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Chronicle AM: France Marijuana Decrim, PA High Court Reins in Forfeiture, More... (5/26/17)

France is moving toward marijuana decriminalization, perhaps as early as September, Vermont legalization supporters still hold out hope, and more.

Vive la France!
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Establish Commission to Study Marijuana Legalization. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill 215, which would create a 22-member commission to study"the possible impacts of changing state policy to treat marijuana in a manner similar to the way the state deals with alcohol and shall study the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana including the specific issues related to growing, selling, taxing, limiting use, advertising, promoting, and otherwise regulating marijuana and marijuana-infused edible products." The bill has already passed the House and now heads for the Senate floor.

Vermont Legalization Supporters Seek Compromise. In the wake of Gov. Phil Scott's (R) veto of the Senate Bill 22 legalization measure, supporters are seeking to find a compromise that will make the governor comfortable signing off on legalization. Scott said he wanted more aggressive penalties for driving under the influence or smoking in front of children and clearer and harsher penalties for selling and providing marijuana to minors. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), a legalization supporter, said while compromise was possible, it might not happen if Republicans don't agree to suspend legislative rules to allow the legislation to move more quickly during a two-day summer session.

Medical Marijuana

Prohibitionist Senators File CBD Research Bill. Two of the Senate's most ardent prohibitionists, International Narcotics Control caucus leaders Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) filed a bill to expand research into the medical benefits of cannabidiol and marijuana Thursday. The bill has not yet been assigned a number, nor is the text available on the congressional website, but the text can be viewed here. Feinstein authored a similar bill last session that went nowhere.

Asset Forfeiture

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reins in Prosecutors on Civil Asset Forfeiture. In a unanimous decision Thursday, the state's highest court ruled that before seizing a property, prosecutors must prove it played a significant role in committing a crime, and it's value must be proportionate to the offense. The ruling came in the case of a 72-year-old Philadelphia woman whose $54,000 home and used minivan were seized in 2012 after her son was investigated for selling small amounts of marijuana. Her case has now been sent back to the lower courts to be decided in compliance with this ruling.

Sentencing

Hakeem Jeffries Files Federal Drug Charge Expungement Bill. US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has filed House Resolution 2617, which would allow first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug possession offenders a change to expunge their convictions and clean up their records upon completion of court imposed probation. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

International

France Could Decriminalize Marijuana Possession as Soon as September. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Wednesday that the ministry is set to issue new rules under which someone caught with small amounts of pot would be cited and fined -- not arrested. The new rules could be in place "within three or four months," he said. Collomb's boss, newly-inaugurated President Emmanuel Macron had campaigned in favor of decriminalization and described marijuana prohibition as "posing a security problem."

Medical Marijuana Update

The nation's leading veterans organization wants the Trump administration to open up medical marijuana research for vets, Maryland regulators grant first medical marijuana business licenses, the Utah GOP rejects a resolution in support of medical marijuana, and more.

National

Last Thursday, the American Legion asked Trump to allow medical marijuana research for veterans. In a letter to the White House, the conservative veterans' group asked for a meeting with Trump son-in-law and key advisor Jared Kushner, "as we seek support from the president to clear the way for clinical research in the cutting edge areas of cannabinoid receptor research," the letter said. "We are not asking for it to be legalized," said Louis Celli, the national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion. "There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal."

Florida

On Tuesday, a judge backed issued two more medical marijuana licenses. Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham ordered the state to issue two new licenses to medical marijuana operators. That would boost from seven to nine the number of entities licensed by the state to grow, process, and distribute marijuana to patients.

Maryland

Last Wednesday, regulators granted the first medical marijuana grow licenses. More than four years after the state approved medical marijuana, the state Medical Cannabis Commission voted unanimously to grant final approval to the first firm licensed to grow medical marijuana, ForwardGro in Anne Arundel County. "A new industry in Maryland has been launched," said Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission. "They can start to grow immediately." Fifteen companies were granted preliminary licenses last year, but none of the others have been granted final approval yet.

Missouri

On Tuesday, the ACLU sued a library over its refusal to allow activists to meet there. The ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Rolla Public Library charging that it refused to allow a local man to hold a meeting in one of its rooms because he advocates for legalizing medical marijuana. Randy Johnson of New Approach Missouri had sought the room for a training session for initiative signature gatherers, but was unconstitutionally discriminated against because of his political views, the ACLU said.

Rhode Island

On Tuesday, a judge ruled a local company discriminated against a medical marijuana user. A Superior Court judge ruled that the Darlington Fabrics Corporation had discriminated against a woman when she was denied an internship because she used medical marijuana to treat her migraine headaches. The company's action violated the state's Hawkins-Slater Medical Marijuana Act, which bars discrimination against registered medical marijuana users.

Utah

On Sunday, Republicans rejected a resolution supporting medical marijuana. At its annual convention over the weekend, the Utah Republican Party overwhelmingly rejected a resolution in support of medical marijuana, defeating it by a margin of 70% to 29%. The Republican-controlled legislature has refused to enact a full-fledged medical marijuana law, and now the state GOP has made it clear it intends to stick to its guns. Advocates could undertake an initiative campaign next year in the face of legislative indifference or hostility.

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

Chronicle AM: VT Gov Vetoes Legalization Bill, UCSB Ecstasy Pill Testing, More... (5/24/17)

Vermont's bid to be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process gets derailed or at least delayed by the governor, a judge rules a Rhode Island company discriminated against a medical marijuana patient, UC Santa Barbara students start an ecstasy pill-testing program, and more.

What's in your ecstasy tablet? Students at UCSB will be able to find out. (Erowid.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Governor Vetoes Legalization Bill, But Leaves Door Open. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) today vetoed a marijuana legalization bill, ending for now an effort that would have seen the state become the first to legalize pot through the legislative process. But Scott left open a "path forward" for passing the bill later this year, saying that if a handful of changes were made in the bill, he could support it. He said he thought the legislature still has time to incorporate them and pass a revised bill during this summer's veto session.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Backs Issuing Two More Medical Marijuana Licenses. Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham ordered the state to issue two new licenses to medical marijuana operators. That would boost from seven to nine the number of entities licensed by the state to grow, process, and distribute marijuana to patients.

Missouri Library Sued Over Refusal to Allow Activists to Meet. The ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Rolla Public Library charging that it refused to allow a local man to hold a meeting in one of its rooms because he advocates for legalizing medical marijuana. Randy Johnson of New Approach Missouri had sought the room for a training session for initiative signature gatherers, but was unconstitutionally discriminated against because of his political views, the ACLU said.

Rhode Island Judge Rules Company Discriminated Against Medical Marijuana User. A Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that the Darlington Fabrics Corporation had discriminated against a woman when she was denied an internship because she used medical marijuana to treat her migraine headaches. The company's action violated the state's Hawkins-Slater Medical Marijuana Act, which bars discrimination against registered medical marijuana users.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Republicans Advance Welfare Drug Testing Plan. The GOP-controlled legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Tuesday to include a provision in the budget that would impose drug screening and testing requirements on some 14,000 parents who apply for Wisconsin Works job programs. A bill that would do the same thing has already passed the Assembly. The state already has similar requirements for four state-run work programs. In those programs, some 1,837 people were screened, 42 of those were referred to drug testing, and nine were referred to drug treatment. That's about one half of one percent.

Harm Reduction

University of California at Santa Barbara Students Roll Out Free Ecstasy Test Kits. UCSB Associated Students Off-Campus Senator Patrick Dohoney and the campus Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter are providing test kits for students to test their pills for purity and contamination. "Me and a group of students, who are a part of SSDP, wanted to find a way to reduce the amount of drug-related emergencies," Dohoney said. "When people intend to take molly, it is often cut with other drugs, like amphetamines or bath salts. We wanted to make sure that if students decided to use drugs, they could do it in the safest, most responsible way possible."

Medical Marijuana Update

West Virginia is poised to become the next medical marijuana state, New Mexico's GOP governor vetoes a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana for opioid addiction, Ohio takes another step toward getting its system up and running, and more.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the Court of Appeals struck down the criminal ban on possession of medical marijuana on college campuses. The state Court of Appeals ruled that even though colleges and universities can bar the possession of medical marijuana through administrative means, the state cannot make on-campus possession a criminal offense. The state's medical marijuana law barred its possession in prisons, schools, and on school buses, but the legislature in 2012 added college campuses to the list. Now, the appellate court has ruled the state couldn't do that. The case is Arizona v. Maestes.

Indiana

Last Friday, the legislature approved CBD cannabis oil bills. Both houses of the legislature have approved measures allowing for expanded access to CBD cannabis oil But Senate Bill 15 and House companion legislation now have differences in the percentages of chemicals allowed, so the bills must go to conference committee to hammer out the differences.

Montana

On Monday, the medical marijuana regulatory bill was dramatically amended, and advocates were unhappy. A bill aimed at setting up a new regulatory framework for medical marijuana in the state was radically overhauled in a House committee -- and supporters of the original measure are not pleased. The measure, Senate Bill 333, saw 20 amendments attached by the House Taxation Committee, including amendments that changed the taxing structure, before that committee sent it to the House floor. The bill has already passed the Senate, and if the bill passes the House, a conference committee will be necessary to try to reconcile the differences.

New Hampshire

On Tuesday, medical marijuana bills got a hearing. Measures that would add new qualifying medical conditions and allow patients to grow their plants got a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. The bills have already passed the House. No votes were taken, though.

New Mexico

Last Friday, the governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed opioid addicts to use medical marijuana. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed a measure that would have improved the state's medical marijuana last Friday. House Bill 527 would have allowed people diagnosed with an opioid use disorder to use medical marijuana. In her veto message, Martinez wrote that allowing people addicted to opioids to seek medical marijuana "will likely cause a rapid increase in program enrollment, which the program is currently unable to sustain." But critics called that reasoning bogus, noting that the state Health Department sets the number of licensed producers and the amount they can grow.

North Carolina

Last Tuesday, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill was filed. State Sens. Teresa Van Duyn (D) and Valerie Jean Fousher (D) filed Senate Bill 648. Under the bill, patients could possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 250 square feet of their own medicine. The bill would also establish a system of licensed cultivation centers and dispensaries. It has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations.

Ohio

Last Friday, the state announced it would start accepting grower applications in June. The state Department of Commerce will begin accepting applications for 24 medical marijuana grow licenses beginning in June, the department announced. Once licenses are awarded, holders will have nine months to meet all requirements. Application forms and instructions should be released in the next two to three weeks, the department said.

West Virginia

Last Thursday, the medical marijuana bill passed the legislature. The Mountaineer State is poised to become the 29th medical marijuana state after the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 386, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D). The bill would set up a dispensary system, but does not authorize patients to smoke marijuana or grow their own.

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

Chronicle AM: Uruguay Legal Pot Sales to Start in July, ID Gov Vetoes Forfeiture Reform, More... (4/7/17)

The Uruguayan government sets the date for legal marijuana sales in pharmacies to begin, West Virginia is just a governor's signature away from becoming the 29th medical marijuana state, Idaho's Republican governor vetoes a broadly-supported asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Montana Bill to Study Marijuana Legalization Filed. State Rep. Mary Dunwell (D-Helena) filed House Joint Resolution 35 on Thursday. The bill calls for "a study of the legalization and control of marijuana," with results to be reported to the next session of the legislature. The study would include input from the Departments of Public Health and Human Services, Justice, Revenue, and Agriculture, as well as local law enforcement, courts, schools, and lobbying groups.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Strikes Down Criminal Ban on Possession of Medical Marijuana on College Campuses. The state Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that even though colleges and universities can bar the possession of medical marijuana through administrative means, the state cannot make on-campus possession a criminal offense. The state's medical marijuana law barred its possession in prisons, schools, and on school buses, but the legislature in 2012 added college campuses to the list. Now, the appellate court has ruled the state couldn't do that. The case is Arizona v. Maestes.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Grower Applications Will Be Accepted Starting in June. The state Department of Commerce will begin accepting applications for 24 medical marijuana grow licenses beginning in June, the department announced on Friday. Once licenses are awarded, holders will have nine months to meet all requirements. Application forms and instructions should be released in the next two to three weeks, the department said.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Mountaineer State is poised to become the 29th medical marijuana state after the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 386 Thursday, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D). The bill would set up a dispensary system, but does not authorize patients to smoke marijuana or grow their own.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Bill to Raise Heroin, Fentanyl Penalties Awaits Governor's Signature. The General Assembly last week approved House Bill 333, which would increase penalties for the sale of heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil. Under current laws, adopted as sentencing reform measures in 2011, traffickers face one to five years in prison. Under this bill, they would face five to 10 years in prison. The bill is currently on the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Reform. Gov. Butch Otter (R) on Thursday vetoed House Bill 202, a civil asset forfeiture reform bill that passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support. The bill would have ended asset forfeiture absent a criminal conviction, as well as imposing reporting and other requirements on law enforcement. The governor insisted there is no problem to fix, although lawmakers clearly disagreed.

Drug Policy

Beto O'Rourke Leads Bipartisan Bill that Repeals Federal Transportation Law Requiring States to Suspend Driver's Licenses for Drug Offenses. US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and five bipartisan cosponsors have filed House Resolution 1952, which would repeal a 26-year-old federal law that mandates states to automatically suspend driver's licenses for anyone convicted of a drug offense or risk losing federal highway aid money. Some 38 states have already opted out of that program, but 12 states -- including Texas, New York, Michigan, and Florida -- still comply with the requirement.

Rand Paul, Elijah Cummings File Bills to Seal Criminal Records for Federal Nonviolent Offenses. US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have filed identical bills in the Senate and House to seal the federal criminal records of non-violent offenders, which includes tens of thousands of federal drug offenders. The measures are Senate Bill 827 and House Resolution 190, respectively.

International

Uruguay to Allow Marijuana Sales at Pharmacies Beginning in July. The office of President Tabare Vasquez said Thursday that legal marijuana sales through pharmacies will begin in July. That's the last step in implementing a 2013 law that made Uruguay the first country to legalize marijuana. While other parts of the law have been in place, pharmacy sales had been on hold under Vasquez, who isn't nearly as enthusiastic about legalization as was his predecessor, Jose "Pepe" Mujica, who shepherded the law to passage during his term. A gram of weed will go for $1.30.

Four Out of Five French Presidential Candidates Support Marijuana Reform. The leading candidate, centrist Emmanuel Macron, and the rightist candidate, Francois Fillon, both support decriminalizing marijuana possession, leftist candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon have both called for marijuana legalization, while only far-right candidate Marine LePen favors the status quo, which calls for up to a year in jail for the possession of any drug.

Medical Marijuana Update

A new study suggests that medical marijuana can reduce opioid abuse, Arkansas and Florida continue to grapple with addressing voter-approved medical marijuana laws, and more.

National

On Monday a new study found that legalized medical marijuana could help curb opiod abuse. A new study reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds that in states with medical marijuana, hospitalization rates for opioid pain pill dependence and abuse dropped by nearly a quarter (23%), while opioid overdose rates dropped by 13%. Researchers had expected to see an increase in marijuana-related visits. "Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers," said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Arkansas

Last Thursday the Senate passed two medical marijuana "fix" bills. The state Senate approved two bills aimed at modifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The Senate approved House Bill 1400, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is banned. That bill now goes to the governor's desk. The Senate also approved Senate Bill 721, which would require dispensaries to appoint a pharmacist director who would be available for consultations with patients during hours the dispensary is open. That bill now heads to the House.

Colorado

Last Wednesday the patient plant limit rose to 24 as a bill limiting home grows advanced. A bill aimed at limiting marijuana home grows has been amended -- again -- in the House Judiciary Committee. In a Wednesday vote, the committee approved raising the plant limit under House Bill 1220 to 24 plants. The bill had originally set the number at 12, but lawmakers then upped the count to 16, and now 24 -- if patients register with the state. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Florida

On Tuesday a restrictive medical marijuana bill advanced. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia

On Tuesday a CBD cannabis oil expansion bill passed the House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Maine

On Monday Ma bill to make medical marijuana users eligible for organ transplans got a hearing. Legislators heard powerful testimony from patients removed from life-saving organ transplant lists because they used marijuana as they considered Legislative Document 764. The bill would targets the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, whose transplant policy states that "use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route of administration is absolutely prohibited." No vote was taken, and the bill is scheduled for more hearings next month.

Oklahoma

On Monday the state Supreme Court ruled the former attorney general wrongly changed initiative ballot question wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read: "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.

West Virginia

Last Friday a medical marijuana bill advanced. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee voted to approve Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would create a system of regulated cultivation sites and dispensaries and allow the use of medical marijuana by persons suffering from a list of qualifying conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy. Lawmakers in Arkansas and North Dakota try to "fix" medical marijuana initiatives, New York chronic pain patients can now use medical marijuana, a CBD compromise is reached in Georgia, and more.

Arizona

Last Thursday, the Court of Appeals upheld limits on PTSD recommendations. The state court of appeals ruled that the Department of Health Services was acting legally when it decided that doctors could only recommend medical marijuana for "palliative care" for PTSD. The department argued there was no evidence showing marijuana could actually cure people of PTSD. The department also limited recommendations to people who were already being treated for PTSD. An Arizona medical marijuana nurses group filed suit against the restrictions, but now the court has ruled against them.

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, a bill to ban edibles and public smoking won a committee vote. A bill that would bar medical marijuana patients from consuming edibles or from smoking their medicine in public was approved by the House Rules Committee. But the measure, House Bill 1400, faces an uphill battle to win final approval because any changes to the voter-approved medical marijuana law require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Last Friday, the bill passed the House. The House voted to approve House Bill 1400, which would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. The bill passed 88-0. Under the bill, knowingly smoking medical marijuana in the presence of a pregnant woman would be prohibited. The measure also prohibits those under 21 from smoking medical marijuana. A bill that would have banned smoking medical marijuana at all has already died in the Senate.

On Monday, the House killed a bill banning edibles. The House voted 52-40 to kill House Bill 1991, which would have banned the commercial production of medical marijuana edibles in the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) argued that patients could make their own and that medical marijuana is medicine, not candy, but her arguments failed to sway her peers.

Georgia

Last Thursday, lawmakers reached a compromise on a CBD cannabis oil bill. Lawmakers appear to have reached an agreement that would add six illnesses and conditions to the state's list of qualifying medical conditions, allow the use of CBD cannabis oil in hospice care, and keep the allowable level of THC in cannabis oil at 5% or less. That means Senate Bill 16 should now be able to pass out of the House Human Services Committee and head for a House floor vote.

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, bills to protect patients' employment rights filed. Even as the state Supreme Court heard a case on employment rights for medical marijuana patients, two bills alive in the state legislature would do just that. Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) has introduced House Bill 2385, which would explicitlyprotect the rights of a medical marijuana patient to use the drug without facing discrimination in hiring, firing or terms of employment. The bill would also protect medical marijuana patients from discrimination in education, housing and child welfare and custody cases. That bill is currently before the Committee on Marijuana Policy. A similar bill was filed last sessions, but didn't pass. A second bill, House Bill 113, is aimed mostly at updating state law to bring it in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but one provision clarifies that employers cannot take adverse employment action against someone for using medical marijuana. That bill is before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.

Nebraska

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill got a charged hearing. At a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, law enforcement, the state attorney general's office, and the state's top doctor all came out in opposition to a medical marijuana bill, Legislative Bill 622, but legislators also heard emotional testimony in favor of the bill from Army veterans and others who said they would benefit from access to medical marijuana. Five of the bill's sponsors sit on the eight-member Judiciary Committee, so the bill is likely to make it to a House floor vote, where opposition has killed similar measures in past years.

Last Friday, the bill headed for a floor vote. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 6-1to advance Legislative Bill 622, which would bring medical marijuana to the Cornhusker state. The bill would authorize cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana products, but would ban smoking the herb or allowing patients to grow their own. The bill is opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), as well as the state's law enforcement establishment.

Nevada

On Monday, a bill was filed to let medical marijuana patients carry guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351. That measure would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a concealed carry permit. Current state law requires sheriffs to deny such permits for medical marijuana users.

New Hampshire

On Monday, Na Senate committee approved the use of medical marijuana for Ehrlers-Danlos syndrome. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Elderly Committee has approved a bill that would add Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The measure now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, the House will take it up.

New York

Last Thursday, the Health Department said New Yorkers suffering chronic pain will be able to use medical marijuana starting this week. After announcing in December that it planned to add chronic paid to its list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, the Health Department said patients could start getting recommendations for chronic pain beginning Wednesday. The department also announced that physicians' assistants can now recommend medical marijuana. "Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program," Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement. "These key enhancements further that goal."

North Dakota

On Tuesday, advocates threatened a lawsuit or new initiative in the face of legislative meddling. The head of the committee that ran the state's successful medical marijuana initiative campaign warned legislators that they could face a legal challenge or even another initiative campaign if they don't back away from changes contemplated in Senate Bill 2344, which has already passed the Senate. That measure bars patients and caregivers from growing their own plants and restricts the use of smoked medical marijuana to cases where a physician attests that no other form of marijuana would be effective. The comments came from Rilie Ray Morgan as he testified before the House Human Services Committee.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was prounounced dead. Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Crosby) said that his medical marijuana bill, House Bill 495, is dead because senators were afraid to vote for it. "The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said Tuesday after the House Health Committee shelved the bill and instead approved a non-binding marijuana-related resolution to study the issue over the summer.

Utah

On Tuesday, advocates announced plans for a 2018 initiative. Medical marijuana advocates are gearing up to try to put an initiative on the state's 2018 ballot. They said they would begin the process of signature gathering next month, and they cite promising polling. The state legislature has so far thwarted efforts to create a robust medical marijuana program.

Virginia

Last Thursday, the governor signed a bill legalizing pharmacy distribution of CBD and THC-A oil. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed Senate Bill 1027 into law. The bill allows for companies to manufacture and provide CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy and provides for its distribution through pharmacies.

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

Chronicle AM: NH House Passes Decrim, FL GOP Files Restrictive MedMJ Bill, More... (3/8/17)

Marijuana policy continues to play out in state legislatures across the land, asset forfeiture reform is moving in Iowa, the Ohio Supreme Court reverses itself on cocaine sentencing, and more.

The bud is keeping state legislatures busy. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Cannabis Cafes Are Back Under Consideration. The Marijuana Control Board met Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage and agreed to try again to come up with rules for on-site marijuana consumption at businesses. The notion was shot down at the last board meeting, but revived on a 4-1 vote.

Connecticut Legalization Bills Get Hearing. Lawmakers went into the evening hours Tuesday as they engaged in heated debate over several bills before the General Assembly that would legalize marijuana. Click the link to get the flavor of the dewbate.

New Hampshire House of Representatives Overwhelmingly Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The House voted 318-36 Wednesday to approve House Bill 640, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Similar bills have failed in years past, but opposition seems to have largely evaporated this year. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Los Angeles Voters Approved Marijuana Regulation Initiative. Voters in Los Angeles approved Measure M with nearly 80% voting in favor. The measure would allow the city to regulate legal marijuana businesses when the legal recreational commerce comes on line next year.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill Would Ban Smoking and Edibles. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana initiative in November, but now Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) has filed a medical marijuana regulation bill that would ban people from smoking it or using it in edible form. The measure, House Bill 1397, is not yet available on the legislative website. Rodrigues is a member of the Republican House leadership, and the bill represents the Republican approach to expanding medical marijuana access in the state. "It goes further than the current statute in terms of restricting medical marijuana," says Ben Pollara, the medical marijuana initiative's campaign director. "There was unanimous agreement that the new amendment would expand use."

Utah Lawmakers Pass Medical Marijuana Study Bill; Advocates Call it a Trojan Horse. The House voted Wednesday to concur with earlier Senate amendments to House Bill 130 and sent it to the desk of Gov. Gary Herbert (R). The bill allows state universities to study cannabinoid products for their medicinal potential, but doesn't allow for any actual use. Medical marijuana advocates called the bill "a Trojan horse," saying it is merely a delaying tactic.

Wisconsin Legislature Passes CBD Bill. The Assembly voted Tuesday night to approve Senate Bill 10, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering seizures. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is expected to sign it.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Committee Passes Bill Taking on Asset Forfeiture; Closes Federal Loophole. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to approve Senate File 446, which would severely limit asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction and which would bar prosecutors from doing an end run around state law by passing cases off to the feds. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing

Ohio Supreme Court Reverses Itself, Declares Filler Must Be Included in Drug Weights. Two months after ruling that prosecutors must prove the actual amount of pure cocaine possessed -- not inert filler -- to secure longer sentences, the state Supreme Court has done a U-turn. In a ruling Monday, the court sided with prosecutors and held that the total weight of drug plus filler must be used when determining sentences. The reversal comes after two new judges were named to the court earlier this year, and dissenting Justice Bill O'Neill said that was the only thing that changed. "The logic is unassailable. The possession of baby formula, talcum powder, or baking soda does not pose the same risk to the public's health and safety as possession of cocaine does," O'Neill wrote.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

As 2016 comes to a tumultuous end, we look back on the year in drugs and drug policy. It's definitely a mixed bag, with some major victories for drug reform, especially marijuana legalization, but also some major challenges, especially around heroin and prescription opioids, and the threat of things taking a turn for the worse next year. Here are the ten biggest domestic drug policy stories of the year. (Check back for a top ten international drug policy stories soon.)

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins Big

Legalization initiatives won in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, losing only in Arizona. These weren't the first states to do so -- Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following in 2014 -- but in one fell swoop, states with a combined population of nearly 50 million people just freed the weed. Add in the earlier states, and we're now talking about around 67 million people, or more than one-fifth of the national population.

The question is where does marijuana win next? We won't see state legalization initiatives until 2018, (and conventional wisdom may suggest waiting for the higher-turnout 2020 presidential election year), and most of the low-hanging fruit in terms of initiative states has been harvested, but activists in Michigan came this close to qualifying for the ballot this year and are raring to go again. In the meantime, there are the state legislatures. When AlterNet looked into the crystal ball a few weeks ago, the best bets looked like Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

2. Medical Marijuana Wins Big

Medical marijuana is even more popular than legal marijuana, and it went four-for-four at the ballot box in November, adding Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota to the list of full-blown medical marijuana states. That makes 28 states -- more than half the country -- that allow for medical marijuana, along with another dozen or so red states that have passed limited CBD-only medical marijuana laws as a sop to public opinion.

It's worth noting that Montana is a special case. Voters there approved medical marijuana in 2004, only to see a Republican-dominated state legislature gut the program in 2011. The initiative approved by voters this year reinstates that program, and shuttered dispensaries are now set to reopen.

The increasing acceptance of medical marijuana is going to make it that much harder for the DEA or the Trump administration to balk at reclassifying marijuana away from Schedule I, which is supposedly reserved for dangerous substances with no medical uses. It may also, along with the growing number of legal pot states, provide the necessary impetus to changing federal banking laws to allow pot businesses to behave like normal businesses.

Drug reformers are nervous about the future. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
3. The Republicans Take Control in Washington

The Trump victory and Republican control of both houses of Congress has profound drug policy implications, for everything from legal marijuana to funding for needle exchange programs to sentencing policy to the border and foreign policy and beyond. Early Trump cabinet picks, such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) to lead the Justice Department, are ominous for progressive drug reform, but as with many other policy spheres, what Trump will actually do is a big unknown. It's probably safe to say that any harm reduction programs requiring federal funding or approval are in danger, that any further sentencing reforms are going to be in for a tough slog, and that any federal spending for mental health and substance abuse treatment will face an uphill battle. But the cops will probably get more money.

The really big question mark is around marijuana policy. Trump has signaled he's okay with letting the states experiment, but Sen. Sessions is one of the most retrograde of drug warriors in Washington. Time will tell, but in the meantime, the marijuana industry is on tenterhooks and respect for the will of voters in pot legal states and even medical marijuana states is an open question.

4. The Opioid Epidemic Continues

Just as this year comes to an end, the CDC announced that opioid overdose deaths last year had topped 33,000, and with 12,000 heroin overdoses, junk had overtaken gunplay as a cause of death. There's little sign that things have gotten any better this year.

The crisis has provoked numerous responses, at both the state and the federal levels, some good, but some not. Just this month, Congress approved a billion dollars in opioid treatment and prevention programs, and the overdose epidemic has prompted the loosening of access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and prodded ongoing efforts to embrace more harm reduction approaches, such as supervised injection sites.

On the other hand, prosecutors in states across the country have taken to charging the people who sell opioids (prescription or otherwise) to people who overdose and die with murder, more intrusive and privacy-invading prescription monitoring programs have been established, and the tightening of the screws on opioid prescriptions is leaving some chronic pain sufferers in the lurch and leading others to seek out opioids on the black market.

5. Obama Commutes More Than a Thousand Drug War Sentences

In a bid to undo some of the most egregious excesses of the drug war, President Obama has now cut the sentences of and freed more than a thousand people sentenced under the harsh laws of the 1980s, particularly the racially-biased crack cocaine laws, who have already served more time than they would have if sentenced under current laws passed during the Obama administration. He has commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history, and he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined.

The commutations come under a program announced by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, who encouraged drug war prisoners to apply for them. The bad news is that the clock is likely to run out before Obama has a chance to deal with thousands of pending applications backlogged in the Office of the Pardons Attorney. The good news is that he still has six weeks to issue more commutations and free more drug war prisoners.

6. The DEA Gets a Wake-Up Call When It Tries to Ban Kratom

Derived from a Southeast Asian tree, kratom has become popular as an unregulated alternative to opioids for relaxation and pain relief, not to mention withdrawing from opioids. It has very low overdose potential compared to other opioids and has become a go-to drug for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of people.

Perturbed by its rising popularity, the DEA moved in late summer to use its emergency scheduling powers to ban kratom, but was hit with an unprecedented buzz saw of opposition from kratom users, scientists, researchers, and even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who authored and encouraged his colleagues to sign a letter to the DEA asking the agency to postpone its planned scheduling.

The DEA backed off -- but didn't back down -- in October, announcing that it was shelving its ban plan for now and instead opening a period of public comment. That period ended on December 1, but before it did, the agency was inundated with submissions from people opposing the ban. Now, the DEA will factor in that input, as well as formal input from the Food and Drug Administration before making its decision.

The battle around kratom isn't over, and the DEA could still ban it in the end, but the whole episode demonstrates how much the ground has shifted under the agency. DEA doesn't just get its way anymore.

7. Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Flow Again

It actually happened late in 2015, but the impact was felt this year. In December 2015, Congress approved an omnibus budget bill that removed the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges. The ban had been in place for 20 years, except for a two-year stretch between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled the House.

Federal funding for needle exchanges is another drug policy response that could be endangered by Republican control of both the Congress and the presidency.

Vancouver's safe injection site. Is one coming to a city near you? (vch.ca)
8. The Slow Turn Towards Safe Injection Sites Accelerates

When will the US join the ranks of nations that embrace the harm reduction tactic of supervised drug consumption sites? Maybe sooner than you think. Moves are underway in at least three major US cities to get such facilities open, a need made all the more urgent by the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, as the Drug Policy Alliance noted in a December report calling for a number of interventions, including safe injection sites, to address it.

In New York City, the city council has approved a $100,000 study into the feasibility of safe injection sites, while in San Francisco, city public health officials have endorsed a call for them there and have even suggested they need as many as a half dozen. But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee opposes them, so battle lines are being drawn.

The best bet may be Seattle, where city and surrounding King County officials are on board with a plan to open safe injection sites to fight heroin and prescription opioid abuse. That plan, conceived by the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force, was released in September.

9. Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances

Nearly 20 years after Congress passed limited federal civil asset forfeiture reform, the practice is now under sustained assault in the states. More than a half-dozen states had passed civil asset forfeiture reforms before the year began, and this year the following states came on board (although some of the new laws did not end, but only modified or restricted civil asset forfeiture): California, Florida, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

And next year looks to be more of the same. Bills have already been filed in Missouri and Texas, and renewed efforts are likely in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where they were thwarted this year.

10. The DEA is Busting Fewer People

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reported in December that convictions for drug cases referred by the DEA continued a 10-year decline. During Fiscal Year 2016, federal prosecutors won 9,553 criminal convictions on cases referred by the DEA. That's down 7.1% from the previous year, down 25% from five years ago, and down 35% from 10 years ago. TRAC notes that the decline in convictions is the result of fewer referrals by the DEA, not a lowered conviction rate, which has held steady.

Medical Marijuana Update

A study finds medical marijuana associated with a decline in traffic fatalities, the Arizona courts stick up for medical marijuana, changes in state law will have impacts in Colorado and Oregon, and more.

National

On Monday, a study found that states with medical marijuana laws see a decline in traffic deaths. A new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds that states that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen an 11% reduction in traffic fatalities since those laws went into effect. And those states have seen a 26% reduction in traffic fatalities compared to states where marijuana remains illegal.

Arizona

Last Wednesday, a prosecutor said he will appeal a ruling telling him not to obstruct medical marijuana businesses. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery said he will ask the state Supreme Court to review a ruling a day earlier from the Court of Appeals that rejected his argument that federal law preempts the state's medical marijuana and approve zoning for a medical marijuana dispensary in Sun City. He said the ruling against him undermines federalism and the "fundamental principle of the rule of law."

Last Thursday, the appeals court ruled that the state must prove patients were actually impaired before convicting them of DUID. Medical marijuana users can't be convicted of DUID solely for having marijuana in their systems absent proof they were actually impaired, the court ruled. Arizona is a zero-tolerance DUID state, and that's a problem, the judges said. "According to evidence here, there is no scientific consensus about the concentration of THC that generally is sufficient to impair a human being,'' appellate Judge Diane Johnsen wrote. The court also clarified that it is up to the state to prove impairment, not up to the defendant to disprove it. The ruling comes just two days after another division of the appellate court blocked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery in his bid to cite federal prohibition as a reason to refuse zoning requests for dispensaries.

Colorado

As of next Sunday, caregiver plant limits will drop dramatically. Beginning January 1, the maximum number of plants medical marijuana caregivers can grow will drop from 495 to 99. The change, adopted by the legislature, is being hailed by law enforcement, which sees it as a move against black market marijuana supplies, but marijuana advocates worry that patients are at risk of losing a vital source of medicine.

Kansas

On Tuesday, a federal judge threw out a medical marijuana mom's lawsuit. A federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit from Shona Banda, the Garden City mother who lost custody of her son and was arrested over her use of cannabis oil. Garden City police raided her home in March 2015 after he son spoke up about her cannabis use at school, and child welfare authorities took custody of her son. In her lawsuit, Banda argued that she had a "fundamental right" to use medical marijuana and asked the court to restore custody of her son. But the judge ruled that Banda had not responded to filings from plaintiffs and dismissed the case. She still faces state criminal charges.

Oregon

As of this coming Sunday, dispensaries will go back to selling only to patients. As of January 1, dispensaries will revert to selling only to card-carrying patients. The state had allowed dispensaries to sell to any adult while it set up a licensing scheme for retail pot shops, but that now ends, and that means Oregon pot consumers who are not patients will have fewer places to legally buy pot. There are some 300 dispensaries in the state, but only a hundred retail pot shops. Some dispensaries are moving to be licensed as retail shops.

Pennsylvania

Last Wednesday, regulators announced an initial round of planned dispensary permits. The state will authorize up to 27 dispensary permits during a process that begins with applications opening in mid-January and able to be submitted between February 20 and March 20. Each dispensary is allowed two secondary locations, meaning up to 81 medical marijuana shops could open in this first phase. The state medical marijuana law allows for up to 50 dispensary permits to be issued. State officials said they expected dispensaries to be open for business by mid-2018.

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

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