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The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

(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

Congress again blocks the Justice Department from messing with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, California localities scurry to regulate or face losing that authority to the state, Maryland patients find out they face more delays, and more.

National

Last Friday, Congress passed a budget bill barring the DOJ from interfering in medical marijuana states. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

On Wednesday, the DEA eased requirements for natural marijuana-derived research. The DEA eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

California

For the past few weeks, localities across the state have been acting to ban or regulate medical marijuana before the state assumes the power to regulate it itself. Once the three bills that comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act go into effect March 1, cities or counties that do not have a land use regulation or ordinance governing cultivation and delivery in place will lose control and the state will become "the sole licensing authority" for those enterprises. There are getting to be too many of them for us to list them all.

Florida

Last Friday, the Supreme Court okayed medical marijuana initiative ballot language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supports collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, the Health Department issued dispensary rules. The Health Department released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

Maryland

On Monday, patients got news they will have to wait until 2017 to get their medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission announced that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Detroit city council approved a restrictive dispensary ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, officials announced they will begin issuing medical marijuana ID cards. State officials said that they will begin issuing the cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

New Jersey

On Monday, a Senate panel approved employment protections for patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

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

Chronicle AM: Colombia Legalizes MedMJ, MD MedMJ Delayed Until 2017, More (12/22/15)

DPA ups the pressure on Louisiana Gov. Jindal to free Bernard Noble, Maryland patients face further delays, Colombian patients won't, and more.

Colombian President Santos signs medical marijuana decree today. (colombia.gob)
Marijuana Policy

The Drug Policy Alliance Requests Sentencing Reprieve for Louisianan Given 13-year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes. The Drug Policy Alliance today formally requested the Louisiana governor today to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release Mr. Noble from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes. "The sentence inflicted by Louisiana on Mr. Noble for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, is a travesty," said Daniel Abrahamson, senior legal advisor to the Drug Policy Alliance. "Mr. Noble's sentence does not enhance public safety. It has devastated Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe and what current law provides. Governor Jindal should exercise mercy and use his power as Governor to advance fairness, justice and compassion by issuing Mr. Noble a sentencing reprieve."

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Introduced. For the third year in a row, Rep. Jim Byrd (D-Cheyenne) has introduced a bill to decriminalize pot possession. House Bill 3 would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, with a $50 for less than a half ounce and a $100 fine for up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Patients Will Wait Until 2017 to Get Their Medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission said Monday that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

New Jersey Senate Panel Approves Employment Protections for Patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 Monday to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

Harm Reduction

Indiana County to Start Needle Exchange in Bid to Fend Off Hep C. Monroe County will become the fourth in the state to authorize needle exchange programs after officials there declared a public health emergency amid an outbreak of Hepatitis C. That declaration allows the county to start a needle exchange program.

International

Colombia Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Juan Manuel Santos today signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana. "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana," he said from the presidential palace. "It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease."

Israel's Top Ethicist Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Professor Asa Kasher, described as "Israel's preeminent expert on ethics and philosophy," told the Knesset Committee on Controlled Substances Tuesday that restrictions on medical use of marijuana violated the principles of medical ethics and that general legalization "can be promoted, but only if the process includes relevant regulation."

Chronicle AM: Pittsburgh Decriminalizes, College Drug Testing News, ODs Hit Record High, More (12/21/15)

Pittsburgh decriminalizes, Detroit restricts dispensaries, the Univ. of Alabama is forcing all frat members to be drug tested, fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year, and more.

Rastaman has reason to smile after Jamaica grants festival a "marijuana exemption." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Signature Count Certified. The initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been certified as handing in enough signatures to force the legislature to consider it this spring. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act by May 3, the campaign must then come up with another 10,000 signatures to put the issue directly to the voters in November.

Pittsburgh City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted 7-2 today to approve a decriminalization ordinance. The bill makes possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offense, with a fine of $100. The measure was intended to "help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system," said bill sponsor Public Safety Chair David Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Approves Restrictive Dispensary Ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

Public Health

CDC: Drug Overdoses Hit New High Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control reported last Friday that more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, with 60% of them involving heroin or prescription opiates. Heroin overdose deaths were up 26%, prescription opiate deaths were up 9%, and synthetic opiate deaths (mainly fentanyl) nearly doubled over 2013.

Drug Testing

University of Alabama Subjects All Frat Members to Mandatory Drug Tests. Every fraternity member at the school was required to pass a drug test at the beginning of the academic year, and now, fraternity members are being randomly selected each week for more drug tests. If students test positive, they get several warnings before they are expelled from the fraternity and a university anti-drug program intervenes to "help students get back on track before the school doles out harsher penalties. The drug testing program has been criticized by fraternity members and others as invading the privacy of students, but no one has yet challenged it in court.

ACLU to Appeal Federal Court Ruling Allowing Drug Testing of All Students at Missouri Tech College. The ACLU of Missouri said it will appeal an 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the suspicionless drug testing of all students at the State Technical College of Missouri. The ACLU is seeking a rehearing of the case before the same three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in the school's favor or by the entire bench in the 8th Circuit. The ACLU had filed suit in 2011 to challenge the policy and won at the district court level, but the appeals court last year reversed the lower court decision. The federal courts have held that, with a handful of exceptions, mandatory suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures. The ACLU said the appeals court decision is "poorly crafted and departs from the 8th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent."

International

"Marijuana Exemption" Granted for Jamaica Rasta Festival. The Rebel Salute 2016 festival, to be held next month in St. Ann, has been granted a "marijuana exemption" personally delivered by Justice Minister Mark Golding. "Persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith," explained a Justice Ministry factsheet. "Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event." This is the second time such an exemption has been granted.

Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Chronicle AM: DE Decriminalizes Tomorrow, Drought Halves Afghan Opium Crop, More (12/17/15)

The Obama administration weighs in on Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado legalization, Delaware decrim goes into effect tomorrow, Hawaii released medical marijuana dispensary rules, drought is hurting Afghan poppy production, and more.

Afghan opium production is down 48% this year, thanks to drought conditions. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law. In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems." Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause. They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce. But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction. The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

Delaware Decriminalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, people caught possessing an ounce of pot or less will face a $100 civil fine instead of a criminal charge. Minors caught smoking pot in public will still face criminal sanctions.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Unveiled. A legalization bill to be introduced next month by Sens. Jeannette White (D-Windham) and Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will allow Vermonters to possess up to one ounce and grow up to 100 square feet. Any harvest from personal grows in excess of an ounce must be kept in a secured location. The bill would also set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce, and it would for public consumption in lounges where customers could purchase and use marijuana.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Wins Preliminary Vote. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would make possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Health Department Issues Dispensary Rules. The Health Department Tuesday released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

International

Drought Forces Decline in Afghan Opium Production. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Mexico City Mayor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana-Based Medicines. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera is pushing a national initiative in the congress to allow the importation -- but not the production in Mexico -- of marijuana-based medications. He said if morphine-based medicines are legal, marijuana-based ones should be, too.

Medical Marijuana Update

The specter of state regulation is prompting California cities and counties to regulate or ban medical marijuana activities, including several more this week; Florida's already delayed medical marijuana program faces more delays, Chicago sees its first dispensary, and more.

National

On Tuesday, Congress agreed to continue blocking DEA interference with medical marijuana states. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

California

On Monday, the Dana Point city council voted unanimously to ban cultivation, sales and deliveries. The move comes as the county seeks to maintain regulatory authority by acting before March 1, when the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act shifts control to the state if localities have not acted.

On Tuesday, Contra Costa County supervisors unanimously supported a cultivation and delivery ban for unincorporated areas of the county. Supervisors said it was to maintain local control ahead of the new medical marijuana law, but local activists say they don't trust local officials to regulate -- instead of ban -- such activities.

Also on Tuesday, Ventura County supervisors voted unanimously to formalize bans on commercial cultivation and sales ahead of the new state law. All 10 cities in the county also have similar bans, and the cities that don't have formal bans are working to enact them.

Florida

As of Monday, the state is being challenged over its medical marijuana grower licensing scheme. Eleven companies are challenging the way the state issued licenses for the nascent industry. The challenges will be heard by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. This means another round of court proceedings and further delays in getting medicine to patients. The program is already a year behind schedule, and now the earliest that medicines could be available is next spring or summer.

On Tuesday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign had 900,000 signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Georgia

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

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

Illinois

Last Wednesday, the first dispensary in the Second City opened for businesss. Chicago's first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Uptown. Dispensary 33 opened on North Clark Street. Some 150 patients are registered to use it.

Last Friday, the state told patients they couldn't be gun owners, then retreated. Illinois state police sent letters to a handful of patients saying their firearms cards were being revoked, but now say the letters were sent in error. Patients remain skeptical.

On Wednesday, the state said it will allow residents to petition to add more qualifying conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, there were fireworks at a Senate medical marijuana hearing. A hearing on a package of bills to regulate dispensaries grew heated as Marine Corp veteran Dakota Serna, who uses medical marijuana for PTSD, lashed out at changes in the bill that would tax patients and send some of the revenues to law enforcement. "This bill not only takes more money from them, it taxes their medicine -- you're going to give some of that medicine to the sheriff's department, the jackboots, the thugs that comes into people's homes and kick in the door," said Serna. That led to an angry exchange with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who then ordered Serna to leave the hearing. The National Patients' Rights Association, which had supported the bill, said it is withdrawing its support after the changes, which would treat medical marijuana much like the state treats alcohol.

Last Thursday, activists managed to kill those dispensary bills Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Missouri

Last Thursday,a medical marijuana initiative was approved for circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature-gathering. Read the initiative here.

Utah

On Monday, a new poll had strong support for medical marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

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

Chronicle AM: Ireland to Allow SIF, Congress Renews DEA Funding Ban in MedMJ States, More (12/16/15)

Congress continues to block DEA harassment in medical marijuana states, Washington state could see a lot more pot shops, it looks like Florida will vote again on medical marijuana, Ireland is moving toward setting up a supervised injection site in Dublin, and more.

A supervised injection site is coming to Dublin next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Congress to Continue Blocking DEA Interference With Medical Marijuana States. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

Washington Could Allow Lots More Marijuana Stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) today heard a staff recommendation to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from 334 to 556. The move is expected to be finalized in emergency rules to be announced January 6.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Already Has 900,000 Signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Illinois to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Legislators Compete Over How to Restrict Access to Cold Medications. Faced with a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to obtain cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, two lawmakers have come up with an alternative measure that would instead allow pharmacists to decide whether or not customers could buy the cold medications.

Drug Treatment

Most People in Treatment for Marijuana Are Sent There By Courts. A report this month from the US Department of Health and Human Services finds that between 2003 and 2013 52% of people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal justice system. Only 18% were in treatment because they sought it themselves.

International

Irish Cabinet Approves Supervised Injection Site in Dublin. The cabinet has approved a pilot plan for a medically supervised injection facility in the nation's capital. The move came yesterday and was at the behest of Aodhan O'Riordain, the minister in charge of the National Drug Strategy. The country's drug law must first be amended to allow for such facilities, which should happen early next year.

Chronicle AM: Drug Czar Calls Drug War a Failure, But..., New Yorkers Toke Up in Streets, More (12/15/15)

The New York Times discovers public pot smoking in its backyard, another Florida jurisdiction decriminalizes, Florida's medical marijuana program faces more delays, the drug czar calls the drug war a failure, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New Yorkers Are Smoking Pot on the Streets! The New York Times rather breathlessly reports it has discovered that "lighting up and strolling around seems increasingly common in pockets of Brooklyn, on side streets in Manhattan and in other public spaces." The newspaper cites street smokers are saying they are emboldened by legalization elsewhere in the country and by the low-key comments of the city's leaders, including the police commissioner. Public pot smoking remains an arrestable offense, but that doesn't appear to be stopping a lot of people, especially white people. White people make up less than 9% of those arrested for pot possession.

Florida's Palm Beach County Decriminalizes. County commissioners voted this morning to decriminalize the possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana. Officers can still arrest possessors, but now have the option of simply issuing them a $100 ticket instead. Miami-Dade County has already decriminalized, and so have several municipalities in the Greater Miami area.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Challenged Over Medical Marijuana Grower Licensing. Eleven companies are challenging the way the state issued licenses for the nascent industry. The challenges will be heard by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. This means another round of court proceedings and further delays in getting medicine to patients. The program is already a year behind schedule, and now the earliest that medicines could be available is next spring or summer.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar Calls Drug War a Failure, But Resists Calls to Legalize Marijuana. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Michael Botticelli proclaimed the war on drugs a failure during a CBS "60 Minutes" interview. He said the "failed policies and failed practices" of the past were largely responsible for the country's mass incarceration problem. "It has been all wrong," he said. "We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. Not only do I think it's really inhumane, but it's ineffective, and it cost us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this." But he couldn't wrap his head around marijuana legalization, arguing that legal drugs kill half a million people a year and that legalizing would send the wrong message."So, we know that about one in nine people who use marijuana become addicted to marijuana. It's been associated with poor academic performance, in exacerbating mental health conditions linked to lower IQ," he said, adding that he fears states becoming co-dependent on "tax revenue that's often based on bad public health policy."

International

Ireland Proposes Drugged Driving Law That Could See "Completely Sober" Drivers Arrested. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is backing proposed drugged driving legislation that would allow for roadside drug testing of drivers and prosecution of drivers who had even inactive metabolites of drugs such as marijuana in their systems. When asked if the bill could lead to the prosecution of "completely sober" drivers, Donohoe replied, "yes." Under more questioning, he denied that prosecuting drivers who were not impaired but who had marijuana metabolites in their systems was a case of the government prosecuting drug offenses. "No, it's a road safety offense," he said.

Chronicle AM: Activists Block Bad MI MedMJ Bills, Jeb Bush Now Open to Decrim, More (12/14/15)

San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization, a Kentucky state senator wants it there too, Ohio legalizers spent millions losing last month, a federal drug and mental health treatment bill passes the Senate, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Jeb Bush Now Supports Decriminalization, But Still Calls Pot a "Gateway Drug." GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush last Friday said he could live with decriminalization. "It's one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that," he said in an interview with Joe Mathieu of Boston' WBZ NewsRadio. While that is an advance for the former Florida governor, he added that he rejected legalization and brought out the discredited gateway theory for support. "Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug," Bush continued. "Of course it is, every study shows that."

Kentucky Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) announced last Friday that he has pre-filed the Cannabis Freedom Act, which would repeal pot prohibition and replace it with a regulatory framework that would "promote public safety and responsible cannabis consumption by persons over 21 years of age." The bill will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts January 5.

Michigan Supreme Court Okays Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The state high court has rejected a challenge to the ordinance's legality from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, makes possession or sharing marijuana a civil infraction, punishable only by fines. Forsyth had argued that the ordinance was an illegal restriction on his power to enforce state drug laws, but he lost in circuit court and the Court of Appeals. And he lost again, and finally, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Ohio Legalizers Spent Nearly $22 Million in Failed Initiative Campaign. Ouch, that's gotta hurt! ResponsibleOhio and its deep-pocketed backers, who hoped to win monopolistic marijuana concessions, spent more than $21 million in their campaign, only to get trounced last month. The campaign spent $12 million between July and October and had burned through nearly another $10 million just getting on the ballot.

Eyeing Looming Legalization, San Francisco Creates Marijuana Task Force. Last week, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted to appoint 11 people to a task force aimed at helping to guide the city's policies in the face of seemingly inevitable marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Stop Dispensary Bills. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

Heroin

New Hampshire Attorney General Will Seek Murder Charges in Heroin Overdoses. Attorney General Joe Foster (D) says he plans to aggressively seek murder charges against dealers of drugs involved in overdose deaths. "The message to dealers is: If you sell this stuff here and we can (figure) the facts out, you will be going to jail for a very, very long time," Attorney General Joe Foster said. Overdose deaths are expected to top 400 in the state this. Foster also said he is seeking $115,000 for a new prosecutor for drug cases and exploring a federal grant to hire another drug prosecutor.

Drug Policy

Federal Synthetic Drugs Bill Filed. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) has filed HR 4229, which seeks to "address the continued threat posed by dangerous synthetic drugs by amending the Controlled Substance Act" to make it easier to go after drug analogs. It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentences for violations are "appropriately severe."

Drug Treatment

Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act Passes Senate. The act, S 993, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), passed the Senate last Thursday. It is aimed at facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, veterans treatment services, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Medical Marijuana. In a plenary session last Friday, the Colombian Senate approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. President Santos had said he would do it through an executive order, but the Senate decided not to wait. The bill now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will be debated early next year.

(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.)

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