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Ohio Marijuana Monopoly Madness: ResponsibleOhio and Its Foes [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Ohio may about to legalize marijuana, but not the way other states have done it. A constitutional amendment that would go before voters in November would create a virtual monopoly on commercial marijuana grows for the entire state. That's not sitting well with a number of Ohioans, including the Republican state legislature and a good number of Buckeye State legalization and medical marijuana activists. It's also leaving major national drug reform organizations deeply ambivalent.

The ResponsibleOhio initiative is almost certain to qualify for the ballot any day now. Its well-financed campaign has handed in more than 700,000 signatures to state officials, nearly twice the 305,000 valid voter signatures needed. Those officials have until later this week to verify the signatures. [Update: Monday, state officials said the initiative was 29,000 signatures short, but ResponsibleOhio has another 10 days to make up the shortfall and it says it will challenge the disqualified signatures at the state Supreme Court.]

ResponsibleOhio

The initiative allows adults 21 and over to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana and calls for a system of regulated and taxed marijuana production and sales. It even has provisions for medical marijuana. None of that is controversial.

But under ResponsibleOhio's initiative, commercial marijuana production can only take place at 10 sites in the state. The sites have already been allocated to 10 sets of investors, who have kicked in $1.7 million for the campaign so far and are prepared to spend $20 million or more convincing the public to vote for it.

The investors include a number of Ohio business interests -- real estate developers, venture capital firms, philanthropists, with nary a Cheech or a Chong among them -- as well as some home state big names who could sway public opinion. These include NBA legend Oscar "Big O" Robertson, Cincinnati-based fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (now with the Arizona Cardinals).

In return for their hoped-for voter-granted monopoly, the investor groups would pay a $100,000 fee and a 15% tax on their gross revenues, as well as other commercial fees. Critics have charged that the plan freezes out all but the initial investor groups, but ResponsibleOhio counters that there will be plenty of commercial opportunities in making and selling marijuana products.

While this written-in monopoly may seem strange to many, it's not going to seem so strange to Ohio voters. In 2009, they legalized gambling by approving a constitutional amendment that specified sites for four casinos owned by the companies backing the amendment.

ResponsibleOhio looks to have deep enough pockets to put on a full-scale, multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Estimates are that to win in California next year, legalizers will have to spend $10 million or so in advertising, but ResponsibleOhio is talking about spending $20 million in a much smaller media market, and it doesn't have to go begging for donors.

The momentum is there. The entire country is riding a wave of increasing support for marijuana legalization, and Ohio is no exception. An April Quinnipiac University poll last month had support at 53% (it also had narrow majorities for legalization in swing states Florida and Pennsylvania), up two points from the same poll a year earlier.

Strange Bedfellows

But ResponsibleOhio is facing a head-on challenge from the legislature, attacks from legalizers left out in the cold, and a more general discomfort with constitutionally-mandated monopolies.

Late last month, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any addition to the state constitution that created "a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel" to distribute a federally controlled substance. The proposed amendment specifies that if it passes, any initiative that conflicted with it -- i.e. the ResponsibleOhio initiative -- "shall not take effect."

If both initiatives passed, rest assured that lengthy legal battles would ensue, but in the meantime, marijuana legalization in Ohio would be dead in the water. While legislative leaders paid lip service to concerns about anti-competitiveness, the amendment is clearly designed to stop legalization and is the instrument of a body that has steadfastly refused to consider legalization for nearly 20 years.

That didn't stop some legalization supporters -- and ResponsibleOhio foes -- from applauding the move, and even encouraging it.

"We don't support the ResponsibleOhio initiative because we don't believe it achieves the goals of legalization, said Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP), which is campaigning to get its own legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot. "I testified in favor of the anti-monopoly amendment, and I believe it will pass and get more votes than ResponsibleOhio," he told AlterNet.

The forthrightly named Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio doesn't mind siding with the Republican legislature, either, said the group's leader, Aaron Weaver.

"It is very interesting that all these different parties have come together with the same purpose in mind, to stop the hijacking of our constitution by private interests," Weaver said. "It's very strange indeed, but the collaboration of different groups for a mutually beneficial and moral purpose, I think, is a good thing."

"The current system is actually better than their plan. It gives them a monopoly where only these 10 groups get the right to cultivate commercially, and that's bad policy for the state," Kavuru argued. "It creates an environment that allows a black market to thrive, and it doesn't eliminate arrests. The purpose of legalization is supposed to be to get rid of criminal arrests."

The ResponsibleOhio initiative would increase penalties on some cultivators and would leave people under 21 subject to arrest, Kavuru charged. He also attacked its medical marijuana provisions.

"It doesn't actually give any protection for patients and only says a commission 'may' implement a medical program," he said. Everything for recreational is 'shall.'"

Ohio Families CANN is also not satisfied with ResponsibleOhio's initiative, said Nicole Scholten, a spokesperson for the group, which seeks access to marijuana to treat sick children.

"We are wary of ResponsibleOhio's approach," she said. "We are not convinced it would yield the type and volume of medical cannabis that would be effective for our children. Legalization does not equal sustainable medicine. The medicine that would help our kids requires specific strains of cannabis and vast quantities. ResponsibleOhio's plan to have only ten grow sites is problematic. There is no guarantee these businesses would devote the grow space to the kind and volume of cannabis we need."

But another patient-activist organization that has tried unsuccessfully for years to get an initiative on the ballot, the Ohio Rights Group, is less negative. Its executive director, Jack Pardee, noted that the legislature has refused for nearly 20 years to even discuss marijuana legalization bills.

"We've been having a debate in our community about the merits of what the legislature is trying to do with this thing and, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with protecting Ohioans from economic forces," Pardee said. "ResponsibleOhio isn't perfect, but it has a lot of the pieces that ending prohibition needs to be successful."

National Drug Reform Groups Ambivalent

The divisions among Ohio activists are somewhat reflected by the national groups that have so far been the big players in marijuana legalization. None of them are directly involved with ResponsibleOhio -- it certainly doesn't need their fundraising abilities -- but they are watching with great interest and concern.

"It doesn't resemble our initiatives," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Mason Tvert. "We have not proposed such laws in the past, and it's not the type of law we would draft," he told AlterNet.

"It's up to Ohio voters to decide if this is the kind of system they want to replace marijuana prohibition with," said Tvert. "It would get the job done, but we think marijuana should be treated like alcohol, and there should be a system where there can be a lot of competition and different businesses out there producing this product."

And he had a word of advice to Ohio activists opposing ResponsibleOhio.

"If they want to end marijuana prohibition, they need to weigh their opposition to this initiative against the possibility of having to wait longer for a better initiative," Tvert said.

"A lot of legalizers, we feel like the movement has been hijacked by the money people," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But the bottom line for NORML is that we want to legalize marijuana," he told AlterNet.

"While we'd have a preference for the little or medium-sized guy, we're not that concerned about who gets rich off it," the movement veteran said. "We're about not treating marijuana users like criminals, and we can speed that process along by three or four or five years because some rich investors run their own initiative, if it actually legalizes pot smoking and dispensaries where they can buy, if they qualify for the ballot, we will support it even if it's not perfect."

Stroup took great umbrage with the legislature's move to block the initiative.

"That's a bad faith move by the legislature," he growled. "The reason we have the initiative process is because legislatures were not responsive to the will of the people, and now we have a case where the people are going around the legislature, and the legislature is going to try to go around the people."

Stroup prophesied high-stakes litigation if ResponsibleOhio wins at the ballot box, but its victory is nullified by passage of the legislature's initiative.

"That undermines the basic purpose of initiatives, and we have at least one legal opinion that nothing in that resolution would in any way affect the initiative if it were to pass," he said. "I hope the courts act in that case."

"We've fought for a long time to end marijuana prohibition for civil rights, social justice, public health, and public safety reasons, and to create a legal market," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "But to then have some folks come along trying to create a constitutionally-mandated oligopoly kind of sticks in everybody's craw."

DPA has worked and is working on legalization in a number of states, and was consulted in the drafting of the ResponsibleOhio initiative, but is not endorsing it. Nadelmann's ambivalence was indicative of the mixed feelings the measure is arousing among activists.

"The fact is, we have investors putting up $20 or $30 million to win this thing in a state that will be the center of national political attention next year -- no one else is going to do it in Ohio. There is a possibility the oligopoly provision could get knocked out. The best outcome would be for this initiative to win, and then get that knocked out," he said.

"Aside from the oligopoly provision, it's actually pretty good," Nadelmann continued. And after criticism of an earlier draft, "they were actually pretty solicitous, they added home grow, medical marijuana protections, and the distribution model is pretty good."

Who Will Be in the Driver's Seat?

But the ResponsibleOhio move also signals the emergence of monied interests whose deep pockets could leave activists and the drug reform movement on the sidelines -- and who may not share the same interests dear to the hearts of reformers.

"There's something similar going on in Michigan," Nadelmann noted, referring to an as-yet-to-filed initiative from the Michigan Responsibility Council, one of three groups planning legalization initiatives in the state right now. "And look at Arizona, there's a lot of industry funding there, and there's been hard negotiations between MPP and those guys."

"The influence of DPA, MPP, and other activists is going to diminish rapidly," he predicted. "This is going to be increasingly driven by industry, and a lot of competing interests within the industry. And as this evolves into legislative processes, other forces are going to come into play and certain players will be able to make their demands felt. Social justice concerns could get knocked out."

If Not ResponsibleOhio, Who, and When?

The unhappy Ohio legalization activists and other ResponsibleOhio critics say that if and when it is defeated, they can move forward with their own legalization plans. Given the legislature's recalcitrance, that means they would have to run their own initiative campaign.

They haven't been able to do that so far, and while some, such as OTEP's Kavuru, say they can do it now, others aren't so sure.

"We have access to a lot of money," Kavuru said. "And we have a real solid political team. We're in negotiations right now for significant funding, and it's much easier to raise money for a recreational initiative than a medical one, because people are also looking at it as an investment."

But ResponsibleOhio is here and now, and if it goes down, it remains to be seen if anyone else can actually get on the ballot.

"If this is defeated this year, I doubt any major funders would step in to play a role in 2016," said NORML's Stroup. "I understand. The people in Ohio feel they were doing a great grassroots effort and hear these rich guys came along and bought the space. But the Ohio activists so far haven't shown they can get the funding to do good surveys, let alone pay for signatures or a professional campaign. This year may be our chance to take a conservative state like Ohio and leapfrog it ahead on legalization. I'm not real comfortable with ResponsibleOhio, but I just want it legalized."

The fun is just beginning in Ohio.

Chronicle AM: Obama Visits Prison, OH Gov Okays Naloxone, Ohio Init Could Come Up Short,More (7/17/15)

A surprising analysis suggests the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative could come up short on signatures, Guam releases medical marijuana program draft regulations, Obama visits a federal prison, Ohio's governor okays naloxone over-the-counter, and more.

Pres. Obama delivers statement during prison visit (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Legalization Initiative Could Fall Short on Signatures, But Will Fight If It Does. Columbus's 10 TV is reporting that its analysis of signatures gathered to put the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative on the November ballot shows the initiative coming up 48,000 valid voter signatures short. That would be truly surprising, given that the group turned in 700,000 raw signatures and it only needs 305,000 valid ones to qualify. The group told 10 TV, however, that it could still collect signatures during a 10-day review period and that it could file legal challenges on signatures that were invalidated.

Michigan Democrat Will Introduce Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said today that support for legalization has reached critical mass and that he will introduce a bill to do just that. "You've got people on the left who are saying that people should not be having their lives ruined over something like marijuana and you've got people on the right who are saying marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government programs," said Irwin. "It makes sense from a public safety and public health perspective to bring that activity into the regulated space where we can make sure that consumers are protected. And we can also take the hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending on prosecuting marijuana offenders and direct those resources towards real criminals with real victims." There are also at least three groups working on legalization initiatives.

Medical Marijuana

Guam Releases Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations. The Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services has released draft rules for the island territory's medical marijuana program. Guamanians voted to allow medical marijuana in last November's elections. The rules must be approved by the legislature. Click on the link to read the draft rules.

Harm Reduction

Ohio Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Increase Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Access. Gov. John Kasich (R) Thursday signed into law a bill that will make the overdose reversal drug naloxone available over the counter. This is the third year in a row Kasich has signed a naloxone bill, each one more expansive than the one before. Two years ago, he authorized a pilot program for naloxone and last year, he signed a bill allowing friends and family members of drug users to carry the drug.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina Bill to Ban N-Bomb Heads to Governor's Desk. The General Assembly Thursday approved House Bill 341, which would classify the synthetic psychedelic NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, as an illegal controlled substance. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCroy (R). If he signs it, N-Bomb and its derivatives will become Schedule I controlled substances.

Criminal Justice

Obama Visits Federal Prison, Calls for Lesser Sentences for Drug Crimes. Wrapping up a week heavy on criminal justice, President Obama Thursday visited the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma, becoming the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. While there, he met with six drug prisoners and called for lesser sentences for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Big CA Legalization Init Coming Soon, Italian Legalization Bill Filed, More (7/16/15)

We're waiting for the big one to drop in California, there's marijuana arrest expungement news from Jamaica and Ohio, Colorado rejects medical marijuana for PTSD, Chris Christie talks crime and drug policy, and more.

Jamaica will expunge the records of people with minor ganja convictions. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Big California Legalization Initiative About to Drop. A handful of marijuana legalization initiatives have already been filed in the Golden State, but many observers have been waiting for the one from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and now the group has announced it will file its initiative within the next few weeks.

Ohio Officials Approve Initiative to Expunge Marijuana Convictions. The Ohio Ballot Board voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the Fresh Start Act for signature-gathering. The initiative would allow convictions to be expunged once marijuana is legal in the state. The initiative is another project of ResponsibleOhio, the people behind the controversial marijuana legalization initiative almost certainly headed to the ballot there this year.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Rejects Medical Marijuana for PTSD. Colorado health officials voted Wednesday against adding PTSD to the list of qualifying ailments for medical marijuana. They cited scant research on the issue. "We can't have physicians counseling people in favor of it because we don't have data to show it's correct," said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, one of the board members who voted no.

Hawaii Moves to Begin Licensing Dispensaries. After Gov. David Ige (D) signed a bill Tuesday allowing for eight dispensaries to operate in the state, state officials are moving forward with developing rules and regulations for the program. They say to they will begin accepting license applications early next year. The move comes 15 years after Hawaii became the first state to okay medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Connecticut Governor Signs Bill Aimed at Opiate Problems. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) Wednesday signed into law House Bill 6856, which is meant to combat opiate addiction and overdoses by increased prescription drug monitoring and increased access to naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal drug. Prescribers must now report each opioid prescription to the state's Prescription Monitoring Program within 24 hours instead of the previous seven days.

Criminal Justice

Chris Christie Calls for "Fresh Approach" on Criminal Justice. The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential contender today unveiled criminal justice reform proposals, including allowing nonviolent drug offenders a better shot at rehabilitation. He also emphasized "community policing" in his policy speech in the crime-ridden city of Camden. "As governor, there are few things I've worked on harder, or that I believe as strongly as this: Drug addiction, just like cancer, is an illness," Christie said. "Instead of settling for jail time every time, we need to give people the chance to get help," he said. "Our drug court program works, and we've opened a new front in the fight against drugs -- one that saves money, keeps people out of prison, and is just good policy generally. There's no reason we can't replicate this nationally, and as president this is something I'll absolutely make happen."

International

Colombia Outpaces Peru in Coca Production, UNODC Says. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that Colombia had overtaken Peru in the sowing of coca crops. That's mainly because Peru reported a 14% drug in the area under cultivation in the face of aggressive measures by the government of President Ollanta Humala. But Peru may still be the world's largest cocaine producer, because its crop is more mature and higher yielding.

Jamaican Justice Minister Signs Order to Expunge Minor Marijuana Convictions. Justice Minister Mark Golding signed the expungement order Wednesday. The move comes after the island nation decriminalized marijuana earlier this year. Now, possession of less than two ounces is no longer a crime. Before that, an estimated 300 people a week were getting criminal records and possible life-long stigma for possession arrests.

Italian Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Benedetto Della Vedova, a junior minister for foreign affairs, Wednesday introduced a bill that would legalize the possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana, allow for growing small quantities, and set up government-licensed marijuana retail outlets. The bill is cosponsored by more than 200 members of the country's 900-member parliament. The bill is supported by members of the governing Democratic Party and two opposition parties, the Left, Ecology and Freedom Party and the Five Star Movement.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: El Chapo Escapes from Mexican Prison, Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences, More (7/13/15)

More marijuana reform initiatives get filed, Wisconsin's governor modifies a food stamp drug test bill to make screening mandatory, the world's wealthiest drug lord breaks out of prison, and more. ;

Marijuana Policy

Florida Legalization Initiatives Filed. At least two marijuana legalization initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state this month. One would direct revenues generated by legalization to pay teacher salaries. Neither appears to be a serious, well-financed effort. They will need 680,000 valid voter signatures to make the 2016 ballot.

South Dakota Decriminalization Initiative Filed. A group of activists has filed an initiative to decriminalize the possession of an ounce of less of weed in the state. The effort is being led by South Dakotans Against Prohibition, and is being portrayed as providing protections to medical marijuana patients as well as recreational users. A medical marijuana initiative in the state is already in the signature gathering phase.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC Mayor Signs Into Law Bill With Harsh Civil Penalties for Selling Synthetics. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) last Friday signed into law a bill that imposes harsh penalties on retail outlets selling synthetic marijuana. The legislation gives the DC Metro Police immediate authority to close businesses found selling the drugs and gives the mayor the power to impose a $10,000 fine.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Modifies Food Stamp Drug Test Bill, Removes "Reasonable Suspicion" Requirement. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed his state budget into law Sunday, but not before making two changes in the part of the law that authorizes drug testing of food stamp recipients. The testing was limited to people whom state workers had "reasonable suspicion" were using drugs, but Walker removed that language, saying there shouldn't be limits on who it can drug test. That means the law will almost certainly face a constitutional challenge since similar suspicionless, mandatory drug testing laws have been overturned by the federal courts. Walker also removed language that would have provided free drug treatment to people who tested positive. He officially announced today that he is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for 46 Drug Offenders. President Obama announced today he has granted clemency to dozens of federal inmates, the vast majority of them sentenced under draconian crack cocaine laws. More than 30,000 federal prisoners have applied for clemency since the Obama administration issued a call for them to do so last year. Click on the title link for our feature story on this.

International

Chapo Guzman Breaks Out of Mexican Prison. In a huge embarrassment to the Mexican government, imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman tunneled his way to freedom out of the Almoloya de Juarez maximum security prison west of Mexico City Saturday night. This is the second time Guzman has broken out of a Mexican prison. In 2001, he escaped from another high-security prison and wasn't recaptured until last year. Guzman is likely the world's wealthiest drug trafficker. His cartel is responsible for tens of thousands of killings in Mexico's drug war in the past few years.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Chile Decriminalization Vote, Miami Beach Decriminalizes, CDC Heroin Warning, More (7/8/15)

A bill decriminalizing marijuana possession and allowing personal cultivation is moving in Chile, a bill regulating the medical marijuana industry is moving in California, the CDC issues another warning about heroin, Miami Beach is the latest South Florida community to decriminalize, and more.

Heroin overdoses nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013, according to the CDC. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Filed. Two separate marijuana reform initiatives have been filed with the secretary of state's office recently. They are ballot issues #7 and #8 on the official website. Ballot Issue #7 is the legalization initiative, submitted by a Glendive man who says he plans to bicycle the state to gather signatures. Ballot Issue #8 is the medical marijuana initiative. Both initiatives are now being reviewed by legislative services and must be okayed before signature gathering can begin.

Miami Beach Decriminalizes Possession. Miami Beach city commissioners voted unanimously today to approve an ordinance to fine those caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting and jailing them. Under the ordinance, police will have the option of issuing a $100 ticket to people caught with less than 20 grams, but could still arrest them at the officer's discretion. Miami-Dade County recently passed decriminalization, and Palm Beach is considering a similar move.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances. The Assembly Business and Professions Committee approved the medical marijuana regulation bill, Senate Bill 643, on Tuesday. The bill provides a statewide regulatory framework for the industry, and has already passed out of the Senate.

Opiates

CDC Again Sounds Alarm on Rising Heroin Use. In a report released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that heroin use in the US has grown at "an alarming rate," with overdose deaths doubling between 2011 and 2013. Heroin use is up among multiple demographic groups, but the biggest increases were among white people, women, and people with higher incomes and private insurance. "Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response -- to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin."

International

Chilean House Approves Decriminalization, Personal Cultivation Bill. The lower house of the Chilean congress has approved a measure that would decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use of up to 10 grams and allow people to grow up to six plants of their own. Now, the bill must be reviewed by a health committee before the lower house votes again on its specific elements. The bill would then go to the upper chamber.

Poll: BC Residents Say Legalize It! A new Insights West poll has support for marijuana legalization at 67% among adult residents. Support was even higher among young adults, with the 18-to-34 age bracket coming in at 72%. Click the link for more details.

Canadian Electronic Music Festival in Doubt After Offering Pill Testing Services. Just yesterday, we noted that the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival set for this weekend in Nova Scotia had taken the ground-breaking harm reduction step of offering pill testing services for attendees. But now there's a hitch: As a result of the pill testing plan, his insurance company underwriters have pulled its liability insurance, and now the festival may not be able to go on at all. Organizers are looking at their options.

Moroccan Head of State Rejects Legalizing Marijuana Cultivation. Head of state Abdelilah Benkirane said Tuesday his government will not allow the legalization of cannabis cultivation, and that those who claim differently are selling "illusions" to the country's hash farmers. Morocco is one of the world's leading hash producers. Opposition parties have called for the legalization of cultivation.

Chronicle AM: Iran Drug Executions Increasing, Feinstein Pressed on MedMJ, OH Pot Politics, More (7/7/15)

Midwest marijuana legalization initiatives make news, Sen. Feinstein feels some heat, some European countries keep giving Iran anti-drug aid despite a rising number of executions, California's governor signs a bill barring discrimination against medical marijuana patients in organ transplants, and more.

Sen. Feinstein is being urged to support medical marijuana. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Greens Endorse MILegalize Initiative. The Green Party of Michigan has endorsed the more grassroots of two competing Michigan legalization initiatives, the MILegalize initiative sponsored by the Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee. The Greens say they like the "craft beer" model in the initiative, as opposed to the "industrial" model adopted by the other active Michigan initiative this year.

ResponsibleOhio "Fresh Start Act" Initiative Certified by Attorney General. ResponsibleOhio, the same people bringing you the controversial "monopoly" marijuana legalization initiative, are also moving forward with an initiative that would expunge the criminal records of people with past marijuana convictions. Their Fresh Start Act initiative has been certified by Attorney General Mike DeWine. It must now be approved by the Ohio Ballot Board for review before signature gathering can begin. It is aiming at the 2016 election.

UFCW Endorses ResponsibleOhio Initiative. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) said Monday it is supporting the ResponsibleOhio legalization initiative. The UFCW has been organizing industry workers in medical marijuana and legal marijuana states for some years now.

Medical Marijuana

Senator Feinstein Gets Petition Demanding She Get on Board With Marijuana Reform. Marijuana reform advocates led by the Drug Policy Alliance today delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures from people "fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana" to her San Francisco office. They want her to chance her stance. "California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," said DPA's Amanda Reiman. "It is disappointing that Sen. Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

California Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed Assembly Bill 258, which will bar doctors and hospitals from denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients solely because they use it. Some patients have been denied life-saving organ transplants in the past. The new law goes into effect January 1.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Court Says Urine Drug Testing Rules Don't Apply to Hair Testing. In upholding the dismissal of a man who was fired after a hair follicle drug test came back positive, a state Superior Court judge ruled that regulations that restrict urine drug testing do not apply to hair drug tests, which can detect drug use for months into the past. The court conceded that the disparate protections offered against urine and hair drug testing create a "seemingly irrational inconsistency," but that "the task of changing the law lies with the legislature and not with the judiciary."

Harm Reduction

Maryland Congressman Calls for Price Cuts on Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug. US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is accusing the maker of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone of "taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland" by overcharging for the drug. On Tuesday, Cummings wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) urging him to reach a deal with the company to reduce the cost of the drug. "I believe the State of Maryland is being overcharged for a critical drug called naloxone that is used by first responders and medical personnel to reverse the life-threatening effects of heroin and other opioid overdoses, and I urge you to make sure that the company charging these prices is not allowed to continue taking advantage of the citizens of Maryland," Cummings wrote. Other states have managed to get discounts from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals after getting aggressive with the company.

Law Enforcement

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Increasingly Used for Minor Drug Raids. Documents made public today by the ACLU of Massachusetts show that SWAT teams in the state are increasingly used to undertake small-time drug raids. The ACLU filed suit against the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to force it to reveal the records. The records show that of 79 SWAT deployments between 2012 and 2014, 21 were for drug-related search warrants, but that only five resulted in any mention of drug seizures. "The drug hauls are not exactly Pablo Escobar-levels of seriousness," said ACLU's Kate Crockford, referring to the notorious Colombian drug lord. "In one case they found some pills. In another case they found some marijuana. It's important for local communities who pay those police department salaries to understand what's really going on here," she said.

International

Canadian Electronic Music Festival Organizers Will Offer Free Pill Testing. The Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia is set for this coming weekend, and beginning Friday, people arriving at the festival can submit small samples of their stashes to have them tested. Festival organizers say the move is an effort to reduce harm and overdoses.

European Countries Continue to Fund Iran's Drug War Despite Rampant Resort to Death Penalty. Iran Human Rights reports that nearly 400 people have been executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, accounting for nearly two thirds of all executions. That's not stopping the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and some European countries from continuing to fund Iran's anti-drug efforts. France has provided over a million dollars' worth of aid to the Anti-Narcotics Police, while Germany has contributed more than five million to UNODC projects to train and equip the police. Faced with pressure from campaigners such as the British nonprofit Reprieve, other European countries, including Denmark and Great Britain, have stopped such aid. "Even as Iran's execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for nonviolent offenses. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal," said Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's death penalty team. "It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions."

The Report Card: Grading the Presidential Candidates on Marijuana Policy [FEATURE]

This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Marijuana is already legal in Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon (as of Wednesday), and Washington. With legalization initiatives looming this year and next in states as diverse as Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Nevada, and Arizona, marijuana policy is most definitely on the agenda in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Candidates and presumed candidates from both parties have staked out a wide array of positions on the issue (although none have taken the bold step of actually advocating for legalization). Now, thanks to the Marijuana Policy Project, we have a scorecard to keep them all straight.

The pro-legalization advocacy group has released its Voters Guide to the 2016 Presidential Race, detailing the candidates' positions on marijuana policy and assigning them grades based on where they stand. The candidates were graded on actions they have taken and statements they have made indicating their support for ending pot prohibition, allowing legal access to medical marijuana and defending states' rights to set their own marijuana policies.

"Most Americans recognize that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and they think it should be made legal for adults," said MPP spokesperson Mason Tvert. "Voters should know which candidates support rolling back prohibition and which ones are fighting to maintain it. People are becoming increasingly wary of the federal government's role in our nation's marijuana policies."

Protecting the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies will be increasingly important in coming years, Tvert said, adding that, "Several states are likely to adopt new approaches to marijuana policy between now and when our next president takes office. She or he should be willing to work with Congress to ease the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. If states are to be our nation's laboratories of democracy, our next president needs to respect their right to experiment. They should also be committed to basing marijuana laws on science and evidence instead of ideology and politics."

While Democratic candidates found themselves in the middle of the road (with grades ranging from B to D), Republicans were all over the letter-grade spectrum, with Rand Paul pulling down an A- (it seems you'd have to actually support legalization to get an A grade from MPP), and two GOP candidates, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum getting flunked with Fs.

"Some of these guys who tout states' rights, fiscal responsibility, and getting the government out of people's private lives want to use federal tax dollars to punish adults for using marijuana in states that have made it legal," Tvert said. "They say using marijuana is immoral or just too dangerous to allow, but serve alcohol, a more dangerous substance, at their fundraisers. The hypocrisy is astonishing."

Here are the candidates, by party and grade.

Democrats

Lincoln Chafee, Grade: B+

The former Rhode Island governor signed a decriminalization bill into law in 2013 and has expressed a willingness to explore the potential benefits of regulating and taxing marijuana, but he wants to wait and see what happens in states that have adopted such laws.

Chafee on marijuana and drug policy:

"We'll see what comes out of the legislature. We're just still putting in the medical marijuana component and we'll certainly see what's happening in Colorado… Certainly the revenue is enticing for all governors. Somebody was saying to me back with the bad weather we've had back home, and all the potholes, we should have the revenue go to infrastructure. 'Pot for potholes.'" -- Huffington Post, Feb. 24, 2014

"I think it should be an international discussion over our drug policy, whether its winning or losing the war on drugs, and the destabilizing effect the illicit drug trade has […] It should be an international discussion: is this working?" -- YouTube, April 2013

Jim Webb, Grade: B+

The former Virginia senator and Reagan-era secretary of the Navy has come out for marijuana decriminalization and is an outspoken opponent of the war on drugs. As a senator, he introduced legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Webb on marijuana and drug policy:

[In response to a question about whether marijuana legalization would be part of his criminal justice reform efforts:] "I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country. And we'll get it to the people who have the credibility and the expertise and see what they come up with. [Asked specifically about regulating marijuana:] I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy. I've done a couple of very extensive hearings on this, so we'll wait to see what they say about that." -- Huffington Post, April 27, 2009

"He also shied away from supporting or opposing marijuana legalization, calling state laws 'an interesting national experiment' that should be allowed to play out further." -- Washington Post, March 10, 2015

Bernie Sanders, Grade: B

The insurgent Vermont senator has been a longtime critic of the war on drugs and supports medical marijuana, but has so far shied away from supporting pot legalization because of his concerns about other illegal drugs.

Sanders on marijuana and drug policy:

"I have real concerns about implications of the war on drugs. We have been engaged in it for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities."

"I'm going to look at the issue. It's not that I support it or don't support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I'll look at it. I think it has a lot of support and I'll be talking to young people and others about the issues. But there are two sides to a story." -- TIME, March 4, 2015

"The state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do. Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months." -- Reddit AMA, May 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Grade: B-

The Democratic favorite says she is open to more research on medical marijuana and that she supports Colorado and Washington's rights to set their own marijuana policies. She says she is interested in seeing the results of their experiment before taking a position for or against legalization.

Clinton on marijuana policy: "I don't think we've done enough research yet although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances."

"States are laboratories of democracy. I want to wait and see what the evidence is." -- CNN, June 2014

Martin O'Malley, Grade: C+

The former Maryland governor has repeatedly spoken out against using marijuana for any reason, including medical, but he also signed into law in 2014 bills that decriminalized possession and established a medical marijuana program.

O'Malley on marijuana and marijuana policy:

"I'm not much in favor of it. We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city. This drug, its use and its abuse can be a gateway." -- Mark Steiner radio show, Jan. 7, 2014

"As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety. I now think that [it] is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health." -- Washington Post, April 7, 2014

Joe Biden, Grade: D

The vice president has not formally announced, but is still considered a potential contender. Throughout his career, Biden has been a hardline drug warrior, spearheading legislation that created the drug czar's office and sponsoring the RAVE Act, as well as backing bills to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for federal marijuana offenses. He continues to oppose the legalization of marijuana, but has spoken in favor of reducing enforcement of federal marijuana policies.

Biden on marijuana and drug policy:

"I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources. That's different than [legalization]. Our policy for our administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy."

"I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I'm also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee], trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine, for example, crack and powder." -- TIME, Feb. 6, 2014

"I still believe it's a gateway drug. I've spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize." -- ABC News, Dec. 2010

Republicans

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gets the highest grade. (senate.gov)
Rand Paul, Grade: A-

The libertarian-leaning junior senator from Kentucky has been a vocal supporter of states' rights to set their own marijuana policies, as well as decriminalizing small-time pot possession. He is also a sponsor of a bill that would let states set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference, a bill that would let marijuana businesses gain access to the banking system, and a bill seeking drug sentencing reforms.

Paul on marijuana policy:

"I'm not for having the federal government get involved. I really haven't taken a stand on… the actual legalization. I haven't really taken a stand on that, but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't." -- Roll Call, Nov. 4, 2014

"If your kid was caught selling marijuana or growing enough that it's a felony conviction, they could be in jail for an extended period of time, they also lose their ability to be employable. So I want to change all of that. I want to lessen the criminal penalties on it."

Rick Perry, Grade: B

The former Texas governor opposes marijuana legalization, but supports states' rights to set their own marijuana policies and has voiced support for reducing penalties for pot possession.

Perry on marijuana and drug policy:

"After 40 years of the war on drugs, I can't change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that's what we've done over the last decade." -- Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2014

"I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment. States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, then people will decide where they want to live." … [S]tates should be allowed [to decide whether to legalize marijuana]." -- U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 23, 2014

Ted Cruz, Grade: C+

The junior senator from Texas opposes marijuana legalization, but believes states should have the right to set their own marijuana policies.

Cruz on marijuana and drug policy:

"I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the laboratories of democracy. If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative. I don't agree with it, but that's their right." -- CPAC, Feb. 26, 2015

"I don't support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution. I think individual states can choose to adopt it. So if Texas had it on the ballot, I'd vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies." -- Texas Tribune, March 24, 2015

"That's a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington State have come to a different conclusion. They've decided that they want to legalize it. I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision. One of the benefits of it… is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State." -- Hugh Hewitt Show, April 16, 2015

Carly Fiorina, Grade: C+

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO does not favor legalizing medical marijuana for any purpose, including medical use, but has recently supported decriminalization and the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies.

Fiorina on marijuana and drug policy:

"I remember when I had cancer and my doctor said, 'Do you have any interest in medicinal marijuana?'; I did not. And they said, good, because marijuana today is such a complex compound, we don't really know what's in it, we don't really know how it interacts with other substances or other medicines." -- Slate, Feb. 2015

"I'm opposed to Prop 19 and the legalization of marijuana. Sending billions of dollars in new tax revenues to Sacramento is exactly the problem… because Sacramento has a spending problem and will continue to spend the money we send them." -- 10 Questions, October 2010

"Drug addiction shouldn't be criminalized. We need to treat it appropriately." -- Washington Post, May 4, 2015

"I don't support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth. But I think Colorado voters made a choice. I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice." -- The Hill, June 9, 2015

George Pataki, Grade: C

The former New York governor does not support legalization for any reason, including medical, but has come out for the ability of states to set their own marijuana policies.

Pataki on marijuana policy: "I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but having said that I am a great believer that states are the laboratory of democracy." -- Bloomberg, Jan. 14, 2014

"So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they've had a referendum, the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it, except for two factors. One is we have to know that neighboring states or the rest of the country are not being subjected to illegal marijuana because of the free selling of it and marketing in those states, and second with respect to young people." -- HughHewitt.com, April 23, 2015

How many GOP contenders still view marijuana users.
Donald Trump, Grade: C

The businessman and television personality supported legalizing all drugs in 1990, but has since changed his tune. He opposes marijuana legalization, but supports access to medical marijuana and has suggested support for letting states decide their own pot policies.

Trump on marijuana and drug policy:

"I'd say [regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it's bad and I feel strongly about that. [In response to states' rights argument] If they vote for it, they vote for it. But, you know, they've got a lot of problems going on in Colorado right now. Big problems. But I think, medical marijuana, 100%." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

"We're losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars." -- Miami Herald, April 14, 1990

Lindsey Graham, Grade: C

The South Carolina senator opposes marijuana legalization, but supports legal access to medical marijuana. Graham has not taken a strong position on states' rights to set their own pot policies, and he voted against a bill designed to block the Justice Department from interfering in medical marijuana states (though he later tried unsuccessfully to switch his vote).

Graham on marijuana policy:

When asked whether he supports letting states decide or keeping marijuana illegal federally: "I don't see a real need to change the law up here [in DC]. If marijuana is half as bad as alcohol, that's probably enough reason to keep it illegal." -- Just Say Now, Aug. 10, 2010

"I'm against legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. But when it comes to medical marijuana and this [CBD] oil, I think politicians should embrace what makes sense. When it comes to issues like this, I don't want to be academic in thought. This is about people. This is about families with sick children. Why should someone in my position get in the way of helping a child, if you can reasonably and logically do it?" WBTV, Feb. 24, 2014

Bobby Jindal, Grade: C

The Louisiana governor has offered limited support for medical marijuana, but opposes legalization and does not support states' rights to set their own policies. Just last week, he refused clemency for a black man sentenced to 13 years in prison for possessing two joints, saying he hadn't served at least 10 years. As a member of Congress, he voted against measures trying to block federal interference in medical marijuana states in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Jindal on marijuana policy:

"I don't think anyone should be legalizing marijuana, I think that's a mistake. When it comes to the issue of medical marijuana, I've said as long as it's done under tight restrictions, I can be okay with that." -- ABC News, Feb. 26, 2015

[When asked if he would "bring down the hammer" on pot stores in states with legalization laws] "I don't think you can ignore federal law. Federal law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be enforced." -- Washington Times, April 1, 2015

John Kasich, Grade: C

The sitting Ohio governor is "totally opposed" to marijuana legalization, including for medical purposes, but would allow states to set their own marijuana policies.

"In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country." -- HughHewitt.com, April 21, 2015

"[The] answer is, no, I am not in favor of [medical marijuana]." -- WLWT, March 19, 2014

"On medical marijuana, doctors that I know tell me we don't need that, there are other ways to [treat pain]." -- OhioCapitalBlog, March 30, 2012

Jeb Bush, Grade: D

The former Florida governor is a long-time drug warrior who sits on the advisory board of the Drug Free America Foundation, a radical anti-pot group. He opposes marijuana legalization for any purposes, but has suggested states have the right to set their own pot policies.

Bush on marijuana policy: "I thought [legalizing marijuana in Colorado] was a bad idea, but states ought to have that right to do it. I would have voted 'no' if I was in Colorado." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

Mike Huckabee, Grade: D

The former Arkansas governor and Fox News host opposes marijuana legalization for any purpose, including medical use.

Huckabee on marijuana policy:

"You know, I don't support the idea of legalizing marijuana, so I want to be honest about that. I don't think that there are as many wonderful things to come from it as there are some dangers to come from it. You know, if they're targeting people [who use marijuana for medical purposes], I don't know if that makes good sense. But I wouldn't go and say, 'You shouldn't follow the law.'" [He is then asked whether he would stop the federal government's raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, to which he responds:] "Probably not." -- C-SPAN, January 2008

"I think the question is would I favor the legalization [of medical marijuana] at a federal level. And until there's some stronger scientific evidence I'm unlikely to do that. I don't support the idea of legalizing marijuana." -- NH Marijuana Policy Initiative, October 2007

"Those who argued that legalizing marijuana would result in a boom in tax revenues have some preliminary proof… But at what cost? The money is earmarked for youth prevention services, substance abuse treatment and public health. But what is a young person supposed to think when the state says, 'Don't do drugs… even though everyone around you is… and the same authority figures who tell you it's bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it'?" -- Facebook post, March 13, 2014

Ben Carson, Grade: D

The author and retired neurosurgeon, a hero of social conservatives, rejects marijuana legalization and cites the discredited "gateway theory" for doing so, but has expressed some openness toward medical marijuana.

Carson on marijuana policy:

"I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful. But recognize that marijuana is what's known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs -- sometimes legal, sometimes illegal -- and I don't think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we're gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity and you know, it's just, we're changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because, you know, it's taboo. It's politically incorrect. You're not supposed to talk about these things." Fox News, Jan. 2, 2014

Marco Rubio, Grade: D

The young Florida senator staunchly opposes marijuana legalization, but has expressed some support for medicinal use of non-psychoactive forms of medical marijuana (CBD cannabis oil). He has wobbled on the states' rights issue.

Rubio on marijuana policy:

"If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don't have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to." -- Tampa Bay Times, July 30, 2014

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced." -- ABC News, May 15, 2014

"The bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that's legal is not good for the country, I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that." -- Yahoo! News, May 19, 2014

[Spokesman]: "Senator Rubio believes legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a bad idea, and that the states that are doing it may well come to regret it. Of course, states can make decisions about what laws they wish to apply within their own borders." -- Politico, Jan. 31, 2015

"I'm against the legalization of marijuana." -- C-SPAN, Feb. 27, 2015

[When asked if he would enforce federal law and shut down regulation in Colorado:] "Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don't agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don't have a right to write federal policy as well. It is, I don't believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal." -- Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, April 14, 2015

Scott Walker, Grade: D

The Wisconsin governor opposes either decriminalization or legalization because marijuana is a "gateway" drug, but did sign a limited bill allowing for the use of non-psychoactive CBD cannabis oil by children.

Walker on marijuana policy:

"Now there are people who abuse (alcohol), no doubt about it, but I think it's a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana." -- Huffington Post, Feb. 13, 2014

"From my standpoint, I still have concerns about making it legal. I understand from the libertarian standpoint, the argument out there. I still have concerns. I'm not, unlike the President, I still have difficulty visualizing marijuana and alcohol in the same vein." -- CNN, Jan. 30, 2014

[Discussing a Wisconsin county sheriff who shares his position on marijuana legalization:] "Even there, the Democrat sheriff said to me last year when this issue came up, 'Whatever you do, please do not sign the legalization of marijuana.' This was a guy who spent his whole career in law enforcement. He was liberal on a whole lot of other issues. But he said it's a gateway drug." -- Wisconsin State Journal, March 31, 2015

Chris Christie, Grade: F

The New Jersey governor not only opposes marijuana legalization, but has spoken out repeatedly against states that have legalized it. He opposed the New Jersey medical marijuana law, which was passed before he became governor, and has hampered its effectiveness with strict limitations he has imposed.

Christie on marijuana policy:

"[Marijuana legalization]'s not gonna come while I'm here… See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there's head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it's just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there's no tax revenue that's worth that." -- International Business Times, July 25, 2014

[In response to the question,"If you were president, how would you treat states that have legalized marijuana?"] "Probably not well. Not well, but we'll see. We'll have to see what happens." -- Huffington Post, June 20, 2014

[When asked if he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized and regulated marijuana:] "Absolutely, I will crack down and not permit it." …

"States should not be permitted to sell it and profit [from legalizing marijuana]." -- Huffington Post, April 14, 2015

Rick Santorum, Grade: F

The former US senator from Pennsylvania rejects marijuana legalization for any purpose, does not believe states have the right to set their own pot policies, and supports enforcing federal drug laws even in states that have voted to legalize it.

Santorum on marijuana and drug policy:

"I think Colorado is violating the federal law. And if we have controlled substances, they're controlled substances for a reason. The federal law is there for a reason, and the states shouldn't have the option to violate federal law. As Abraham Lincoln said, you know, states don't have the right to wrong." -- HughHewitt.com, April 16, 2015

"The federal government does have a role in making sure that drug use -- that states don't go out and legalize drugs. That there are drugs that are hazardous to people, that do cause great harm to the individual as well as society to the whole. And the federal government has a role in making sure those drugs are not in this country and not available and that people who use them illegally are held accountable. Ideally states should enforce these laws but the federal government has a role because it is a public health issue for the country." -- Santorum campaign event, Jan. 9, 2012

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Oregon Pot Sales Could Start in October; MT & NM Forfeiture Reforms in Effect, More (7/3/15)

Oregon is working to expedite the beginning of legal pot sales, Rand Paul rakes in the campaign cash at a pot industry confab in Denver, asset forfeiture reforms go into effect in Montana and New Mexico, law enforcement naloxone access goes into effect in Virginia, Colombia's coca crop jumps, and more.

Coca cultivation and potential cocaine production jumped last year in Colombia. (deamuseum.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Legislature Okays Retail Marijuana Sales Beginning October 1. With a 40-19 vote in the House Thursday, the legislature has sent a bill temporarily allowing tax-free marijuana sales through existing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin October 1. Gov. Kate Brown (D) has not indicated whether she will sign it. If she doesn't, sales wouldn't begin until sometime next year.

Rand Paul Raises At Least $120,000 at Marijuana Industry Fundraiser in Denver. The Republican presidential contender pulled in the campaign cash at a private fundraising event at the National Cannabis Industry Association's Cannabis Business Summit. At least 40 people paid a minimum of $2,700 each to take part, and the Marijuana Policy Project also kicked in another $15,000. This is the first time a major presidential candidate has taken big money from the pot industry.

Asset Forfeiture

Montana, New Mexico Asset Forfeiture Reforms Now in Effect. Both states passed reform bills earlier this year, and they went into effect July 1. The Montana law requires a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can proceed. The New Mexico law is even tougher. It abolished civil asset forfeiture outright. The New Mexico law also requires that all seizures go into the general fund, preventing them from being used as a law enforcement slush fund.

Harm Reduction

Virginia Law Allowing Cops to Carry Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Now in Effect. A series of bills approved by the General Assembly this year dealing with heroin and prescription opiate use went into effect July 1, including a provision that allows police officers to carry the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone. More than 3,000 Virginians have died of heroin overdoses in the past five years.

International

Big Increase in Colombian Coca Crop Last Year. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that Colombian coca cultivation jumped 44% last year, to about 430,000 acres. Potential cocaine production jumped from 290 tons in 2013 to 442 tons last year, an increase of 52%. Colombian officials said the increase showed the ineffectiveness of aerial eradication, which Colombia halted earlier this year after a UN agency linked the herbicide used in the spraying to cancer in humans.

Thai Anti-Drug Officials Prepare to Drug Test Entire Village. All 500 residents of the community of Suan Son Soi 9 are set to be drug tested next Friday after the Narcotics Suppression Bureau said recent inspections had found a seven-year-old child already using drugs and a mother who fed her infant child the mild stimulant drug kratom mixed with water.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: Denver Activists Want Pot Social Clubs, Vancouver Cannabis Day Clashes, More (7/2/15)

Marijuana legalization comes with some additional sentencing reforms in Oregon, Denver activists roll out a pot social club initiative, Louisiana becomes the latest medical marijuana state, Vancouver cannabis clashes, and more. 

Cops and weed lovers squared off at Vancouver's Cannabis Day. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Governor Signs Legalization Implementation Law, Includes Sentencing Reform. Gov. Kathleen Brown Tuesday signed into law House Bill 3400, an omnibus bill designed to implement the Measure 91 legalization initiative approved by voters last November. In addition to implementing legalization, the new law reduces most marijuana felonies to misdemeanors or lesser felonies with significantly reduced sentences. These changes allow eligible persons with prior marijuana convictions to have their convictions set aside, sentences reduced, and records sealed. Click on the link for more details.

Denver Public Consumption Initiative Rolls Out. Some of the same folks who brought marijuana legalization to Colorado are now rolling out a Denver municipal initiative that would allow for limited public consumption of the weed. City officials today approved the final language for the measure, which would allow social use in businesses that choose to allow it. The initiative needs 4,700 valid voter signatures by September to qualify for the November ballot. Click on the link to read the initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) Monday signed into law Senate Bill 143, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical use. The law foresees an extensive regulatory process to select and supervise a state-authorized grower and 10 licensed distributors, but some advocates are concerned that the prescribing language will make the law meaningless. The DEA will pull prescribing privileges from doctors who prescribe marijuana, which is why other states say doctors can recommend it. The bill originally called for recommendations, but the language was changed at the behest of social conservative groups in the state.

Drug Policy

Jim Webb Talks Serious Drug Policy Reform. The former Navy secretary and US senator from Virginia formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Earlier this week, speaking before the National Sheriff's Association Conference, Webb suggested he supported decriminalizing drug use. "Just as in mental health issues, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to put someone in jail when they have a disease, when they have an illness, a physical illness," Webb said Tuesday. "There've got to be better ways for us to approach the issues of drug use in America. We didn't make cigarettes illegal," said Webb. "We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm."

International

After City Vows Crackdown, Clashes Mar Vancouver's Cannabis Day. The pro-pot event organized by Vancouver's first couple of cannabis, Marc and Jodie Emery, had gone on peacefully for two decades, attracting thousands to downtown Vancouver to celebrate the herb. But this year, the city tried to block the event, and when Cannabis Day rolled around, police were out in force. When they tried to arrest someone for allegedly selling pot to minors, a fracas broke out, with police deploying pepper spray and physical force. Four people ended up being arrested, and angry crowd trailed police down the street, blocking an intersection. "I’ve never seen the cops act so violent," said Jeremiah Vandermeer, a Cannabis Day organizer and editor-in-chief of Cannabis Culture magazine. "I’m shocked and appalled. This is horrifying behavior from the police, I’ve never seen anything like this," Vandermeer said. 

 (This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: OR Legalizes, Miami Decriminalizes, CT Defelonizes, More (7/1/15)

New laws went into effect today, legalizing pot in Oregon, legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota, legalizing CBD cannabis oil in Wyoming, Miami decriminalizes pot possession, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana is Now Legal in Oregon. The Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative approved by Oregon voters last November went into effect as of 12:01 a.m Pacific Time today. That means that people 21 and over can now legally possess up to eight ounces of weed at home and grow up to four plants. Only one ounce may be possessed in public. Public consumption remains illegal. But you won't be able to go to the marijuana store just yet. Sales are currently set to begin next year, although there is a chance the legislature could act to move up that date. 

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana Reform Bill Into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) Tuesday signed into law a bill that rejiggers parts of the state's marijuana legalization plan. The new law replaces the existing three-tier tax structure and replaces it with a 37% retail tax. The law also directs the state to share pot tax revenues only with cities and counties that allow sales in a bid to encourage them to do so.

Wyoming Governor Creates Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Matt Mead (R) announced Tuesday that he is creating a council to assess the impact of marijuana use. The move comes as Wyoming activists plan a legalization initiative that could go before voters next year.

Miami Decriminalizes. The Miami-Dade County commission Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $100 civil citations to people possessing up to 20 grams of pot. Police could still arrest them, though. Police officials said they will have to develop a policy on when a ticket is appropriate.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Governor Will Sign Dispensary Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) has released a list of bills he intends to veto, and the dispensary bill is not on it. That bill, House Bill 321, will initially allow up to 16 dispensaries, to be operated by eight medical marijuana businesses. It comes 15 years after the state became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Minnesota—But You Can't Smoke It. The state's new medical marijuana law went into effect Wednesday, with people lining up at the Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis as it opened its doors shortly after midnight. The state's law is very restrictive and highly regulated, and does not allow for use of smokeable marijuana as medicine.

Wyoming CBD Cannabis Oil Law Goes Into Effect. A new law allowing seizure patients to use CBD cannabis oil went into effect Wednesday. But the state health department hasn't yet created patient registration cards, leaving patients uncertain about their legal status. The department says it is working on it. The measure was House Bill 32.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC City Council Passes Measure Toughening Synthetic Drug Penalties. The council Tuesday approved emergency legislation that allows DC Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier to shutter for four days any business caught selling synthetic drugs. The businesses could also face a $10,000 fine for a first offense and loss of their business licenses for a second one.

Sentencing

Connecticut Drug Sentencing Reforms Pass Legislature. The legislature gave final approval Monday to a bill that reduces most drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Under current law, drug possession can garner up to seven years in prison. A mandatory minimum two-year sentence for drug possession in a school zone is also being eliminated. The law will go into effect October 1. 

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