The elections are over and the legislative season is yet to begin, so things are pretty quiet on the medical marijuana front. Still, here are a couple of tidbits.
On Monday, the state moved to improve diversity in the medical marijuana industry. The state Cannabis Commission announced that it is hiring a consultant to advise it on steps it can take to improve racial diversity in the nascent industry. The consultant will decide whether a study can be conducted to determine whether minorities have been unfairly excluded. If such a finding is made, that would allow the state to consider race when awarding medical marijuana licenses.
Last Wednesday, activists filed suit to force early action on patient cards. In the wake of last week's vote to reinstate the state's medical marijuana program, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately begin processing and issuing medical marijuana cards. The language of the ballot measure means the state has until next summer to act, but the MCIA doesn't want to dally.
The president continues to exercise his commutation power on behalf of drug war prisoners, the Florida face-biting killer was not on any new psychoactive substances, Montana activists want their medical marijuana program to restart now, not later, and more.
Obama meets with prisoners at the El Reno, Oklahoma, federal detention facility. (whitehouse.gov)
Montana Activists File Suit to Force Early Action on Patient Cards. In the wake of last week's vote to reinstate the state's medical marijuana program, the Montana Cannabis Industry Association has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Department of Health and Human Services to immediately begin processing and issuing medical marijuana cards. The language of the ballot measure means the state has until next summer to act, but the MCIA doesn't want to dally.
New Psychoactive Substances
Florida Face-Biting Killer Wasn't on Bath Salts, Flakka. Austin Harrouff, the Florida man charged in the face-biting slaying of a neighbor couple was not under the influence of new psychoactive substances, an autopsy report released Wednesday revealed. Early press and law enforcement commentary had suggested Harrouff was high on bath salts (methcathinone) or flakka (alpha-PVP), but the autopsy revealed only prescription medications and a "minimal" amount of THC in his system. "Austin is struggling with severe mental illness and the judicial process will bear all of this out in due time," his attorney, Nellie King said.
Obama Announces More Commutations, Total Now Over a Thousand. President Obama Wednesday announced that he was commuting the sentences of 79 more drug offenders sentenced under draconian drug laws dating back to the 1980s. That brings the total of commutations under Obama to more than one thousand, which is more than the list 11 presidents combined. Thousands more commutations requests filed in response to an Obama administration call in 2014 remain pending as the clock ticks down on Obama's time in office.
Cayman Islands Legalizes CBD Cannabis Oil. Gov. Helen Kilpatrick last week signed into law legislation allowing for the use of CBD cannabis oil in the island nation. The oil can be used for the treatment of conditions including epilepsy and cancer and as a pain reliever for arthritis symptoms. The law does not allow for marijuana to be grown in the country, but the legislature last month passed a separate law allowing for the importation of CBD cannabis oil.
President Obama Says Federal Pot Prohibition in Question After Tuesday's Vote. Appearing on the Bill Maher Show Friday night, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition will not "be tenable" if more states vote to legalize the weed on Tuesday. "The good news is is that after this referenda, to some degree it’s gonna call the question, because if in fact it passed in all these states, you now have about a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws, and four-fifths in another," Obama said. "The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others — they’re gonna guard against transporting these drugs across state lines, but you’ve got the entire Pacific corridor where this is legal — that is not gonna be tenable," he said.
Maine Legalizers Have Huge Cash Advantage. Supporters of the Question 1 marijuana legalization initiative have raised more than $2.4 million dollars, according to campaign finance reports, while opponents have raised only $201,000. Most of the pro-legalization money has come from the New Approach PAC, the instrument of the heirs of late Progressive Insurance founder and drug reform philanthropist Peter Lewis, while 99% of the anti-legalization money has come courtesy of Project SAM's Kevin Sabet, who now heads the newly formed non-profit Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy.
Las Vegas Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson Again Kicks in Against Nevada Pot Initiative. The Sands Corporation head honcho and prolific funder of anti-drug reform efforts has given more than $1.35 million to the campaign trying to defeat the Question 2 marijuana legalization initiative in recent weeks, according to campaign finance reports. That's on top of $2 million he gave opponents in September. In fact, Adelson is virtually a one-man opposition campaign, having provided 97.4% of all reported opposition campaign contributions. Proponents of Question 2 have raised only $1.2 million.
New Mexico Panel Votes to Allow Medical Marijuana for "Opiate Use Disorder." A state advisory board that makes recommendations to the Health Department on New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program voted 5-1 Friday in favor of adding "opiate use disorder" to the list of conditions that qualify. Now, it's up to incoming Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to accept or deny the recommendation. Such a move could add thousands of new patients to the state's rapidly expanding medical marijuana program.
Montana Supreme Court Affirms Right to Jury Trial in Civil Forfeiture Cases. In a ruling last week, the state high court upheld and strengthened a 2015 law that reformed asset forfeiture procedures. The ruling came in the case of a man whose land was seized after police found 300 marijuana plants on it. The man was convicted of federal drug charges, but not prosecuted by the state. Even though he faced no state charges, the state seized his land. He requested a jury trial, but was denied in lower court, and a judge turned the property over to the state. But the Supreme Court said the 2015 law supplanted older law on which the trial judge based his decision.
Even As Arrests Drop, California Racial Disparities Persist. A new report from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris finds that arrest rates for all racial groups have dropped in the past decade, but blacks were still much more likely than whites to be arrested on felony charges. When it comes to drugs, black men were six times as likely as whites to be arrested, and black women were nearly three times as likely to be arrested as whites. Latinos, on the other hand, were arrested for drugs at roughly the same rate as whites.
It's just about all pot legalization and medical marijuana initiatives today--oh, and Ghana is moving toward drug decriminalization.
It's looking like legal buds are coming to Boston. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Another New National Poll Has a Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new American Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that 63% of Americans 18 and over favor freeing the weed. Only three years ago, the survey had support for legalization at only 45%. The poll is in line with other recent national opinion polls that show solid majorities for marijuana legalization.
Former DEA Heads Ask California Governor to Take Stand Against Legalization. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has yet to take a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative, and now five former DEA heads are urging him to come out against it. They cited alleged problems with drugged driving and use by teens in Colorado. "Let us at least see if these negative trends continue before taking this plunge," the letter said. "This means that Californians, many of whom will listen to you, should vote against Prop 64. Is it wise social policy to adopt a measure that will substantially increase the numbers of marijuana users, including our youth? The letter was signed by former DEA administrators Robert C. Bonner, Jack Lawn, Karen Tandy, Peter Bensinger and Michele Leonhart.
New Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization With Wide Lead. A new poll from the Western New England University Polling Institute has the Question 4 legalization initiative winning handily with 61% of the vote. Only 34% were opposed. The "yes" vote is up nine points from the group's previous poll at the end of September. The measure had a whopping 81% support among voters under age 40.
North Dakota Initiative Campaign Gets Last Minute Cash. North Dakota for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Measure 5 medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected last-minute donation of $15,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. The group will use the money for a final advertising push to get their message out to voters ahead of next week's elections.
Ghana Moving Toward Drug Decriminalization. The country is moving to decriminalize drug use as a means of better managing addiction, Deputy Interior Minister James Agalga said Thursday. Under a bill moving through parliament, users would receive clinical care and treatment instead of prosecution and incarceration. "Those who are addicted and under normal circumstances ought to be treated as patients who need care in the hospital," he explained.
Due to a truncated work week, we have a truncated medical marijuana update this week. The Arkansas Supreme Court is playing a key role in initiatives there, and Ohio announces proposed cultivation rules, complete with very high fees.
Last Friday, the state Supreme Court disqualified one initiative, leaving one remaining. Responding to a late legal challenge, the state Supreme Court last week disqualified one of the two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot—even though the ballots had already been printing and early voting had begun. Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was disqualified; Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, remains on the ballot. State officials said votes already cast for Issue 7 will not be counted.
On Monday, backers of Issue 7 asked the Surpreme Court to reinstate it. Backers of the Issue 7 medical marijuana initiative are seeking recourse from the state's highest court after that same court last week disqualified it days after early voting began in the state. In a ruling last week, the high court said the campaign had violating state laws regarding reporting and registration of paid canvassers and threw out 12,000 signatures that had been approved by state election officials. But the Issue 7 campaign argues that a 2013 law imposing restrictions on paid canvassers is unfair to smaller groups. The state Supreme Court rarely grants petitions for a rehearing. A competing initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot.
On Tuesday, Ohio medical marijuana growers found they would face steep license fees. Under draft rules promulgated by the state Department of Commerce, medical marijuana cultivation licenses would be capped at 18 and would cost a pretty penny. Twelve "Level I" licenses for grows of up to 15,000 square feet will require a $20,000 application fee and a $180,000 license fee, while six "Level II" licenses for grows of up to 1,600 square feet will require a $2,000 application fee and an $18,000 license fee. The Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee reviewed the plan Tuesday morning, and the full rules were scheduled to be posted to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program website for public comment by Wednesday.
California's Prop 64 picks up another high-profile endorsement, the city of Glasgow is moving to establish the United Kingdom's first safe injection site, and more.
The Vancouver InSite supervised injection site. Something similar could soon be coming to Scotland. (vch.ca)
Colorado Lawmakers Call on Arizona "No" Campaign to Quit Using Inaccurate Ads. Three Colorado state legislators Monday sent letters to the campaign opposing the Prop 205 legalization initiative calling on it to quit misstating facts about what has happened since legalization in Colorado. The "no" campaign has claimed that Colorado schools have not seen any money from marijuana revenues, but the legislators point out that the state Department of Education has received more than $138 million in pot tax revenues. "They are saying these things that area really far field from the truth," state Sen. Pat Steadman. "We've been building schools and repairing schools with the excess tax revenue that was dedicated to school construction. Those dollars are flowing."
Former Los Angeles Mayor Endorses California Legalization Initiative. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) Monday became the latest well-known California politician to endorse the Prop 64 legalization initiative. "I took my time on this measure because I wanted to make sure it included protections for children and public safety," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "In evaluating the measure in its entirety, I am convinced there are enough safeguards to make it a workable proposition."
Disqualified Arkansas Initiative Asks State Supreme Court to Reinstate It. Backers of the Issue 7 medical marijuana initiative are seeking recourse from the state's highest court after that same court last week disqualified it days after early voting began in the state. In a ruling last week, the high court said the campaign had violating state laws regarding reporting and registration of paid canvassers and threw out 12,000 signatures that had been approved by state election officials. But the Issue 7 campaign argues that a 2013 law imposing restrictions on paid canvassers is unfair to smaller groups. The state Supreme Court rarely grants petitions for a rehearing. A competing initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot.
A week out from Election Day, it's looking good in California, the organized opposition is spending big in Massachusetts, but the state's largest newspaper endorses the legalization initiative, and more.
New legally on sale in Alaska. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Alaska's First Legal Pot Shop Opens. Herbal Outfitters opened for business in Valdez Saturday, becoming the state's first legal marijuana store. The opening comes nearly two years after voters there approved legalization and was met by long lines of eager customers. Stores in Fairbanks are set to open today and Wednesday.
California Legalization Initiative Still Polling Above 50%. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative supported by 55% of likely voters, with 38% opposed and just 6% undecided. That's down from last month's PPIC poll, which had support at 60%, but in line with other recent polls that have had the measure sitting in the mid- to upper-fifties.
Massachusetts Legalization Foes Get Big Give from Boston Archdiocese. Be prepared for a last minute ad blitz against the Question 4 legalization initiative after a late $850,000 donation from the Catholic Church's Boston Archdiocese. That late gift means the opposition now has $2.4 million to spend and only a week to spend it. Pro-legalization forces have outspent the opposition so far by at least $1.3 million, but now it's the foes who have the money in the bank.
Boston Globe Endorses Massachusetts Legalization Initiative. Scolding the state's political class for failing to act to legalize marijuana, its largest newspaper has reluctantly endorsed Question 4. "If the political leaders of the Commonwealth showed even the slightest interest in legalization, it would probably make sense to wait for lawmakers to produce a better-crafted proposal than the current ballot measure," the newspaper wrote. "But Question 4 is all we’ve got. The Globe endorses the yes campaign, despite the proposal’s many flaws, because the harm stemming from continued inaction on marijuana would be even greater."
Even in Wyoming, Support for Marijuana Legalization is Increasing. A new poll from the University of Wyoming's Survey and Analysis Center finds rising support for marijuana in the Cowboy State. Support for legalization is now at 41%, up from 37% two years ago, and support for medical marijuana is even higher, rising from 74% in 2014 to 81% now.
Arkansas Supreme Court Disqualifies One Initiative; One Remains. Responding to a late legal challenge, the state Supreme Court last week disqualified one of the two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot—even though the ballots had already been printing and early voting had begun. Issue 7, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, was disqualified; Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, remains on the ballot. State officials said votes already cast for Issue 7 will not be counted.
Gallup Finds Fears About Drugs at Lowest Level Since It Started Asking. A new Gallup poll finds that early two-thirds (65%) of Americans say drug problems in the US are "extremely" or "very serious," which seems high, but the figure is the lowest since the polling firm started asking the question in 2000. Back then, 83% said America's drug problems were "extremely" or "very serious." Gallup speculates that the decline may "reflect less-prominent federal anti-drug efforts in recent years than in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In fact, more recently, much of the news about drug policy has focused on state-level efforts to decriminalize marijuana."
Cartel Violence Driving Jump in Mexico Murders. Homicides have increased to record highs for the last three months, and are up 20% over last year for the year so far. The death toll hit 1,974 in September—the most since 2011 when then President Felipe Calderon's cartel wars were in full swing. Analysts blame renewed fighting among the cartels for the steady uptick.
The Miami Herald endorses the Florida medical marijuana initiative, medical marijuana is playing a role in the Utah gubernatorial race, and more.
Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court okayed the medical marijuana amendment. The state's high court has rejected a bid by medical marijuana opponents to prevent state officials from counting votes for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, on the ballot as Issue 6. A competing medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Issue 7, is also on the ballot, but still faces a court challenge over signature submissions.
On Monday, the Miami Herald endorsed the medical marijuana initiative. The influential newspaper has come out in support of the Amendment 2 initiative, citing the legislature's unwillingness to enact a meaningful medical marijuana law. "In 2014, the Legislature legalized some strains of marijuana for patients with severe seizures. Last year, lawmakers legalized full-scale medical marijuana, but only for the terminally ill," the newspaper noted. "Once again, initiative foes argue the legalization of medical cannabis should be handled by the state Legislature instead of being enshrined into the Florida Constitution. We agree, but since lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass comprehensive legislation, sick Floridians want this relief. For their sake, we recommend YES on Amendment 2."
Last Friday, a new poll had overwhelming support for medical marijuana. A new WTHR/HPI Indiana poll finds nearly three-quarters of likely Hoosier voters are ready for medical marijuana. The poll had 73% in support, with only 25% opposed. Even among Republicans, support was at 59%. Medical marijuana bills have been introduced, but have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
On Tuesday, the governor said he was open to renewing the state's CBD cannabis oil law.Gov. erry Branstad (R) said Tuesday he was open to working with advocates to extend a soon-to-end law that allows the use of CBD cannabis oil for patients with epilepsy. The law is set to expire next July 1. "We don't want people to lose something they think will be helpful or that has been helpful to members of their family," Branstad said. "I intend to work with the legislature as well as with the (Governor's) Office of Drug Control (Policy) as we look at what is the appropriate thing to do.
Last Thursday, the feds said they won't prosecute the Democratic gubernatorial candidate's wife, but the state will. Mike Weinholtz (D) is running for governor of Utah, and his wife is being prosecuted for medical marijuana offenses. Donna Weinholtz, who "uses marijuana to seek relief from chronic neck, back and knee pain brought on by arthritis," was the subject of a federal investigation after she got caught attempting to mail a package containing marijuana, but the feds have declined to prosecute, saying the case would more appropriately be handled by Utah authorities. The Tooele County prosecutor is moving forward with the case.
On Wednesday, Weinholtz's wife pleaded guilty to state charges, and he called for medical marijuana legalization. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz called for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state Tuesday just hours after his wife pleaded guilty in state court to misdemeanor pot possession charges over marijuana found in their home. Donna Weinholtz used marijuana medicinally to relieve chronic pain, the couple said. "I, like many Utahns, made a deliberate and conscious decision to use cannabis knowing full well that it is against the law," she said. "I have faith the law will change."
(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
The bud business is booming in Boulder, Marylanders like marijuana legalization, another Michigan city legalizes weed, and more.
Maryland could go green if legislators listen to the voters. (Tumblr/Shanti's Favorites)
Colorado Pot Shop Sales Hit Another Record High. Legal marijuana shops, both recreational and medical, took in $126 million in sales in August, setting a new monthly record. The previous record was $122.7 million, set the month before.
Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, up from 49% two years ago. Three-quarters (74%) of liberals, two-thirds (65%) of moderates, and nearly half (45%) of conservatives now support legalization.
East Lansing, Michigan, Legalizes Use and Possession of Up to An Ounce. The city of East Lansing has approved an ordinance legalizing the possession of up to an once by people 21 and over. Possession still remains a misdemeanor under state law, but local police say they normally don't arrest anyone for possession unless they are known drug dealers. Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing have all passed similar measures.
Arkansas Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Amendment. The state's high court has rejected a bid by medical marijuana opponents to prevent state officials from counting votes for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, on the ballot as Issue 6. A competing medical marijuana initiative, the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Issue 7, is also on the ballot, but still faces a court challenge over signature submissions.
Feds Won't Prosecute Utah Governor Candidate's Wife, But State Will. Mike Weinholtz (D) is running for governor of Utah, and his wife is being prosecuted for medical marijuana offenses. Donna Weinholtz, who "uses marijuana to seek relief from chronic neck, back and knee pain brought on by arthritis," was the subject of a federal investigation after she got caught attempting to mail a package containing marijuana, but the feds have declined to prosecute, saying the case would more appropriately be handled by Utah authorities. The Tooele County prosecutor is moving forward with the case.
This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.
Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.
More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.
Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.
The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.
"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, AryehNeier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."
Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.
The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.
Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.
"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."
The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.
Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.
And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.
report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.
"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.
"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."