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Medical Marijuana Update

A petition calling on President Obama to fire the DEA head keeps getting more signatures, the Florida medical marijuana initiative is halfway home on signature gathering, a New Jersey school becomes the first in the country to allow medical marijuana on campus, and more. 

National

Last Friday, a petition to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" had 16,000 signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

By Monday, the petition had more than 80,000 signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures at latest count. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

California

Last Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council gave first approval to a medical marijuana ban. The council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the ordinance, which will ban the cultivation, processing, distribution, and even delivery of medical marijuana. The city is acting to avoid losing licensing and regulatory authority under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which was signed into law last month. The law says that if localities fail to enact rules or bans by year's end, the state will have sole licensing and regulatory authority there.

Florida

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court canceled its medical marijuana initiative hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

As of Monday, the medical marijuana initiative had nearly half the necessary signatures. The initiative from United for Care has already gathered 342,582 valid voter signatures. That puts it half-way to the 683,179 valid voter signatures to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot. Petitioners have until February to get the rest of the signatures.

Illinois

ByMonday, more than $200,000 worth of medical marijuana had been sold in the state's first week of sales. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Maryland

Large Number of Applicants Will Delay Maryland Program. Nearly 900 people have applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in the state, and that is going to delay the program's rollout, Hannah Byron, the executive director of the state's medical marijuana commission said Thursday. She said the commission will extend the application period and revise the timeline, which had originally anticipated the first stage of the application review would be done by January.

Missouri

As of last Friday, Kansas City hospitals were denying cannabis oil to epileptic patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday,a Garden State school became the first in the nation to permit medical marijuana on campus. The Larc School in Bellmawr Wednesday night adopted a policy allowing a teenage girl with autism and epilepsy to consume medical marijuana edibles while at school. The move comes just two days after Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law a bill requiring school districts to adopt such policies.

Chronicle AM: Canada Starts to Move on Legalizing Pot, Irish Cops Support Heroin Decriminalization, More (11/16/15)

Nick Scutari tries to get the marijuana legalization ball rolling in New Jersey, a petition calling for the DEA head to be fired is going strong, Democratic candidates talk drug and crime policy at the debate, Canada moves toward pot legalization, Irish cops support heroin decrim, and more. 

Ireland's drugs minister wants to decriminalize heroin, and the cops are on board with it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Legislative Hearing on Pot Legalization Today. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who filed a marijuana legalization bill, S 1896, earlier this session, is holding a hearing on the topic today. Today's witnesses will include supporters of marijuana law reform; opponents will get a chance to opine at a later hearing. No vote is expected today. "A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first," said Scutari, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the hearing. "The first step was introducing the bill and this is the natural next step — to talk about the benefits of legalization and the negative impact prohibition has had."

Medical Marijuana

Petition To Fire DEA Head Over Medical Marijuana "Joke" Comment Has 80,000 Signatures. Uh, make that 83,044 signatures as of mid-afternoon today. DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg is still getting heat over his statement that medical marijuana is "a joke." It's just his latest comment suggesting the nation's top drug cop is not that well-informed in his subject area.

Florida Supreme Court Cancels Medical Marijuana Initiative Hearing. Backers of a 2016 medical marijuana initiative have just seen one obstacle removed from their path. After Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) announced she would ask the high court to block the initiative, the state Supreme Court has canceled a hearing on it set for December 8. The initiative from United for Care is already well-advanced in the signature gathering process. A similar initiative failed last year with 58% of the vote—60% was needed because it was a constitutional amendment.

Illinois Sees More Than $200,000 in Medical Marijuana Sales in First Week. Only a handful of dispensaries are open in the state, but they took in $211,000 in sales after opening last Monday. The medi-weed was selling for around $450 an ounce, or $16 a gram.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

EEOC Sues Employer Who Refused to Hire Methadone User. In its latest lawsuit against employers taking actions against prescription medication users, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is going after a company that allegedly refused to hire a woman who is prescribed methadone to deal with her heroin addiction. EEOC alleges that the company is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because the woman is a recovering substance abuser, has a history of disability, and was "regarded" as disabled based on her methadone use. EEOC has also sued other employers over discrimination against methadone patients, as well as other prescription drug users.

Drug Policy

Democratic Candidates Talk Drug, Crime Policy in Last Saturday's Debate. Bernie Sanders reiterated his support for ending federal marijuana prohibition, while Martin O'Malley and Hillary Clinton joined Sanders in calling for criminal justice reforms and addressing racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. Click on the link for more details.

International

Canada's Prime Minister Begins the Process of Legalizing Marijuana. Freshly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to begin the process of legalizing and regulating marijuana. Trudeau told Wilson-Raybould he expected her to "deliver on your top priorities," which includes "Working with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana."

Mexico to Consider Cutting Jail Sentences, Raising Possession Limits for Marijuana. Jumpstarted by a Supreme Court decision earlier this month allowing four Mexicans to use marijuana, the forthcoming national debate on marijuana policy will consider easing jail sentences and raising limits for personal possession of pot, Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa said. The national consultation is set for January through March.

Irish Police Back Decriminalizing Heroin Possession. The Garda Representative Association, which represents some 11,000 Irish police officers, is backing the government drug minister's call to decriminalize heroin possession. "I think anything that can deal with the curse of drugs and some innovating thinking on this is to be welcomed," the GRA’s general secretary, PJ Stone, said, adding that the proposal would be seen as a brave move. "We don’t even have enough cells to lock up drug users who get arrested for possessing drugs," a GRA member from Dublin added.

(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: Mid-Atlantic MedMJ Moves, Bolivia's President Chooses Official Coca Drink, More (11/13/15)

Applicants have overwhelmed Maryland medical marijuana regulators, a New Jersey school becomes the first in the country to allow medical marijuana on campus, Bolivia's president chooses an official beverage, and more.

This coca liqueur is now the official drink of the Bolivian presidential palace.
Medical Marijuana

Large Number of Applicants Will Delay Maryland Program. Nearly 900 people have applied to grow or sell medical marijuana in the state, and that is going to delay the program's rollout, Hannah Byron, the executive director of the state's medical marijuana commission said Thursday. She said the commission will extend the application period and revise the timeline, which had originally anticipated the first stage of the application review would be done by January.

New Jersey School Becomes First in Nation to Permit Medical Marijuana on Campus. The Larc School in Bellmawr Wednesday night adopted a policy allowing a teenage girl with autism and epilepsy to consume medical marijuana edibles while at school. The move comes just two days after Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed into law a bill requiring school districts to adopt such policies.

Drug Policy

Senate Drug Caucus to Hold Hearing on Border, Mexican Anti-Drug Assistance Next Week. The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control will hold a hearing to examine drug trafficking across the Southwest border on Tuesday. The hearing will focus on the increase in illicit narcotics crossing the Southwest Border, the cartels profiting from this activity, and the nature and effectiveness of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Mexico in reducing this flow, combatting corruption, and strengthening the rule of law.  The following witnesses have confirmed that they will attend: Mr. Michael Botticelli, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); Ambassador William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL); Mr. Jack Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and Todd Owen, Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

International

 

. Former coca grower union leader President Evo Morales has announced that a coca leaf liquor, Cocablue, is the official drink of the presidential palace. Every bottle of Cocablue (111° proof) liqueur contains 69 grams of coca leaf extract that has been decocainized and is distilled five times. One vintage is released every year and each bottle is recorded, signed and numbered. The Mayan blue colorr is said to be a natural by-product of an artisanal handcrafting technique.

Chronicle AM: Petition to Fire DEA Head Gains Traction, Colombia OKs Medical Marijuana, More (11/12/15)

There are now more than 27,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to fire DEA head Chuck Rosenberg over his medical marijuana comments, Denver thinks a thousand pot shops is enough, Colombia will allow medical marijuana, and more. 

Coca and cocaine production is on the upswing in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

ResponsibleOhio Isn't Going Away. The group behind this month's defeated marijuana "monopoly" legalization initiative isn't going quietly into that long good night; instead, ResponsibleOhio is now trying to craft an initiative that can actually win. The group seems to understand that its plan to limit commercial grow opportunities and its bud-headed mascot, Buddie, were real turn-offs.

Denver Moves Toward a Moratorium on New Pot Shops. The city is proposing changes to its marijuana ordinances that would effectively halt new marijuana stores from opening for the next two years. The city currently has more than a thousand licensed operations, and that's enough, city officials said. "We have enough marijuana in Denver," said Ashley Kilroy, Denver's executive director of Marijuana Policy. "Basically, we’re saturated." The only exceptions would be some 85 medical marijuana businesses that were licensed in 2013.

Medical Marijuana

Petition to Fire DEA Head for Calling Medical Marijuana "A Joke" Now Has 16,000 Signatures. People so inclined can add theirs here. Actually, the petition now has some 27,000 signatures, having gained 11,000 more since the linked story was published yesterday.

Kansas City Hospitals Deny Cannabis Oil to Epileptic Patients. That's Kansas City, Missouri. The state passed a law last year allowing for such use, but no hospitals in the Kansas City area will allow their doctors to write a recommendation. The hospitals cite lack of standardized dosages for children and concerns about side-effects and interactions with other medications. Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City will start a study on cannabis oil for epileptic patients next year, but has no plans to widely recommend it. On the other side of the state, the Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center in St. Louis does allow doctors to write recommendations.

Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Prosecutors Lobby Against Asset Forfeiture Reform. County prosecutors from across the state lined up Wednesday to testify against House Bill 347, which would eliminate asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. They called the tactic "a vital tool" in going after drug traffickers during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Click on the link for more flavor.

International

Colombia Will Allow Medical Marijuana. Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said today that the country plans to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana. Legalization will only apply to medical and scientific uses of the plant, he clarified. Pot possession is already legalized under Colombian Supreme Court rulings, but this move will allow for commercial medical production.

Colombia Retakes Title of World's Largest Cocaine Producer. Colombia is back on top in the cocaine production sweepstakes, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The organization puts Colombian production last year at 175,000 acres, compared to 109,000 for Peru, and 31,000 for Bolivia. The UN estimates Colombian cocaine production will increase 52% this year, in part because of the end of aerial eradication and in part because peasants believe that a looming peace deal between the government and the FARC will see benefits for farmers who abandon their crops, so they are planting coca. 

Medical Marijuana Update

The Senate approves a bill to ease medical marijuana access for vets, medical marijuana sales begin in Illinois, New Jersey's governor signs a medical marijuana school access bill, and more.

National

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill allowing veterans access to medical marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Also on Tuesday, calls to fire the DEA head for calling medical marijuana "a joke" grew louder. Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

California

On Tuesday, the Newport Beach city council approved a ban on medical marijuana activities in the city. The unanimous vote was on a first reading of the ordinance, which would ban cultivation, as well as dispensaries and delivery services.

Illinois

On Monday, medical marijuana retail sales began in the state. The state's first dispensaries opened for business today after state regulators last week gave the go-ahead to producers to start shipping product to them. Up to eight dispensaries were expected to be open today, including several in the Chicago area. But some patients were turned away because their customer registrations with individual dispensaries had not yet been processed.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, pain patients called for access to medical marijuana. Pain patients pleaded with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

Michigan

Last Thursday, fired medical marijuana patients learned they can get unemployment benefits. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, a lung cancer patient sued to get a medical marijuana card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

New Jersey

On Monday, the governor signed a medical marijuana school access billl. Gov. Chris Christie (R), a GOP presidential contender, signed into law Assembly Bill 4587, which requires schools providing services for the developmentally disabled to adopt policies that allow for the administration of medical marijuana to qualified patients.

New York

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients demanded the governor sign an emergency access bill. Patients, families, and advocates rallied outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's (D) Manhattan office to urge him to sign a bill that would expedite access to medical marijuana for critically ill patients. In June, with overwhelming bipartisan support, both houses of the legislature passed A.7060 (Gottfried) / S.5086 (Griffo), directing the state to establish a program to help critically ill patients obtain emergency access to medical marijuana as soon as possible. The bill was delivered to Governor on October 30th. He has until tomorrow to sign or veto the bill; if he does neither, it will become law.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signed the bill.

South Dakota

On Monday, medical marijuana petitioners handed in signatures. Petitioners with New Approach South Dakota turned in some 16,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for initiatives hoping to qualify for the 2016 general election. They need 13,871 valid signatures to qualify, so there is very little room for invalidated signatures if the effort is to make it.

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

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Arrests Plummet, Senate Passes Veterans MedMj, More (11/11/15)

Decriminalization spreads in South Florida, DC pot arrests hit historic lows, the Senate passes a spending bill that should ease vets' access to medical marijuana, there are calls for the DEA chief's head after he said medical marijuana was "a joke," and more.

Pot arrests are now almost nonexistent in the nation's capital. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Florida's Broward County Adopts Decriminalization Ordinance. County commissioners Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $150 citations to people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Violators would also have to complete an assessment/treatment program. The move puts the county, Florida's second most populous, in line with similar moves in Miami-Dade County and Key West.

DC Marijuana Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization, Legalization. Pot arrests are at historic lows in the nation's capital after city officials decriminalized and voters then legalized marijuana possession. Possession arrests peaked at 2,346 in 2011 before declining to 895 in 2014 (only seven of them after the city's decriminalization ordinance took effect in July 2014), and only seven so far for all of this year.

Medical Marijuana

US Senate Approves Bill Allowing Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana. The Senate Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes language that will allow vets to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Veterans Administration had barred VA doctors from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to vets, but this bill will block the VA from spending money to punish vets who use medical marijuana and allow VA doctors to recommend it where it is legal. The language was first approved as an amendment in May; that amendment must now be approved by the House.

Calls for DEA Chief's Head After He Said Medical Marijuana Was "A Joke." Led by Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, medical marijuana supporters are calling on President Obama to fire DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in the wake of his recent comments calling medical marijuana "a joke." "My mom is a legal patient in Rhode Island, and she uses medical marijuana to deal with the severe pain she experiences from multiple sclerosis," said Angell. "Medical cannabis is no joke to my family or the millions of other American families who have seen its real benefits." Angell has organized a Change.org petition that anyone can sign.

Minnesota Pain Patients Call for Access to Medical Marijuana. Pain patients pleaded Tuesday with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to override a panel of health experts who rejected allowing medical marijuana for chronic pain and allow them to use it. For more than three hours, the commissioner heard from a cavalcade of people who said they wake in pain, spend their days in pain, and spend sleepless nights because of pain. "All of this has been very helpful. It's not going to be an easy task weighing the data, weighing the input, weighing the pros and cons, weighing the risks and benefits," he said. "But that's the job I signed up for. I take it very seriously, both as a physician, as health commissioner and as a person who lives in this state." He has until the end of December to make a decision.

International

Mexican Senator Files Bill to Allow Import of Marijuana Medicines. Sen. Cristina Diaz Salazar (PRI) has filed a bill that would allow patients import marijuana and cannabis derivatives for medical purposes. She said the bill would codify a recent court ruling that granted an 8-year-old girl's parents permission to import cannabis oil to treat her epilepsy.

Chronicle AM: State Dept OK With Legalization Elsewhere, IL MedMj Sales Monday, More (11/06/15)

It's all marijuana-related news today, with medical marijuana sales starting Monday in Illinois, the State Department saying it can live with pot legalization in other countries, the Houston DA implementing a marijuana diversion program, and more.

medical marijuana -- coming next week to Illinois (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders' Measure to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Has Bill Number Now. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which the Democratic presidential contender filed Wednesday, now has a Senate bill number. It is S. 2237.

Wyoming Legislators Want to Make Possession of a Pound of Edibles a Felony. The Joint Judiciary Committee will sponsor a bill that would make possession of more than a pound of marijuana edibles a felony. The bill originally aimed to make possession of three ounces a felony (as is the law with marijuana), but lawmakers were persuaded to up the limit to a pound. The bill comes after at least two judges have thrown out cases of edibles possession because they read state law as only addressing felony pot possession in plant form.

Houston DA Offers Diversion Instead of Arrest for Small-Time Marijuana Offenders. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday that as of January 1, people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana will be offered a diversion program instead of being arrested and jailed. The program could include classes or community service. In the past year, police have been arresting and booking people, then offering them diversion, but now, they will forego the arrest and booking steps.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales to Start Monday. Eight dispensaries have been licensed and will be able to sell medical marijuana to registered patients beginning Monday, state medical marijuana program director Joseph Wright said Friday. Some 3,000 Illinoisans have already registered for the program.

New Hampshire Lung Cancer Patient Sues to Get Medical Marijuana Card. Linda Horan, who suffers from late stage lung cancer, has filed a lawsuit against the state health commissioner in a bid to get a medical marijuana card before dispensaries open next year. The state passed a medical marijuana law two years ago, but won't issue patient ID cards until dispensaries are authorized to start selling medical marijuana next year. Horan wants her card issued now so she can obtain medical marijuana in Maine, which will serve patients from other states.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Patients Who Have Been Fired Can Get Unemployment. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Agency in a case involving people who won unemployment benefits after being fired for medical marijuana use. That means that people who are registered patients who got fired after failing drug tests for marijuana will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

International

US State Department Says Other Countries Can Legalize Marijuana If They Want To. My, how times have changed! Responding to a press question about moves toward marijuana legalization in Canada and Mexico, a State Department spokesman said Thursday they were free to do so. "It's up to the people of each nation to decide policies," spokesman John Kirby said. "And in this case, it's up to the people of Mexico to decide which drug policies are most appropriate for their country within the framework of international law." Kirby added that the US is "firmly committed to the three UN drug conventions," but added that "the conventions allow for a degree of flexibility on how member-states implement their obligations, particularly with respect to drug use, and the conventions anticipate variations in national legal frameworks." The openness to marijuana reform is a marked contrast to the US's historical opposition to such moves, but is consistent with the policy enunciated last year by the head of the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield.

(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: Sanders End MJ Prohibition Bill, MX Supreme Court Protects MJ Use & Growing, More (11/5/15)

Bernie Sanders makes Senate history with the first bill in that chamber to end federal marijuana prohibition, the DEA head badmouths medical marijuana, the Mexican Supreme Court issues a historic ruling on the human right to use and grow marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana. The bill, the Ending Federal Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here. Click on the title link to read our feature story.

Nebraska's Omaha Tribe Voices Support for Legal Marijuana Operations. Members of the Omaha tribe voting in a referendum Tuesday supported moving toward legal marijuana operations on the reservation. Some 78% said they supported medical marijuana, 67% said they supported industrial hemp, and 59% said they supported recreational use. The Omaha tribal council will now vote on all three questions, using the referendum as guidance.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Head Calls Medical Marijuana "A Joke." DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg Wednesday rejected smoking marijuana as a medicine. It's "a joke," he said. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Waters Down Reform Effort. The Joint Judiciary Committee Wednesday rejected a bill that would have ended civil asset forfeiture in favor of another bill that would require a judge to decide within 30 days whether a seizure was appropriate and to hold a hearing within 120 days. Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill ending civil asset forfeiture, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Matt Mead (R).

Drug Testing

Wisconsin to Start Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Monday. Drug testing for some welfare recipients begins next week after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed off on a rule from the Department of Children and Families requiring able-bodied adults to be screened for drug use before seeking benefits. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Mexican Supreme Court Rules People Have the Right to Grow and Use Marijuana. In a decision that could open the door to pot legalization south of the border, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that individuals have the right to use and grow the plant. The decision does not undo Mexico's marijuana laws, but does open the door for a wave of legal actions that could end in their being rewritten.

(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.)

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Vermont independent senator and Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders Wednesday filed legislation in the Senate that would end federal marijuana prohibition by removing -- not rescheduling -- marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. It is the first bill ever introduced in the Senate to end the federal war on marijuana.

Bernie Sanders (wikipedia.org)
The bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, has not yet been assigned a bill number, but the text is available here.

A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) in 2011, but it never went anywhere.

Two years later, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) provided a model for the Sanders bill with a bill he proposed in 2013, and reintroduced this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HR 1013), although there are slight differences. The Polis bill would shift authority over marijuana from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, while the Sanders bill would not, and the Polis bill would amend federal alcohol laws to include provisions for shipping marijuana, while the Sanders bill would not.

"Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it's clear marijuana prohibition is failing today," Polis said in a statement. "For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. Today's introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system."

Sanders filed the bill one week after he first proposed reclassifying marijuana during a campaign speech at George Mason University.

"In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That's wrong. That has got to change."

No other presidential contender, Democratic or Republican, has staked out a position as advanced on marijuana legalization as Sanders, although Congress is proving increasingly receptive to marijuana reform measures.

Several spending amendments aimed at blocking federal pursuit of state-legal marijuana operations have already passed the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, and Senate Republicans have included spending amendments in their recent "minibus" spending package, including measures to bar the DEA from interfering with state medical marijuana laws, bar the Treasury Department from stopping banks from providing services to marijuana business, and to require the Veterans Administration to allow vets to use medical marijuana.

Also, earlier this year, Sens. Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the CARERS Act (S. 683), which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.

The increasing acceptance of marijuana reforms in Congress comes as the American public also increasingly accepts the idea. Public opinion polls now consistently show majority support for pot legalization, including a Gallup poll last month that had 58% for legalization.

Marijuana reformers are liking what they are hearing from the Sanders camp.

"The science is clear that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation's marijuana policy," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate."

"Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost."

Will Congress act to end federal pot prohibition? (wikimedia.org)
"This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the US Senate," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn't widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum."

"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible." said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to legalize marijuana.

Four states -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have already legalized marijuana, with another handful expected to do so next year. And 23 states already have medical marijuana laws.

"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said. "There is a clear bipartisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

(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.)

Double Standard? Marijuana or Hemp? DEA Indian Tribe Raid Raises Questions [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and will appear at http://www.alternet.org/drugs/.

Taking advantage of a 2014 Justice Department memo giving Indian tribes a green light to participate in marijuana commerce, as well as a 2014 congressional vote allowing for industrial hemp pilot programs, Wisconsin's Menominee Tribe earlier this year planted some 30,000 cannabis plants as part of a pilot project with the College of the Menominee Nation.

Last Friday, the DEA came and cut them all down.

The DEA says the plants were marijuana plants; the tribe says they were hemp plants. In either case, tribal officials and marijuana reform advocates don't understand why the grow was raided. Even if it were marijuana, it appears to be an operation well within Justice Department guidelines. And that's leading to some pointed questions about whether the feds have one standard for pot-legal states and another for the tribe-legal jurisdictions.

The memo that allows for marijuana commerce on the reservation includes eight potential enforcement triggers first formulated in a 2013 Justice Department memo (the Cole memo) advising federal prosecutors to lay off of recreational and medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Those triggers include diversion to other localities, money going to organized crime, and violence associated with the trade, among others.

The raid came after the tribe allowed a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee and local police to inspect the operation and take plant samples. And that visit came after a meeting between the BIA agent, the local cops, and an assistant US attorney.

According to the DEA affidavit for a search warrant, the samples tested positive for "marijuana," although there was no measurement of THC levels in the plants.

Industrial hemp is high in fiber, but low in THC, with levels at 0.3% or less. Pot produced for the recreational market, by contrast, typically has THC levels of 15% to 20% and beyond. There is a possibility some of the plants could exceed the 0.3% limit, but not by much.

The DEA affidavit also attempted to make a case that the hemp grow was violating those Justice Department triggers. The tribe had hired Colorado cannabis consultant Brian Goldstein to consult on its grow, and Goldstein, along with Tribal Chairwoman Ruth Wapoose, had in fact guided the feds and the local cops on their tour of the operation.

But Goldstein was "white," the affidavit noted, and several other people present appeared "non-native," and some vehicles had Colorado plates. This, the affidavit somewhat tortuously argued, violated the memo's provision about diversion from states where marijuana is legal to those where it is not. It seems to claim that hiring a cannabis consultant from a legal state is equivalent to importing pot from that state.

A field of hemp at sunrise. (votehemp.org)
The affidavit also stretched to assert the operation was setting off other enforcement triggers. The lack of ventilation in a drying room "is a health and safety concern for the community and the individuals associated with the operation, which is a violation of the enumerated priorities listed in the Cole memorandum regarding adverse public health concerns of marijuana cultivation," it argued.

But drying hemp stalks in closed barns is standard practice and is used by farmers around the country, including those who produced legal hemp crops this year in Colorado and Kentucky.

And security personnel guarding the property had guns, leading the BIA agent to question "the ability for the security team to have weapons for protection because it would violate the Cole memorandum."

Now, the grow has been destroyed, any decision on criminal prosecution is in the hands of federal prosecutors, and the tribe and other observers are wondering just what is going on. After all, the Menominee aren't the only tribe to take the Justice Department at its word, only to be raided down the road.

This past summer, the DEA hit two California tribes, the Pit River Tribe and the Alturas Indian Rancheria, seizing 12,000 plants. The feds alleged Cole memorandum violations including financing from a foreign entrepreneur and fears the marijuana would be distributed outside the reservations in ways that violated the state's medical marijuana law. And the US attorney in South Dakota a month earlier refused to agree to lift an injunction barring Oglala Sioux tribal member Alex White Plume from growing hemp, which the Oglala Sioux Nation has legalized.

Are the tribes being held to a different standard than states where it is legal? Has there been a policy shift at Justice? Are individual federal prosecutors going off the reservation?

Menominee Tribal Chairman Gary Besaw doesn't know, but he isn't happy about it.

"I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has made the decision to utilize the full force of the DEA to raid our Tribe," he said in a statement after the raid. "We offered to take any differences in the interpretation of the farm bill to federal court. Instead, the Obama administration sent agents to destroy our crop while allowing recreational marijuana in Colorado. I just wish the President would explain to tribes why we can't grow industrial hemp like the states, and even more importantly, why we don't deserve an opportunity to make our argument to a federal judge rather than having our community raided by the DEA?"

Neither was Eric Steenstra, head of the hemp industry advocacy organization Vote Hemp.

"The DEA action in this case is egregious, excessive and presents an unjust prejudice against Indian Country and the rights of sovereign tribal nations," he said. "The Menominee Indian Tribe cultivated their industrial hemp in accordance with Federal Law, per the legislation put forth in the Farm Bill. This is a step backward, at a time when great progress has otherwise been made toward legalizing and regulating industrial hemp cultivation."

In an interview with US News and World Report, tribal law expert Lance Morgan, a member of Nebraska's Winnebago tribe who has worked with tribal governments pondering marijuana operations, said the Cole memorandum guidelines are not being applied consistently and warned the Menominee raid would be remembered as a historic betrayal.

"How can you allow people to buy marijuana in a retail environment in some states and then raid an industrial hemp operation of a tribe? The only difference is that there is a tribe involved," he said. "This odd federal policy of encouraging investment and then raiding the new business sets us back a few decades in federal tribal trust and economic policy."

The raids against tribal pot operations will kill investment in such ventures, Morgan said.

"The new federal policy of 'sort of' allowing tribes to get into the marijuana business is especially cruel and unusual because it encourages investment, but after the investment is made the federal government comes and shuts it down and the investors lose all their money."

Tribal law expert and former head of New York's Seneca Nation Robert Odawi Porter agreed that there is at least the appearance of a double standard.

"This certainly suggests a real divergence in policy approach for Indian country," compared to the pot-legal states, which have been allowed to develop enormous marijuana industries, he said. "It increasingly looks like the Justice Department guidelines are not being interpreted in the same way as they were intended."

It seems like the Justice Department has some explaining and clarifying to do. Can the tribes participate in the new marijuana economy like that states, or not? And does the DEA accept the legal definition and status of hemp? If not, why?

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