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DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization [FEATURE]

The District of Columbia city council moved another step closer to decriminalizing marijuana possession in the nation's capital Tuesday, approving a bill to do just that on an 11-1 vote. But it only acted after approving last-minute amendments that would make public pot-smoking a criminal offense and give police the right to conduct vehicle searches if they smell marijuana.

A final vote on the bill will come next month. It is expected to pass and already has the support of Mayor Vincent Gray.

While advocates greeted the council vote with praise, the accolades were tempered by concerns about the council's adoption of the late amendments. And looming over it all is the prospect of outright legalization in the District, either through a bill introduced by Councilmember David Grasso that is now before the council or through an initiative that is now awaiting language approval from District officials.

"This is a major victory for advancing the cause of racial justice in DC," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "The war on marijuana is largely a war on people of color and the DC council is saying enough is enough."

"As a former prosecuting attorney, I call this a step forward for the cause of promoting public safety," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Arresting and prosecuting adults for possessing a less harmful substance than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement and court resources. Police and prosecutors should focus their time and attention on addressing actual threats to public safety."

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing marijuana impose a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it. But the amendments approved Tuesday criminalize public possession and allows those vehicle searches.

The bill was introduced after the publication of an ACLU report and a Washington Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs report highlighting the disparate rate of arrests of blacks over whites for marijuana possession in the District. The reports found that blacks are arrested eight times as often as whites for the offense, even though rates of use among both races are thought to be relatively similar.

But advocates complained that the amendments adopted Tuesday would only serve to perpetuate racially biased marijuana law arrests, not end them. Some called for a solution to the problem by having the council pass the legalization bill.

"These last-minute amendments will simply expand stop-and-frisk policies in the District and will do nothing to fight the horrible racial disparities in marijuana enforcement," said MPP's Riffle. "We need to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, and take it out of the hands of criminals and drug cartels. Marijuana should be sold by legitimate businesses in licensed, regulated stores, not by criminals on our street corners. The sooner the council takes up Councilmember Grosso's bill, the better."

The Drug Policy Alliance will be working to undo the amendments when the council takes a final vote on the bill next month, Smith told the Chronicle Tuesday night.

"There is one more opportunity to change the criminalization of public smoking when the council considers and votes one more time on the bill," he said. "We hope to work with Councilmember Tommy Wells and our community partners here in DC to pressure the council to reverse its decision to criminalize public consumption and treat public smoking as a civil offense instead."

Looming just behind the decriminalization fight is outright legalization. Public opinion in the District appears ready to make the leap. A Washington Post poll last year had support for legalization at a healthy 63%.

While some groups, like the Marijuana Policy Project, are working the council in an effort to move a bill, others favor the initiative process, especially if the council fails to act.

"As a DC resident, I'm proud the Council took an important step today to stop the expensive, time-consuming and racially discriminatory practice of putting people into handcuffs just for possessing marijuana," said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority."But while this is clearly movement in the right direction, this legislation would unfortunately leave marijuana production and profits illegal and largely in the hands of street gangs and criminals. A clear majority of District voters supports legalizing marijuana, and that's why we're likely to approve a ballot initiative this November that would completely remove penalties for possession and allow residents to grow up to six plants. Hopefully such widespread voter support will spur the council to adopt more comprehensive legislation taxing and regulating the marijuana trade at some point soon."

Adam Eidinger of the DC Cannabis Campaign is the public face of the DC marijuana legalization initiative. The veteran District political gadfly had kind words for the decriminalization effort, but signaled it wouldn't make any difference to the initiative campaign.

"The compromise on the decrim bill wasn't that bad. The big deal is that it passed, and it passed with a veto-proof majority, and the mayor will sign it. We should be celebrating," he said, "But I'm on the war path. Decriminalization is a stepping stone toward ending the raging stream of marijuana arrests; it's a nice place to stand, but you don't want to live there, because you're going to fall in the water eventually. And I mean get arrested," he clarified.

"Look, decriminalization will get rid of a lot of arrests, but there will still be marijuana arrests and people engaging in illegal activity when they want to buy it," Eidinger continued. "And they're exposed to heroin and other hard drugs. You need to separate cannabis from all the hard drugs and create a legal cultivation and distribution system. That hurts the bulk hard drug dealers. If you care about reducing drug use and addiction, you create a massive harm reduction with marijuana legalization first. I don't have sympathy for the illicit market for heroin, but for the illicit cannabis market, it's not deadly."

The legalization initiative campaign continues to aim at the November ballot, Eidinger said, but still needs to secure funding if it's going to be successful. A key date for the initiative will be February 25, when the DC Board of Elections decides whether to approve the initiative language for signature-gathering.

"If the language is good, that's a big deal," Eidinger said. "I think some of the big money has been holding off until that happens. We're doing this on a shoe string and have raised $30,000 in six months, but we do have the money for signature-gathering locked in, thanks to Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. We will do paid and volunteer signature-gathering."

Marijuana law reform is coming to the District of Columbia. And the decriminalization bill is only the beginning.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- February 4, 2014

Legalization proves profitable for Colorado's coffers, decrim moves closer in DC, more drug test bills get filed, Vermont attempts to do something about its opioid problem, a crime lab scandal brews in Florida, and more. Let's get to it:

meth house (assumptionsheriff.com)
Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Decriminalization Bill. The District of Columbia city council today gave initial approval to the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409), which would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. The bill still faces another council vote, needs the approval of the mayor, then needs Congress to let it happen.

Colorado Takes in $1.2 Million in Marijuana Taxes in First Month. According to an NBC News survey of Colorado retail marijuana shops, pot sales in the month since they were legal have contributed at least $1.24 million in tax revenues to state coffers. But wait -- there's more: The survey only counted tax receipts from half of the shops that opened New Year's Day, meaning the month's total is probably in the $2.4 million to $3 million range.

Arizona Democrat Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D) and 12 other Democrats have filed a bill to "regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol." The measure, House Bill 2558, allows for the possession of up to an ounce and a small number of plants as well. Another bill, House Bill 2474, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

CBD Oil Medical Marijuana Bill for Epileptic Kids Filed in Utah. A bill that would allow for the importation into the state of marijuana extracts containing cannabidiol for use by epileptic children has been filed in Salt Lake City. Rep. Gage Froerer (R-Huntsville) introduced House Bill 100 yesterday.

Hemp

Indiana Senate Passes Hemp Bill. A bill that would allow the production of industrial hemp in the Hoosier State was approved unanimously by the Indiana Senate Monday. Senate Bill 357 would require a waiver from federal law before hemp could be grown there. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Testing

Georgia Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Filed. State Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has filed a bill to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for food stamp recipients. The bill is House Bill 772. Similar legislation ordering mandatory, suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients was signed into law in 2012, but never implemented after a federal judge struck down a similar Florida law.

Northern Marianas Bills Would Require Drug Tests for Candidates, Elected Officials. Bills that would require that candidates for political office and elected officials submit to mandatory drug testing have passed the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations. House Bill 18-21 requires testing for candidates, and House Bill 18-152 requires testing for elected officials. The US Supreme Court has found a similar Georgia law unconstitutional.

Drug Treatment

Vermont Rolls Out Early Intervention Program for Criminal Drug Users. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and other state officials Monday announced a new program to divert crime-committing drug users into a pre-court, 90-day drug treatment program. If they successfully complete the program, they will not be prosecuted. Only those with nonviolent offenses will be eligible. "Instead of treating this as a crime, let's treat it as the disease that it is and offer addicts the opportunity to get into treatment, get the support they need and if they succeed, never to have to go through the criminal process," Shumlin said Monday at the Rutland County Courthouse.

Law Enforcement

Crime Lab Scandal Has Florida Police Reviewing Thousands of Drug Cases. Hundreds of drug convictions may be jeopardized and thousands of drug cases are under review in Florida after a single chemist at a state-run crime lab was accused of tampering with evidence. The chemist, who works at the Pensacola Regional Crime Lab, is suspected of removing "large" quantities of prescription pills from evidence packages and replacing them with over-the-counter medications, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Saturday. That chemist handled at least 2,600 drug cases.

Methamphetamine

Indiana House Passes Meth Property Disclosure Bill. A bill that would require Indiana property owners to disclose to potential new buyers whether the property had previously been used to manufacture methamphetamine passed the House Monday. The bill, House Bill 1141, would require that such properties be listed on a state web site until at least 90 days after it has been certified as decontaminated. The measure now goes to the Senate.

International

Scholar Francisco Thoumi Offers Comprehensive Analysis of FARC Illicit Drug Cultivation Proposals. Colombian scholar Francisco Thoumi, a long-renowned expert on drug production and trafficking there, has authored a lengthy analysis of the FARC's proposals in peace negotiations with the Colombian government in the area of illicit crop cultivation. The article is Las FARC y el campesinado cultivador de plantas ilícitas: dilemas, ideología y decisiones (The FARC and the Drug-Growing Peasantry: Dilemmas, Ideology, and Decisions). It is in Spanish, but can be translated.

In Colombia, British Liberal Democrat Leader Says UK Should Abandon Current Drug Policies. During a visit to Colombia, British Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Britain should abandon its current drug policies because they're not working. He said new approaches were needed, but declined to back full legalization. He said the Lib Dems would offer their own alternative proposals shortly.

DC Council Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The District of Columbia city council today approved a marijuana decriminalization bill, but a second vote is needed for final approval.

That second vote will come no sooner than two weeks from now.

If approved again then, it will then have to get the okay from the mayor.

If that happens, Congress then has a limited opportunity to block it.

But it's on it's way

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Oglala Sioux and French Consider Marijuana Legalization

The Oglala Sioux are considering legalizing marijuana, Phil noted in yesterday's Chronicle AM roundup. A proposal to take the idea to a vote by residents of the reservation passed the Tribal Council's business development committee, according to South Dakota's Rapid City Journal. The Sioux would be the first Native American body to take up legalization.

In 1998, the Tribal Council approved hemp growing, prompting well-known activist Alex White Plume and his family to plant hemp growing crops from 2000 through 2002. Federal authorities wiped out the crops, however, and the federal courts rejected White Plume's appeal.

Meanwhile, a French legislator has filed a legalization bill. Esther Benbassa, a member of France's Green Party, said that France has rising marijuana use despite one of the most restrictive drug laws in Europe, according to UPI.

DC City Council Voting on Marijuana Decriminalization Today

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dc-city-council-chambers.jpg
DC city council chamber

Things are looking for good for a vote for marijuana decriminalization in the DC city council this afternoon. From Phil's "Chronicle AM" drug policy roundup yesterday:

DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.
 

At $25 per violation -- less than most parking tickets, and less than the $100 fine originally proposed for the bill, the legislation would be a really nice step forward. (On the other hand, if one counts the value of the marijuana that police will still seize, the net cost might still be more than a parking ticket.)

Chronicle AM -- February 3, 2014

Short-sighted Tories slam a Welsh harm reduction drug testing program, DC could decriminalize marijuana possession tomorrow, Oregon's governor thinks the legislature should legalize it, South Dakota legislators get busy with bad bills, and a South Dakota Indian reservation is thinking about legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Votes on Decriminalization Tomorrow. The DC city council is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014 (Council Bill 20-409)" would eliminate the threat of arrest for possessing or using marijuana and ensure that people are no longer saddled with life-long convictions that make it difficult to obtain employment and housing. Instead of arresting people the bill would impose a $25 civil fine for possession and a $100 civil fine for smoking marijuana in public places, as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

Oregon Governor Wants Legislature to Act on Legalization. Faced with the seeming inevitability of marijuana legalization in his state, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) said last Friday the legislature should take it up. "I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," he said. "I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system," Kitzhaber said. "The Legislature would be the right place to craft that." A bill to do that, Senate Bill 1556, is currently before the legislature. If the legislature doesn't act, a ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana in the state is waiting in the wings.

South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Considers Legalization. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council on southwestern South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation has taken preliminary steps toward a public vote on marijuana legalization. Last week, the tribe's business development community approved the measure, and Tribal Chairman James Cross supports it. The full tribal council could approve a vote within the next month.

California Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act (MCLR) initiative was approved last Friday for signature gathering to begin. Organizers now have until May to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. They need 504,000 valid voter signatures to do so. Three other legalization initiatives have also been submitted, but at this point, it appears unlikely that any of the initiatives will qualify for the ballot.

Two-Thirds of Hawaiians Ready to Legalize It, Poll Finds. Support for marijuana legalization in the Aloha State has jumped nine points since 2012 and now stands at 66%, according to a new QMark Research Poll. The survey also found 77% opposed jail time for pot possession and 85% supported allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

New Jersey Poll: Only 41% Support Legalization. A new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll has support for legalizing small quantities of marijuana or personal use at 41%, although it is trending upward. "These numbers point to the possibility that fertile ground exists in the state for those looking to expand legalization beyond medicinal use," poll director Krista Jenkins said. "Policymakers will likely be watching for changes in public opinion as the percentage difference between those in favor and opposed gets closer to the 50/50 mark. Right now, however, a majority of the public remains opposed."

Medical Marijuana

Portland, Oregon, Medical Marijuana Business Symposium Draws Hundreds. Hundreds of people showed up in Portland Saturday at a marijuana business symposium to give and get advice on how to operate dispensaries and related businesses in the state. Beginning in March, the state of Oregon will start accepting applications for the businesses, making it a taxed and regulated industry.

Guam Senate Passes Bill to Put Medical Marijuana on the Ballot. The Guam Senate Saturday approved Bill 215, which would put the question of legalizing medical marijuana directly to the voters. The governor could still veto it, but unless he takes affirmative action to do so it will go into effect. Sponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) amended the bill to allow for a popular referendum after running into opposition in the legislature.

New Mexico Medical Marijuana Grower Sues over Stalled Permit. A Santa Fe man has sued the state Department of Health over what he describes as a severe medical marijuana shortage. Mark Springer of Medical Marijuana, Inc. accuses the department of failing to act on his application and asks that it reopen the application period for growers and ease limits on how much they can grow.

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Stalled. Two bills that would make it easier for patients to acquire medical marijuana, including allowing dispensaries and the use of edibles, passed the House late last year, but now appear stalled by a hostile Senate committee chair. They are stuck in the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), who is not a big fan. "I'm going to sit on them for awhile," he said. The two bills are House Bill 5104 (edibles) and House Bill 4271 (dispensaries).

Methamphetamine

South Dakota Meth Precursor Registry Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would make South Dakota the 30th state to join the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to track pseudoephedrine sales passed the Senate last week. Senate Bill 24 now heads to the House for consideration.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Public Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. A bill that would direct the state Department of Social Services to screen and drug test public benefits applicants for drug use has been filed in the South Dakota Senate. State Sen. Mark Kirkeby (R-Rapid City) tried and failed with similar bills in 2011 and 2012, but he's back this year with Senate Bill 123.

International

French Legislator Has Bill to Legalize Marijuana. A Green Party legislator said Saturday she had written a bill to legalize marijuana in France. Sen. Esther Benbassa, who represents a district on the outskirts of Paris, said France suffered from "a paradox," with some of the toughest marijuana laws in Europe, but also rising use levels.

Welsh Tories Attack Government for Funding Harm Reduction Drug Testing. Public Health Wales is operating a web site, Wedinos, where individuals can have drug samples tested for content and purity, and that has Welsh Tories crying foul. "This website suggests that Labour in Wales has given up the fight against drugs," complained Shadow Health Minister Jim Millar. "This free service is not just testing recreational highs, but illegal and dangerous drugs including heroin, cocaine and crack and gives advice on snorting and injecting substances." A government spokesman responded that it totally rejects those charges. "We are taking action to help individuals and society deal with the problems of substance misuse," he said. "Wedinos can provide essential intelligence and can help save lives. "It contributes to the wider UK and European Early Warning Systems in place to identify and monitor changing trends in drug use."

United Arab Emirates Toughens Drug Trafficking Laws. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is vowing to seize assets from drug dealers and traffickers, but at the same time, it is working to enhance drug treatment services as part of "a containment policy for drug addicts, guiding them towards annihilating their addiction through innovative services."

Oregon Governor Calls for Marijuana Legalization, Legislature to Act

Gov. John Kitzhaber now supports marijuana legalization, reports The Oregonian:

"I hear the drumbeats from Washington and Colorado," states that recently approved legalization measures, he said. Oregon voters could do the same.
 

And he wants the legislature to take it on:

"I want to make sure we have a thoughtful regulatory system," Kitzhaber said. "The Legislature would be the right place to craft that."
 

Perhaps Kitzhaber is hoping to head off a ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana in Oregon instead. Either way, we'll take it.

Chronicle AM -- January 31, 2014

The president makes some delphic comments on marijuana policy, some of his congressional critics get ready to go after him for such comments next week, Dutch cities want legal marijuana growing, the Welsh government funds a harm reduction drug testing program, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Don't know what's in your drugs? The Welsh government wants to help.
In CNN Interview, Obama Punts on Rescheduling, Hints Support for Decriminalization. In an interview with CNN released today, President Obama said rescheduling marijuana was a job for Congress [Editor's Note: The executive branch can also reschedule it, according to statute] and that he considered the criminalization of personal use his main concern, although he also worried about the impact of commercialization.

House Government Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Marijuana Policy Next Week. Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the committee, said he will hold a hearing next Tuesday to examine what he called the Obama administration's "schizophrenic" position on marijuana laws. "The purpose of the hearing is to try to sort out the increasingly schizophrenic federal policy we have, because the DEA administrator was overhead denouncing what the president said," Mica said Friday. "We have states that are enacting laws -- municipalities that are considering it -- that are in conflict with federal law." There could be more hearings to come after that, he added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner No Fan of Legalization. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a radio interview on Thursday evening expressed doubt that marijuana should be legalized. "We already have a city with a high addiction -- what would that do to the city of Baltimore?" Batts said. He also linked marijuana to homicides in the city, although the killings he described were a function of black market drug sales. "When you're calling your weed dealer or drug dealer, and you show up with money and you get robbed and it turns into a shooting, that's what we're seeing."

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Names Recipients of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses. The Department of Public Health Friday announced the names of the first 20 dispensary applicants who will be awarded licenses to to open dispensaries. An additional 15 will be forthcoming.

Drug Testing

Judge Reinstates Delaware Valley (PA) School District Drug Testing Program. A Pike County district judge has lifted a temporary injunction barring random, suspicionless drug testing for students who drive to school or participate in extracurricular activities. The parents of a 12-year-old female student who faced drug testing if she wanted to join the scrapbooking club and the ACLU had challenged the program in 2011 and won the injunction, but Judge Joseph Kameen ruled earlier this month that the policy was constitutional under state law. It is unclear if the ACLU of Pennsylvania is done with this case.

Harm Reduction

Opioid Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced in New York. State Sens. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) this week filed a bill, Senate Bill 6744/Assembly Bill 8637, that would help prevent accidental opioid overdoses by expanding access to the opioid antidote naloxone. The legislation would dramatically increase the accessibility of the life-saving reversal tool by allowing authorized health care professionals to issue standing orders, or non-patient specific prescriptions, to certified training programs that would in turn train individuals on the signs of overdose and provide them with the naloxone kits. By expanding naloxone distribution, this legislation will help reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses.

International

Welsh Government Funds Program to Test Drugs for Public. Public Health Wales has set up the Wedinos Project (Welsh Emerging Drugs and Identification of Novel Substances Project) to identify what drugs are in circulation there and use that information for harm reduction purposes. Samples are sent to the Wedinos laboratory in Cardiff anonymously and the test results posted online, identified by a reference number. The service is open to the public. "It's essential intelligence for our health workers, for our substance misuse workers, for the police, for young people and their families. By providing timely and accurate information this service can save lives," explained Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This is the first government-funded program of its type in the United Kingdom.

Dutch Cities Call for Legal Marijuana Cultivation; Government Says No. Eight of the Netherlands' 10 largest cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, signed a joint manifesto Friday calling for the creation of "a national system of certified and regulated cannabis cultivation." Another 25 municipal councils also signed on. While the Netherlands allows for the sale of marijuana through its famous cannabis coffee shops, growing marijuana remains illegal. "We want cannabis cultivation to be regulated so the national market is manageable and more transparent, and to decrease the influence of organized crime," said the manifesto. Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten rejected the proposals: "I really don't think this is the solution," the Liberal minister told Dutch public television. "Mayors just have to learn to live with it," he said.

Marijuana Growing Courses Underway in Uruguay. Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation has launched special training courses on cultivation of the popular plant, local media reported. Some 50 would-be growers are currently enrolled.

Chronicle AM -- January 30, 2014

Big news on a couple of fronts regarding federal sentencing and federal prisoners, the DC council is set to approve decriminalization, Minnesota's welfare drug testing law gets some pushback, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council to Vote on Decriminalization Bill Tuesday. The District of Columbia city council will vote Tuesday on the decriminalization bill, the Drug Policy Alliance said Thursday in an email to supporters. The link above is to the bill itself.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced. Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) Wednesday introduced House Bill 1659, which would allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated marijuana commerce regime.

Latest Poll Has Arizona Voters "Narrowly Opposing" Legalization. Marijuana legalization had the support of 43% of voters, with 51% in a Scutari and Cjeslak poll released Wednesday. That's the fourth poll in the last year on the topic, all conducted by different pollsters. Two show majorities for legalization; two don't.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Sees Conferences in Ashland, Portland This Week. Would-be marijuana entrepreneurs in Oregon have two conferences aimed at them this week. The two-day Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference began today in Ashland. The National Cannabis Industry Association is holding a one-day "Northwest Cannabusiness Symposium" in Portland on Saturday. An Oregon law allowing dispensaries goes into effect March 3.

Charlie Crist Will Vote for Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said Wednesday he plans to vote for the state's pending medical marijuana initiative. "This is an issue of compassion, trusting doctors, and trusting the people of Florida," he said. "I will vote for it."

Drug Testing

Minnesota Welfare Drug Test Law Draws Flak. Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) legislators, county officials and anti-poverty advocates are pushing back against the state's 2012 law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients with drug felonies. At a hearing Wednesday, Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) said she would propose a bill that would effectively overturn the law by giving counties the discretion to decide whether to apply it or not. County officials complained that the law is expensive to implement and actually affects few people. In one county, one county was forced to spend $1,500 in staff time to search out and test the one person to whom the law applied.

Search and Seizure

NYC Mayor DeBlasio Drops "Stop and Frisk" Appeal. The New York City mayor's office filed papers seeking to drop an appeal of a judge's decision ordering major reforms to the police department's stop-and-frisk policy. A judge ruled last year that the New York Police Department had discriminated against blacks and Hispanics with how it went about stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people on the street. The judge ordered major reforms to the department's implementation of the policy. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed the decision.

Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Smarter Sentencing Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the Smarter Sentencing Act on a 13-5 vote. It now goes to the Senate floor. Similar legislation is pending in the House.

Justice Department Calls for Drug Prisoners to Seek Clemency. In an unusual move, the Obama administration Thursday told defense lawyers they should suggest more inmates serving time on drug charges who might be deserving of clemency. In a speech to the New York State Bar Association, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told attendees that the Justice Department wanted more names to forward to the White House -- and that the defense bar could be of assistance.

Synthetic Drugs

Minnesota Synthetic Drug Bill Wins Committee Vote. Minnesota's House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs Wednesday approved a bill that would toughen laws against new synthetic drugs by expanding the definition of "drug" under the law to include any "substance or derivative… when introduced into the body, induces an effect substantially similar to… controlled substance regardless of whether the substance is marketed for the purpose of human consumption." The legislation would also empower the Board of Pharmacy to execute "cease and desist" orders on stores that sell the substances.

International

Israeli Cops Keep Arresting Small-Time Hash Possessors, Despite Prosecutor's Instructions to Lay Off. Israeli police keep arresting people for small-time hashish and marijuana possession even though longstanding policy directives from the attorney general instruct them not to. The state prosecutor's office said Wednesday it hadn't instructed them to do so.

Bermuda Marijuana Reform Group Seeks Input. The Cannabis Reform Collaborative (CRC) is soliciting for public input and is inviting members of the community to submit their thoughts and research on the topic of cannabis reform. Click on either link for complete details.

Drug Prohibition Leads to Central America Deforestation, Study Finds. Drug trafficking threatens forests in remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other nearby countries, according to a research report in Science magazine. Most media outlets have portrayed the finding as "Drug Trafficking Leads to Central America Deforestation," but as the authors of the article note, "Drug policies are also conservation policies, whether we realize it or not. US-led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests." The article is Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Deforestation; available to members or subscribers.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Colorado Supreme Court will take up an important medical marijuana employment rights case, Connecticut selects marijuana producers, Massachusetts gets ready to announce who gets dispensaries, California localities keep moving to restrict cultivation, and more. Let's get to it:

California

Last week, Fremont delayed moving ahead with a ban on visible outdoor grows. Police and city planners had hoped to enact the ban, but the Planning Commission raised concerns about the hazards of indoor cultivation if growers are all pushed indoors. "With indoor cultivation, there are increased fire hazards, more spikes in illegal electricity use that is off the grid, and increased environmental degradation, such as mold," said Commissioner David Bonaccorsi. The Planning Commission voted 4-3 last week against the plan, but that vote is not binding, and the city council could approve the ban at its February 11 meeting.

On Tuesday, the Shasta County board of supervisors voted to ban all outdoor grows. The vote was unanimous and goes into effect in 30 days. The move also restricts indoor grows to 12 plants or fewer. The board had originally proposed allowing outdoor grows on parcels on 10 acres of more, but went for the tougher line after Sheriff Tom Bosenko told the supervisors that a complete ban on all outdoor grows would make it easier to enforce, saying that if someone saw a garden, then it was obviously illegal.

Also on Tuesday, the Butte County board of supervisors approved tough new grow rules for the second time. The rules would limit the size of medical marijuana grows to 150 square-feet on properties 10 acres or larger, 100 square-feet on properties five to 10 acres, and 50 square-feet on properties from a half-acre to five acres. On lots smaller than a half-acre, only indoor grows of less than 120 square-feet would be allowed in a building dedicated to the crop. The vote was unanimous. A final vote is set for February 11.

Colorado

On Monday, the state Supreme Court said it would take up a medical marijuana employment case. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic, was fired from his job for using marijuana during his off hours. The court said it would look not just at whether a special Colorado law that protects legal off-the-clock activities covers marijuana. For the first time, the court announced it will also look at whether Colorado's constitution gives medical marijuana patients a right to cannabis. Colorado's Court of Appeals has previously ruled that patients don't have a right to use marijuana and that employers can fire workers for any marijuana use.

Connecticut

On Tuesday, state officials announced the selection of four medical marijuana producers. Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, joined by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and other officials, announced that four applicants have been chosen as the first-ever producers of medical marijuana to serve the needs of seriously ill patients in Connecticut. The anointed growers are Advanced Grow Labs, LLC of West Haven, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, LLC of Portland, Curaleaf, LLC of Simsbury, and Theraplant, LLC of Watertown.

Georgia

On Tuesday, a bill to allow epileptic children to use high-CBS cannabis oil was filed. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was moved to file it after hearing from the parents of desperately ill children.

Massachusetts

On Monday, the Department of Public Health said it would issue licenses this week for up to 35 dispensaries. Under state law, each county can have up to five dispensaries.

Oregon

Last Thursday, the Ashland city council voted to allow dispensaries. It had previously enacted an ordinance effectively banning them by enacting a provision that allowed business licenses to be denied for unlawful activity.

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, medical marijuana got a hearing at the legislature. The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 1182. After emotive testimony, five more senators signed on a cosponsors of the bill.

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

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