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Medical Marijuana Update

Massachusetts finally sees its first dispensary, the White House removes a barrier to marijuana research (although others remain), a Delaware kids' CBD cannabis oil becomes law, California stays busy, and more.

Global

Last week, the Dalai Lama endorsed medical marijuana. Speaking at a an event in Guanajuato, Mexico, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Speaking in response to a question about legalizing marijuana, the Dalai clarified that he opposed its recreational use, but using it medicinally would be "the exception."

National

On Monday, the White House removed a crucial barrier to marijuana research. The Obama administration announced it is ending a major impediment to marijuana research, the Public Health Service review. That hurdle, created under the Clinton administration, required all applications for marijuana research to undergo an individual review, slowing down marijuana research and making it more difficult to study than heroin or cocaine. More hurdles remain, though.

On Wednesday, the US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Took Up CBD. The caucus, generally composed of old school drug warriors, somewhat surprisingly examined issues around access to CBDs, focusing on barriers to research and potential medical benefits.

California

Last Thursday, a Santa Cruz County initiative to overturn a cultivation ban qualified for the ballot. Now, county supervisors must either repeal the ban themselves or give voters the opportunity to do so. The county's ordinance banned commercial grows and limited personal grows to 100 square feet. If supervisors don't act, it could be on a June 2016 election ballot, or supervisors could call a special election.

Also last Thursday, the San Diego Planning Commission okayed a sixth dispensary. The dispensary is set to operate in Mira Mesa. The first approved dispensary in the city opened in Otay Mesa in March. San Diego allows for up to four dispensaries in each city council district.

Last Friday, a judge in Santa Ana denied a request to freeze the dispensary permitting process despite accusations that the process was unfair. That means the city can go ahead with permitting up to 20 dispensaries.

On Monday, the medical marijuana organ transplant bill passed the legislature. The bill would bar health care providers from denying access to organ transplants based solely on the patient's medical marijuana use. Assembly Bill 258 now awaits the governor's signature.

Also on Monday, a Mendocino County initiative to create a marijuana commission failed to qualify for the ballot. Proponents needed 5,004 valid signatures to qualify, but only came up with 2,797 raw signatures.

On Tuesday, Redding officials signaled that they will extend a dispensary moratorium for another year. Zoning Board officials said they would vote Wednesday night to extend the moratorium.

Delaware

On Tuesday, the governor signed a CBD cannabis oil for kids bill into law. Gov. Jack Markell (D) signed into law Rylie's Law, named after a Delaware youth who suffered from epileptic seizures. The law will allow physicians to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oils for epileptic children who do not respond to other treatments. The oil will only be available at medical marijuana dispensaries, the first of which opens Friday.

Massachusetts

Last Friday, the state's first dispensary was approved to sell medical marijuana. The Alternatives Therapy Group in Salem is ready to start selling to patients after winning a temporary waiver from state testing guidelines widely viewed as too strict. The Department of Public Health has said it will reconsider the standards. The dispensary is one of four in the state that have started growing their own supply, and is the furthest along. It opened on Wednesday.

New Jersey

On Monday, a bill to allow sick kids to use CBC cannabis oil at school was filed. Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) and Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) filed a bill that would allow children to use CBD cannabis oil at school. The bill would require parents or a designated adult to come to the school and administer the oil. The measure is Assembly Bill 4587.

New York

On Monday, an early access medical marijuana bill passed the legislature. A bill that would allow early access to medical marijuana passed the Senate Monday night after already being approved in the Assembly. The move comes as a year has gone by since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, but not one patient has yet to be able to legally obtain any. This bill would provide expedited access to seriously ill patients.

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

Chronicle AM: Federal OD Prevention Bill, OH Pols Gun for Marijuana Initiative, More (6/24/15)

Ohio politicians move to undercut a marijuana legalization initiative, South Florida heads toward marijuana decriminalization, Delaware's governor signs a kids' CBD cannabis oil bill, Louisiana's governor signs an overdose prevention bill, federal lawmakers file an overdose prevention bill, and more.

The 45th annual DC Smoke-In will take place on the 4th of July. (smoke-in.us)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio House Panel Approves Measure That Could Block Legalization Initiative. A House committee Tuesday approved a resolution that could block a marijuana legalization initiative that appears to be poised to make the ballot. If approved by the legislature, the resolution would place an initiative on the November ballot that would bar amending the constitution through ballot measures that provide direct economic benefits to a few people or create monopolies. That is precisely the model adapted by ResponsibleOhio, whose initiative would allow only 10 commercial grows linked to investors in the campaign. Legal questions that could be tested if both initiatives are approved by voters are whether the ResponsibleOhio initiative will be invalidated if the amendment reform resolution gets more votes; whether it will be invalidated if amendment reform passes but with fewer votes; or whether the legalization provisions might be "severable" under Ohio law, and take effect, with only the monopoly provisions being invalidated.

Florida's Palm Beach County to Explore Relaxing Pot Penalties. Palm Beach County officials Tuesday night agreed to explore decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Officials cited a clogged court system and the problems that arise for people after a marijuana arrest. Neighboring Miami-Dade County officials are pondering a similar move, and so is nearby Broward County.

DC Smoke-In Will Celebrate 45th Anniversary July 4. The 45th annual DC Smoke-In is set for the 4th of July, and organizers are calling on all smoke-in alumni to return to DC for the rally, march, and concert. You might be able to legally possess a joint in the nation's capital, but federal prohibition still obtains. Click on the link for event details and more.

Medical Marijuana

Delaware Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids Bill Into Law. Gov. Jack Markell (D) Tuesday signed into law Rylie's Law, named after a Delaware youth who suffered from epileptic seizures. The law will allow physicians to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oils for epileptic children who do not respond to other treatments. The oil will only be available at medical marijuana dispensaries, the first of which opens Friday.

Drug Policy

New York City Council Ponders Bill to Shift Drug Policy Toward Public Health and Safety. The council is considering a measure to create an Office of Drug Strategy, which would coordinate policy and program priorities across city agencies and in collaboration with community groups. If approved, it would be the first such office in the US. The idea is to shift away from punitive criminal justice approaches and toward a public health approach.

Harm Reduction

Federal Lawmakers Introduce Overdose Prevention Bill to Combat Heroin and Opioid Overdose Crisis. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) Wednesday introduced identical bills to support the expansion of overdose prevention services. Both bills would expand community-based overdose prevention programs that provide resources to those likely to witness an overdose and be in a position to help, such as first responders and family members. Resources include trainings on how to recognize the signs of an overdose, seek emergency medical help, and administer naloxone and other first aid. Both bills would provide federal funding for the purchase and distribution of naloxone by community and public health stakeholders to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose. They are not yet available on the congressional website.

Louisiana Governor Signs Overdose Reversal Drug Access Law. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) Tuesday signed into law House Bill 10, which allows doctors to write prescriptions for naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal drug, for drug users, friends, and family members. Louisiana law already allows first responders to carry the drug.

Chronicle AM: Pregnancy and Marijuana Use, Church Group Says Decriminalize Drugs, More (6/23/15)

Guidance from a doctor's group on marijuana use and pregnancy matches what activist groups think the policy should be, the Maine legislature punts on legalization, a California bill to protect patients from discrimination in access to organ transplants passes the legislature, and more.

Pregnancy and marijuana use is in the news today. (wikimedia.org/David Roseborough)
Marijuana Policy

Doctors' Group Issues Guidance on Marijuana Use By Pregnant Women; Advocates Urge Non-Punitive Responses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued guidance encouraging pregnant women to avoid marijuana use "[b]ecause the effects of marijuana may be as serious as those of cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption." The group also called for non-punitive treatment for pregnant pot smokers: "Seeking obstetric-gynecologic care should not expose a woman to criminal or civil penalties for marijuana use, such as incarceration, involuntary commitment, loss of custody of her children, or loss of housing... Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus." Noting that pregnant women who use marijuana have been arrested in numerous states, National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance are urging that non-punitive responses to cigarette smoking and alcohol use be applied to pregnant women who use marijuana. The two groups also call for more unbiased research on marijuana use during pregnancy.

Maine Legislature Rejects Legalization. Solons in both the House and Senate Monday rejected marijuana legalization bills, clearing the way for legalization initiatives next year. The House rejected LD 1380, from longtime legalization advocate Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) that would have put the issue to a popular vote, while the Senate unanimously LD 1401, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland). At least two separate legalization initiative campaigns are already underway.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Takes Up CBD Tomorrow. The caucus, generally composed of old school drug warriors, will somewhat surprisingly examine CBDs, focusing on barriers to research and potential medical benefits tomorrow. The hearing is set for 9:30am Wednesday.

California Organ Transplant Bill Passes Legislature. The bill would bar health care providers from denying access to organ transplants based solely on the patient's medical marijuana use. Assembly Bill 258 now awaits the governor's signature.

New Jersey Bill to Allow Sick Kids to Use CBD Oil at School Introduced. Assemblymembers Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) and Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) Monday filed a bill that would allow children to use CBD cannabis oil at school. The bill would require parents or a designated adult to come to the school and administer the oil. The measure is Assembly Bill 4587.

Drug Policy

New England Methodists Call for Drug Decriminalization. The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing some 600 congregations, passed a resolution saying that "the public policy of prohibition of certain narcotics and psychoactive substances, sometimes called the 'War on Drugs,' has failed to achieve the goal of eliminating, or even reducing, substance abuse" and called for "seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse." The resolution was supported by Christians Against Prohibition and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

International

British Liberal Democrats Call for Medical Marijuana, Drug Decriminalization. The Lib Dems have offered amendment to the government's psychoactive substances bill that would decriminalize drug possession and legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. "When I was a police officer, I realized that locking up drug users is simply not the answer," said party leader Brian Paddick, who offered the amendments. "We have to learn the lessons of why our current approach is failing before we make the same mistakes with new psychoactive substances as we have done with other illegal drugs."

Chronicle AM: Dalai Lama on MedMJ, OH Initiative Shenanigans, First MA Dispensary Will Open, More (6/22/05)

Ohio's political establishment gears up to block a controversial legalization initiative, the Dalai Lama supports medical marijuana, the Obama administration removes a barrier to marijuana research, Louisiana's governor rejects clemency for a man doing 13 years for two joints, and more.

The Dalai Lama is down with medical marijuana. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Official Says Proposed Amendment Could Block Marijuana Legalization Initiative. GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted said last Friday that an amendment to block private-interest monopolies would render the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative invalid if the former passed. Husted and Republican lawmakers have vowed to adopt a resolution to place the monopoly amendment on the ballot. Husted said that if that amendment passes, the ResponsibleOhio initiative would be invalid, even if it also passed, and even if it passed with more votes than the monopoly amendment. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would limit commercial marijuana growing to ten specified locations, the owners of which are also the financiers of the initiative campaign.

Montana Anti-Marijuana Initiative Proposed. Billings anti-pot zealot Steve Zabawa is back at it. In 2014, he proposed an initiative saying that any federal Schedule I controlled substance (read: marijuana) "may not be legally possessed, received, transferred, manufactured, cultivated, trafficked, transported or used in Montana." It failed for lack of signatures. Now he has filed the same initiative again.

Medical Marijuana

Dalai Lama Endorses Medical Marijuana. Speaking at a an event in Guanajuato, Mexico, last week, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Speaking in response to a question about legalizing marijuana, the Dalai clarified that he opposed its recreational use, but using it medicinally would be "the exception."

White House Removes Crucial Barrier to Marijuana Research. The Obama administration announced today it is ending a major impediment to marijuana research, the Public Health Service review. That hurdle, created under the Clinton administration, required all applications for marijuana research to undergo an individual review, slowing down marijuana research and making it more difficult to study than heroin or cocaine.

First Massachusetts Dispensary Approved to Sell Medical Marijuana; One Inspection Left. The Alternative Therapies Group in Salem is ready to start selling to patients after winning a temporary waiver from state testing guidelines widely viewed as too strict. The Department of Public Health has said it will reconsider the standards. The dispensary is one of four in the state that have started growing their own supply, and is the furthest along. It must still pass a final inspection before it opens its doors. Much more at the link.

Drug Testing

California Appeals Court Upholds Making Employer Pay for Emotional Distress from Random Workplace Drug Testing. The court upheld an award for the intentional infliction of emotional distress on two law office workers pressured into taking a random drug test by their employer. The employee handbook called for random drug testing for certain safety-sensitive categories, or after an accident or for probable cause, but the company compelled all employees to undergo drug testing on one day in 2011. The two plaintiffs were awarded $15,000 each in damages by the trial court, which is what the appeals court just upheld.

Law Enforcement

Philly Court Throws Out 58 Convictions Tied to Dirty Narcs. A Common Pleas Court judge last Friday reversed 58 convictions in cases linked to six former Philadelphia narcotics officers. The six were cleared of criminal corruption charges in federal court in May, but their misdeeds have tainted hundreds of cases. The Public Defender's Office is seeking reversals of 1,370 cases, and the city is facing 135 civil rights lawsuits based on the unit's behavior. Since 2013, prosecutors have refused to prosecute cases tied to the squad after numerous allegations they planted evidence, beat and robbed suspects, and falsified paperwork. Much more at the link.

Sentencing

Louisiana Governor Rejects Clemency for Black Man Doing 13 Years for Two Joints. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last week denied a clemency petition for Bernard Noble, sentenced to 13 years in prison for two joints under the state's draconian marijuana laws. Jindal said he rejected clemency because Noble had not yet served 10 years in prison.

International

China's Wide Open Illegal Drug Chemical Factories. It's pretty darned easy to get new synthetic drugs by the pound or more from Chinese manufacturers, according to this New York Times report. Need spice or flakka or bath salts? It's just a few clicks away.

Chronicle AM: Delaware Decriminalizes, Supremes Make Synthetic Convictions More Difficult, More (6/19/05)

The marijuana reform bandwagon rolls through Delaware, federal bills on opiates and racial profiling get filed, the Supreme Court issues an interesting decision on synthetic drug sales, and more.

The Supreme Court clarifies that criminal intent matters. (supremecourt.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. With the signature of Gov. Jack Markell (D) Thursday night on House Bill 39, Delaware becomes the 20th state to either decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana or make it legal for adults. The new law, which goes into effect in six months, removes the criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce by an adult, replacing them with a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. For those between 18 and 21, a first offense would be a civil infraction, while any more would be misdemeanors. For people under 18, possession would remain a misdemeanor. Public use would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine and up to five days in jail. That includes moving vehicles, public areas, and outdoors on private property within 10 feet of street, sidewalk, or any other areas generally accessible to the public.

Missouri Cannabis Conference Next Weekend. Missouri advocacy groups Show Me Cannabis and Missouri NORML are holding a joint conference beginning next Friday in Kansas City. Click on the title link for all the details.

Heroin and Opiates

Federal Bill to Deal With Opiate Use Filed. A bipartisan group of six House members Thursday filed HR 2805 as a multi-pronged effort to grapple with opiate and heroin use. Several other bills on the topic have already been filed. This one would increase prescription monitoring requirements, create an inter-agency task to develop best practices for pain management, create a grant program to increase the number of first responders carrying the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, and direct the drug czar's office to establish a public awareness program.

New Synthetic Drugs

Supreme Court Rules People Can't Be Convicted for Selling Synthetic Drugs If It's Not Clear They're Illegal. A unanimous US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people cannot be convicted for selling synthetic drugs unless prosecutors prove they knew the drugs were prohibited by law. Stephen McFadden had been convicted of violating the Controlled Substance Analog Enforcement Act for selling "bath salts," and a federal appeals court ruled that trial court jury instructions saying he could be convicted if the jury found he intended the drugs for human consumption. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying prosecutors must prove the defendant knew the substance was either a controlled substance or an analog. The case is McFadden v. United States.

Law Enforcement

Federal Racial Profiling Bill Introduced. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Thursday filed S 1610, which would eliminate racial profiling by police officers and promote accountability for state and local law enforcement. The bill also has provisions to eliminate sentencing disparities and promote reentry programs. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Chronicle AM: Denver Public Pot Use Effort, House GOP Eases Up on Needle Exchange Ban, More (6/18/05)

We're heavy on the marijuana news today, but there's also good news from Congress on needle exchange, and Peru's Shining Path wins a second bad-news designation from the US government.

Denver, the Mile High City. Soon, you may be able to smoke marijuana in a club there. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization. The state Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday voted 4-2 to approve House Bill 39, which would replace criminal penalties and possible jail time for marijuana possession with a civil fine similar to a traffic ticket. The committee chair, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington), sponsored the bill. It has already passed the House, and Gov. Jack Markell (D) has said he is "hopeful" Delaware will decriminalize.

New Poll Has Strong New Jersey Majority for Legalization. A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll has support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana at 58% among Garden State residents. Click on the link for demographics and more detail.

Ohio Secretary of State Attacks ResponsibleOhio Signature-Gathering. Secretary of State John Hustad (R) said Wednesday that signature-gatherers hired by ResponsibleOhio may be responsible for fraud. He cited several irregularities, including registrants with non-existent addresses, signatures that are illegible or don't match the signature on file for the applicant in the voter's existing registration record, and multiple applications submitted on the same day for a single applicant at different locations. ResponsibleOhio denied those charges, saying it had fully complied with state election laws and that it had met earlier with Hustad, and he didn't bring up any problems with their signature-gathering. The group has gathered more than 500,000 signatures; it needs 305,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Another Ohio Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Two initiative campaigns have already bowed out this year, a third (ResponsibleOhio) appears poised to qualify for the ballot (but see item above), and now a fourth has been approved for signature-gathering. The latest is the Ohio Cannabis Control Amendment, proposed by Ohioans to End Prohibition. The group has only two weeks to qualify for this year's November ballot, but could continue to gather signatures beyond the July 1 deadline to try to get on next year's ballot. The group's web address -- www.legalizeohio2016.org -- suggest that next year is its real target.

Washington State Pot Workers Join UFCW. In a first for Washington, employees at the Cannabis Club Collective in Tacoma have voted unanimously to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). This is the first union contract in the state's marijuana industry. The UFCW has organized medical marijuana workers in California.

Denver Activists Plan Local Initiative to Allow Limited Public Use. Some of the same people who led the statewide campaign to legalize marijuana in 2012 are now gearing up a plan to allow public use. They're talking about an initiative that would allow indoor vaping and outdoor smoking at bars and other spaces that want to do so. A public hearing on the proposal with Denver officials is going on right now.

Harm Reduction

Congressional Republicans Easing Opposition to Needle Exchange. Faced with rising heroin use in their home states and attendant public health implications from it, House Republicans are now easing their opposition to federal funding for needle exchange programs. The health spending bill now in the House would still bar federal funding to buy needles or syringes, but would allow federal block grant funds to states and localities to be used for the other costs of operating exchanges.

International

US Designates Peru's Shining Path as Narcotic "Kingpins." The remnants of the Maoist guerrilla group that plunged Peru into bloody civil war in the 1980s has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997, but this month, the US Treasury Department designated Shining Path as a significant foreign drug trafficking organization. Shining Path is accused of being involved in cocaine trafficking in south central Peru.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate sends a message to the DEA, a new study deflates fears of medical marijuana leading to increased teen pot-smoking, California continues to try to regulate its medical marijuana free-for-all, and more.

National

Last Thursday, a Senate committee voted to keep the DEA out of medical marijuana states. Just a week earlier, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Last Thursday, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

On Tuesday, a study found that medical marijuana doesn't lead to increased youth use. A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet finds that allowing for the legal use of medical marijuana has not led to an increase in the number of teens using it in the US. The study relied on 24 years' worth of data from the Monitoring the Future surveys and found that while youth use levels were higher in some medical marijuana states, those higher levels of use had preceded the legalization of medical marijuana.

California

Last Wednesday, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act won a committee vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

On Monday, members of a Santa Ana dispensary filed a lawsuit against local elected officials and police. The suit comes in the wake of a highly-publicized raid on the dispensary in which police were caught smashing surveillance cameras (oops, they missed one), making crude remarks about patients, and helping themselves to samples of the edibles. But the lawsuit alleges deeper problems, including collusion between Mayor Pulido, the police, and other elected officials to rig the dispensary permit system and harass unpermitted dispensaries.

Colorado

On Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that employers can fire medical marijuana patients for off-duty use. The Court today affirmed lower court decisions allowing employers to fire employees for marijuana use while off-duty. The decision hinged on the state's lawful off-duty activities statute. The Court held that in order for the off-duty conduct to be considered "lawful," it must be legal under both state and federal law. The unanimous decision was not a surprise to advocates working to reform marijuana law and policy in Colorado. The case is Coats v. Dish Network. Coats is a quadriplegic who worked in customer service for Dish, but was fired after a random drug test turned up marijuana metabolites.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the legislature approved a youth CBD cannabis oil bill. The state Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would allow children with epilepsy to use CBC cannabis oil. The bill, also known as Rylie's Law after 9-year-old Rylie Maedler, who suffers from severe seizures, already passed the House and now heads to the governor's desk.

Georgia

On Monday, the state unveiled its online registry for CBD cannabis oil patients. The Department of Public Health today went live with its online registry for patients authorized to use low-THC CBD cannabis oil. Also, the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis met for the first time.

South Dakota

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana initiative was filed. A state activist has filed the explanation for a medical marijuana initiative with the state attorney general's office. Once it is reviewed and approved, proponents will then have 180 days to come up with 13, 871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Medical marijuana initiatives have twice been defeated in the state. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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

The US Is Deporting Hundreds of Thousands for Drug Offenses, Many Minor [FEATURE]

(This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.)

The US government wants to throw Marsha Austin out of the country. The 67-year-old grandmother came from Jamaica to New York as a lawful resident in 1985, and has lived here ever since with her husband, seven children (two more are in Jamaica), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All are legal residents or US citizens.

Marsha Austin and her family in the Bronx (hrw.org)
By her own admission, she had problems with drugs. "I live in a drug-infested area," she said of her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she succumbed to the lure of crack cocaine in the wake of her mother's death. Jones racked up several minor convictions before getting popped for making a $5 purchase for an undercover officer in 1995.

That was "attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree," to which she pleaded guilty on her public defender's advice. The attorney failed to tell her the conviction could lead to deportation.

Her convictions led to little or no jail time, but in 2010, as her husband's health faltered, she violated probation by drinking alcohol. She did 90 days in jail, but instead of walking out, she was seized by immigration authorities at the end of her sentence and spent the next 2 ½ years in immigration jail awaiting deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly opposed her release, claiming she was under mandatory detention for her drug offenses, but then released her unexpectedly in 2013. She's been in treatment since then and now proudly reports that she's been "clean as a whistle" for the past five years. Now, her husband's health is failing, as is the health of her daughter, who suffered a breakdown after her own daughter suffered a serious illness.

"My kids and my grandkids, that's what I'm living for now," she said.

But she remains in limbo. The US government still wants to send her back to Jamaica, arguing that she is subject to deportation for the "aggravated felony" of buying $5 worth of crack for a narc.

She's not alone. Beginning late in the George W. Bush years and continuing through the Obama administration, the US has been deporting and trying to deport immigrants for drug offenses at a record clip. According to a just released report from Human Rights Watch, more than 260,000 non-citizens -- legal residents and illegal immigrants alike -- were deported for drug offenses between 2007 and 2012. Shockingly, 34,000 people were deported for marijuana possession offenses alone.

The trend is upward. The number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug crime was up 22% over that period, while the number of people deported whose most serious offense was a drug possession offense was up even more, at 43%.

Tens of thousands more have been or are being detained indefinitely in immigration jails fighting pending deportation orders. Such extended imprisonments wreak havoc on the families who husbands or fathers, wives or mothers, are caught up behind bars.

The sweeping action against non-citizens comes as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on "criminal aliens," but seems disproportionately harsh when applied to low-level drug offenders, especially people who have lived all or most of their lives here and have strong family and community roots in this country. It is also at odds with the trends toward drug decriminalization and even legalization now at play in the country.

The Human Rights Watch report, "A Price Too High: US Families Torn Apart by Deportations for Drug Offenses," documents how the US government is routinely breaking up families by initiating deportation proceedings for drug offenses, often ones decades old or so minor they resulted in little or no prison time. Researchers interviewed more than 130 affected immigrants, families, attorneys, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated new data obtained from ICE.

Here are some of the cases examined in the report:

"Raul Valdez, a permanent resident from Mexico who had grown up in the Chicago area from the age of one, was deported in 2014 because of a 2003 conviction for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver, for which he had been sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Ricardo Fuenzalida, a permanent resident from Chile now living in New Jersey, was held without bond for months fighting deportation in 2013 because of two marijuana possession convictions from 13 years earlier.

Jose Francisco Gonzalez, a permanent resident in Anaheim, California, was put into deportation proceedings and held without bond in 2014 because of a 2001 arrest for having two pot plants, despite having successfully completed a California diversion program that promised to erase his criminal record.

Abdulhakim Haji-Eda, a refugee from Ethiopia who came to the US at the age of 13, has been ordered deported as a drug trafficker for a teenage drug sale in Seattle. Now 26 years old, he has no other convictions, and is married to a US citizen with two US citizen children and another on the way.

"Antonio S.," who came to the US from Mexico when he was 12 and was eligible for a reprieve from deportation as a "DREAMer" under the executive program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was detained for over a year in Colorado and deported after a conviction for possession of marijuana, a municipal violation to which he pleaded guilty without an attorney.

"Alice M.," a 41-year-old graphic designer and Canadian citizen, [was barred] from living in the US with her US citizen fiancé because of a single 1992 conviction for cocaine possession she received in Canada in her last year of high school, a conviction that was pardoned long ago in Canada.

"Mr. V.," a refugee and permanent resident from Vietnam, was ordered deported in 2008 for a 1999 conviction for possession of crack cocaine. Although he has since been granted a full and unconditional pardon from the state of South Carolina, Mr. V. remains under a deportation order and only remains in the US because of restrictions on the repatriation of certain Vietnamese nationals."

"Even as many US states are legalizing and decriminalizing some drugs, or reducing sentences for drug offenses, federal immigration policy too often imposes exile for the same offenses," said Grace Meng, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Americans believe the punishment should fit the crime, but that is not what is happening to immigrants convicted of what are often relatively minor drug offenses."

The report notes that the Obama administration has been sensitive to the injustices of the war on drugs and urges it to be as sensitive to the harsh effects of its deportation policies related to drug offenses. But it is not just the federal government that can act to improve the situation. Here are the group's recommendations:

"To the United States Congress

Eliminate deportation based on convictions for simple possession of drugs.

Ensure that all non-citizens in deportation proceedings, including those with convictions for drug offenses, have access to an individualized hearing where the immigration judge can weigh evidence of rehabilitation, family ties, and other equities against a criminal conviction.

Ensure that refugees and asylum seekers with convictions for sale, distribution, or production of drugs are only considered to have been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" through case-by-case determination that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and whether the non-citizen is a threat to public safety.

Ensure that non-citizens who are barred from entering the US and/or gaining lawful resident status because of a criminal conviction, including for drug offenses, are eligible to apply for individualized consideration, i.e., a waiver of the bar, based on such factors as the above mentioned.

Eliminate mandatory detention and ensure all non-citizens are given an opportunity for an individualized bond hearing.

Redefine "conviction" in immigration law to exclude convictions that have been expunged, pardoned, vacated, or are otherwise not recognized by the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use.

To the Department of Homeland Security

Provide clear guidance to immigration officials that a positive exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be appropriate even in cases involving non-citizens with criminal convictions, with particular consideration for lawful permanent residents and non-citizens whose most serious convictions are for nonviolent offenses, including drug convictions, that occurred five or more years ago.

Provide all non-citizens who have been in detention for six months or more with a bond hearing.

To State and Local Governments

Ensure drug courts and diversion programs do not require a guilty plea from defendants that would constitute a conviction that triggers deportation, mandatory detention, and other immigration consequences even upon successful completion of the program.

Remove barriers to post-conviction relief for non-citizens convicted of nonviolent drug offenses through legal error, including through guilty pleas obtained without adequate advice from defense counsel on the potential immigration consequences of the plea.

Decriminalize the personal use of drugs, as well as possession of drugs for personal use."

To be comprehensive and thorough, drug reform must encompass immigration law reform, too.

Chronicle AM: Senate Panel Wants DEA Out of MedMJ, MI Legalization Inits Approved, More (6/11/15)

The Senate is following the House's lead in telling the DEA not to interfere in medical marijuana states, two Michigan initiatives get the go-ahead for signature-gathering, a package of heroin bills passes the New York Senate, Vancouver gets tired of Cannabis Day, and more.

Cannabis Day in Vancouver. The city wants to shut it down. (cannabisday.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Bill Blocks DC Marijuana Sales for Two Years, But Doesn't Try to Roll Back Legalization. The House approved an appropriations bill today that would block legal marijuana sales in the District for the next two years. But, in what advocates called a victory, it does not attempt to undo Initiative 71, which allows for legal marijuana cultivation, possession, and consumption.

Michigan Legalization Initiatives Get Go-Ahead for Signature-Gathering. Two separate marijuana legalization initiatives are ready to start gathering signatures after the state Board of Canvassers approved the wording of their petitions Thursday. One is from the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and the other is from the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. Now, the groups must each gather 253,000 valid voter signatures in order to send the measures before the legislature. If the legislature fails to approve them, they would go before the voters in November 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana. Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. Click on the link for more details and reaction.

California Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act Wins Committee Vote. The measure, Assembly Bill 258, would bar health providers from denying organ transplants to people solely because they are medical marijuana patients. It has already passed the Assembly, and was approved Wednesday by the Senate Health Committee. It now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Heroin

New York Senate Approves Package of Heroin Bills. The state Senate Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at curbing the state's opiate addiction problem. The package is a mix of treatment and law enforcement measures, including a measure allowing police to charge dealers with murder in overdose deaths. The bills now head to the Assembly.

International

Vancouver Tells Marc Emery to Cool It With His Cannabis Day Festival. "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and his wife, Jodie, have been holding an annual July 1 Cannabis Day protest for nearly 20 years, but now Vancouver city officials have told them to cease and desist because "the city does not support or approve this event at this location as planned." But Jodie Emery said that people are going to show up regardless, and if there are any problems, "that's going to fall on the shoulders of the City reps who made this call."

Canada Supreme Court Expands Definition of Medical Marijuana to Include Edibles. The Canadian high court today ruled that medical marijuana is not limited to dried, smoked flowers, but also includes edibles, extracts, and derivatives. Read the opinion here.

Senate Committee Votes to Keep DEA Out of Medical Marijuana States [FEATURE]

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

Just last week, in a series of successful amendments to the Justice Department appropriations bill, the House sent a clear message to the DEA and DOJ to stop interfering in medical marijuana states. Today, a similar message came from the Senate.

Congress doesn't want the DEA messing with medical marijuana where it's legal. (wikimedia.org)
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted two-to-one today in favor of an amendment from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) that prohibits the Justice Department, including the DEA, from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

While the appropriations bill must still be approved by the Senate as a whole, both houses of Congress are now on record as telling the DEA to butt out of medical marijuana states. The passage of identical amendments in both houses is a good indicator that they will be included in the spending bill when it gets to President Obama's desk.

While the House has passed similar amendments for the last two years, this is the first time it was offered in the Senate. It mirrors the provisions of the CARERS Act (HR 1538/S.683), introduced earlier this year, but because a ban in an appropriations bill expires at the end of the fiscal year, advocates are still calling for the CARERS Act to move.

The vote was an impressive 21-9, with the only Democrat voting against it being Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Republicans split right down the middle, with eight opposing and eight supporting.

California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, was the only Democrat to vote "no." (senate.gov)
Drug reform advocates were pleased.

"This is another resounding victory for medical marijuana patients, their families, and their care providers. Congress is making it clear that the Department of Justice and the DEA have no business interfering in state medical marijuana laws," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"The goal of this amendment is to provide deference to the states, making it strikingly similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act. Unfortunately, that bipartisan bill has languished for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Chairman Chuck Grassley has refused to hold hearings on it. The Senate spoke loudly and clearly today. Hopefully Sen. Grassley was listening," Riffle continued.

"With so many votes going our way these days, each new one gets less and less exciting. But that's a good problem to have," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "We're entering an era where marijuana reform is accepted as mainstream and not seen as controversial, and that's exactly where we want to be. With this vote, it's now clear that a growing bipartisan group of lawmakers in both chambers are ready to get the federal government out of the way of the effective implementation of state marijuana laws. These temporary funding restrictions certainly help us to demonstrate political momentum, but the next step should be passing legislation to permanently change federal law."

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