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Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: NH, NM Legalization Bills Killed, FL & WY Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (2/15/16)

A pair of state marijuana legalization bills get defeated, a pair of state asset forfeiture reform bills advance; House Republicans want states to be able to drug test food stamp recipients, Senate Democrats want $600 million in anti-heroin funding, Mexico cartel mayhem continues, and more.

Senate Democrats want $600 million to fight the heroin and pain pill epidemic. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to kill House Bill 1694, which would have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. The House has previously passed legalization, only to see if die in the Senate. Another legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New Mexico Senate Kills Legalization Initiative Bill. The state Senate last Friday voted 24-17 to kill SJR 5, which would have placed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. Six Senate Democrats voted "no" along with all the Republican members.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Needs Redo. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said last Thursday that a legalization petition submitted the day before was flawed because it used a list of Schedule I substances that was not current. Eric Olson, who heads the sponsoring committee for the initiative, said the committee will resubmit the petition. The group has until July 11 to come up with some 13,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Lawmakers Ponder Bill That Would Allow Outdoor, Greenhouse Grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts Doubles Amount of Medical Marijuana Patients Can Purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice last Thursday. The measure is Senate Bill 1044, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday. The measure is House Bill 14. It is nearly identical to a bill that easily passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Matt Meade (R). It looks like another veto showdown could be coming.

Drug Policy

London School of Economics Issues "After the Drug Wars" Report. A new report from the London School of Economics, After the Drug Wars, calls for the war on drugs to be replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report is endorsed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and five Nobel Prize recipients. "The question now is not, whether to end the 'war on drugs', but what to replace its failed policies with," said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report. "The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies. The global priorities should be -- develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this."

Democrats Seek $600 Million for Emergency Heroin Bill. Just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524), Senate Democrats announced they will try to add a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the bill. The measure includes funding for treatment, prevention, and recovery at the state level, as well as funding for treatment and law enforcement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring the Recovery Act to the Senate floor shortly.

Drug Testing

House Republicans Pushing Measure to Allow States to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, last Thursday unveiled a measure that would allow states the option of drug testing people who apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The Agriculture Department, which administers the program, currently says states cannot impose new requirements, such as drug testing, under the program.

Harm Reduction

Alaska Naloxone Bill One Vote Away From Passage. A bill to increase access to opioid overdose reversal drugs passed its final House committee vote last Friday and now heads for a House floor vote. The measure, Senate Bill 23, has already passed the Senate. It grants immunity for those prescribing or administering naloxone (Narcan) and allows pharmacies to legally dispense the drugs to members of the public without a prescription.

Law Enforcement

Maine Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Out of State Drug Dealers Advances. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted mainly along party lines last Wednesday to approve LD 1541, which would increase the sentences for out of state drug dealers. The measure advanced despite criticism that it would be difficult to prove drug importation in court and that the state already sufficiently punishes drug dealers. It is being championed by Gov. Paul Le Page, who was called for the use of the guillotine to execute drug dealers, called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers, and accused black drug dealers from New Year of impregnating white Maine girls.

International

Four Swiss Cities to Create Cannabis Club Pilot Projects. Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich have agreed to launch a pilot project for cannabis clubs where consumers could use the drug. The projects are to be run over four years and will be scientifically evaluated. But they must first be approved by canton governments and the federal office of public health.

Mexican Cartel Prison Battle Leaves 49 Dead. A battle last Wednesday between Zetas cartel members and rivals from other drug gangs left 49 people dead at the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. One inmate was killed by gunfire; the rest by being stabbed with bottles or blades or by being hit with objects. The prison has long housed Zetas, who dominate much of its interior.

Upstart Mexican Cartel Makes a Move on Tijuana. After five years of relative peace in the border town, killings are on the increase, with many of the victims described as low-level members of the city's drug trade. The uptick in violence is being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has been leaving messages with mutilated corpses on city streets or hanging from bridges. People were being killed at a rate of more than two a day in January, making it the most violent January since 2010. Jalisco New Generation is believed to be challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which currently dominates the Tijuana drug trade.

Chronicle AM: CT Legalization Bill, ND Legalization Init, CA MedMJ Tax Bill, More... (2/11/16)

It's all marijuana news today, with a legalization bill filed in Connecticut, a legalization initiative filed in North Dakota, a medical marijuana tax bill filed in California, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) today introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Effort Gets Underway. A group of Libertarian-leaning North Dakotans filed a petition with the Secretary of State's office Wednesday seeking to put legalization on the ballot this year. The initiative would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana, and it would bar the state from requiring a license to do so. If approved, the group will have until July 11 to gather 13,452 valid voter signatures.

Vermont Police Dogs No Longer Trained to Sniff Out Pot. With an eye toward looming marijuana legalization, Vermont police are no longer training their dogs to recognize the smell of marijuana. "The class that is going through right now is not being trained to alert on marijuana odor," said Robert Ryan, head of K-9 training at the Vermont Police Academy. "We started talking about it last year and we made the decision for this class not to do marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

Elizabeth Warren Calls on CDC to Look at Marijuana as Response to Opioid Use. In a letter sent Monday, the Massachusetts Democratic senator asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how medical and recreational marijuana might help alleviate the widespread use of opioids. She asked the agency "to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options," including marijuana. She also asked the CDC to collaborate with other federal agencies to research "the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths."

California Bill Would Impose 15% Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales. State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 987, which would impose the tax. "We made a commitment last year as we were working through the huge undertaking of setting statewide regulations for medical marijuana that we would follow up on a statewide excise tax," Senator McGuire said. "This needed revenue will make our communities stronger by focusing on the impacts of cultivation and use of marijuana, including funding local law enforcement and neighborhood improvement programs, state parks, drug and alcohol treatment and environmental rehabilitation." The new tax is expected to bring in more than $100 million a year in new revenues.

Chronicle AM: Historic Federal Drug Budget, 2015 CO MJ Sales Nearly $1 Billion, More... (2/10/16)

A marijuana legalizer wins a presidential election primary, Western states take up marijuana issues, the Obama administration balances demand and supply anti-drug spending in a historic first, and more.

Colorado sold nearly a billion in buds (and edibles) last year. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalizer Wins New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) swept to victory in neighboring New Hampshire's Democratic election primary, defeating presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton with 60% of the vote to Clinton's 39%. Sanders becomes the first presidential primary candidate to win a state while supporting marijuana legalization, a sign of the times.

Colorado Marijuana Sales at Almost a Billion Dollars Last Year. Medical and adult marijuana sales in the state totaled $996,184,788 last year, the Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. Those sales generated $135 million in taxes and fees for the state.

New Mexico Bill for Legalization Initiative Advances. If approved by the legislature, the measure would allow voters to vote in November on a constitutional amendment legalizing and regulating marijuana. The bill, SJR 6, sponsored by Sen. Geraldo Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque), was approved by the Senate Rules Committee today.

Oregon Bill to Let Out of State Investors Join Pot Businesses Advances. The bill, House Bill 4014, removes the two-year residency requirement for license applicants included in a law passed last year by the Legislature. The measure won a committee vote today and now heads for a House floor vote.

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Snuffed Out. A bill that would have decriminalized small-time pot possession in the Cowboy State died in the House Tuesday. The measure, House Bill 3, filed by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) died on a 21-37 vote. This is the third straight year decrim bills have been filed and then killed in the legislature.

Drug Policy

White House Drug Budget Makes History By Equalizing Demand and Supply Funding Levels. For the first time since the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), the proposed federal anti-drug budget balances spending on law enforcement and interdiction (supply) with spending on treatment and prevention (demand). The White House budget request released today seeks $15.8 billion for treatment and prevention and $15.3 billion for law enforcement, domestic and overseas. "The President's 2017 Budget calls for our country's largest investment in treating and preventing substance use disorders in history," said Michael Botticelli, Director of ONDCP. "By funding public health and public safety efforts at near-identical levels, this budget demonstrates the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to a balanced approach to drug policy. The Budget recognizes how important it is to expand access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services so we can prevent youth substance use, provide treatment to those in need, and sustain long-term recovery."

International

Macedonia Medical Marijuana Measure Wins Committee Vote. The parliament's Health Committee Tuesday approved an amendment to the country's drug laws that would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The change is being proposed by the Ministry of Health, which said: "The need to change this law comes from the requests of patients who want to have the option to use naturally derived cannabis products, under strict supervision. The amendments would allow patients to have access to strictly controlled products, improving on the current situation when some patients use unverified products without any supervision regarding the dosage," the ministry said.

New Cartel Emerges in Mexico's Michoacan. Police in Michoacan have detained a dozen people carrying banners proclaiming the emergence of a new criminal enterprise in the state. The banners announced the appearance of the New Family cartel, whose name suggests it is a successor to the Family Michoacana cartel. That gang was displaced by the Knights Templars in 2010, who were in turn displaced by armed vigilantes backed by the Mexican state in 2013. The banners announced that the New Family would "clean up" people who supported the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which has been moving into the state. "All those who contribute to this scum will be punished," the banner reportedly proclaims.

(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.)

Chronicle AM: WVA Welfare Drug Test Bill Advances, ME Voters Want Drug Decrim, More... (2/9/16)

Medical marijuana bills get filed not only in Iowa, but also Australia and Greece, a new poll shows enlightened drug policy attitudes among Maine voters, Republican US senators hold competing events for and against sentencing reform legislation, and more.

Medical marijuana is seeing action at statehouses in the US and in foreign capitals. (wikimedia.org)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Reemerges. A bill that would allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana has come out of hibernation in the House. After months on the sidelines, the bill, House Bill 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday on a 9-2 vote. It now needs one more committee vote before heading for the House floor.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines) Tuesday filed a bill that would make it legal to grow medical marijuana, produce CBD cannabis oil, and create dispensaries. The bill is not yet on the legislative website. Republican lawmakers last year killed similar legislation.

Drug Policy

Maine Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Not Punitive Drug Policies, Poll Finds. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. More than seven out of 10 (71%) said substantially reducing incarceration rates was important to them. The poll comes as the state's Tea Party governor, Paul Le Page (R), is pushing legislation that would roll back reforms passed last year that make simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

West Virginia Senate Passes Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate overwhelmingly (32-2) approved Senate Bill 6, which would create a three-year pilot program to drug test applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if state employees have "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. "Reasonable suspicion" can be triggered by applicants demonstrating "qualities indicative of substance abuse" or having been arrested on a drug charge in the past five years. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts Bill Would Let Users Turn in Drugs Without Fear of Punishment. Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester) has filed a bill that would allow addicts seeking treatment to turn in unwanted drugs without the threat of prosecution. A person "who, in good faith, enters a police station and seeks assistance or treatment for a drug-related addiction, or is the subject of a good faith request for such assistance or treatment, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance" if the evidence for such a charge was gained as a result of seeking treatment. The bill is before the Joint Judiciary Committee.

Sentencing

Republican Senators and Law Enforcement Leaders Rally for Federal Sentencing Reform Bill. Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) joined law enforcement leaders today for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). The briefing, supported by Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, comes the same day two other Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, hosted an event to oppose the bill.

International

Australian Government Files Medical Marijuana Legislation. The federal government today filed legislation to allow the cultivation of marijuana for medical or scientific purposes. The bill would create a national scheme to regulate cultivation for such purposes.

Greek Lawmakers File Medical Marijuana Bill. Twenty members of the governing Syriza Party Monday filed legislation to legalize marijuana for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. "The proven beneficial effect in cases of especially dangerous diseases, such as glaucoma, cancer, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, malignancies make the legalization of cannabis as medicine -- already used in many developed countries -- imperative. The criminalization of cannabis use has resulted in leading many patients and their families to acquire cannabis through illegal channels, something that entails substantial loss of revenue for the State, organized crime activities and pushing patients to resort illegal activities," the lawmakers argued.

Chronicle AM: Fed Bill Would Allow MJ Ad Mailings, Far-Reaching MD Bills Filed, More... (2/5/16)

Oregon's federal representatives fight to protect marijuana advertising, medical marijuana and CBD bills are moving in the states, a Maryland delegates files bills for drug treatment on demand, supervised injection sites, opiate maintenance (including heroin), and drug decriminalization -- quite a package! -- and more.

A Maryland bill could lead to the first supervised injection facility in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Federal Reps File Bill to Allow Published Marijuana Ads. Responding to warnings from the US Postal Service that mailing newspapers or magazines with marijuana advertising is prohibited even in states where it is legal, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined with two Democratic House members, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, to file the Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act (HR 4467). The bill would reverse the USPS policy. "Federal agencies must respect the decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state," Wyden said. "Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Michigan Legalization Campaign Getting Close to Signature Goal. The MILegalize campaign says it has already collected some 240,000 raw signatures and is seeking another 100,000 to ensure a comfortable cushion for invalidated signatures. The state requires 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Bill Would Expand Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introduced House Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids in Schools. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Utah Medical Marijuana, CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. A bill that would ban the increasing popular Southeast Asian herb, which some are using as an alternative to opiates or as a means to withdraw from them, has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bill, House Bill 73, would make possession of kratom a misdemeanor. A similar measure seeking to make possession a felony failed last year.

New Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill to Toughen Penalties for New Synthetic Drugs Advances. A bill that would increase penalties for possessing or selling new synthetic drugs has passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is House Bill 66.

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Package Attempts Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization, Harm Reduction Approach. A set of four bills being filed today would upend the way the state deals with drug use and related problems. One bill would provide for drug treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings, a second bill would allow for safe injection facilities (there are currently none in the US), a third bill would allow for opiate maintenance therapy, including with heroin, and a fourth bill would decriminalize the use and possession of personal use quantities of illicit drugs. The package is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County).

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law. Since Utah approved a welfare drug testing law, only 47 applicants out of nearly 14,000 have tested positive for drugs. That's enough for Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) to call for an end to the program. Her House Bill 172 would do just that. It is currently before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans? [FEATURE]

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

"According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran's participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other," the solons wrote. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

If patients can't get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can't access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors "likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history," the solons wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
Noting that there has been a "sea change" in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that "upon the directive's expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

"VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded," he said. "Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration."

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

"I've worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems," she said. "They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Vets can't get into dispensaries without recommendations. (wikimedia.org)
VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

"Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients," she said. "In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can't disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public."

"There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship," said Sisley. "Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It's only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options."

For Krawitz, it's about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

"I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment," he explained. "I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program."

Now it's up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He's heard from Congress, he's heard from patients, he's heard from doctors and scientists. We'll see if he's listening.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama Wants $1 Billion to Fight Opioids, Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion, More... (2/2/16)

A new report finds marijuana is a booming market, California doctors get on board with the AUMA legalization initiative, the White House wants nearly a billion bucks to fight opioid addiction -- with most of it going for "medication-assisted treatment" -- and more.

People line up to buy heroin in Chicago. The White House wants nearly $1 billion to fight opioid addiction. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion Last Year, Report Says. Legal marijuana sales increased 17.4% last year to $5.4 billion, according to data released this week by the ArcView Group. Nearly 80% of the sales were for medical marijuana, but $998 million was for legal adult use, up dramatically from $351 billion in 2014. Overall sales should grow to $6.7 billion this year, the group predicted.

California Medical Association Endorses AUMA Legalization Initiative. The CMA, the largest doctors' group in the state, announced Monday that is will support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act legalization initiative. The initiative, funded by tech billionaire Sean Parker and supported by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), has as one of its proponents Dr. Donald Lyman, who authored the CMA's 2011 policy called for decriminalization. "The California Medical Association believes the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure that will allow state officials to better protect public health by clarifying the role of physicians, controlling and regulating marijuana use by responsible adults and keeping it out of the hands of children," Dr. Steven Larson, CMA's president, said in prepared remarks.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Who Sued Over Medical Marijuana Access Dies. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

Hemp

Twenty States Have Hemp Bills This Year, Vote Hemp Says. The industry group has issued its annual report and says 20 states are working to legalize or expand hemp production. There's much more in the report, too.

Drug Policy

White House Seeks $1 Billion to Fight Heroin and Prescription Opiate Abuse. The Obama administration Tuesday proposed a billion dollars in new funds over the next two years to combat widespread opioid use. More than $900 million of the newly sought funding would go for medication-assisted treatment (opioid maintenance), which also includes therapy. The administration said that 2.2 million people have been identified as needing treatment for opioid addiction, but only one million are receiving it.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Lawmaker Proposes Drug Testing Legislators. State lawmakers have once again introduced a bill to drug test welfare applicants, and in response, Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Wheeling) has introduced House Bill 2925, which would subject legislators to the same sort of testing. "There's no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits," he said.

Chronicle AM: Maine Legalization Initiative On Target for Ballot, Narcan in the News, More... (2/1/16)

Maine's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot, Tommy Chong endorses Bernie Sanders, a new federal bill would fund needle exchanges, naloxone is in the news, and more.

Naloxone kits save lives. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Reform Not on His Agenda in Final Year. In a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said any progress on further federal marijuana reform would have to come from Congress, not the president. "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Tommy Chong Endorses Bernie Sanders. This is not exactly a shocker, but every endorsement helps. Iconic stoner comedian Tommy Chong has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic presidential nomination, citing his support of marijuana legalization. "Bernie does support that… legalization that I care so deeply about, legalization of the super-medicine marijuana. So I know this year, you and I are going to 'Feel the Bern,' go up to the polling booths, and light up, man, for progress and change." Chong also touted Sanders' positions on immigration, equality, and a living wage, and he jokingly referred to Sanders as the "commander-in-Kush."

Maine Legalization Group Submits Nearly Double the Signatures Needed to Qualify for Ballot. It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Today, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Seattle Medical Marijuana Shops Sue State Over Licensing Process. A handful of long-time Seattle dispensaries filed a lawsuit last Friday against the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, saying the agency isn't following its own rules in issuing a new round of licenses for retail pot shops. The agency is supposed to give priority to dispensaries that have played by the rules, but the plaintiffs say it isn't doing that.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Refuses to Expand List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New York Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Federal Bill Would Provide Funding for Needle Exchange Programs. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) last Friday introduced HR 4396 to address heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill has provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as grant programs for needle exchanges and to reduce overdose deaths. The bill has been assigned to four different committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Bill to Make Police Prove Seized Property Was Involved in Crime Wins Committee Vote. Rep. Brian Greene's (R-Pleasant Grove) House Bill 22, which would require police to prove seized property is involved in a crime, reversing the burden of proof requirement under the state's civil asset forfeiture law, has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill also includes a provision making the state pay citizens' attorney fees and costs is property is wrongfully seized. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention Drug Has Saved 2,000 Lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported last Thursday that the number of people whose opiate overdoses were reversed by naloxone (Narcan) had surpassed 2,000.

CVS to Make Overdose Prevention Drug More Widely Available in Ohio. The pharmacy chain announced today that it will make naloxone (Narcan) more available at stores throughout the state. Law enforcement had been skittish about using the drug, but as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp noted, "We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to save lives."

New Orleans to Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Over the Counter. People seeking naloxone (Narcan) will be able to pick it up without a prescription at the University Medical Center, city officials announced last Friday. City Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the move in a bid to reduce fatal overdoses."There are no side effects. There is no abuse potential," Kanter said. "The primary effect of this medicine is to save a life."

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

Members of Congress urge the VA to get out of the way on medical marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project eyes an Ohio initiative this year, Florida will vote on an initiative this year, California legislature is trying to fix a mess of its own making, and more.

National

On Wednesday, federal lawmakers called on the Veterans Administration to let doctors recommend medical marijuna to vets. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

On Thursday, Americans for Safe Access released a report on state medical marijuana programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded toughhly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

Arizona

On Monday, a GOP politician withdrew a bill that would have crippled the medical marijuana program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

California

On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to slow medical marijuana bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, the Assembly approved the bill. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida

On Wednesday,the Florida medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot The group behind the effort, United for Care, said the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a state representative admitted breaking the law to help families obtain CBD cannabis oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii

On Monday, a bill to ban patients from growing their own was filed. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illinois

This week, a petition is seeking to prod the governor to expand qualifying medical conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 signatures and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Indiana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana bills were pronounced dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced plans for Ohio. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Last Friday, the attorney general rejected the wording on a medical marijuana initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Utah

Last Wednesday, a "whole plant" medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Last Thursday, the Republican governor signaled support for medical marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

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

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