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."
No medical marijuana for Missouri this year, polling looks good for the Florida initiative and tense for competing Arkansas initiatives, Colorado moves toward adding PTSD as a qualifying condition, and more.
New polls show marijuana legalization initiatives leading in California and Nevada, Michigan will soon see medical marijuana dispensaries, Missouri won't get to vote on medical marijuana this year, Attorney General Lynch rejects the gateway theory, and more.
Latest California Poll Has Prop 64 Winning Handily. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll has the Prop 64 legalization initiative with 60% support and only 36% opposed. Support is at 65% in the Bay Area, 60% in San Diego and Orange County, 57% in Los Angeles, and even 55% in the conservative Inland Empire. This poll is in line with other recent polls, which all have the initiative winning in November.
New Jersey Assemblyman Filed Legalization Bill. Conservative Republican Assemblyman Michael Carroll has introduced Assembly Bill 4193, which "Legalizes marijuana and provides for records expungement for certain past marijuana offenses; treats marijuana products similar to tobacco products, including use of civil penalties for providing marijuana to persons under 19 years of age."
Michigan Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Package. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Wednesday signed into law a package of bills that will clarify the state's medical marijuana law and explicitly allow for dispensaries to operate. The bills also set taxes on dispensaries, allow for the use of tinctures and lotions, and establish "seed to sale" tracking systems.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch Rejects Notion Marijuana is Gateway Drug. In an address as part of a week-long emphasis on heroin and opioid misuse and abuse, Lynch forthrightly dismissed the gateway theory that marijuana is a stepping stone to more serious drug use. "When we talk about heroin addiction, we usually, as we have mentioned, are talking about individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin," Lynch said. "It isn't so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids -- it is true that if you tend to experiment with a lot of things in life, you may be inclined to experiment with drugs, as well. But it's not like we're seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway."
The governors of Delaware and New Jersey sign medical marijuana expansion bills, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson kicks in a million bucks to fend off medical marijuana in Florida, Montana patients are losing access to providers, and more.
On Monday, a study of fatal car crashes found medical marijuana may curb opioid use. A study conducted at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that fewer drivers killed in car crashes tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states than before those laws went into effect. The findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.
Last Thursday, the governor signed a bill allowing medical marijuana use at school. Gov. Jack Markell (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 181 , which allows registered medical marijuana patients to use their medicine while on school grounds. The law allows for cannabis-based medicines such as tinctures and oils to be used. Delaware is now the third state to enact such a law, following Colorado and New Jersey. The new law takes effect immediately.
On Monday, Sheldon Adelson kicked in a million dollars to defeat medical marijuana. Las Vegas casino magnate and conservative philanthropist Sheldon Adelson is again attempting to sway Florida voters away from approving medical marijuana. In 2012, Adelson spent $5.5 million to help defeat the initiative; this year, he has recently kicked in another one million.
Last Wednesday, the state moved to ease access to medical marijuana. State regulators released draft rules that would make it easier for patients to gain access to medical marijuana. The rules would allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for medical marijuana, allow dispensaries to post prices on their websites, and allow dispensaries to deliver to patients in nursing homes, hospices, and other health care facilities. "Our goal is safety, transparency, and access for patients who need this," said Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which oversees the state's medical marijuana program. "This is an evolving process," Bharel said, "both in Massachusetts and nationally." The proposed rules were presented to the Public Health Council, which will give final approval, but not before a public hearing expected this fall.
Last Wednesday, the House gave final approval to a medical marijuana regulation package. The House voted Wednesday in concurrence with last week's Senate vote approving a series of bills that would create a regulatory framework for medical marijuana that explicitly allows for dispensaries to operate. It also creates a licensing system for patients, growers, and dispensaries and establishes a 3% tax on retail sales. The package of bills now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who is expected to sign it into law.
As of Monday, nine out of ten medical marijuana patients had no legal provider. With the GOP-led legislature's 2011 gutting of the state's medical marijuana program now in effect, 93% of the state's more than 12,000 registered patients have no registered provider. That means unless they can grow it themselves, they are out of luck. An initiative that would restore the state's medical marijuana program, I-182, is on the November ballot.
It's all marijuana news today, and there's not even much of that. Nashville semi-decriminalizes small-time pot possession, a study finds New Mexico could make big bucks off legalization, and more.
Will Missourians get a chance to vote on medical marijuana this year? Stay tuned. (Creative Commons)
New Mexico Could Make Big Bucks on Legalization, Study Says. A new report from medical marijuana producer Ultra Health estimates that legal marijuana could bring in revenues of more than $400 million in its first year and closer to $700 million within five years. The report also found that legalizing marijuana would create 11,400 new jobs in its first year.
Nashville Decriminalizes (Sort Of). The Nashville Metro Council gave final approval to a plan to allow police the option of ticketing small-time marijuana possessors instead of arresting them. Police could hand out $50 tickets instead of arresting people, but that discretion means it's not true decriminalization, and that worries Councilman Steve Glover. If you get pulled over by the wrong person, the wrong police officer, the state trooper, you will go to jail for this,' Glover said. "I think we're sending conflicting information."
The California legalization campaign heats up, the Massachusetts legalization campaign is sitting pretty with lots of cash, a North Carolina town becomes the first in the South to adopt Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) for drug users, and more.
People lining up to buy heroin in Chicago. (Chicago PD)
California Legalization Supporters File Complaint Against Opposition Committee. Diane Goldstein, one of the proponents for the Prop 64 legalization initiative, filed a complaint last Friday against Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the prohibitionist Project SAM. The complaint claims the committee misreported donations, failed to file contribution reports, and left some contribution reports incomplete, including one for Pennsylvania millionaire Julie Schauer, who gave $1.3 million the opposition.
California Highway Patrol Says It Is Neutral on Legalization Initiative. The state Highway Patrol last Friday clarified that it has not taken a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative. The move comes after the head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen criticized the measure for not setting a legal driving limit for the amount of THC in drivers' blood. CHP provided technical assistance to the measure's authors and is involved in implementing medical marijuana regulations signed into law last year.
Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Getting Big Bucks Backing. Supporters of the Question 4 legalization initiative have taken in more than $2.4 million since January, most of it from the New Approach PAC, a group based in Washington, DC, that is led by Graham Boyd. Groups opposing Question 4 have only raised less than $400,000, giving supporters a six-to-one funding advantage.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Report Names Chicago's West Side as "Epicenter" of State's Heroin Crisis. A new report from Roosevelt University, Hidden in Plain Sight, examines heroin arrests, hospitalizations, and deaths on the city's West Side and finds that the area accounts for one out of four hospitalizations for overdoses in the entire state. The response to rising heroin use has focused on enforcement, not treatment, said report coauthor Kathy Kane Willis. "Incarceration or arrest is an extremely ineffective and expensive way to treat a health crisis like this. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," she said. In response to the report, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago) has launched the West Side Heroin Task Force to help find evidence-based solutions to the problem.
Fayetteville, NC, Starts First Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Program in the South. This month the Fayetteville Police Department and a number of partners, including the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), are launching a new program to divert low-level drug and sex work (prostitution) offenders to treatment instead of jail. Currently, Fayetteville faces one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the nation. Last year alone over 500 people were arrested for drug possession in the city. Under the new law enforcement assisted diversion program (LEAD) launched this month, police officers will be able to divert eligible citizens (people with under 4 grams of drugs, no violent record, etc) to treatment providers and social services instead of funneling them through the criminal justice system, where often the cases are thrown out or people serve minimal jail time and wind up back on the streets.
Rampant Meth Use is Driving Asia's Drug War. The Philippines isn't the only country in the region waging a deadly "war on drugs." In Thailand and Myanmar, drug users are sentenced to long prison terms, while Indonesia has declared a "narcotics emergency" and resumed the execution of drug convicts. But that tough response is only likely to make things worse, experts said.
In a surprise move, the conservative American Legion comes out for marijuana rescheduling, Arkansas medical marijuana initiatives see lawsuits fly, Ohio is now a medical marijuana state, and more.
At the end of August, the American Legion called for marijuana to be rescheduled. The nation's largest veterans' organization has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off of Schedule I. The resolutions calls on the government "amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value." The resolution, which also calls on the DEA to "license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research," was approved at the America Legion annual meeting in Cincinnati at the end of August.
As of Thursday, medical marijuana is now legal in the state, but... Medical marijuana is now legal in the Buckeye State, but it could be years before it legally gets into the hands of patients. The state must first create a system to grow, distribute, and regulate medical marijuana. The state has 30 days to appoint a Marijuana Control Commission, which will then have 240 days to set up rules around the fledgling industry. And actually getting businesses up and running and crops in the ground will take even longer.
On Tuesday, the medical marijuana initiative campaign filed a lawsuit over the rewriting of the ballot language. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative, filed suit to challenge Attorney General Scott Pruitt's (R) rewrite of its ballot description. The original wording of the ballot title made it clear that a yes vote would okay only medical use approved by a physician, but Pruitt's version starts out like this: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." And Oklahomans for Health is crying foul: "Thousands and thousands of signatures were collected from voters of Oklahoma," attorney David Slane said after he filed the lawsuit. "No elected official has the right to rewrite these ballots in such a way that he would try to unfairly influence voters. Scott Pruitt has a habit, a pattern of doing this." Because the campaign was late handing in signatures, the issue is unlikely to appear on the ballot this year. Look for 2018.
Alaska cannabis cafes are delayed again, Michigan legalizers strike out in court, Ohio becomes the latest medical marijuana state, and more.
Medical marijuana is now legal in Ohio, but a legal supply is still a couple of years down the road. (Creative Commons)
Alaska Regulators Again Delay Decision on Cannabis Cafes. The state's Marijuana Control Board first issued draft rules for an "on-site consumption endorsement" for pot shops back in May, but month's later the rules haven't been finalized, and the board has now decided it will not even take up the issue again for another seven weeks. At least one board member, Brandon Emmett, accused the board of trying to avoid allowing consumption at cannabis cafes. "We can spin it however we want, but it's becoming quite apparent that there is an effort by this board to stamp out consumption anywhere other than one's home," Emmett said.
Michigan Supreme Court Nixes Legalization Initiative's Appeal. It's official: There will be no legalization initiative on the ballot in November. The state Supreme Court Wednesday denied an appeal over signature gathering rules from initiative sponsors MI Legalize. The group had sought to have signatures counted that were gathered outside a 180-day limit, but state courts, now including the highest court, have ruled against them.
Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Ohio, But… As of today, medical marijuana is legal in the Buckeye State, but it could be years before it legally gets into the hands of patients. The state must first create a system to grow, distribute, and regulate medical marijuana. The state has 30 days to appoint a Marijuana Control Commission, which will then have 240 days to set up rules around the fledgling industry. And actually getting businesses up and running and crops in the ground will take even longer.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids
Ohio County Will Offer Immunity to People Turning in Heroin, Opioids. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) Prosecutor Joe Deters has asked for blanket immunity from prosecution for anyone turning in heroin or other deadly drugs, and Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Robert Ruelman has agreed to the move. The move comes as the region grapples with high levels of heroin and opioid misuse.
DC Private Schools Sue Over Random Drug Tests of Teachers. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington has sued the District of Columbia for threatening to pull their licenses if they do not subject their teachers to "random and suspicionless" drug testing. Under a DC law, some employees in "safety sensitive" positions in "child development facilities" are required to undergo random drug tests. Some of the private schools in the association have "child development facility" licenses. Until 2013, elementary and secondary schools were exempt from the requirement, but that year, DC issued a memo requiring the schools to employ random drug testing. That's what the schools are suing over.
Mexican Police Helicopter Shot Down Over Michoacan Three police officers and the pilot were killed when suspected cartel members shot down their chopper near Apatzingan, Michoacan on Tuesday. The area has been a hotbed of cartel activity, as well as the scene of armed conflict between the cartels and (sometimes) government-supported vigilantes. This is the worst helicopter attack since May 2015, when gunmen in Jalisco brought down a military helicopter, killing ten soldiers.
New polls have good news for Arizona pot legalizers and better news for California ones, more lawsuits get filed over Arkansas and Oklahoma medical marijuana initiatives, the Philippines' murderous drug war continues apace, the Indonesian drug fighters want to imitate it, and more.
Filipino President Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte (theinfluence.org)
Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Leading. An Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite poll has the Prop 205 legalization initiative favored by 50% of registered voters, with 40% opposed and 10% undecided. A 10-point lead is good, but getting over 50% would be better. "The proposal starts out ahead... but that doesn't mean it ends up that way after a campaign," said public-opinion pollster Mike O'Neil, who was not involved in the survey. "It reflects an evolving attitude on marijuana throughout the entire country, and we're part of that. People are no longer buying that this is just a horrible thing."
California Poll Finds Strong Majority for Legalization Initiative. A new poll from the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has support for the Prop 64 legalization initiative at 63.8%. That's in line with other recent polls that have shown the initiative apparently cruising toward victory. The strongest support came from Democrats (73.8%), African Americans (71.9%), Latinos (69.3%), and independents (62.2%).
Vermont Legislative Committee Will Examine Marijuana Policy Ahead of Next Year's Session. State Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said Tuesday the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee will hold extra meetings this year to examine various issues around marijuana policy, including medical marijuana. Vermont was touted as likely to be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, but a bill this year passed the Senate, only to see it killed in the House. "My hope is that the House will take a look at it this time and work on a bill," he said.
Nashville Takes Another Step Toward Decriminalization. The Nashville city council has approved a marijuana decriminalization ordinance for a second time. It still has one more reading before it passes the council. The measure would give police the option of charging people caught with a half-ounce or less with a civil penalty instead of a misdemeanor.
American Legion Calls for Marijuana to Be Rescheduled. The nation's largest veterans' organization has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off of Schedule I. The resolutions calls on the government "amend legislation to remove marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum will recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value." The resolution, which also calls on the DEA to "license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to enable safe and efficient cannabis drug development research," was approved at the America Legion annual meeting in Cincinnati at the end of August.
Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaigns Files Lawsuit Over Rewrite of Ballot Language. Oklahomans for Health, the group behind the medical marijuana initiative filed suit Tuesday to challenge Attorney General Scott Pruitt's (R) rewrite of its ballot description. The original wording of the ballot title made it clear that a yes vote would okay only medical use approved by a physician, but Pruitt's version starts out like this: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." And Oklahomans for Health is crying foul: "Thousands and thousands of signatures were collected from voters of Oklahoma," attorney David Slane said after he filed the lawsuit. "No elected official has the right to rewrite these ballots in such a way that he would try to unfairly influence voters. Scott Pruitt has a habit, a pattern of doing this." Because the campaign was late handing in signatures, the issue is unlikely to appear on the ballot this year. Look for 2018.
Colorado Certifies Country's First Domestic Hemp Seeds. The state Department of Agriculture has certified domestic hemp seeds for the first time in this country. State officials showed them off Wednesday. The certification is the endpoint of a years-long collaboration between the department and Colorado hemp growers and "is vital to the long-term growth of the industry," said the department's Duane Sinning. The state has some 400 hemp farmers.
Colombian President Just Says No to Resuming Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos has shot down a trial balloon floated earlier this week by Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, who suggested that the country was about to restart aerial eradication of coca crops by spraying herbicides on the fields. Spraying doesn't solve the problem, Santos said: "We arrive, fumigate or eradicate it with soldiers and police, only for farmers to plant even more productive varieties as we leave," the president said.
Indonesia Anti-Drug Head Calls for Philippines-Style War on Drugs. Budi Waseso, head of the Indonesian anti-drugs agency, said Tuesday his country was ramping up its drug war and said Indonesia could be as aggressive as the Philippines, where alleged drug users and dealers are being murdered in the streets by police and vigilantes. "Yes I believe so. It can happen because (the drugs problem) in Indonesia is as bad as in the Philippines. The life of a dealer is meaningless because (he) carries out mass murder. How can we respect that?," he added.
Philippines Drug War Death Toll Now Surging Toward 3,000 in Only Two Months. People are being killed at the rate of 44 a day in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drug users, drug sellers, and the rule of law, and the death toll after only two months in office is now nearing 3,000. Duterte is happy and wants more: "More people will be killed, plenty will be killed until the last pusher is out of the streets," he said "Until the (last) drug manufacturer is killed, we will continue and I will continue." Of the nearly 3,000 killed, about one-third are claimed by police and two-thirds are blamed on death squads, vigilantes, and hired assassins.