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Bills Filed in DC Today Are "Path to Marijuana Reform" [FEATURE]

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

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus flexed its muscles Thursday as members of Congress filed a package of bills aimed at creating a "path to marijuana reform" at the federal level and protecting and preserving marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

Two Oregon politicians, Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) led the charge, announcing a bipartisan package of three bills, including a marijuana legalization bill reintroduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as a pair of bills aimed at cleaning up "collateral issues" such as taxes, regulation, banking, asset forfeiture, descheduling, research, and protection for individuals.

"The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business," Wyden said in a statement. "This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard."

The three bills in the package have not yet been assigned bill numbers, but are:

The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act) — Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; impose an excise tax regime on marijuana products; allow for the permitting for marijuana businesses; and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The Small Business Tax Equity Act — Create an exception to Internal Revenue Code section 280E that would allow businesses compliant with state laws to claim deductions and credits associated with the sale of marijuana. Currently, under 280E, people and businesses cannot claim deductions or credits for the sale of Schedule I or Schedule II substances. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is a cosponsor of Wyden’s Senate bill and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act — Remove federal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses complying with state law; ensure access to banking, bankruptcy protection, research and advertising; expunge the criminal records for certain marijuana-related offenses; end requirement for residents of marijuana-legal states to take a marijuana drug test for positions in the federal civil service; and ease barriers for medical marijuana research.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (wikimedia)
The three-bill package is just the latest pot law reform effort in Congress this year. At least five other bills have already been filed, and lawmakers are also planning to reintroduce the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocked the Justice Department from funding enforcement efforts against state-legal medical marijuana programs, and the McClintock-Polis amendment, which would similarly block enforcement against state-legal adult use programs. That later amendment came up just eight votes short last year.

The moves come against a backdrop of increasing acceptance of marijuana and marijuana legalization. Twenty-nine states now allow marijuana for qualified patients and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use. Public opinion polls now consistently show pot legalization with majority support; the latest came this week when the General Social Survey pegged support for legalization at 57% in 2016, up five points from just two years earlier.

Groups supporting marijuana legalization pronounced themselves pleased.

"The first time introduction of this particular piece of legislation in the US Senate is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, "With marijuana legalization being supported by 60% of all Americans while Congress’ approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country’s disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics."

Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
"This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws," Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it."

"If we are truly going to move our nation towards sensible marijuana policies, the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act is paramount. Annually, 600,000 Americans are arrested for nothing more than the possession of small amounts of marijuana and now is the time for Congress to once and for all end put an end to the national embarrassment that is cannabis prohibition," said Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director. "Passing this legislation would end the current conflict between state and federal laws and allow the states to implement more sensible and humane marijuana policies, free from the threat of federal incursion."

Not everybody was happy. Former White House drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, who now heads the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Cannabist that more marijuana legalization would have negative consequences.

"While we don’t want to see folks locked up or given criminal records for smoking pot, we support federal laws against marijuana," Sabet wrote in an e-mail. "We need to end, not expand the special interest big marijuana lobby. We can’t ignore the fact that today’s legalized marijuana — and the accompanying industry — is damaging to public health. States that have legalized marijuana continue to see a black market for the drug, increased rates of youth drug use, continued high rates of alcohol sales and interstate trafficking."

But Sabet's is increasingly a lone voice in the wilderness.

Chronicle AM: GA CBD Bill Advances, SD MedMJ and Pot Legalization Inits Pass Early Hurdle, More... (3/29/17)

South Dakota activists hope the third time's the charm when it comes to medical marijuana initiatives, a Georgia CBD expansion bill advances, the Oklahoma Supreme Court slaps down former Attorney General (now EPA head) Scott Pruitt over medical marijuana ballot language, and more.

Will South Dakota ever approve medical marijuana? Voters could have another chance in 2018. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Get Attorney General Approval. State Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) has provided required attorney general explanations for two proposed initiatives. A marijuana legalization initiative would allow the possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to five plants, as well as taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, while a medical marijuana initiative would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow a minimum of six plants. The initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and both need 13,871 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Restrictive Florida Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. While a half-dozen competing measures aim to address the state's voter-approved medical marijuana system, the most restrictive measure advanced in the House on Tuesday. House Bill 1397 would limit growers to the seven currently permitted and bans smoking, vaping, and edibles. It moved out of the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, but faces two more committee votes before heading for the House floor. None of the five Senate bills addressing medical marijuana have yet had a hearing.

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Clears House. The House voted 167-4 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 16, which would add six new qualifying conditions for the use of cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette's Syndrome, and Alzheimer's. The state Senate approved the bill last month.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Says Former Attorney General Wrongly Changed Initiative Ballot Question Wording. Former state Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), now head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, changed the ballot title for a medical marijuana initiative in a way that would mislead voters. The original ballot question read:  "A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes," but Pruitt changed that to: "This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified." Now, the original language for the 2018 initiative has been restored.  

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday approved Senate File 446, which would bar the seizure of property valued at less than $5,000 unless there was a prior criminal conviction. The measure also increases the standard of proof required for asset forfeiture from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence." The bill is now in the House, where it must advance by a committee this week to survive.

Law Enforcement

Arizona Senator, Congresswoman File Federal Bill to Increase Penalties for Border "Spotters." US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) have introduced the "Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act," which would toughen penalties on "spotters" who warn drug and human smugglers about the position of Border Patrol surveillance or officers. The bill would subject such people to up to 10 years in federal prison. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website. 

Chronicle AM: American College of Physicians Says Addiction Not a Moral Failing, More... (3/28/17)

A leading doctors' group comes out for a progressive approach to opioid addiction, new research suggests medical marijuana can reduce opioid-related emergencies and overdoses, the Tennessee legislature slaps down pot decriminalization in Memphis and Nashville, and more.

The ACP sees an opioid crisis and has some progressive approaches. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Bill to Block Municipal Decriminalization Passes Legislature. After the state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, passed municipal marijuana decriminalization ordinances, the legislature has struck back. The Senate on Monday approved House Bill 173, which bars cities in the state from crafting marijuana penalties lesser than state law. The measure passed the House last week and now head's for the governor's desk.

Medical Marijuana

Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds. A new study reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence finds that in states with medical marijuana, hospitalization rates for opioid pain pill dependence and abuse dropped by nearly a quarter (23%), while opioid overdose rates dropped by 13%. Researchers had expected to see an increase in marijuana-related visits. "Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers," said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Maine Bill Would Make Medical Marijuana Users Eligible for Organ Transplants. Legislators heard powerful testimony from patients removed from life-saving organ transplant lists because they used marijuana as they considered Legislative Document 764 Monday. The bill would targets the Maine Medical Center, the only transplant center in the state, whose transplant policy states that "use of prescribed or recreational marijuana by any route of administration is absolutely prohibited." No vote was taken, and the bill is scheduled for more hearings next month.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

American College of Physicians Calls for Opioid Addiction to Be Treated as Chronic Condition, Not Moral Failing. In a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians released a comprehensive set of public policy recommendations for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders that calls for treating addiction as a treatable chronic condition, not a moral failing or criminal activity. The guidelines call for expanded access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and opioid maintenance therapies, as well as urging physicians to avoid opioids as first-line treatments for most chronic pain and to limit opioids for acute pain to the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. And they suggest that it is time to consider drug decriminalization or legalization: "Stakeholders should assess the risks and benefits of removing or reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent offenses involving illicit drugs."

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalization mid-2018?, Christie Named "Drug Commissioner," More... (3/27/17)

Canada says it will legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018; Chris Christie will be named White House "drug commissioner," Illinoisans are ready to legalize weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66% if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The poll comes days after legislators filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353.

Michigan Legalizers Release 2018 Initiative Draft. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has released the latest draft of the cannabis legalization initiative the group hopes to put to voters in November 2018. Under the draft, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow up to 12 plants, and marijuana commerce would be taxed and regulated. An initiative campaign last year came up just short in signature gathering.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Recreational Weed. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) rolled out Senate Bill 302 last Friday. The bill would allow for an early start to recreational marijuana sales by allowing existing dispensaries to sell to non-patients before the January 1, 2018 deadline set in last fall's voter-approved ballot initiative. The move is aimed at stamping out the black market and allowing the state to get tax revenues. A similar move is afoot at the state Department of Taxation.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Democrats File Pair of Heroin Bills. Some three dozen Democratic General Assembly members gathered last Friday to announce a pair of bills aimed at fighting rising heroin overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 1060, the Start Talking Maryland Act, would require drug education programs to address the high lethality of fentanyl and colleges that teach medical providers to include addiction treatment education. Senate Bill 967, the Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish 10 heroin crisis centers around the state, as well as easing access to buprenorphine and naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Legislature Gives Final Approval to Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The House had approved the bill earlier, but had to have a final concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

New Mexico Bill That Would Have Directed Seized Funds to Cops Dies. A bill that would have diverted seized assets from the state general fund and given them to law enforcement agencies handling the cases has died in the House, and the cops are unhappy. Senate Bill 202 had passed the Senate unanimously, but couldn't get out of the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm utterly disgusted," said Pecos Valley Drug Task Force Commander James McCormick. "That's just takes away another avenue we have to thwart drug dealing. The money we used to get, we don't have any more."

Drug Policy

Jared Kushner's White House "SWAT Team" Will Include Chris Christie as Drug Commission Chair. The White House "SWAT team" to be led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and aimed at streamlining policy-making will include an official drug commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The commission will emphasis combating opioid abuse, a favorite theme for Trump.

Law Enforcement

New Hampshire Senate Approves Funding More Troopers to Fight Cross-Border Drugs. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to spend nearly $4.5 million over the next two years to hire five new state troopers to wage war on the state's opioid epidemic by targeting traffic from Massachusetts, expand the "Granite Hammer" program counts to local law enforcement, and pay for overtime for specialized enforcement units such as the State Police and Narcotics Investigation Unit. The measure, Senate Bill 131, is now headed for the House, where it is expected to pass.

NYPD Cop Who Killed Ramarley Graham Quits. Graham, 18, was shot and killed in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste after he fled into his own apartment bathroom and was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down a toilet. Haste avoided criminal charges for the killing, but a departmental trial found him guilty of violating department policies and he was facing firing when he decided to turn in his badge and gun.

International

Canada Will Legalize Marijuana By July 1, 2018. The governing Liberals will announce legislation next month to legalize marijuana, with the new law set to go into effect on Canada Day -- July1 -- next year. The legislation will set 18 as the age limit for legal use and set up a legal, regulated, and taxed system of marijuana commerce. People who want to grow their own will be limited to four plants. [Update: The government's point man on legalization has called this date "highly speculative." Hat tip: Marijuana Moment.]

Legal Marijuana: The Sky is (Probably) Not Falling [FEATURE]

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

Barrels of ink have been spilled over the prospect that the Trump administration could attempt to turn back the clock when it comes to legal marijuana, but for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth out there, marijuana industry insiders, advocates, and activists don't seem all that worried.

Jeff Sessions loathes marijuana, but is going after it the best use of DOJ resources? (senate.gov)
"I don't think there's any more reason to be scared than to be hopeful at this point," said Mason Tvert, Denver-based communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The administration has not changed its marijuana policy, and there is reason to believe it may maintain the existing policy or adopt a similar one that respects states' laws regulating marijuana."

"Marijuana is one of the least of my concerns with the Trump administration," said Dale Gieringer, coauthor of the pioneering 1996 Prop 215 medical marijuana initiative and long-time head of California NORML. "That's the first time I've been able to say that, but I just don’t see where there's any percentage in them going after marijuana. The polls are on our side, and they can't enforce the law."

The industry, too, seems to think that there's not really that much to fear from the Trump administration.

"We are in a posture of cautious optimism," said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). "We're definitely not taking anything for granted -- it's quite clear that Sessions has really strong personal opposition to the industry -- but we are encouraged by the intense pushback, not just from the industry, but from elected officials, regulators, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. That is probably the most powerful signal to the Justice Department that dramatic changes to current policy would cause them a lot of problems."

West pointed to the strong reaction from state officials in marijuana-legal and medical marijuana states, as well as support from federal lawmakers and not just Democrats. She cited Nevada US Sen. Dean Heller as an example of a Republican lawmaker siding with the industry over the administration.

"They are speaking up because the industry and individual businesses and consumers have spoken up as their constituents and taught them about the industry and what we stand far and why we deserve respect from the federal government," she said.

And the marijuana money people appear largely unperturbed, too. In a report released Thursday, Arcview Market Research projected that the industry is going to continue to boom regardless of what happens in Washington, with revenues of nearly $7 billion this year and an astounding projected annual growth rate of 27% through 2021.

"While the uncertainty created by the mixed signals coming out of the administration may cause a temporary dip in some valuations of cannabis companies and some more risk-averse institutional investors and multinational companies may continue to stay on the sidelines, it won't impact the growth of the market much at all," said Troy Dayton, CEO of Arcview Market Research. "No matter what the administration does, states will continue to issue cannabis licenses to a long line of applicants and licensed cannabis outlets will continue to have long lines of consumers ready to purchase this product from regulated establishments."

Maintaining the Status Quo

Legal marijuana could be a $7 billion industry by 2021. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half the states and adult recreational use is legal in eight, including the entire West Coast. Some early enforcement actions notwithstanding, the Obama administration largely turned a blind eye to state-legal but federally-illegal marijuana. The Obama Justice Department adhered to the Cole memorandum, a 2013 "guidance" to federal prosecutors that essentially limited them to going only after legal marijuana operations that crossed specified lines: selling to minors, diverting product to non-legal states, being involved in violence or other trafficking, and the like.

Medical marijuana states at least are also protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-compliant medical marijuana operations. A similar measure, the McClintock-Hollis amendment, would have extended that same shield to the adult-legal states, but came up just short in the last Congress. Both amendments will be offered again this year.

"Jeff Sessions doesn't like marijuana -- that much is clear -- but that's not the question," MPP's Tvert argued. "The question is whether he believes limited federal resources should be used to interfere in state marijuana laws. As of right now, there's no reason to believe that's the case."

Tvert pointed to Sessions' seeming acceptance of the Cole memo, as well as a memo Sessions sent to federal prosecutors last month telling them to go after "the worst of the worst" and violent crime.

"State licensed and regulate marijuana businesses are by no means violent or the 'worst of the worst,'" Tvert noted. "They want to go after cartels and violent criminals and focus on serious crime, so why force marijuana back into the underground market?"

"President Trump said states should be able to determine own marijuana policies, and he also had strong support for legal access to medical marijuana, and we haven't heard anything new from him on it," said Tvert. "But again, it's not a question of the president's personal views, but of what the federal laws are and the realities of enforcement. Sessions has said on multiple occasions that the federal government cannot effectively enforce federal prohibition in states where it is legal."

The view was not quite as sanguine from Washington, DC, where national NORML has its offices.

"As far as the industry goes, even the threat of a crackdown by the Justice Department has a chilling effect," said Justin Strekal, NORML political director and lobbyist. "While medical marijuana is protected under Farr-Rohrabacher, the adult use economy has no such protections -- at least for now."

"The Cole memo is just a piece of paper," Strekal said, "and there is nothing stopping Sessions from just throwing it away, as the Heritage Foundation has called for him to do. But the Justice Department has no way to force states to recriminalize marijuana in decrim or legal states. The worst case would be that the adult use states are rolled back to a situation where there is no way to have a legal distribution system, but local law enforcement is not going to be enforcing federal marijuana prohibition."

Where apprehension about the direction of Trump administration pot policy is having a real impact right now is in causing politicians to think twice about legalization in states that are considering it, Strekal said.

"We're hearing feedback from legislators in Connecticut and Maryland saying that the attorney general's comments are acting as a road block, while in Georgia, we just saw a defelonization bill defeated. The mere presence of a Reefer Madness-era Jeff Sessions is frightening off potential supporters of ending prohibition."

Still, Bad Things Could Happen

If Congress blocks funding, DEA can't go after legal marijuana (sort of). (justice.gov/dea)
While an oppositional Trump administration may retard the expansion of legal marijuana in the states, the status quo of a fifth of the country living under legalization and more than half with access to medical marijuana appears unlikely to be rolled-back. But that doesn't necessarily mean a free ride for legal weed.

"There could be some sort of federal action against some adult use facility or grower or cultivation company whose product is found to have gone across state lines in quantity, or something like that," CANORML's Gieringer offered. "Like if you have a situation where Nebraska complains, maybe that could stir up pressure in the Justice Department. But that's the most I expect. I could be wrong, though."

"Since Colorado started its licensing program, there's always been a fear that the Justice Department would just bring a lawsuit saying the state is participating in an ongoing conspiracy to distribute a Schedule I drug," Gieringer observed. "They had their chance and they didn't do it. If they tried it now, they will have taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from Colorado and potentially billions from other states and leave anarchy. They can't enforce the marijuana laws anyway; it's a drain on federal resources to even try."

"A federal injection is a potential threat, but it was a potential threat six months ago, too," said MPP's Tvert. "It's still a question of resources. If that were to happen, marijuana would continue to be legal, but the federal government would be preventing states from controlling its production and sale. That would be a real serious problem."

But Tvert warned that the heavy hand of the federal government could still reach out and slap someone down.

"Sean Spicer said they would have greater enforcement, and that could mean anything," he said. "They could be planning to more rigorously enforce the laws against people not in compliance with state laws, there could be more enforcement against illegal actors, they could push states to strengthen their regulations to prevent interstate trafficking. They perhaps could encourage states to increase funding to law enforcement to investigate illegal activity. There is plenty they could do without interfering with the legal market."

The Fightback Against Rollback Will Only Grow Stronger

The advent of a potential hostile Trump administration isn't changing the way NORML does business, Strekal said.

"We're continuing to do what we've always done and act as a grassroots consumer advocacy group," he explained. "We have 150 chapters and we're engaging as an advocacy group at every level of government from city councils to state legislatures to the federal government. At the federal level, we're very encouraged by the formation of the congressional cannabis caucus. We've been working with them to host a few events."

"This moment in time, where there is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level, is the kind of moment the NCIA was created for," said West. "We've been building relationships and allies in DC around industry issues, so when we need those allies, we have them."

Like MPP, the NCIA has a full-time staff lobbyist in Washington. It also works with another DC-based lobbying firm to work the Hill, and with legislators and elected officials.

"You've been able to see, through our work and the work of others, a very strong pushback from people who previously wouldn't have been in favor of the marijuana industry," West said. "The federal government can try to enforce marijuana prohibition in states where it is legal, but it doesn't really have the personnel to do that without the full cooperation of state and local law enforcement. If states are resisting that crackdown, which elected officials have said they would do, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible."

Legal marijuana is on guard, but it's not running away from a fight. The question for the Trump administration becomes whether this is a fight worth fighting.

Chronicle AM: AZ Init Would Legalize All Drugs, DE Legal MJ Bill Coming, More... (3/24/17)

An Arizona initiative would legalize all drugs, Delaware will see a marijuana legalization bill this year, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

A Spanish court has refused to convict a man of drug trafficking for importing coca leaf. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative Proposal. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected a proposed marijuana legalization initiative, saying the ballot title is ambiguous and that "a number of changes or additions" are needed "to more fully and correctly summarize" the proposal. The initiative came from Larry Morris of West Fork and would allow for the possession, cultivation, production, distribution, and sale of marijuana in the state.

Delaware Legalization Bill Coming. State Sen. Margaret Rose-Henry (D-Wilmington) is preparing a marijuana legalization bill that she says has support from law enforcement. "Law enforcement wants this bill. I'm pleased to tell you that there are police officers who think this is a good thing that we are going to reduce their having to arrest people who don't need to be arrested," said Rose-Henry. She is currently putting the finishing touches on the bill, she said.

Tennessee House Approves Bill to Undo Nashville's Decriminalization. The House on Thursday approved a bill that would take away Nashville's ability to issue civil citations for small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting people for it. House Bill 173 passed the House 65-28 and now goes to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Passes Two Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills. The state Senate on Thursday approved two bills aimed at modifying the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. The Senate approved House Bill 1400, which would ban the smoking of marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is banned. That bill now goes to the governor's desk. The Senate also approved Senate Bill 721, which would require dispensaries to appoint a pharmacist director who would be available for consultations with patients during hours the dispensary is open. That bill now heads to the House.

Colorado Patient Plant Limit Rises to 24 as Bill Advances. A bill aimed at limiting marijuana home grows has been amended -- again -- in the House Judiciary Committee. In a Wednesday vote, the committee approved raising the plant limit under House Bill 1220 to 24 plants. The bill had originally set the number at 12, but lawmakers then upped the count to 16, and now 24 -- if patients register with the state. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee voted Friday to approve Senate Bill 386, the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would create a system of regulated cultivation sites and dispensaries and allow the use of medical marijuana by persons suffering from a list of qualifying conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Industrial Hemp

West Virginia Hemp Bills Head for Floor Votes. Both the House and the Senate sent hemp-related measures to floor votes in their respective chambers Wednesday. The Senate Agriculture Committee advanced Senate Resolution 35, which calls on Congress to distinguish between hemp and marijuana by THC threshold. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 2453, which would allow the state agriculture commissioner discretion to issue commercial hemp production licenses.

Drug Policy

Arizona Groups Files Initiatives to Legalize Marijuana, All Drugs. An organization called RAD Final has filed a pair of initiatives relating to drug policy. Initiative I-13-2018 would legalize all drugs and forbid government from taxing or regulating them, while I-14-2018 would legalize marijuana alone. Initiative organizers would have to gather 150,642 valid voter signatures for each initiative by July 2018 to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Employee Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would let employers require employees to undergo suspicionless drug tests passed the House of Delegates on Thursday. House Bill 2857. The bill now goes to the Senate.

International

Spanish Court Acquits Man of Importing Coca Leaf. The provincial court of Girona has acquitted a Colombian man of drug trafficking charges for importing coca leaf. The decision came after the defense presented evidence and testimony about the historical, cultural, social and medicinal value of the coca leaf.

Chronicle AM: IL Legal MJ Bill Filed, CA Bill Bars Helping Feds Attack Legal MJ, More... (3/23/17)

Illinois lawmakers want to see marijuana legalization; California lawmakers want to protect marijuana legalization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Block Cops From Aiding Federal Pot Crackdown. Six Democratic legislators have filed Assembly Bill 1578, which would bar state and local law enforcement from cooperating in any federal enforcement activities aimed at state-legal marijuana operations. "Prohibiting our state and local law enforcement agencies from expending resources to assist federal intrusion of California-compliant cannabis activity reinforces… the will of our state's voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 64," said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the lead author of the new bill.

Illinois Lawmakers File Legalization Bill. A group of Chicago Democratic legislators have filed a marijuana legalization bill by amending an existing bill, House Bill 2353. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults (a half-ounce for non-residents), set up a system of legal marijuana manufacture and distribution $50 per 28 grams on all cannabis flowers, and give state regulators 180 days to get a system up and running.

Law Enforcement

Supreme Court Rules Lawsuit From Man Jailed Over Bottle of Vitamins Can Advance. An Illinois man jailed for two months after police claimed the pills in his vitamin bottle were ecstasy despite lab tests that showed they weren't can continue to pursue his federal civil rights claim, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Elijah Manuel, who is black, said officers pulled over the vehicle in which he was riding, falsely claimed they smelled marijuana, screamed racial slurs, then claimed their field drug test indicated his vitamins were ecstasy. Police continued to hold him in jail even after other tests verified the pills were not ecstasy until prosecutors eventually dropped the case. "No evidence of Manuel's criminality had come to light in between the roadside arrest and the county court proceeding initiating legal process; to the contrary, yet another test of Manuel's pills had come back negative in that period," according to the opinion. "All that the judge had before him were police fabrications about the pills' content. The judge's order holding Manuel for trial therefore lacked any proper basis. And that means Manuel's ensuing pretrial detention, no less than his original arrest, violated his Fourth Amendment rights."

International

Vietnam Sentenced Nine to Death for Drug Trafficking. A court in Hoa Binh province sentenced nine men to death for trafficking more than a thousand pounds of heroin in a trial that ended Tuesday. Vietnam sentences dozens of people to death each year; about a third of them for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Advances, ID Senate Approves Forfeiture Reform, More... (3/22/17)

Legalization bills are still alive in Rhode Island and Vermont, Idaho (!) is on the verge of passing civil asset forfeiture reform, North Dakota activists are threatening to strike back if the legislature messes too much with the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law, and more.

Marijuana legislation is on the move in Montpelier. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislators Say They Have Votes to Legalize Marijuana. Two state legislators who have spearheaded the effort to legalize marijuana said on Tuesday they have majority support in both chambers to pass marijuana legalization -- if the legislative leadership allows the bills to get to a vote. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence), sponsor of House Bill 5555, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), sponsor of companion measure Senate Bill 420, said at a press conference said the House bill is sponsored by one-third of House members and the Senate bill by 15 of 38 senators, and that others don't want to support the bill publicly, but have pledged their private support. Both bills are currently before their respective judiciary committees.

Vermont Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Judiciary Committee approved a marijuana legalization bill on an 8-3 vote Wednesday. House Bill 170 would allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, but does not contemplate legal marijuana commerce. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Advocates Threaten Lawsuit or New Initiative in Face of Legislative Meddling. The head of the committee that ran the state's successful medical marijuana initiative campaign warned legislators Tuesday that they could face a legal challenge or even another initiative campaign if they don't back away from changes contemplated in Senate Bill 2344, which has already passed the Senate. That measure bars patients and caregivers from growing their own plants and restricts the use of smoked medical marijuana to cases where a physician attests that no other form of marijuana would be effective. The comments came from Rilie Ray Morgan as he testified before the House Human Services Committee.

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Dies. Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Crosby) said Tuesday that his medical marijuana bill, House Bill 495, is dead because senators were afraid to vote for it. "The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said Tuesday after the House Health Committee shelved the bill and instead approved a non-binding marijuana-related resolution to study the issue over the summer.

Hemp

Texas Hemp Bill Filed. Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) has filed House Bill 3587, which would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes. The bill would direct the state Agriculture Department to set up a licensing and regulation program for hemp.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Senate Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The bill has already passed the House, but must now go back for a concurrence vote after the Senate amended by heightening reporting requirements, among other things.

Chronicle AM: Pot SWAT Raids Kill More People Than Pot, Aussie Bigwigs Call for Decrim, More... (3/21/17)

The New York Times reports on fatal SWAT drug raids, Australian former premiers and police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, medical marijuana keeps statehouses busy, and more.

Medical marijuana is keeping state legislatures busy. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Poll Shows Support for Plant Limits. A new Keating Research poll has support for limiting home marijuana grows to 12 plants at 57%, with only 36% opposed. The poll comes as lawmakers consider House Bill 1220, which originally imposed a 12-plant limit, but was amended to up the limit to 16 plants. That bill has already passed the House and is now before the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Votes to Kill Bill Banning Edibles. The House voted 52-40 Monday to kill House Bill 1991, which would have banned the commercial production of medical marijuana edibles in the state. Bill sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) argued that patients could make their own and that medical marijuana is medicine, not candy, but her arguments failed to sway her peers.

Nevada Bill Would Let Medical Marijuana Patients Carry Guns. State Sen. Kevin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 351 Monday. That measure would allow medical marijuana users to possess a firearm and a concealed carry permit. Current state law requires sheriffs to deny such permits for medical marijuana users.

New Hampshire Senate Committee Approves Use of Medical Marijuana for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Elderly Committee has approved a bill that would add Ehlers-Danlos syndrome to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The measure now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes there, the House will take it up.

Utah 2018 Medical Marijuana Initiative Drive Gearing Up. Medical marijuana advocates are gearing up to try to put an initiative on the state's 2018 ballot. They said they would begin the process of signature gathering next month, and they cite promising polling. The state legislature has so far thwarted efforts to create a robust medical marijuana program.

Law Enforcement

Marijuana Raids Kill More People Than Pot Ever Did. According to data compiled by the New York Times, since 2010, at least 20 SWAT raids involving suspected marijuana dealers have resulted in deaths, including those of four police officers. The toll for all drug SWAT raid deaths is, of course, higher, with 81 people killed, including 13 cops.

International

Australian Police Chiefs, Former Premiers Call for Drug Decriminalization. A group of former premiers, police commissioners, and legal advocates have called for an end to the criminalization of drug users. The call comes in the Australia 21 report, which was released Monday. The report, titled "Can Australia Respond to Drugs More Effectively and Safely," makes 13 recommendations for reducing drug-related harms, such as supervised drug use rooms and other harm reduction measures, but also called for eliminating penalties for possession and drug use.

Chronicle AM: StoptheDrugWar.org in Philippines Controversy, MA Legalization, More... (3/20/17)

StoptheDrugWar.org draws the ire of the Duterte regime in Manila, Vermont's pot legalization bill gets a needed extension, a federal bill to create a National Commission on Criminal Justice is filed, and more.

David Borden's coordination of a video criticizing Philippines Pres. Duterte is making waves in Manila. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legislature Begins Grappling With Legal Marijuana. The legislature's effort to diddle with voter-approved marijuana legalization began in earnest Monday as the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy held hearings featuring the state treasurer, gaming commission chairman, representatives of the attorney general's office, and legalization advocates. Some 44 bills have been filed to restrict, delay, or otherwise modify the initiative that passed last November. Further hearings on the general topic are already scheduled, but hearings for the individual bills have not.

Vermont Legalization Bill Misses Deadline, But Gets One-Week Extension. The legalization bill, House Bill 170, missed a Friday deadline for bills to emerge from committee, but House and Senate leaders agreed to give the bill a one-week extension to try to get out of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee had been scheduled to vote on the bill last Wednesday, but abruptly removed the vote from its schedule, suggesting that House leaders weren't confident it would pass out of committee. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults, but would not allow for legal marijuana commerce.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Limit on PTSD Recommendations. The state court of appeals ruled last Thursday that the Department of Health Services was acting legally when it decided that doctors could only recommend medical marijuana for "palliative care" for PTSD. The department argued there was no evidence showing marijuana could actually cure people of PTSD. The department also limited recommendations to people who were already being treated for PTSD. An Arizona medical marijuana nurses group filed suit against the restrictions, but now the court has ruled against them.

Arkansas Bill to Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana Where Cigarettes Are Banned Passes House. The House voted last Friday to approve House Bill 1400, which would prohibit the smoking of medical marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. The bill passed 88-0. Under the bill, knowingly smoking medical marijuana in the presence of a pregnant woman would be prohibited. The measure also prohibits those under 21 from smoking medical marijuana. A bill that would have banned smoking medical marijuana at all has already died in the Senate.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Heads for Floor Vote. The legislature's Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 last Friday to advance Legislative Bill 622, which would bring medical marijuana to the Cornhusker state. The bill would authorize cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana products, but would ban smoking the herb or allowing patients to grow their own. The bill is opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), as well as the state's law enforcement establishment.

Virginia Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Pharmacy Distribution of CBD and THC-A Oil. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed Senate Bill 1027 into law last Thursday. The bill allows for companies to manufacture and provide CBD cannabis oil and THC-A oil for the treatment of epilepsy and provides for its distribution through pharmacies.

Hemp

Arkansas Industrial Hemp Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development unanimously approved a bill to allow the production of hemp. House Bill 1778 now goes to the House floor.

Drug Policy

Federal Bill Would Make All Controlled Substance Analogs Schedule I Controlled Substances. US Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) last week filed Senate Bill 683, which would "treat all controlled substance analogues, other than chemical substances subject to the Toxic Substances Control Act, as controlled substances in schedule I regardless of whether they are intended for human consumption." The actual bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Drug Testing

Nevada Welfare Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Michael Roberson (R-Las Vegas) has filed a bill that would require applicants for welfare, food stamps, and other public assistance to undergo a suspicionless saliva drug test. If the saliva test is positive, a follow-up urine test could be used to verify the result. Senate Bill 298 has been referred to the Committee on Health and Human Services.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Filed to Create National Criminal Justice Commission. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) has filed House Resolution 1607, which would create a national criminal justice commission. The text of the bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

International

StoptheDrugWar.org Makes Filipino News With Veep's Video Criticizing Duterte's Drug War. StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden is at the center of a controversy in the Philippines over a video message to the UN from Vice President Leni Robredo criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, which has led to some 8,000 deaths since Duterte took office last year. Duterte supporters accused Stopthedrugwar.org of timing the video release to bolster an impeachment complaint filed against Duterte last week, but Borden said that was not the case. "The vice president's office did not make any requests of us as to timing or any other matters. We released it a few days before the session as a media strategy to draw attention to Pres. Duterte's atrocities," said Borden.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Adds Fentanyl Precursors to Controlled Substances List. The CND voted last Thursday to add two chemicals used to make fentanyl to the list of internationally controlled substances under UN anti-drug treaties. Putting the chemicals on the list will ensure closer monitoring of fentanyl orders and transactions and would make it more difficult for illicit fentanyl producers to access those chemicals.

Drug War Issues

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