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Chronicle AM: NE Felony Pot Brownies, OK Pot Lawsuit Protest, Mexico Cop-Zeta Ties, More (12/26/14)

Some Nebraska counties are charging possession of marijuana brownies as a felony, Oklahoma activists will rally against the state's lawsuit against Colorado's marijuana law, San Diego closes more dispensaries, a new document reveals links between cartel gangsters and cops in Northern Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

Kratom -- for adults only in Illinois starting next week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Western Nebraska Counties Are Charging Possession of Some Marijuana Edibles as a Felony. Even though pot possession has been decriminalized in the state for decades, some counties near Colorado are now treating foods containing marijuana extracts as a Schedule I drug, possession of which is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Prosecutors in some Western counties say that pastries that contain actual marijuana will be treated like marijuana, but those containing concentrates will be treated as a Schedule I drug.

Nevada NAACP Leader Urges Legislators to Legalize It This Coming Session. Jeffrey Blanck, president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP, has sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to legalize marijuana during the 2015 legislature. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada already has a legalization initiative approved for the 2016 ballot. The legislature has the first 40 days of the session to approve the initiative; if it doesn't, it goes directly to the voters in 2016.

Oklahoma Activists to Protest Pot Lawsuit Against Colorado. Oklahoma marijuana legalization supporters have organized a protest against state Attorney General Scott Pruitt's decision to join Nebraska in suing Colorado to try to undo legalization there. Led by OK NORML and the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, activists have set up a Facebook invite to the January 8 rally. "Attorney General Scott Pruitt is suing Colorado for their marijuana laws," the page says. "This is a waste of taxpayer money and a clear violation of states' rights." Click on either link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

San Diego Officials Shut Down Five More Dispensaries. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has shuttered five more unpermitted dispensaries ahead of the opening of the first permitted dispensaries early next year. Four are set to open then. More than 200 dispensaries have been shut down in the past four years under threat of legal action, but as many as 50 unpermitted dispensaries remain.

Kratom

Kratom Will Be for Adults Only in Illinois Beginning Next Week. As of January 1, a new state law will limit the use and possession of the Southeast Asian herb kratom to adults. Kratom is said to have a high similar to opiates, but is not a controlled substance under federal law. It is, however, on the DEA's list of "drugs of concern." It has been banned in neighboring Indiana.

Law Enforcement

Lawsuit in Deadly Massachusetts SWAT Drug Raid Can Continue, Judge Rules. A police officer who shot and killed unarmed black Framingham resident Eurie Stamps, 68, in a January 2011 drug raid may have used excessive force, violating his constitutional rights, a US District Court judge ruled as he allowed a lawsuit against the officer to move forward. Officer Paul Duncan shot and killed Stamps as the elderly man lay prone on the floor of his apartment during the raid. Duncan claims the shooting was accidental, but Stamps is still dead, and his family is suing.

International

Mexican Cops Worked Closely With Zetas, Declassified Document Shows. A document declassified by Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam shows how police and traffic police in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, worked closely with the Zetas cartel in a series of killings of immigrants en route to the US known as the "San Fernando massacre," in which at least 72 immigrants were tortured and murdered.

Indonesian Ulama Supports President's Plan to Execute Drug Offenders. The Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, said Wednesday it supported President Joko Widodo's tough stance on drug traffickers. Widodo has refused to stop the execution of convicted drug offenders and is seeking support for his stance. He found it with the Ulama. "We support the death penalty for the drug dealers and the producers, but not the consumers," said Said Aqil Siradji, chairman of the Ulama's central board.

Chronicle AM: CO Guns and Weed, IL MedMJ Kids' Rules, CSSDP Conference Coming, More (12/24/14)

Colorado gun activists want pot consumers to be able to pack heat, Illinois posts rules for medical marijuana for kids, Lebanese hash farmers like all the legalization talk, a French report calls for a state monopoly on pot, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Gun Activists Want Concealed Weapons Permits for Marijuana Consumers. Gun rights activists are laying the groundwork for a 2016 ballot initiative aimed at allowing pot smokers to receive concealed carry permits. The Colorado Campaign for Equal Gun Rights wants to change state laws to prevent sheriffs from denying concealed carry permits to admitted marijuana users. The application asks people 14 questions under oath, including whether they are an "unlawful user" of marijuana. Some sheriffs have used that question to block permits, arguing that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Posts Rules for Children's Medical Marijuana Use. State officials have released new emergency rules for allowing children to receive medical marijuana under a new law that goes into effect January 1. Kids won't be able to smoke marijuana, but will have to use edibles or liquid concentrates, and parents must get two doctors' signatures in order for their kids to be able to use it. Patient activists are calling that requirement "an unnecessary burden."

International

Lebanese Hash Farmers Like Idea of Legalizing Their Cash Crop. Recent calls from leading Lebanese political figures suggesting it is time to legalize marijuana production are winning support from leading hash farmers. Prominent Bekaa Valley hash farmer Ali Nasri said hash was a lifeline in a stagnant economy. "We decided here that we do not want people to go hungry," he told The Daily Star. "Instead of stealing, plant hashish and confront the state." Nasri also praised Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who last week reiterated prior calls to legalize the trade. Jumblatt feels "the pain of the Bekaa" and "the hunger" of its people, he said. "Hashish would bring in a lot of money to the government and is less damaging to health, and will create economic stimulus," he said. "Poor people will benefit."

Canadian SSDP Conference Coming to Toronto. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) will hold their seventh annual conference in Toronto February 27 through March 1. Click here for details and deadlines.

France Could Earn $2.2 Billion in Pot Tax Revenues a Year, Report Finds. The regulated cultivation and sale of marijuana could generate more than $2 billion a year in tax revenues, according to a report from the Terra Nova Foundation, an award-winning think-tank affiliated with the Socialist Party. The report calls for a state monopoly on production and sales. The report is "Cannabis: Regulate the Market to Break the Impasse."

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

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: Lebanon Ag Min Says Legalize Hash, NY MedMJ Regs, "Baby Bou Bou" Medical Bill, More (12/19/14)

New York officials have released draft medical marijuana regs, and advocates aren't too impressed, Lebanon's agriculture minister says it's time to legalize it, Bolivia's president criticizes Mexico's drug war, "Baby Bou Bou" has a million-dollar medical bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has some choice words about Mexico's "failed" drug policies. (www.wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri KC NORML Legalization Petition Needs Editing to Get Official Approval. The KC NORML legalization initiative petition is in for a tune-up after the secretary of state's office rejected it for minor stylistic issues, including incorrect underlining and brackets. Organizers say they will rework and resubmit shortly. There's also another Missouri legalization initiative in the works, courtesy of Show Me Cannabis, but the KC NORML initiative is less restrictive, and less restrictive than the legalization schemes in any of the states that have legalized it so far.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Issues Medical Marijuana Regulations; Advocates Not Too Impressed. The Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations today, 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.

Asset Forfeiture

Public Hearing Set for Orange County, NY, Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. The public will have one last chance to voice objections to a local asset forfeiture already approved on a party-line vote by the county legislature. The ordinance would allow the county to confiscate assets from those convicted of even misdemeanor drug crimes. The ordinance has been criticized by defense attorneys and others not only for the misdemeanor provision, but also because it would allow for civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. A public hearing is set for December 29. Click on the link for meeting details.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Burned by Flash-Bang Grenade in Botched Drug Raid Faces A Million Dollar Medical Bill. It has cost a million dollars so far to undo the damage done to toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh when a Georgia SWAT team member tossed a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid in which the party sought wasn't even there. Habersham County officials have refused to pay the medical bills, and the family has no means of paying them.

International

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Calls for Legalization of Hash Farming. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called today for the legalization of marijuana so the state can benefit from hash export revenues. "We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it," Chehayeb said in a morning interview with a local radio station. "Instead of prosecuting the farmers, let's find other solutions for them," he said. "The planting of cannabis must be organized to benefit the state and the industrial sector, and it is one way of helping the farmers." Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made a similar call earlier this week.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peruvian officials announced today that they eradicated 77,000 acres of coca crops this year, the highest total since eradication programs began in 1983. But they didn't touch the country's largest coca producing area, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in south-central Peru. The UNODC says Peru is the world's largest coca producer, and the DEA says it is the world's largest cocaine producer.

Bolivian President Criticizes Mexico's "Failed" Drug War Policies. President Evo Morales said Mexico's failed model for fighting the drug war, citing the recent incident where 43 teachers' college students were disappeared and are presumed dead at the hands of corrupt police working with drug gangs. "The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But… look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico," said Morales. "The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the US. empire. And now there are deep problems. "We do not want to have this kind of problem in Bolivia, of organized crime. It seems that crime groups are above the state. In some regions, not even with the presence of military bases can one fight drug trafficking," he said at a graduation ceremony for National Police cadets.

Chronicle AM: A Century of Drug War, Yet Another Drug War Bill, Iran Drug Executions Slammed, More (12/17/14)

It's the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a GOP senator chides Obama for "pro-marijuana" messages, human rights groups urge the UNODC to quit funding Iranian drug enforcement because of its resort to the death penalty, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic has executed more than 300 drug offenders this year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Senator Says Obama Administration's "Pro-Marijuana" Messages Promote Teen Drug Use. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested Tuesday that the Obama administration's failure to block marijuana legalization had sent kids the message that drug use is okay. "When kids receive the message that marijuana use is acceptable and even welcome, it's no wonder that the perception of harm from marijuana goes down," Grassley said in a statement. "By offering pro-marijuana messages, the president and his top appointees are working at cross purposes with the federal government experts who are trying to stop drug use among teenagers." Grassley was complaining that the annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use showed that kids didn't think pot was as dangerous as they used to. But he seems to have missed the part that showed that teen marijuana is not increasing.

Anchorage City Council Kills Move to Ban Pot Sales. A proposal from Anchorage Assembly member and mayoral candidate Amy Demboski to ban recreational marijuana sales in Alaska's largest city went down in ignominious defeat Tuesday night. After four hours of public testimony -- almost unanimously against the measure -- and debate, the measure was killed on a vote of 9-2.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Lawmaker Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said today she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Drug Policy

A Hundred Years of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, generally considered to mark the beginning of America's 20th Century war on drugs. While the act was not directly prohibitionist -- it was a regulatory and taxation measure -- it led almost immediately to the criminalization of both drug-addicted people and the doctors who sought to treat them with maintenance doses of opiates. A hundred years later, we're still mired in the drug war.

Senate Approves Yet Another Drug War Bill. The Senate Monday approved Senate Bill 706, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would give the Justice Department the authority to prosecute people in other countries who manufacture drugs or precursors that they have "reasonable cause to believe… will be unlawfully imported into the United States." It also increases penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). An identical bill, HR 2214, is in the House, but has not moved since May.

International

Citing Death Penalty, Human Rights Groups Urge UN to Quit Funding Counter-Drug Operations in Iran. Six human rights organizations today called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to quit funding anti-drug operations in Iran until the Islamic Republic ends the death penalty for drug offenses. The call came in a letter sent to UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. The groups said more than 300 drug traffickers had been executed in Iran so far this year. Signatories to the letter included Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

French Health Minister Wants to Ban Pot Vaporizers. Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday she would seek to ban a new e-cigarette than contains marijuana. The move came on the same day a French-Czech company called Kanavape announced its vaporizers were going on sale in France. "I am opposed to such a product being commercialized in France," Touraine said. Such as product would "incite the consumption of cannabis," she added. Kanavape argues its product is legal because its oil contains no THC.

Most Dutch-Grown Pot is Exported, Government Report Says. A report from the Dutch government's Research and Documentation Center (WODC) estimates that between 78% and 91% of marijuana grown in the Netherlands is exported. The report is expected to support moves by the Dutch government to crack down on marijuana cultivation instead of moving to regulate it.

Chronicle AM: TX Pot Bill Filed, Another MO Legalization Initiative, KY Heroin Bill, More (12/15/14)

Texas begins heading down the path of marijuana reform, a Missouri legalization initiative seeks to really free the weed, Rep. Andy Harris isn't very welcome in DC these days, Kentucky tries to deal with heroin again this year, and more. Let's get to it:

The Kentucky legislature will try to deal with heroin again this year. The bill has good and bad elements. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Filed. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) today introduced a bill that would remove the threat of arrest, jail, and a criminal record for small-time marijuana possession. The measure is House Bill 507. "Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn't working," Rep. Moody said at an Austin press conference. "We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction." The legislation is being backed by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a coalition that includes the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Another, Looser Missouri Legalization Initiative Effort is Underway. Show Me Cannabis has some competition. The marijuana reform group has a legalization initiative pending, but now, there's another, less restrictive initiative also in the works. A team from KC NORML last week submitted a petition to put its own measure on the ballot. The Missouri Cannabis Restoration and Protection Act would remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances, free anyone imprisoned for marijuana-only convictions, bar police from charging drivers with DUI if the only drug they test positive for is marijuana, and put no limitation on the number of plants people can grow. Once approved by state officials, the initiative will need 160,000 valid voter signatures -- 8% of registered voters in at least six of the state's eight legislative districts -- to qualify for the ballot.

DC Businesses Tell Maryland Congressman Who Tried to Block Legalization to Stay Away. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is not very welcome in the District these days. He has been the primary mover behind Republican efforts to block voter-approved legalization in DC. While his rider blocking legalization was included in the recent omnibus spending bill, whether it will actually stop DC legalization remains to be seen. Now, there is a Blacklist Andy Harris movement, and at least one business, has put up a sign displaying his face along with prominent text reading "Not Welcome."

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Increases Sentences, Has Harm Reduction Provisions. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel has pre-filed a bill, Senate Bill 29, that attempts a broad response to the state's issues with heroin. The bill would allow for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, create a 911 Good Samaritan provision to try to reduce overdose deaths, and fund drug treatment. It would also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. A similar bill failed to get through the legislature last year.

International

Uruguay Sees First Marijuana Expo. Uruguay is the first country to legalize marijuana commerce, and now it's had its first marijuana trade show. Expocannabis opened in Montevideo over the weekend.

On Marijuana, Congress Giveth and Congress Taketh Away [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With final approval by the Senate Saturday night, the Congress has successfully approved a massive, $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill, and the president has signaled he will sign it. The bill includes two provisions that illustrate Congress's currently schizophrenic approach to loosening marijuana laws.

On the one hand, the bill contains an amendment that will effectively end federal interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the Justice Department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there. On the other hand, it also contains a rider that seeks to undo the will of the voters of the nation's capital by blocking the District of Columbia from enacting the recently approved Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative.

Sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and 10 others, the medical marijuana amendment is blunt. After listing all the medical marijuana states, it says: "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." (The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.)

The amendment is also important. In the past three years alone, the Justice Department has threatened elected officials, dispensary operators, and their landlords with legal action over medical marijuana. Those threats have delayed or stopped implementation of medical marijuana laws in at least six states. Similarly, threats of criminal prosecution and/or asset forfeiture aimed at landlords in California and Colorado have resulted in the closure of at least 600 state law-abiding medical marijuana businesses.

And DEA teams have aggressively raided and US Attorneys have prosecuted medical marijuana patients and providers. One stark example is the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a family of patients who were growing medical marijuana for their own personal use in accordance with Washington state law. In a state where marijuana is legal, federal prosecutors are seeking to send a pair of elderly patients and their children to prison. That prosecution is now in doubt.

"This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has lobbied for years for passage of the measure. "But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement."

Last year, ASA issued a report showing the Obama administration had spent $80 million a year on medical marijuana enforcement. That may be chump change in a trillion-dollar spending bill, but it's still $80 million that could be better used each year.

"Congress has finally initiated a drawdown in the federal government's war on medical marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "This legislation makes it clear that the DEA has no business interfering in states' medical marijuana laws. Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them."

"For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It's not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed."

But if federal marijuana prohibition will someday be repealed, no one has told congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats didn't seem to care much, either. The second part of Congress's schizoid pot policy two-step was a slap in the face to both marijuana legalization and the will of the voters of the District of Columbia.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R) authored a rider to the bill that says that the District cannot "enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative."

Republican House committee heads got it inserted into the House version of the bill, and Senate Democrats didn't consider it important enough to fight to remove.

Marijuana reform proponents (and believers in democratic rule for the residents of DC) were livid, and they are not ready to roll over in the face of congressional attempts to quash legalization in the District.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it would be particularly disturbing if Congress has chosen to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Coalition, the group that got Measure 71 passed. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress should not undermine that."

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the rider to block DC marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
"By prohibiting the regulation of marijuana in the District, they are ensuring authorities have no control over it," Tvert said. "If drug cartels and gangs had lobbyists on the Hill, preventing marijuana regulation would be their top legislative priority. If the District can regulate and tax alcohol sales, it should be allowed to do the same with a less harmful substance like marijuana."

The District city council has been advancing a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but the Harris rider effectively kills that. Less certain, however, is whether it can really block Measure 71 from taking effect.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, the Congressional Delegate from DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds DC; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the DC rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The DC government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

The congressional Republicans who pushed the measure naturally disagree. They argue that Measure 71 has not been enacted because the DC council has not yet sent it to Congress and that the rider thus blocks it from being implemented.

While the question is likely to end up being settled in the courts, the next move is up to the District city council. It can go ahead and send the measure to Congress despite what the budget bill rider says. Advocates are urging the council to do just that.

And the council seems to be in a mood to stick up for the initiative -- and for democratic rights for the District. DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post even before the final Senate vote that he plans to ignore the rider. He said he will instead follow normal procedure for voter-approved initiatives in a city that exists under the congressional thumb. He will sent a bill implementing the initiative to Congress next month for a 30-day review in which lawmakers can vote it up or down.

And if that doesn't work, there's still the courts.

"If the question is whether I'd be open to legal action, the answer is yes," Mendelson told Politico after the House vote.

Whether Congress has successfully blocked marijuana legalization in DC clearly remains to be seen. What is not in dispute, though, is that Congress has taken a major step toward clearing the way for medical marijuana, and that's a big deal.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Obama on DC Pot Laws, WI "Cocaine Moms" Law Challenged, No More 'Shrooms in Bali, More (12/12/14)

The president weighs in on congressional moves to block DC marijuana legalization, Oklahoma could be joining the cannabis oil medical marijuana club, a Wisconsin woman sues over the "cocaine moms" law, the ACLU is looking to sue a Connecticut housing agency over mandatory drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Indonesian police will begin enforcing the ban on magic mushrooms next month. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Thinks Congress Should Not Interfere With DC Pot Laws. As the battle continues over whether Congress has managed or not to block the District of Columbia's Measure 71 legalization initiative, President Obama has weighed in. In a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did "not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the citizens of District of Columbia." Asked specifically about Measure 71, Earnest noted that the measure had been approved by the voters and that, "on principle," that Congress shouldn't interfere with home rule. But Earnest also noted that Obama supports passing the omnibus spending bill that would, some say, overturn the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Oil Bill Should Be Filed Today in Oklahoma. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he plans to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill today. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Public Housing Agency Under Fire for Suspicionless Drug Testing of Applicants. The Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) requires mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of people applying to live there, and the ACLU of Connecticut is looking for people who want to sue the agency over the issue. "We urge you to repeal this policy because this suspicionless drug testing violates guarantees in the United States and Connecticut constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures," wrote ACLU staff attorney David McGuire in a December 2013 letter to the Authority. "We would like to hear from any potential tenant who objects to the suspicionless drug test so that we can consider legal action," McGuire said Wednesday. To make matters worse, the NHA is the only housing authority in the country to drug test using hair follicles, which unlike urine or blood samples, can reveal drug use going back weeks or even months.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Judge Convicted of Planting Drugs on Woman. A woman accused a judge of propositioning her when she appeared before him to seek warrants against people who had assaulted her, so he conspired with some local cops to plant methamphetamine in her vehicle and have her arrested. Now, former Magistrate Court Judge Bryant Cochran has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, violating the civil rights of a court employee by sexually assaulting her, and witness tampering. He's looking at almost certain federal prison time when he is sentenced in February.

Pregnancy

Lawsuit Will Challenge Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" Law. A woman who was jailed after admitting past drug use while seeking a pregnancy test and medical help for depression is filing suit to have the state's "cocaine mom" law thrown out. That law allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol use. Tammy Loertscher of Medford is filing the suit with the assistance of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which says the Wisconsin "fetal protection" law is one of the most sweeping in the nation.

International

Hungary's Prime Minister Wants Drug Tests for Journalists and Politicians. Hungary's rightist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make the country a "non-liberal" state, called today for mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians. "The government decided that it will rid Hungary of the drug mafia in this term," Orban said. "Politicians, journalists and those filling positions of public trust have to be included (in the drug tests) because it is clear that those who consume drugs cannot be relied on in the fight against drugs." Orban's statement isn't sitting well with journalists and civil libertarians, with the Association of Independent Journalists calling his proposal "legally and morally deeply outrageous." Earlier this week, the mayor Budapest calling for drug testing teens as well, but that proposal appears have been dropped.

Just a Reminder: Magic Mushrooms Are Now Illegal in Indonesia.Magic mushrooms had long been excluded from Indonesian drug laws, and were openly sold and used, especially in the popular tourist destination of Bali, but that's no longer the case. They are now considered a Type 1 narcotic since the law was revised earlier this year, and police are on a campaign to let people know. "All people who consume and trade in magic mushrooms are violating the Narcotics Law," Denpasar Police drug section head Comr. I Gede Ganefo said recently. "Many people do not yet know that magic mushrooms are illegal and they could face a prison term if they sell or consume them. They think it is all right as they grow naturally in manure," Ganefo said. Police said the informational campaign will become an enforcement campaign starting January 1. "Next month [Jan. 2015], there will be no more tolerance. If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them. They could face the same charges as those using marijuana and other drugs, a minimum four-year and maximum 12-year prison term," Ganefo said.

Chronicle AM: DC Marijuana Muddle, Feds OK Pot Growing on the Rez, More (12/11/14)

There are conflicting views on the fate of DC's legalization initiative, the Justice Department okays marijuana growing on Indian reservations, Spaniards now support marijuana legalization, and more. Let's get to it:

A New Mexico Indian reservation. There could be a new cash crop coming. (wikipedia.org)
DC Legalization Still Alive? Democrats Think So. Despite the language Republicans managed to include in the "CRomnibus" federal spending bill interfering with the District of Columbia's right to set its own marijuana policies, several leading Democrats say that the Initiative 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative is still alive. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, who represents DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds D.C.; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the D.C. rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The D.C. government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

DC Legalization Still Alive? Republicans Just Say No. While Democrats argue that marijuana legalization was "enacted" by the voters on November 4 and thus will prevail, Republicans beg to differ. They argue that because the initiative has not been transmitted to Congress or passed congressional review, it has not been enacted. "It's pretty clear," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) who led the charge against decriminalizing pot in DC with a rider that was not included in the final bill. "You can't enact anything once the rider's passed. The legalization is not enacted." We probably haven't heard the final word on this just yet.

Justice Department Okays Indian Tribes Growing, Selling Marijuana. In new guidance to US Attorneys, the Justice Department is telling them not to prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on tribal lands, even in states that have not legalized it. It is unclear how many tribes will take up the offer; while some see pot sales as a source of potential revenue, others are strongly opposed to the use or sale of marijuana on their lands. The Justice Department will generally not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws on tribes that choose to allow it, as long as they meet eight federal guidelines, including that marijuana not be sold to minors and not be transported to areas that prohibit it.

Drug Testing

Michigan Welfare Drug Testing Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A two-bill package that would impose suspicion-based drug testing on some welfare recipients has passed the legislature and now awaits the signature of Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The bills would create a pilot drug testing program to begin by next October. Under the bills, welfare applicants would be screened, and if the screening suggests "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs, a drug test would be required. Although Republican sponsors said they were concerned about children, Republicans defeated a move to allow an appointed adult to receive funds for children if their parents are disqualified because of drug use.

International

Poll Finds a Majority of Spaniards Say Legalize Weed. Some 52% of Spaniards are ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new poll from the Foundation for Aid Against Drug Addiction. That's well above previous surveys from the same group conducted in 1999 and 2004. "There has been a development around the image of this drug, which could have contributed to an increase of a more cannabis-friendly population," the foundation noted.

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