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The Big Global Drug Policy Stories of 2014 [FEATURE]

2014 was a big year for drug reform, and for a change, the US is pulling things in the right direction. But it some places, it's been business as usual, and in others, things have gone in the wrong direction. Here are our big international stories of the year.

Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield dropped a bombshell in October. (state.gov)
Marijuana Legalization Expands in the US

Two more states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana at the ballot box this year. That makes four states and DC that have legalized it. The US has historically been the leading enforcer of global drug prohibition, but the actions of voters in American states have seriously undercut the (now former, see below) US position, as well as providing an example to the rest of the world.

The US Signals a New Openness to Drug Reform at the International Level

In a little-heralded, but groundbreaking move, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), made it clear that the US is willing to embrace flexibility, up to and including drug legalization in other countries, in the face of rising calls for international drug reform.

Brownfield succinctly laid out the US approach in an October speech: "First, respect the integrity of the existing UN Drug Control Conventions. Second, accept flexible interpretation of those conventions… Third, to tolerate different national drug policies, to accept the fact that some countries will have very strict drug approaches; other countries will legalize entire categories of drugs. All these countries must work together in the international community. We must have some tolerance for those differing policies. And our fourth pillar is agreement and consensus that whatever our approach and policy may be on legalization, decriminalization, de-penalization, we all agree to combat and resist the criminal organizations -- not those who buy, consume, but those who market and traffic the product for economic gain. Respect the conventions; flexible interpretation; tolerance for national policeis; criminal organizations -- that is our mantra."

Calls for an End to Drug Prohibition Increase as the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs Looms

This year saw the pressure for reform of the international drug control regime grow even more intense, and fractures in a now crumbling prohibitionist consensus grew even deeper. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna in March revealed schisms among countries about future steps on global drug control even as the global drug bureaucrats gave signs of softening in some policy areas, especially around emphasizing public health as opposed to criminalization. The meeting ended with a formal joint ministerial statement agreed to at the last minute after months of contentious wrangling, but one where countries failed to agree on a common approach and where certain fractious issues -- such as the use of the death penalty for drug offenses or even the mention of the term "harm reduction" -- were omitted entirely.

Former UN head Kofi Annan made his drug reform presence felt this year. (un.org)
Countries critical of the global drug policy status quo, particularly from Europe and Latin America, were joined by an ever-stronger civil society presence at the CND. The message of reform grows ever louder and presages an especially contentious next step, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, set for 2016.

During the rest of the year, the call for reform from civil society only grew louder. In May, the London School of Economics (LSE) published a Ending the Drug Wars: Report of the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, signed onto by five Nobel Prize-winning economists, as well as political figures including British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former US Secretary of State George Schultz, and former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Dr. Javier Solana, among other luminaries.

"It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis," the report says forthrightly. "The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage. These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world."

That was followed in June by the West Africa Commission on Drugs, which was initiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Nigeria, is headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary. The commission issued a report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, calling for the decriminalization of drug use, treating drug use primarily as a public health issue, and for the region to avoid becoming the next front line in the failed war on drugs.

And then, in September, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes Annan, former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and Ruth Dreifuss (Switzerland), and others, issued a new report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. It boldy called on "governments to decriminalize a variety of illegal drugs and set up regulated drug markets within their own countries."

Uruguay Forges Ahead With Marijuana Legalization

President Jose "Pepe" Mujica may be gone -- his term expired -- but his legacy of legalizing the marijuana trade lives on. There was some doubt as Uruguayans voted on his replacement -- the opposition candidate vowed to roll it back -- but they chose a successor from his same party who will uphold and implement the legal marijuana commerce plan. Uruguay never criminalized pot possession, and now it is the first country to legalize the trade. Implementation should continue apace next year.

Afghanistan Pumps Out More Opium

As the US and NATO declare an end to their Afghan war, Afghanistan is growing and producing as much opium as ever. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014, land under poppy cultivation increased 7% this year. UNODC estimated opium production this year at 6,400 tons, up 17% over last year. But while annual production has been at 6,000 tons or more for the past few years, it is not as high as the record year of 2007, when production totaled over 8,000 tons. And this as the US spent $7.6 billion to fight the opium trade since invading in 2001.

And the Golden Triangle Is Back, Too

Opium production increased again in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle this year, continuing a pattern of growth that has now gone on for at least the past eight years. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014, the region produced 762 tons of opium this year, with the vast majority coming from the Burmese Shan State. While Golden Triangle production accounts for only about 10% of global opium production, Burma is now the world's second largest opium producer, behind Afghanistan.

In Afghan fields, the poppies grow... and grow... and grow. (unodc.org)
Mexican Drug War

It's been the best of times and the worst of times for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his government's prosecution of its war against the drug cartels. While media attention to the Mexican drug war has declined dramatically since 2012 -- an election year in both the US and Mexico -- the drug war hasn't gone away, and the death toll has plateaued, but not declined. The year started off great for Pena Nieto with the arrest of the heretofore seemingly invincible Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Other major cartel figures have been killed or arrested throughout the year. But things turned sour again this fall when drug gang-connected elected officials in Iguala, Guerrero, sicced local police and the local Guerreros Unidos gang, on busloads of protesting radical teachers' college students, leaving 43 missing and presumed dead. That led to mass protests against lawlessness, official corruption, and impunity across the country.

Now Part of Russia, Crimea Rolls Back Harm Reduction Measures

Whatever one thinks of the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, it's been bad news for Crimean drug users. While Ukraine has embraced a harm reduction approach to hard drug use, Russia rejects such an approach and has some of the most repressive drug laws in the world. And it moved quickly in Crimea, banning the use of methadone almost immediately, which the International HIV/AIDS Alliance called "a disaster for health, human rights and the HIV epidemic in the region." By June, with more than 800 people cut off from access to opiate maintenance, activists were reporting 20 deaths among drug users and that many others had fled to Kiev, while those that remained were turning to street drugs. Things have only gotten worse, and Ukraine shares somes of the responsibility for using the opiate maintenance programs as a political weapon against Crimea. Now, only does the ban on opiate maintenance remain, but drug users face assaults in the streets, as well as stays in jail. And the only "treatment" offered is Russian-style "psychiatric treatment."

Medical Marijuana Update

Another medical organization calls for rescheduling, a California court rules that concentrates are medicine, Colorado starts handing out medical marijuana research money, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Wednesday, the American Academy of Neurology called for rescheduling marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

California

Last Thursday, a state appeals court ruled that cannabis concentrates qualify as medical marijuana. The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that "concentrated cannabis" qualifies as marijuana for purposes of medical use. The ruling came in People v. Mulcrevy, in which medical marijuana patients and probationer Sean Patrick Mulcrevy was accused of violating his probation because he was caught in possession of cannabis oil. Concentrated cannabis "is covered by the Compassionate Use Act, and there is insufficient evidence Mulcrevy violated his probation in light of that conclusion," the appeals court held unanimously.

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge order Nestdrop to stop making medical marijuana deliveries. Nestdrop, a smart phone app, had been the subject of a complaint by LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, who said it violates a law restricting deliveries in the city. Nestdrop had already quit making deliveries, but now there is a preliminary injunction to prevent it from restarting.

Colorado

Last Wednesday, the Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

New Hampshire

Last Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it was taking dispensary applications. It released its request for applications for people who want a shot at operating one of the four "alternative treatment centers" contemplated under the state's medical marijuana laws. The state is divided into four geographic areas; each will be allowed one dispensary.

New York

Last Friday, the Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations. The Department of Health released the draft regs, but advocates say they are too tight. "New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from getting the relief they need," the Drug Policy Alliance complained. Click on the title link for details on the draft regs.

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

Chronicle AM: USVI Decriminalizes, NJ Methadone Pregnancy Ruling, A Good Year for Hemp, More (12/23/14)

Decrim comes to the US Virgin Islands, Anchorage starts planning for pot, California starts looking toward 2016, it was a good year for hemp, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejects criminalizing a pregnant woman for using prescribed methadone, and more. Let's get to it:

California prepares for 2016. (CCPR)
Marijuana Policy

US Virgin Islands Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Decriminalization. Lawmakers voted Friday to override a line-item veto of a decriminalization provision in the territory's FY 2015 budget. That means the territory has now decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.

Anchorage Forms Committee to Handle Legalization. Last week, the city council shot down a plan to ban pot sales in the state's largest city. This week, it has formed a committee to handle local implementation of legalization. The first meeting is today. Click on the link for more details.

Oakland Meeting Next Month to Look at Lessons of Successful Legalization Campaigns. The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and its grassroots organizing arm, ReformCA, will be hosting a "debriefing" with leaders of the successful initiative campaigns in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, next month. The meeting is set for January 9 in Oakland. Click on the link for more details and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

Hemp

A Good Year for Hemp. The industry lobbying group Vote Hemp reports that, largely inspired by passage of American Agricultural Act's provision allowing for hemp research, 10 states legalized hemp production this year. They are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, and Utah. Two other states, Connecticut and New Hampshire, passed hemp study bills.

Harm Reduction

Drug Policy Alliance Issues New Guide for Tackling Drug Use at Music Events. The guide, Managing Drug Use at Your Event, is aimed at event producers and focused on improving the health and safety of festival attendees. It is designed to give event producers a harm reduction-based alternative to a police and enforcement-heavy approach. The guide is part of DPA's Music Fan campaign aimed at stimulating discussion about drug use in club and festival setting and promoting policy reforms to improve clubber health and safety.

Pregnancy

New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects Child Abuse Charge Against Pregnant Mom Over Prescribed Methadone Use. The court ruled unanimously Monday that a woman dependent on opioid pain relievers could not be charged with child abuse and neglect for using prescribed methadone during her pregnancy. Her healthy infant was treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, and the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency used that diagnosis as the basis for charging her with child abuse. The case is Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. Y.N.

International

Uruguay Has Registered 1,200 Marijuana Growers. The head of the National Drugs Board, Julio Calzada, said Monday that there are 1,200 registered marijuana growers. "It is encouraging to have 1,200 growers after three or four months since the law came into effect," Calzada told reporters. He added that about 500 cannabis clubs have registered. Each club can have up to 45 members and grow up to 99 plants.

Chronicle AM: Cuomo Just Says No, Christie Talks Mandatory Treatment, Lebanese Hash Boom, More (12/22/14)

Cuomo rejects legalization, Christie talks treatment instead of prison, New Hampshire takes a step toward getting dispensaries going, Lebanon's hash trade is booming, and more. Let's get to it:

In Lebanon, the hash crop grows unimpeded. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Rejects Legalizing Pot, Cites Myth. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Sunday reiterated his opposition to freeing the weed. "I do not favor legalized marijuana," he said in a radio interview. "I do believe it can be a gateway drug." The "gateway theory" is widely considered to be a myth.

South Carolina Decriminalization Bill Pre-Filed. Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) has pre-filed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in the Palmetto State. Under the bill, possession of less than an ounce would be a civil infraction with a fine of between $100 and $200 for a first offense. Fines increase with subsequent offenses. The bill is H 3117.

Medical Marijuana

California Appeals Court Rules Concentrates Qualify as Medical Marijuana. The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that "concentrated cannabis" qualifies as marijuana for purposes of medical use. The ruling came in People v. Mulcrevy, in which medical marijuana patients and probationer Sean Patrick Mulcrevy was accused of violating his probation because he was caught in possession of cannabis oil. Concentrated cannabis "is covered by the Compassionate Use Act, and there is insufficient evidence Mulcrevy violated his probation in light of that conclusion," the appeals court held unanimously.

New Hampshire Now Taking Dispensary Applications. The Department of Health and Human Services Friday released its request for applications for people who want a shot at operating one of the four "alternative treatment centers" contemplated under the state's medical marijuana laws. The state is divided into four geographic areas; each will be allowed one dispensary.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Christ Christie: Drug War Has Failed, Treat Addiction as an Illness, Mandatory Treatment Needed. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has spoken out again on drug policy, saying the state needs to embrace a dramatically different approach to drug use and addiction. "I think what we've seen over the last 30 years is it just hasn't worked," he said. "And there are some people who make one bad choice to try drugs one time and their particular chemistry leads them to be an addict from the minute they try it. So we need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders but having mandatory treatment is something that's going to yield a much greater result for society in general and for those individuals in particular." There's much more at the link.

International

Lebanese Hash Trade Booming in Shadow of Syrian Civil War. Distracted by the civil war next door in Syria, Lebanese security forces have for the past two years refrained from their annual hash eradication campaigns, and now, well-armed leaders of the trade are confident enough to tell troops to stay away if they don't want trouble. "We are selling hashish, and if anyone from the government tries to come close to it, we'll kill them," said Ali Shamas, a spokesman for growers and sellers. "This year we had a good year." Because of oversupply due to lack of eradication, prices have dropped dramatically, but the trade is still lucrative, Shamas said. "All of my main growers made at least half a million dollars this year," he told The Daily Telegraph. Much more at the link.

Brazil Will Study Legalizing High CBD Medical Marijuana. The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency said Friday it is going to start discussing whether to reclassify the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD). The announcement came one day after several dozen people protested in Brazilia to demand its reclassification and less than a month after the Federal Medical Council authorized neurologists and psychiatrists to prescribe CBD to epileptic children and teens who haven't responded to other treatments.

First Medical Marijuana Trials Get Underway in New South Wales. The state government announced Sunday that it has authorized clinical trials for medical marijuana. Those will be the first ever in Australia. NSW Premier Mike Baird said he expected hundreds of people to take part in the trial, and if it is successful at relieving pain and suffering, the government would consider importing marijuana or allowing it to be grown in the state.

New South Wales Bar Association Law Committee Calls for "Radical Rethink" of Drug Policy. The bar association's Criminal Law Committee is calling for a drug summit that will "radically rethink" Australia's approaches to drug use and the drug trade. The committee said that marijuana decriminalization is a start, but that "this would not remove the black market in drugs or respond to what we had found with respect to other illicit drugs." Instead, the best way to reduce drug- and prohibition-related harms would be "to replace the black market for drugs with a form of legal availability under a highly regulated system."

Chronicle AM: NV Marijuana Init Qualifies for 2016, Iran Meth Up, SE Asia Poppy Production Up, More (12/9/14)

A Nevada legalization initiative is the first to qualify for the 2016 ballot, a new poll identifies an amorphous "marijuana middle," meth is on the rise in Iran, and so are poppies in the Golden Triangle, and more. Let's get to it:

In Burmese fields the poppies grow... (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

"Marijuana Middle" Identified in Third Way Poll. A new national poll from the centrist think-tank Third Way finds Americans almost even split on legalization (50% yes, 47% no), but with a broad and deep "marijuana middle" that may not support legalization in its own state, but does support federal action to allow states that have legalized it a "safe haven." Two-thirds said Congress should pass a "safe haven" law, while 60% said legalization should be up to the states, not the federal government. The poll also examined the demographics of the "marijuana middle." Click on the link for all the details.

JAMA on the Impact of Marijuana Legalization. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Monday published "The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado." (Click the title link to read the article.) The authors found an increase in reports of emergency room visits for marijuana intoxication, as well as problems related to the production of new marijuana products, ranging from burns caused by exploding hash-oil labs to problems associated with the overindulgence in edibles. But the authors also found that legalization was increasing access to marijuana for medical reasons, including pain control, where it is much safer than opiates.

Anchorage Assembly to Hold Hearing on Banning Pot Businesses. At the behest of Assembly member Amy Demboski, the Anchorage Assembly will hold a hearing on her proposal to ban licensed pot businesses in the city one week from today. Supporters of legalization are looking for people to show up. Click on the link for more information.

Illinois Appeals Court Rules Worker's Admission of Off-Duty Marijuana Use Not Sufficient to Deny Unemployment Benefits. A worker who was fired from his job after admitting smoking marijuana when confronted with a random drug test (which he passed) cannot be denied unemployment benefits, the state's 5th District appellate court has ruled. The case is Eastham v. The Housing Authority of Jefferson County.

It's Official -- Nevada Initiative Qualifies for 2016 Ballot. Nevada is first out of the blocks to legalize marijuana via an initiative in 2016. Secretary of State Ross Miller Monday certified that the initiative had qualified for the ballot. Now, voters will have the opportunity to legalize it in the 2016 elections -- unless the state legislature acts first to approve the measure.

Prescription Opiates

Doctors Are Cutting Back on Prescriptions for Pain Relievers. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers report that half of primary care physicians are reducing their prescribing of opiate pain relievers compared to last year and that 85% of doctors believe they are overprescribed. The doctors reported concerns about addiction, overdoses, and traffic accidents. But an even greater number -- 90% -- were confident in their own ability to correctly prescribe opiates.

International

Meth in Iran. Reuters has a report on the increase of methamphetamine use in the Islamic Republic. The news agency notes that meth seizures more than doubled between 2008 and 2012 and that last year alone, the government seized 3.6 tons of speed. The report cites experts as saying the rise of meth is being driven by increased development in the country and a more complicated and faster-paced lifestyle.

Opium Production Thriving in the Golden Triangle, UN Reports. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle has increased for the eighth straight year, the UN said Sunday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2014. The acreage under cultivation increased slightly, giving the region to ability to produce about 76 tons of heroin. Myanmar accounts for most of the Golden Triangle production, and the Shan State accounts for most of Myanmar's production. The Golden Triangle is the world's second largest opium production region, behind Afghanistan, but only produces about one-fifth the amount Afghanistan does.

Medical Marijuana Update

The Kettle Falls Five case gets postponed, ASA starts a petition to protect California patients who need organ transplants, Minnesota begins implementing its new medical marijuana law, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, the head of the Epilepsy Foundation said he wants CBC cannabis oil available nationwide. Warren Lammert, chairman of the board of the Epilepsy Foundation, and father of an epileptic child, has said he wants CBD cannabis oil used to treat seizures made available nationwide. The Epilepsy Foundation has determined that "an end to seizures should not be determined by one's zip code," and that more research is essential.

California

On Monday, ASA announced a petition drive seeking support for a California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Accessis leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles announced it had shut down more than 400 dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Also on Tuesday, the LA city attorney sued to block a medical marijuana delivery app. The LA city attorney's office filed a lawsuit to close down a mobile phone app that sets up home deliveries of medical marijuana. The lawsuit alleges that Nestdrop is a "flagrant attempt" to get around restrictions imposed by voters last year. The city argues that its medical marijuana ordinance only allows patients or caregivers to pick up the medicines themselves and does not allow delivery services. Nestdrop isn't the only the only app offering deliveries in Southern California, but it's the first to be targeted by authorities.

Colorado

Last Thursday, an Arizona professor fired for medical marijuana research got new funding to continue her work. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, a Massachusetts activist went public with his boundary-pushing Allston CBD shop. Veteran Bay State marijuana reform activist Bill Downing has opened a shop called CBD Please in Allston. He claims that his operation is legal because the products he offers are made from high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oils. And he's not too concerned about any reaction from authorities. "The state can do anything they want. They can throw me in jail. They can do whatever they want," said Downing. "But I know I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm doing it for the patients here in the state and I really don't care about the bureaucracies trying to stop me because they're immoral. And because the public does not support them." When asked if what he was doing was legal, Downing replied: "I don't know, and I don't care."

Minnesota

On Monday, the state named two medical marijuana growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

Oregon

Late last month, the state decided to appeal a lower court ruling that cities can ban dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Washington

On Monday, trial in the Kettle Falls Five federal medical marijuana case was postoned.A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

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

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Petition, PA Harm Reduction Law, TX Fake Pot Bill, More (12/1/14)

Oregon's dispensary law continues to be thrashed out in the courts, a Pennsylvania 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access law has gone into effect, Minnesota gets medical marijuana growers, there's a Texas bill targeting synthetic cannabinoids, and more. Let's get to it:

"Spice" and other synthetic cannabinoids are under the gun in Texas. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

APA Call for Papers on Marijuana Legalization. The American Psychological Association's (APA) journal, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, is seeking empirical (research, both original and meta-analyses) and theoretical (review) papers examining trends in marijuana use and use disorders and clinically-related research on the drug's addictive potential and health effects. The APA notes that policy is shifting "toward medicalization and legalization of marijuana" and says that "research on the potential effects of this drug is critical as the public health significance of marijuana is debated in this country." Click on the link for submission requirements and deadlines.

Alaska Marijuana Business Group Angling for Industry-Friendly Rules. A small number of people interested in getting into the marijuana business in Alaska have formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation to advocate for regulations and rules that will "let the market decided who makes it or who fails," said the Coalition's Bruce Shulte. The group says it will work with legislators and the Alcoholic Beverage Review board to guide rulemaking. The state has until late next year to come up with regulations and to decide whether to use the review board to regulate marijuana or create a new entity.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon to Appeal Court Ruling that Cities Can Ban Dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Minnesota Names Two Medical Marijuana Growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

ASA Petition for California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Law Goes Into Effect. A state law that puts the opiate overdose reversal drug into the hands of first responders went into effect today. The law also contains a 911 Good Samaritan provision, providing some legal protections for people who witness and report overdoses. The law is Act 139. The state has recorded more than 3,000 opiate overdose deaths since 2009.

New Synthetics

Texas Bills to Ban Synthetic Marijuana Proposed. State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) has pre-filed two bills aimed at criminalizing synthetic cannabinoids in the Lone Star State. The two bills, Senate Bill 172 and Senate Bill 173 designate certain synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances under the state Controlled Substances Act. Huffman is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus and vice-chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. She won Texas Monthly's award for "worst legislator of 2013," in part because of her intransigently conservative stands on criminal justice issues.

International

Uruguay Ruling Party Keeps Presidency, Marijuana Law Should Be Safe. Pepe Mujica's legacy as the man who legalized marijuana in Uruguay should be safe after his Broad Front's candidate, Tabare Vazques, won Sunday's election to succeed him. Center-right opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had threatened to repeal much of the law if he was elected. Vazquez, however, is not as enthusiastic about the law as Mujica was, and has said he might modify it. Roll out of the pharmacy sales portion of the law was supposed to happen at year's end, but was just pushed back until at least March.

Australia Goes Wild With Drug Dog Searches, Doesn't Find Much. Police in New South Wales are subjecting thousands of people to "intrusive and humiliating" police searches after being falsely identified by drug-sniffing dogs as carrying drugs, according to statistics revealed after a request from the New South Wales Green Party. Nearly 17,800 people were searched after being alerted on by drug dogs, but in nearly two-thirds (64%) of those cases, no drugs were found, and only 2.4% of searches led to successful prosecutions. The Greens complained that the use of drug dogs outside festivals was potentially dangerous, causing some users to either take all their drugs before traveling to events and others to consume them in a panicked fashion when it becomes evident a drug dog sniff looms.

New Zealand Meth Use Up After "Legal Highs" Banned. Addiction specialists are reporting that former meth users have gone back to the drug after the country reversed course and criminalized new synthetic drugs. The country had sought to regulate the new synthetics, but reversed course in May after loud public discontent with open drug use and strange behavior. "People who have used methamphetamine in the past are now going back to using it after the legal highs came off the market," explained one addiction counselor.

Medical Marijuana Update

Help for veterans could be on the way, plans for 2016 initiatives are getting underway, Arizona doctors win a court case, existing programs in the Northeast expand, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of legislators filed a bill to allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona

Last Thursday,the Arizona appeals court ruled doctors can't be charged for making medical marijuana referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Connecticut

On Wednesday, a state doctors' panel heard requests to add more qualifying conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Program's Board of Physicians heard from patients and advocates pleading with them to expand the state's medical marijuana law to include more medical conditions. The board has received petitions seeking to add severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; sickle cell disease; Tourette's disorder; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy -- chronic pain after back surgery -- to the list of qualifying maladies. The program is accepting written submissions, petitions, and testimony from the public until December 12 and will deliberate on the issue in January. If it approves adding new conditions, that's just the first step. Click on the link for all the bureaucratic details.

Florida

On Monday, Florida advocates announced plans for a 2016 initiative. United for Care, the group behind this year's medical marijuana initiative that came up just short, has announced it will try again in 2016. "We are swiftly mobilizing a new petition push to get medical marijuana" on the 2016 ballot, United for Care director Ben Pollara told supporters this week in a fundraising announcement. This year's Measure 2 won 57% of the vote, but it needed 60% because it was a constitutional amendment. It looks like the group is going to go the constitutional amendment route again, despite the higher bar it creates.

Iowa

Last Thursday, the state Pharmacy Board punted on reclassification. The Board has decided to defer a decision on whether to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law until its January meeting. The Board could have decided at its Wednesday meeting to recommend to the legislature that marijuana be rescheduled after a public hearing Monday, but while it said marijuana does have medical use, it also worried that it has high abuse potential. The board was (in)acting on a petition from Des Moines medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen.

Nevada

Last Wednesday, state officials announced Nevada will honor out-of-state medical marijuana cards. Once dispensaries begin to open in the state next year, people holding medical marijuana recommendations from other states will be able to purchase marijuana there.

New Jersey

Last Friday, the state approved its fourth dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakota

Last Saturday, activists met to plot next moves on medical marijuana. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Washington

On Monday, a key state senator outlined her medical and recreational marijuana regulation bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult-- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Also on Monday, Seattle's mayor released his medical marijuana regulation plan. Mayor Ed Murray's office unveiled its plan for regulating medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The plan would create two classes of collective gardens. Class 1 would operate dispensaries, while Class 2 would not and is subject to fewer regulatory restrictions. Under state law, recreational marijuana is regulated at the state level, but medical marijuana is not. While efforts to regulate medical are likely in the state legislature next year, Murray said even if they pass, they wouldn't go into effect until 2016, so the city is moving to regulate now.

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

Chronicle AM: Federal VA MedMJ Bill, CRS Report on Federal Pot Tax, Swiss Cannabis Clubs, More (11/21/2014)

Some Alaska officials are proving recalcitrant when it comes to legal marijuana, there could be a Senate hearing on pot legalization with DC in the cross hairs, congressional researchers release a report on a federal pot excise tax, asset forfeiture could play a role in hearings for the new attorney general nominee, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Who Will Chair DC Oversight Committee Wants Hearing on Legalization. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, said Thursday he wants to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization. He told reporters such a hearing would focus on how legalization has worked in other states. He also said he generally supports more autonomy for the District, but didn't say whether he thought DC should be able to legalize marijuana.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on Federal Marijuana Taxation. Congress's non-partisan research arm has released a comprehensive report on the federal government setting an excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. The report suggests that under nationwide legalization, a $50 an ounce federal excise tax would raise about $7 billion a year, and that prices could drop to as low as $80 a pound. Click on the link for more.

Washington State Pot Tax Revenues Exceed Expectations. State officials said Wednesday that they expect legal marijuana to generate $694 million in revenue through the middle of 2019. That's up from a September estimate of $636 million. The state expects to collect nearly $43 million in pot taxes by the middle of next year, $237 million more in the 2015-2017 budget biennium, and $415 million more in the 2017-2019 budget biennium.

Key Alaska Prosecutor Says Marijuana Prosecutions to Continue. John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's criminal division, said prosecutors will continue to move on marijuana cases despite the voters' approval of legalization earlier this month. "We are not blind or oblivious to the fact that there is a change coming, but the change is not here yet," he said. "We did communicate to our folks that right now it is business as usual. We are evaluating what to do in the future." After Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, many prosecutors quashed pending marijuana cases, and some prosecutors have done the same in Oregon this year.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Wants to Ban Pot Sales. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has prepared an ordinance to prohibit marijuana cultivation, production, testing and sales in Anchorage. Such a move would be legal under the provisions of Measure 2, which allows local option. She said she doesn't want the Alaska's largest city to be "a guinea pig" for the rest of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Files Federal Bill to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Doctors Can't Be Charged for Medical Marijuana Referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Could Be Issue for New Attorney General Nominee. President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, bragged back in January about how her office seized nearly a billion dollars through civil asset forfeiture. But with the issue in the limelight now, it may come back to bite her during her confirmation hearings. Asset forfeiture reform bills have been filed in the Congress, newspapers across the country are editorializing about abuses, and congressional Republicans are sure to use any ammunition they can to try to damage the president's nominee.

International

Cannabis Clubs Coming to Switzerland? Officials in Geneva are exploring whether to allow marijuana social clubs, while the city has joined Bern, Basel, and Zurich in creating an expert working group to craft details for a potential pilot project. Marijuana is not legal in Switzerland, but possession of less than 10 grams is effectively decriminalized. Click on the link for an informative overview.

Medical Marijuana Update

California continues to see dispensary battles, Rhode Island's third dispensary opens, medical marijuana is moving in the South, and more. Let's get to it:

Federal

As of Wednesday, the Charlotte's Web Medical Hemp had picked up three more cosponsors. The bill, HR 5526, would amend the Controlled Substance Act to remove cannabidiol (CBD) and "therapeutic hemp" from the definition of marijuana. "Therapeutic hemp" is defined as marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC. The bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and now has 36 cosponsors -- 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The latest are Reps. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Austin Scott (R-GA). The bill has been assigned to subcommittees of the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce committees.

California

Last Wednesday, the city of La Mesa was moving to shut down three dispensaries. The move comes after voters there failed to pass a municipal initiative to authorize and regulate the dispensaries. The dispensaries have until November 22 to close their doors, city officials said.

Last Thursday, San Diego moved ahead on shutting down unpermitted dispensaries. San Diego officials forced yet another unpermitted dispensary to shut down Thursday after shutting down four others three weeks ago. About 50 unpermitted dispensaries still operate in the city, which is going to allow permitted dispensaries to begin operating early next year.

Connecticut

Last Friday, state officials announced a hearing on adding new qualifying conditions. The state Department of Consumer Protection is considering whether to expand the state's quite restrictive list of qualifying medical conditions to include sickle cell anemia, Tourette's syndrome, "failed back syndrome," severe psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. The Board of Physicians will hold a public hearing on the matter on November 26. Click on the title link for more information.

Florida

Last Friday, a state judge rejected the Health Department's medical marijuana grower lottery plan. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Georgia

On Monday, a state legislator prefiled a low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill. State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has pre-filed a bill that would legalize a form of medical marijuana in the state. At this point, House Bill 1 is little more than a mission statement, with details to be filled in later, Peake said. Peake tried to do the same thing in the just finished legislative session, but that bill died on the last day of the session.

Iowa

On Monday, a Board of Pharmacy committee heard debate on reclassifying marijuana. The board met Monday in Des Moines to hear debate on whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II under state law. Such a move would be a step toward allowing medical marijuana in the state. The board is responding to a petition from long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen. The committee is expected to make a recommendation on the matter to the full Board of Pharmacy on Wednesday.

Maryland

Last Thursday, a state commission approved medical marijuana regulations. The commission charged with drafting the regulations approved them Thursday, but they still need to be approved by a legislative panel and the state's health secretary. The approval came after a delay last month, when some critics said fees for growers and dispensaries were too high. They still ain't cheap: Fifteen licensed growers will have to pay $250,000 every two years, while dispensaries will have to pay $80,000 every two years. The program isn't expected to be operational until 2016.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the state's third and final dispensary opened. The Summit Medical Compassion Center is set to open in Warwick tomorrow. There are two others in the state, one in Portsmouth and one in Providence. Three is all the state's medical marijuana law allows.

South Carolina

Last Thursday, a state senator said he will introduce a medical marijuana bill. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who sponsored a successful low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana bill this year, said Thursday he will sponsor a full-fledged medical marijuana bill next year. He made the announcement at a meeting of the state Medical Marijuana Study Committee at Clemson University.

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

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