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Chronicle AM: Mexico Issues First Pot Permits, DOJ Wants More $$$ for Asset Forfeiture, More (12/11/15)

A legalization initiative dies in Florida, but another is born in Montana; the Justice Department proposes funding increases for asset forfeiture programs, Mexico issues the first permits allowing people to grow and possess marijuana, and more.

!Viva Mexico!
Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiative Gives Up. Marijuana legalization will not be on the Florida ballot next year. Regulate Florida, which was the group behind the campaign, conceded Wednesday that it would not be able to gather the 683,000 needed signatures by the February deadline. They may try again in 2018, the group said.

Montana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch (D) Thursday approved the language of Initiative 178, which would legalize pot for people 21 and over, subject to licensing requirements and state regulations. Petitioners need 24,175 valid voter signatures, including at least 5% of registered voters in each of the state's 343 House districts.

St. Petersburg Ponders Decriminalization. St. Petersburg city council members Thursday asked Pinellas County commissioners to decriminalize small-time pot possession. Council members said that if the county doesn't act, they will draft their own municipal decriminalization proposal. In the past year, local decriminalization has taken off in Florida, with Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, as well as several municipalities in those counties, adopting similar ordinances.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Wants Even More Money for Asset Forfeiture Programs. American law enforcement is seizing property from citizens at a record rate, but that's apparently not good enough for the Justice Department, which is seeking increased funding to support the asset forfeiture activities of the DEA and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. The department wants $297.2 million to fund asset forfeiture in FY 2016, up $14 million over the previous year and up a whopping 146% since 2008. The entire federal drug control budget has increased by only 25% during that same period.

Drug Policy

Maine Legislature Caves in to Governor, Agrees to Hire More Drug Agents. Legislative leaders Wednesday unveiled a $4.8 million plan to fight the state's opiate use problem, with half of the funding going to law enforcement, including the hiring of 10 new state drug agents. Gov. Paul Le Page (R) had threatened to call in the National Guard today to fight drugs if the legislature didn't fund his demands. The other half of the money designated would go toward treatment, recovery, and education.

International

Mexico Issues First Permits to Grow and Use Marijuana. The Mexican government has awarded permits to four people that allow them to grow and possess marijuana for personal use. The move comes in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision allowing the four to legally produce it for their own use. Both the court ruling and the permits were limited to the four people in the case, but could pave the way for similar court rulings across the country and, ultimately, pot legalization nationwide.

Danish Parliament Considers Medical Marijuana. The parliament today began debating a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use. The bill is sponsored by Alternativet, but has the support of other parties as well. Alternativet, Dansk Folkeparti, Liberal Alliance, Socialistisk Folkeparti, and Radikale all support the bill. Together, they have 88 votes in parliament, precisely the number needed for the measure to pass.

Chronicle AM: Naloxone News in NC & NYC, DC Pot Social Club Fight, CO Pot Tourism, More (12/10/15)

Legal weed is drawing tourists to Colorado, DC activists fight for pot clubs, a federal appeals court rules that all students at a technical college can be subjected to drug testing, there's naloxone news from New York City and North Carolina, and more.

NCHRC reports 1,500 overdoses prevented with Naloxone in 2 1/2 years.
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana is Boosting Colorado Tourism. Pot businesses have long claimed as much, and now they have some solid evidence. A Colorado Tourism Office study released Wednesday shows that the state's marijuana laws influenced nearly half (49%) of decisions to vacation in the state. Some 22% of survey respondents said marijuana was "extremely influential" in their decision to visit Colorado. Twenty percent said it was "very much influential" and nearly 7% said it was "somewhat influential."

DC Activists Fight Back Against Bill That Would Ban Pot Clubs. The city council is today hearing a bill that would make permanent a ban on businesses allowing patrons to smoke marijuana on premises, but that's not sitting well with the people who got weed legalized in the District. "It's unnecessary. The current law prohibits any venue from selling marijuana or promising marijuana in exchange for admission. But what they're doing with this bill is banning any kind of use of use outside the home. There's a big problem with that, because there are lots of people who have nowhere to use their cannabis," said Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful 2014 legalization initiative. Eidinger is warning that if the council passes the bill, he could push more ballot initiatives, including one allowing marijuana to be treated like tobacco and one that would impose term limits on council members.

Illinois Lawmaker Files Decriminalization Bill. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) announced today that she is filing House Bill 4357, which would make possession of up to 10 grams a civil offense punishable only by a fine. A similar bill passed earlier this year only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who proposed amendments to it at the time of his veto. The new bill addresses those amendments.

Michigan Legalization Campaign to Extend Signature Gathering. MI Legalize is extending its signature gathering campaign and turning to paid circulators to qualify for next year's general election ballot. Under state law, petitioners have 180 days to gather signatures, but that is a clock that runs backward from the time signatures are actually turned in. The campaign's original turn-in date was December 21, but it will now go longer. That means early gathered signatures may not be counted. For example, if the campaign turned in signatures on January 21 instead of December 21, the first 30 days' worth of signatures would not be counted, but more recent signatures would.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Commission Rejects Growing It In-State. The Commission on Medical Cannabis voted 9-5 against allowing medical marijuana to be grown in the state, but the main proponent of expanding the program, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was still optimistic he can get in-state cultivation approved. "I think we can still make a compelling argument to the governor," Peake said. "I think we can address the fears of law enforcement. I think we can address the issue of potential demand. I'm absolutely certain we can provide legislation that both maximizes the benefit for our citizens and minimizes the risk to public health in our state."

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature-gathering. Read the initiative here.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court Rules Missouri College Can Drug Test All Students. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Monday that the Linn State Technical College can require all students to take drug tests. The appeals court decision overturns a federal judge's 2013 decision that the college could only drug test students in five particularly safety-sensitive programs. The school policy had been challenged by the ACLU of Missouri, which said such widespread, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment.

Harm Reduction

New York City Makes Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Available Without a Prescription. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Monday that the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) will now be available without a prescription in pharmacies in the city. "The deaths are what we all struggle to avoid… but that's just the tip of the iceberg," de Blasio said during his announcement at a YMCA. "For every death, there are literally hundreds who struggle with addiction."

North Carolina Sees 1,500 Lives Saved With Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. In just under 2 ½ years, more than 1,500 overdose deaths have been prevented with the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported today.

Law Enforcement

Rep. Steven Cohen Rips Use of Student Snitches. In the wake of a 60 Minutes report last Sunday and earlier reporting by Reason, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) ripped into the practice of using nonviolent, first-time drug offenders as confidential informants. "It's time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how the behavior of confidential informants not only threatens to ruin young lives, but in some cases, end their lives," he said, adding that he intends to file reform legislation.

International

Scotland To Begin Ticketing, Not Prosecuting, People With Pot. Starting next month, Scottish police will issue warnings to people caught with marijuana rather than prosecuting them. The move is part of a broader effort to change how police deal with petty crime, freeing them up to deal with more serious offenses.

Why the End of Federal Marijuana Prohibition May Be Only Five Years Away [FEATURE]

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

Rob Kampia thinks so, and he's a very well-placed observer. As head of the Marijuana Policy Project, Kampia has his finger on the pulse of pot politics as well as anyone, and he made a pretty startling prediction at the International Drug Reform Conference in suburban Washington last month.

MPP's Rob Kampia (YouTube)
At a panel on "Marijuana Reform in Congress," Kampia suggested that a handful of state-level marijuana legalization victories next year is going to set in motion a congressional debate on legalization that could see an end to federal marijuana prohibition before the end of the decade.

Legalization campaigns are already well-advanced in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, and while getting on the ballot is no guarantee of victory next November, polling so far suggests that most of them will win. And next year could also be the year the first state, and even perhaps a second, legalizes it through the legislative process.

Kampia said, "Vermont is most likely to legalize through the legislature, and Rhode Island has a good shot, but those are the only two states in play."

But then there are the initiative states.

"It could be that four or five initiative states legalize it, and then all of this is facing Congress in 2017," Kampia continued. "Then there will be a vigorous debate on legalization, and then, I predict, Congress could pass the states' rights bill in 2019."

Kampia is talking about something along the lines of this year's Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015 (HR 1940), sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that it would not apply to persons in compliance with marijuana laws in their state.

Passage of such a bill would not make marijuana legal everywhere -- that would be up to the individual states -- but would end the federal government's role in enforcing marijuana prohibition.

Kampia even suggested that Congress might get around to passing a bill to end federal pot prohibition before it gets around to passing a bill allowing states to enact medical marijuana laws without federal interference. That means legislation similar to this year's Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015 (S 683), sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) could languish while Congress leapfrogs its way to embracing legalization (or at least getting out of its way).

"All the attention will be on legalization," Kampia said, "and there's not a lot of tax revenue for the federal government with just medical marijuana, but if you're talking about the whole ball of wax, with substantial tax revenues, Congress might be inclined to go for the whole enchilada."

The MPP leader wasn't the only one in the room sounding upbeat that day. Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper said that when it comes to marijuana legalization, the train has already left the station.

"I'm very optimistic," Piper said. "The toothpaste is out of the tube. Even Chris Christie can't stop marijuana legalization. Once these initiatives pass in 2016, there's no way back."

The conventional wisdom among drug reformers used to be that we might see federal pot prohibition crumble by the middle of the next decade. But given the lack of disaster and the bonanza of tax revenue in legalization states so far, and the likelihood that a handful more will legalize it next year, that timetable is accelerating.

Chronicle AM: Canada Still Legalizing Weed, GAO Rakes Drug Czar Over Drug War Failures, More (12/7/15)

Canada reiterates its intent to legalize pot, there's strong support for expanding medical marijuana in Georgia, the GAO reports that federal drug policy goals are not being met, and more.

Oh, Canada.
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Doctors Oppose Legalization. Doctors with the Massachusetts Medical Society voted over the weekend to reaffirm their opposition to marijuana legalization. The move comes as a legalization initiative appears poised to go before voters next year. The doctors voted to continue their opposition to legalization, a policy first adopted in 1997, and also urged that if legalization were to occur, people under 21 should be barred from use.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Poll Finds Strong Support for Expanding Medical Marijuana Law. Under current Georgia law, people with certain illnesses are allowed to use medical marijuana, but it can't be grown or produced in the state. A new poll has 84.5% of respondents supporting expanding that law to allow for in-state cultivation with strict regulation. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has sponsored legislation that would do just that.

Illinois Tells Patients They Can't Be Gun Owners, Then Retreats. Illinois state police sent letters to a handful of patients saying their firearms cards were being revoked, but now say the letters were sent in error. Patients remain skeptical.

Drug Policy

GAO Says National Drug Policy Goals Not Being Met. In a report released today the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and other agencies "had not made progress toward achieving most of the goals in the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (the Strategy) and ONDCP had established a new mechanism to monitor and assess progress. In the Strategy, ONDCP established seven goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences to be achieved by 2015. As of March 2013, GAO's analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one showed progress and four showed no progress. GAO also reported that ONDCP established a new monitoring system intended to provide information on progress toward Strategy goals and help identify performance gaps and options for improvement. At that time, the system was still in its early stages, and GAO reported that it could help increase accountability for improving progress. In November 2015, ONDCP issued its annual Strategy and performance report, which assess progress toward all seven goals. The Strategy shows progress in achieving one goal, no progress on three goals, and mixed progress on the other three goals. Overall, none of the goals in the Strategy have been fully achieved."

Law Enforcement

The Sickening Use of Young People as Confidential Informants in the Drug War. "Supporters of the drug war often claim that we need to wage this unwinnable war to "protect" young people. 60 Minutes ran an explosive piece last night showing one of the many ways that the war on drugs actually endangers young people: the sickening use of young students as confidential informants," writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman. Click on the link for the whole piece.

International

Canada's New Liberal Government Reiterates Vow to Legalize Marijuana. In the annual throne speech last Friday, Governor General David Johnson reiterated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize marijuana. The effort should get moving once parliament is back in session.

Chilean President Removes Marijuana From Hard Drug List. President Michelle Bachelet has signed an order removing marijuana from the country's list of hard drugs and authorizing the sale of marijuana-derived medicines in pharmacies. Marijuana production and distribution remain criminal offenses, but the Congress is expected to discuss wider reforms of the drug laws early next year.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Overdoses Top Priority, Just One MA Init Left, More (12/3/15)

The drug czar is concerned about the rising toll of heroin overdose deaths. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Marijuana Legalization Not a High Priority for Californians. Californians are more concerned with school funding, increasing the minimum wage, and tax levels than they are with marijuana legalization, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. The poll found that 88% thought school funding was "very" or "somewhat" important, 80% though increasing the minimum wage was, 76% thought extending tax increases was, but only 49% though legalizing pot was. Fully one-third (32%) of respondents said legalization was "not at all important."

Down to One Legalization Initiative in Massachusetts. The legalization situation is clarifying. Bay State Repeal, which had mounted a grassroots effort to get its own legalization initiative on the ballot next year, has conceded that if failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. That leaves the Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as the sole possible contender next year. The latter group turned in more than 100,000 voter signatures earlier this week; it needs some 67,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Says Heroin, Prescription Opiate Overdoses Top Priority. Michael Botticelli, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), told a congressional hearing Wednesday that heroin and prescription opiates overdoses are the most urgent issue facing his agency. "There is no more pressing issue," said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation's drug policy. "We have seen a reduction in prescription drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths. We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven't seen it before." He said that more than 8,000 people died of heroin overdoses in 2013 and that he expects last year's figure to be substantially higher.

Sentencing

Massachusetts Poll Shows Broad Support for Repealing Mandatory Minimums. A poll conducted by Suffolk University's Political Research Center for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) found that voters there support repealing mandatory minimum sentences by a margin of three-to-one. Some 62% supported repeal, while only 21% were opposed. Other poll questions showed broad support for sentencing reforms as well. "Massachusetts voters get it," said Barbara J. Dougan, Massachusetts project director for FAMM. "They know that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are a failed public policy. They want these ineffective and expensive laws repealed. The only question left is whether state lawmakers will listen to their constituents."

International

Malaysian Truck Driver Faces Death Sentence for Less Than a Pound of Pot. Abdul Sukur Saiful Bahri, 38, a driver for a government agency, faces a mandatory death sentence after being charged under the country's draconian drug trafficking laws. He was caught with 305 grams of marijuana, about 11 ounces of weed.

Australian Government Creates National Medical Marijuana Licensing Scheme. The federal government has announced a national licensing plan that will remove the need for states and territories to come up with their own regulatory schemes. The national government will now oversee all regulations for medical marijuana. A bill is being drafted to turn the plan into law. That's expected to happen next year.

Medical Marijuana Update

A patient sues the Border Patrol over harassment at checkpoints, Minnesota expands its program to include chronic pain, a New Hampshire patient wins permission to seek medical marijuana next door in Maine, and more.

National

On Monday, a medical marijuana patient sued the Border Patrol over his right to carry medical marijuana. A New Mexico man filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that Border Patrol agents are not following a new rule that allows him to carry medical marijuana without risk of federal charges. Raymundo Marrufo is seeking an injunction against the agency over questions it asks travelers at border checkpoints. Marrufo contends that the Rohrabacher Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states, makes questioning travelers about medical marijuana illegal. "Whether it is a sense of entitlement, indifference or simply ignorance of the law, the court must immediately issue an injunction enjoining the United States Border Patrol from asking questions and conducting searches that violate that Rohrabacher Amendment," the complaint states.

Arizona

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court issued a mixed ruling on medical marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

California

On Monday, the city of Eureka began a temporary moratorium on commercial medical marijuana grows. The move is designed to ensure local decision-making when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1. Localities that have not acted to regulate medical marijuana by then will lose control of regulation to the state.

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council gave final approval to a medical marijuana ban ordinance. The ordinance bans the cultivation, processing, distribution, and delivery of medical marijuana, but appears to have been enacted to ensure the city -- not the state -- is able to regulate medical marijuana when the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act goes into effect on January 1.

Also on Tuesday, a state appeals court upheld Fresno County's ban on medical marijuana grows.. The 5th District Court of Appeals held that the local ban does not conflict with state laws allowing medical marijuana cultivation because those laws do not expressly bar a local government from restricting land uses.

Florida

Last Friday, the state approved five medical marijuana growers. The state Department of Health has named the five operations that will be allowed to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana. The state's law limits the use of oils derived from the plants to patients suffering from cancer or a disease that"chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms that can be treated with low-THC cannabis."

Minnesota

On Wednesday, the state announced it would allow medical marijuana for people in chronic pain. State Health Commissioner Ed Ehringer announced today that people suffering from chronic pain will be allowed to participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. The public had backed broadening access, but a panel of medical experts had advised against it. "The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."

New Hampshire

Last Tuesday, a New Hampshire woman won approval to seek medical marijuana in Maine. A woman suffering from late-stage lung cancer can seek to buy medical marijuana in neighboring Maine, a judge ruled last Tuesday. Linda Horan, 64, said she could be dead by the time dispensaries open in New Hampshire, so she sued the state to get an ID card that would allow her to purchase it in Maine. The state had argued that issuing her an ID card would undermine its need to control distribution, but the judge wasn't buying that argument. "She is suffering from a painful, terminal disease and is also undergoing chemotherapy. There is no dispute that cannabis can ameliorate some of her suffering," wrote Judge Richard McNamara. "She will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted."

North Dakota

On Monday, a medical marijuana initiative was approved for signature gathering. An initiative campaign led by North Dakotans for Compassionate Care has been approved for signature gathering. Organizers will need some 13,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a House medical marijuana task force was announced. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said that the House is preparing to launch a task force to study the legalization of medical marijuana. The move comes a month after voters defeated a pot legalization initiative that would have also allowed for medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, the medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Wyoming

On Sunday, the state's medical marijuana initiative was faltering amid inflighting. The head of Wyoming NORML resigned and said he believes the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot is over. Chris Christian said petitioners had gathered only about 5,000 of the 20,000 voter signatures required to make the ballot. NORML Deputy Director Lee Roth wasn't ready to call it quits, though; he said he hoped new leadership would bolster support.

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

Chronicle AM: USPS Warns Newspapers on Pot Ads, MX to Debate Cannabis Next Month, More (12/2/15)

The Postal Service has warned newspapers in the Pacific Northwest that carrying pot business ads could violate federal law, a New Mexico medical marijuana patient is suing the Border Patrol over access to his medicine, Minnesota has approved medical marijuana for chronic pain patients, and more.

Minnesota chronic pain patients will participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Post Office Warns Pacific Northwest Newspapers About Carrying Pot Business Ads. In a memo last Friday, the USPS in Portland warned newspapers that they could be violating federal law by running advertising for marijuana businesses. The memo noted that is illegal "to place an ad in any publication with the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance." Newspapers in Oregon have contacted Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), both of whose offices said they had been in contact with USPS about "what appears to be an outdated interpretation" of the law.

Arizona Poll Has Voters Evenly Split on Legalization. There will likely be a legalization initiative on the ballot next year, and a new poll suggests it will be in for a fight. The Morrison-Cronkite Poll has the issue in a statistical dead heat, with 49% of voters in support and 51% opposed. The demographics favor the opposition, the pollster said. "Predictably, those 30 and younger (69%) and those age 31 to 55 (57%) are more likely to favor legalization than those 56 and older (36%)," said David Daugherty, associate director at Morrison Institute, who oversees the survey. "It is important to note, Republicans and older adults vote in larger numbers than either Democrats or young adults, which would, at least at this point in time, point toward likely defeat of the legalization of recreational marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Patient Sues US Border Patrol Over Right to Carry Medical Marijuana. A New Mexico man filed a federal lawsuit Monday charging that Border Patrol agents are not following a new rule that allows him to carry medical marijuana without risk of federal charges. Raymundo Marrufo is seeking an injunction against the agency over questions it asks travelers at border checkpoints. Marrufo contends that the Rohrabacher Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states, makes questioning travelers about medical marijuana illegal. "Whether it is a sense of entitlement, indifference or simply ignorance of the law, the court must immediately issue an injunction enjoining the United States Border Patrol from asking questions and conducting searches that violate that Rohrabacher Amendment," the complaint states.

Minnesota to Allow Medical Marijuana for Chronic Pain. State Health Commissioner Ed Ehringer announced today that people suffering from chronic pain will be allowed to participate in the state's medical marijuana program beginning next August. The public had backed broadening access, but a panel of medical experts had advised against it. "The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Commissioner Ehlinger said. "However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."

Ohio House to Create Medical Marijuana Task Force. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) said Tuesday that the House is preparing to launch a task force to study the legalization of medical marijuana. The move comes a month after voters defeated a pot legalization initiative that would have also allowed for medical marijuana.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Effort Falters Amid Infighting. The head of Wyoming NORML resigned on Sunday and said he believes the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot is over. Chris Christian said petitioners had gathered only about 5,000 of the 20,000 voter signatures required to make the ballot. NORML Deputy Director Lee Roth wasn't ready to call it quits, though; he said he hoped new leadership would bolster support.

International

Mexico to Open National Debate on Marijuana Legalization Next Month. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said Tuesday that the government will launch an informational website about marijuana with scientific and technical papers and will begin a series of public debates on marijuana policy in the third week in January. "To be effective, we must consider the different alternatives as well as the costs, benefits and viability of each of them and their impact on the population," he said. "Mexico will have to decide in the next months which policy it will need to face a phenomenon that affects different areas and aspects of the lives of millions of Mexicans."

Police Took More From Citizens Than Burglars Did Last Year

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

When you think about getting property stolen, you think about criminals, but maybe you should be thinking about the police. Law enforcement use of asset forfeiture laws to seize property -- often without a criminal conviction or even an arrest -- has gone through the roof in recent years, and now the cops are giving the criminals a run for their money -- and winning.

According to a new report on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice, police seized $4.5 billion in cash and property through civil forfeiture last year. That exceeds the $3.9 billion worth of property stolen in burglaries during the same period. The valuation of burglary proceeds is from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report.

Now, not every dollar seized by police is "stolen." Some of it is seized legitimately from real criminals who should pay for the damage their crimes cause. But in too many cases, property is seized from people who have not been convicted of anything, like Charles Clarke.

Clarke, a 24-year-old college student, was relieved of $11,000 in cash by federal agents at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport after a ticket agent reportedly told them he smelled like marijuana. They stopped and searched him at the airport, found no drugs or other banned items, and never charged him with a crime, but they took his money.

Clarke says the cash was money he had saved over five years for college tuition. A federal judge this month said he was inclined to believe Clarke and has ordered the feds to actually show he made the money from drug dealing, as they claimed.

Clarke may get his money back, but it is an uphill battle. Unlike criminal law, where prosecutors must prove the guilt of the defendant, under civil asset forfeiture law, the burden of proof falls on the person from whom the money or property was seized. The property owner must prove that the property was not the proceeds of crime. And he must pay attorneys to fight for him. And he may not win.

With police racking up billions in seizures each year, law enforcement itself begins to take on the appearance of a criminal enterprise. It's an enterprise with an ever-expanding appetite. According to Armstrong Economics, federal prosecutors seized an estimated $12.6 billion between 1989 and 2010, and the trend is upward. Federal asset forfeiture proceeds hovered at just under a billion dollars a year until 2007, doubled to two billion by 2009, and doubled again to over four billion in both 2013 and 2014.

Abuses of civil asset forfeiture have struck a chord with the public, and states are now beginning to pass laws banning or severely restricting civil asset forfeiture. Both New Mexico and Michigan did this year, and so did Wyoming, but that law fell victim to a governor's veto.

Likewise, the issue is again gaining attention in Congress, which passed minor asset forfeiture reforms after a similar outcry 15 years ago. There are at least two bills going after civil asset forfeiture in this Congress, including one from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and a bipartisan bill that would bar the use of civil asset forfeiture funds by the DEA to eradicate marijuana.

But until federal legislation actually passes, it's still open season on the citizenry.

Chronicle AM: DEA Snitching Issues, Dutch Towns Want Regulated Marijuana Grows, More (11/30/15)

Marijuana Policy

Cherokee Chief Vetoes Marijuana Legalization Study Resolution. The principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Patrick Lambert, has vetoed a resolution authorizing a feasibility study to examine the "issues and impacts associated with the legalization of cannabis" on tribal lands. "I have stated my opposition to the recreational use of drugs many times, and this includes marijuana," Chief Lambert wrote in his veto letter to Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor. Tribal members supporting legalization, organized as Common Sense Cannabis, responded with a statement saying Lambert was misguided: "In Chief Lambert's veto letter, he solely focuses on the 'recreational' marijuana, in which we call personal use. He cites recreational drug use as the problem in our community. While he is right about drug use as a problem, it does not stem from cannabis use. The problem lies with legal prescription pills and other synthetics, such as meth and heroin." The group is calling for the veto to be overridden in a tribal council meeting this Thursday.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Approves Five Medical Marijuana Growers. The state Department of Health has named the five operations that will be allowed to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana. The state's law limits the use of oils derived from the plants to patients suffering from cancer or a disease that "chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms that can be treated with low-THC cannabis."

New Hampshire Woman Wins Approval to Seek Medical Marijuana in Maine. A woman suffering from late-stage lung cancer can seek to buy medical marijuana in neighboring Maine, a judge ruled last Tuesday. Linda Horan, 64, said she could be dead by the time dispensaries open in New Hampshire, so she sued the state to get an ID card that would allow her to purchase it in Maine. The state had argued that issuing her an ID card would undermine its need to control distribution, but the judge wasn't buying that argument. "She is suffering from a painful, terminal disease and is also undergoing chemotherapy. There is no dispute that cannabis can ameliorate some of her suffering," wrote Judge Richard McNamara. "She will suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted."

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Slams DEA Snitch Practices. In its semiannual report to Congress, the DOJ's OIG criticized the DEA for failing to have guidelines for the use of "high-level and media-affiliated sources," failing to effectively review snitches' authorization to conduct "Otherwise Criminal Activity," and failing to review its continued use of long-term snitches. The report also noted that the DEA was at times uncooperative, including efforts to obstruct the OIG's reviews of snitch file reviews and long delays in providing requested information.

International

European Parliamentary Council Calls for Public Health-Oriented Drug Policy. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in advance of next year's UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, has called for a public health approach to drug policy. "The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stresses that the world drug problem constitutes a major public health threat, for both individual drug users and society as a whole… the committee strongly supports the call for a change in approach to drug policy and calls on member States to adopt and promote a public-health-oriented drug policy based on prevention, treatment and harm reduction. It also invites all participants of the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem to defend a new approach to drug policy, which should shift the emphasis from criminal justice to public health."

Dutch Localities Call for Regulated Marijuana Cultivation. The association of Dutch localities, VNG, has issued a new report calling for the government to regulate and license marijuana cultivation as a means of squeezing out smugglers and organized crime. The Dutch allow for the sale of small amounts of marijuana, but there is no legal provision for supplying the crop. 'The current situation cannot continue,' the report states. 'As local officials, we are experiencing major social problems… By turning a blind eye [to marijuana], the government is giving criminals free rein to sell their products. The cannabis industry is loosely entwined with organized crime, which is also involved in ecstasy and human trafficking," the report says.

Uttarkakhand to Become First Indian State to Allow Hemp Cultivation. The state government is now allowing farmers to grow hemp plants with less than 1.5% THC for industrial purposes. The crop can only be sold to the state government, not private buyers.

Chronicle AM: AK to Allow Some Social Pot Smoking, Sentencing Reform Moves in Congress, More (11/23/15)

Marijuana Policy

You'll be able to toke up with this at some Alaska pot shops. (wikimedia.org)
Alaska Will Allow Marijuana Use at Some Stores. The state's Marijuana Control Board voted 3-2 last Friday to allow consumption at some pot shops, making it the first state to do so. Board Chairman Bruce Schulte said there seemed to be public demand for such an option.

New Jersey Marijuana Arrests Going Up, Not Down. Even as state legislators discuss marijuana legalization, New Jersey cops are busily arresting pot smokers at a record pace. Marijuana arrests jumped 10% in 2012 and 10% again in 2013, according to New Jersey State Police Uniform Crime Reports. The 24,765 marijuana arrests is the highest number in 20 years, and nearly double the amount in 1993.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Release Report. The Vermont Cannabis Collaborative has released a report outlining a legalization framework for state lawmakers. The report calls for home grows of up to nine plants, craft growers who could grow up to 99 plants, and large-scale operators, who could have a grow space of up to 30,000 feet. There's much more at the report link.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Supreme Court Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana DUID. The state's high court ruled last Friday that medical marijuana cardholders don't have immunity from prosecution under the state's DUID law, but also held that cardholders can try to mount a defense showing that they did not have enough marijuana or pot metabolites in their system to actually be impaired.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Rules Committee voted 25-8 last Wednesday to advance a medical marijuana bill. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still needs a House floor vote. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he will sign the bill.

Heroin and Prescription

Maryland Legislator Proposes Heroin Maintenance Program. Delegate Dan Morhaim (D) said last Thursday he plans to offer legislation next year to provide free heroin to addicts in a bid to reduce crime.

Asset Forfeiture

New Mexico Senators Sue Albuquerque Over Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan pair of state senators have filed a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque over its vehicle seizure program, which they say violates the state's recently passed asset forfeiture reforms. Sens. Lisa Torraco (R-Albuquerque) and Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) are seeking an injunction to stop the city from seizing vehicles without the owner first being convicted of a crime.

Harm Reduction

FDA Approves Narcan Nasal Spray. The Food and Drug Administration last Thursday approved a naloxone nasal spray to stop or reverse opiate overdoses. The FDA said it was as effective as the injectable form of the drug.

Sentencing

Historic Sentencing Reform Bill Passes House Judiciary Committee. Last Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance the Sentencing Reform Act. The bill, introduced by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and sponsored by thirty other Representatives, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive. The bill is also moving in the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its version last month.

International

China Bans More Than a Hundred New Psychoactive Substances. China last month banned more than a hundred new psychoactive substances, including alpha-PVP, more widely known as "flakka." It is now illegal to distribute flakka, synthetic opiates, and a score of other chemicals.

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