl sellers to up to 15 years in prison, as opposed to the up to seven years in prison they currently face.

Drug Policy

South Dakota's Internal Possession Laws An Obstacle to Sentencing Reform, Report Finds. Criminal justice reforms have slowed the growth of the state's prison population, but South Dakota is still locking up too many drug offenders because of a state law that makes ingestion of a controlled substance a felony. That's the bottom line of a new report issued Thursday by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Signs Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Order. Gov. Scott Walker (R) Wednesday signed an emergency order mandating drug testing for people seeking unemployment benefits. Those who refuse the drug test will have their benefits denied; those who fail it must undergo drug treatment and a job skills assessment in order to retain benefits. The rule will take effect when published later this week.

International

High Yields for Afghanistan's Poppy Crop This Year; Taliban Happy. Farmers and officials in Helmand Province, the heartland of Afghan opium production, are reporting high yields thanks to abundant rainfall and the cancellation of government eradication campaigns. Taliban members were taking part in return for wages and taxes, in cash or in kind, as well as recruiting new members from among the seasonal laborers who scrape the resin from the poppy pods. "We are happy that we had a good harvest this year compared with previous years," said Abdul Rahim Mutmain, a farmer in Musa Qala district. "There is no security concern for a single laborer being checked or robbed by the police," Mr. Mutmain said. "The entire district is under Taliban control and the bulk of the harvesters are Taliban." He added, "Actually, this is the Taliban regime -- you can take your narcotics anywhere or anytime you want to sell them."

Medical Marijuana Update

National

State Department Says NIDA Monopoly on Research Marijuana Unnecessary. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department has gone on record stating that the United States could issue multiple licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes without violating the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. The statement came in response to a direct request from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) regarding whether issuing multiple licenses to grow medical marijuana was a violation of the Single Convention. The State Department's interpretation is at odds with that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has always maintained that the treaty only allows a single license, which is granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This has created what is referred to as the "NIDA monopoly on cannabis," which has stalled medical cannabis research for years.

Alabama

Alabama Governor Signs CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) Wednesday signed into law "Leni's Law," House Bill 61, which will allow the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat people suffering from debilitating seizures. The bill is named for Leni Young, a child whose family had to move to Oregon because her CBD treatment was illegal in Alabama. The family reports a dramatic reduction in seizures since using cannabis oil.

California

On Tuesday, the feds ended their attempt to shut down Harborside Health Centers. Federal prosecutors have reached a "historic agreement" with Harborside to end their efforts to seize the Oakland and San Jose dispensaries for violating federal drug laws. In return, Harborside agrees not to pursue further legal action against the federal government. "We are gratified that the government has finally seen fit to lay down its arms against Harborside in this case," said Harborside attorney Henry Wykowski. "The will of the people is for medical cannabis dispensaries to operate free from federal threats of closure. We hope we are on the cusp of a policy change and that the Department of Justice will no longer target state-legal dispensaries for forfeiture."

Oakland Approves Medical Marijuana Expansion. The city has given its okay for a plan to license up to eight more dispensaries a year, as well as creating the city's first-ever licenses for farms, kitchens, and labs. The move came on a pair of unanimous city council votes after 16 months of laying the political groundwork. The council must come back later and approve the changes one more time before they're final.

Colorado

Colorado Legislature Approves Bill to Help Young Medical Marijuana Patients. The legislature has approved House Bill 1373, which orders school districts to come up with policies to accommodate students who are medical marijuana patients. The measure does not allow smokable marijuana at school, nor does it require school employees to administer marijuana-based medicines. That will be left to parents or primary caregivers. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign the bill into law.

Connecticut

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Passes Legislature. A bill that would allow children with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana has passed out of the legislature after a final Senate vote last Friday. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) is expected to sign House Bill 5450 into law.

Illinois

Illinois Medical Marijuana Board Okays New Health Conditions. The board voted Monday to add ten qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. Among them were PTSD and chronic pain, which were rejected earlier this year by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). The board members also said they doubted the conditions would be approved and complained that Rauner's standards for approving new conditions are too strict.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire's First Dispensary Opens. The Sanctuary Alternative Treatment Center opened in Plymouth last Saturday. It's the first dispensary in the state to open for business. It only took nearly three years after the state's medical marijuana law was approved for this to happen.

Ohio

Ohio Medical Marijuana Bill Won't Allow Smoking. Vaping is okay, but toking is not under House Bill 523, the bill being considered by the legislature. The bill would also bar home cultivation. Proposed ballot initiatives, however, would allow both smoking and home cultivation, so the legislature's effort to undercut initiatives by passing its own bill may still not be enough to blunt the popular measures.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The House Wednesday voted 69-14 to approve a bill expanding the medicinal use of CBD cannabis oils. Last year, the state approved CBD cannabis oil, but only for people under 18. This bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, removes that age restriction.

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

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