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An Industry Emerges: The NCIA Cannabis Business Summit in Denver [FEATURE]

The exhibition hall in the Denver Convention Center last week was a wonder to behold. Automated, high-capacity marijuana trimming machines. Industrial strength cannabis oil extraction devices. Marijuana real estate specialists. Marijuana accountants. Marijuana attorneys -- real estate, intellectual property, contracts. Marijuana consultants. Marijuana investment advisers. Point-of-sale marijuana sales tracking systems. Chemical testing companies. Vaporizer sellers. Odor-proof bag producers. Automated rolling machine makers. Anything and everything to do with the business of legal marijuana. All in a high-gloss trade show environment.

It was the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit, which brought more than 1,200 registrants to the state capital that for now at least is also the capital of legal marijuana. And it represents a new phase in the evolution of marijuana policy.

This is not your father's marijuana movement. There were lots of men in dark suits and ties, lots of women in snappy professional attire. A few dreadlocks here and there, but only a few. And nary a tie-dye to be found. There wasn't a whole lot of talk about how "We have to free the weed, man;" although social justice including ending prohibition came. up. There was a whole lot of talk about business opportunities, investment strategies, and how to profit from crumbling pot prohibition, as well as the dangers and pitfalls facing would-be entrepreneurs in an industry still illegal under federal law.

The legal marijuana industry has been bubbling up for awhile now, building from the quasi-legalization that is medical marijuana in Wild West California and the more regulated, but still thriving medical marijuana industry in states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In the past decade or so, the High Times Cannabis Cup has evolved from a November trip to Amsterdam to a virtual traveling circus of all things pot-related. And marijuana trade expos have drawn crowds in the tens of thousands.

But one can reasonably argue that last week's Cannabusiness Summit represents the maturation of marijuana as an All-American business opportunity. With Colorado this week beginning to accept applications from people who don't represent medical marijuana dispensaries (for the first six months of commercial legalization, only operating dispensaries could apply) and Washington state set to see its first retail marijuana operations next week, the era of legal marijuana is truly upon us. And it's likely to continue to expand, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, poised to join the ranks of the legalizers after elections later this year.

Talking up the product in the exhibition hall.
The Cannabis Business Summit was, unsurprisingly, mainly about the nuts and bolts of operating a legal marijuana business. It could have been any industrial trade show and conference, except this was about weed. Panels covered topics such as "Grow 101: Cultivation Facility Build-Out and Management Best Practices," "Advanced Cultivation: Scalability, Sustainability, and Growth Management," "Protecting Your Investment: Risk Management and Insurance for the Cannabis Industry," and "International CannaBusiness Opportunities." And that was just session one of day one.

Marijuana is an industry on a roll, and the NCIA can point to its own success as exhibit one.

"We now have over 600 marijuana business members, and that has doubled since January," said NCIA founder and executive director Aaron Smith in a keynote speech. "When Steve Fox and I started the NCIA in 2010, we had 20 members. Investors and entrepreneurs are rushing into this new space."

That, in turn, is allowing NCIA to expand its operations, Smith said.

"We're seeing more experienced business people because they understand what a trade association is," Smith explained. "So we've been able to staff up, we have a full-time DC lobbyist, which is a first for the industry, and we've already contacted every congressional office on the Hill and had sit-down meetings with half the House offices and 30 Senate offices. We're also attending campaign fundraisers on behalf of the NCIA."

Although the conference was all about business, Smith made clear that the NCIA had not forgotten that these business opportunities have come about because of a decades-long movement for social justice and human liberation around marijuana policy.

"We have to acknowledge those who came before us," he told his audience of businesspeople. "Before we were an industry, we were a movement, and we are still a social movement. The growth of this new industry will drive the final nail in the coffin of marijuana prohibition, so that no one is put in a cage for using a beneficial, extremely therapeutic herbal product ever again."

NCIA executive director Aaron Smith gives a keynote address.
The industry has to put its best face forward, Smith said.

"We are still under scrutiny, the world is watching Colorado and Washington, as well as the medical marijuana states, and we have to lead by example," he said. "Be a good neighbor and corporate citizen. Reach out to neighborhood associations and work with them. Contribute to the community. Be a model citizen. Be professional. Don't use marketing you wouldn't want your mother to see."

Smith wasn't the only NCIA officer to warn the industry it needed to watch its step. NCIA deputy director Taylor West had more words of wisdom in a session on marketing and communications.

"This is a cultural movement in the midst of an enormous wave, and we have the opportunity to define an idea on the rise, to be responsible, and to do the education around that," she said. "We are building an industry from scratch, and we have to take this opportunity to make this an industry that's not like every other industry."

That requires some maturity within the industry, the communications specialist said as she displayed tacky advertising images of scantily clad women covered in marijuana buds.

"Responsible branding is important," West noted. "Don't screw it up for everybody. We don't have a rock-solid foundation, and we're still very vulnerable from a public opinion and policy standpoint. Don't market to children and don't market like children," she said. "We're like the wine industry or craft beers or wellness. No one is ever drunk in a wine commercial. And," she said, pointing to the tacky ads, "don't alienate half the population."

fundraiser for the Florida medical marijuana initiative, at the Vicente-Sederberg law firm following the summit
There are many issues facing the nascent marijuana industry, but both the conference agenda and the talk in the corridors made it clear that the federal tax issue takes center stage. Under current federal law, marijuana remains illegal, and that means marijuana businesses cannot take standard business tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provision known as 280E.

"This law must be changed, and this law can be changed. If Obama won't do it, we will do it for them," said marijuana tax attorney Henry Wykowski before heading deep into the weeds in a discussion of the intricacies of dealing with 280E.

"There is legislation to address this," said NCIA Capitol Hill lobbyist Mike Correia, pointing to Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-OR) House Resolution 2240, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2013.

But it's unlikely to go anywhere anytime time soon, Correia said. The congressional bill tracking service GovTrack.us agrees, giving the bill zero percent chance of passage this session.

"This is sitting in Ways and Means," Correia explained. "It's a Democratic bill in a Republican-controlled House, and the committee chairman is not a fan."

There is one back-door possibility for moving the bill, though, the lobbyist said.

"Every few years, the Congress addresses aspiring tax breaks," he noted. "They usually pass it in the middle of the night when no one is watching. I hope to have 280E provisions inserted into a bigger tax bill, but we need to get Republicans to support it. The Ways and Means members are not from marijuana-friendly states, so it's hard to get traction, but next year, Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be chair, and he could be more responsive."

The nascent marijuana industry has other issues, of course, but the Denver conference was a strong signal that the marijuana movement is indeed mutating into a marijuana industry. The power of American entrepreneurialism is very strong, and it looks like it's about to run right over the remnants of marijuana prohibition.

But the industry needs to remember that while we now have legal marijuana in two states, there are still 48 states to go. For people in Alabama or South Dakota or Utah, for example, the issue is not how much money you can make selling marijuana (or marijuana-related products or services), but the criminal -- and other -- consequences of getting caught with even small amounts. If the industry is indeed the movement, it needs to be putting its money where its mouth is to finish the work that remains to be done.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 1, 2014

July 1 sees new drug-related laws and regulations going into effect in various places, a University of Arizona researcher falls victim to anti-medical marijuana politics, Massachusetts is cracking down on caregivers, Ohio activists give up on a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative this year, and more. Let's get to it:

Legal marijuana purchaser eyes the products on offer. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Enters New, Expansive Phase. As of today, any state resident can apply to open a marijuana retail outlet in Colorado. Until now, only owners of already existing medical marijuana dispensaries could apply. It is expected that this new phase of the state's marijuana legalization experience will add hundreds of new marijuana-related businesses in the state.

Berkley, Michigan, Decriminalization Petitioners Hand in Signatures Today. Campaigners for a municipal decriminalization initiative in Berkley plan to turn in 700 signatures today. Berkley is one of about 20 Michigan towns where Safer Michigan is working to get similar initiatives on the ballot for either the August or November elections. Local ordinances that ease penalties for possessing marijuna already are on the books in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Ypsilanti.

Medical Marijuana

University of Arizona Fires Medical Marijuana Researcher. The University of Arizona has abruptly fired Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who months earlier had received approval from the federal government to study the effects of medical marijuana on people suffering from PTSD. Now, her research is in jeopardy, and she is blaming state legislators who threatened university funding after her research plans made the news. "This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers," Sisley said. "I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance."

Massachusetts Crackdown on Caregivers. The state Department of Public Health has sent letters to more than 1,300 patients and 17 caregivers warning that state regulations bar caregivers from selling marijuana to more than one patient. Caregivers are the only legal avenue for patients to buy medical marijuana until dispensaries open, and that won't happen until November at the earliest. The move has forced Bill Downing, the operator of Yankee Care Givers, which supplies an estimated 1,000 patients to quit selling medical marijuana. He is urging patients to join him in a lawsuit challenging the state's interpretation of the law. "DPH is more concerned with their regulations than they are with the well-being of the citizens of Massachusetts," Downing said.

Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Laws Go into Effect in Iowa, Utah. At least two of the states that passed limited, low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws this year see those laws go into effect today. Those states are Iowa and Utah. It is unclear what impact those laws will have or how many people they will help.

Vermont Medical Marijuana Improvements Go into Effect Today. A medical marijuana improvement bill, Senate Bill 247, goes into effect today. The new law eliminates the cap of 1,000 patients who may access dispensaries, allows naturopaths to certify patients, and allows dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients. It also authorizes a study of whether PTSD should be added as a qualifying condition.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Gives Up on 2014. Medical marijuana won't be on the ballot in the Buckeye State this year. The campaign by the Ohio Rights Group needed 385,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot this year, but had only 100,000. The good news is that those gathered signatures are still good in future years and can supply a starting point for a new campaign down the road. The initiative would also have legalized hemp production.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Food Stamp Drug Testing Law Goes into Effect. A law passed in 2012 that mandates drug testing for food stamp applicants if state workers have reason to believe they are using drugs goes into effect today. The ACLU of Tennessee is not happy: "This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet," said Hedy Weinberg, state director for the ACLU. "Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing." The ACLU of Tennessee also has a web page for those who need help dealing with the law.

Sentencing

Rep. Keith Ellison is Latest Cosponsor of Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382) has picked up another cosponsor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). The measure now has 42 cosponsors -- 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, where it has been sitting since October.

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill 22 Cartel Members in Michoacan Confrontation. The Mexican Army reported that it killed 22 members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel after soldiers on patrol in Tlatlaya, Michoacan, came under fire from cartel gunmen.

Another Mexican Town Tries to Ban Narcocorridos. Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in northwest Mexico has banned the playing or performing of narcocorridos, the border ballads that glorify drug traffickers and recount their adventures. The ban follows the killing in the city of a narcocorrido singer from Phoenix, Tomas Tovar Rascon. But more than a year ago, the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a similar ban in the state of Sinaloa, so it is unlikely this ban could withstand a legal challenge -- if anyone brings one.

Chronicle AM -- June 30, 2014

The Big Dog opines on marijuana, a California sentencing reform initiative qualifies for the ballot, the DC legalization initiative looks poised to make the ballot, municipal decrim initiative campaigns are underway in New Mexico's largest cities, the drug war is driving grand jury indictments in an East Texas county, and more. Let's get to it:

Bill Clinton is ready to let the states experiment on marijuana policy. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

DC Legalization Initiative Poised to Make Ballot. The DC Cannabis Campaign is reporting that it has gathered more than 60,000 signatures to place its initiative to legalize home-growing and possession of marijuana on the November ballot. It only needs 22,600 valid voter signatures to qualify. The signature-gathering period ends next week.

Albuquerque, Santa Fe Decriminalization Initiatives Begin Signature-Gathering. Organizers of municipal decriminalization initiatives in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, began signature-gathering last Saturday. The Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm, Drug Policy Action, is behind the effort. Some 5,700 signatures are needed in Santa Fe and 11,000 in Albuquerque.

Bill Clinton Talks Pot. Former President Bill Clinton was asked on Meet the Press Sunday whether "giving pot a chance" would help governments raise revenue. Here's his response: "Rocky Mountain high?" Clinton quipped. "Look, I think there's a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing. I think there are a lot of unresolved questions, but I think we should leave it to the states, if there really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy because nobody really knows where this is going. Are there adequate quality controls? There's pot and then there's pot. What's in it? There's all these questions, and I think that I like where it is now. If a state wants to try it, they can. And then they'll be able to see what happens."

Washington State Faces Marijuana Shortages, High Prices. With the first retail marijuana shops slated to open in less than 10 days, Washington state is facing a legal marijuana shortage, which is expected to drive up prices. Only 79 of the more than 2,600 people who applied for growing licenses have been approved, and many of them aren't ready to harvest. Pounds being sold to retailers now are going for as much as $4,000, which comes out to $9 a gram before taxes. After a retailers' mark up, the 25% excise tax, and state and local sales taxes, gram prices could be in the $15-20 range -- above the price on the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Initiative Has More than 75,000 Signatures. The constitutional amendment medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Oklahomans for Health now has 75,000 raw signatures. The group needs 156,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They have until August 17 to come up with more.

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advances, But Needs Work. A bill to regulate California's medical marijuana industry, Senate Bill 1262, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee last Friday, but is described as "unworkable, incoherent, and unacceptable to most advocates." Committee approval was conditioned on working out the problems before hearings in the Appropriations Committee in August.

Sentencing

California Sentencing Reform Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act sentencing reform initiative has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Friday. Backed by San Francisco DA George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne, the initiative would defelonize some drug possession offenses, as well as making some other crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Law Enforcement

Drug War Accounts for Big Chunk of Upshur County, Texas, Grand Jury Indictments. The Upshur County Grand Jury returned its latest batch of indictments last week, and of the 26 indictments, 11 of them (43%) were for drug charges. Of the drug charges, six were possession of methamphetamine, three were meth sales, and two were for cocaine sales.

International

Crackdown on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes in Michoacan, Mexico. Mexican soldiers and police arrested 83 suspected vigilantes last Friday in Michoacan after they encountered them carrying unauthorized weapons. Among those arrested was Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, one of the founders of the vigilante groups, which formed in response to harassment, extortion, and lawlessness perpetrated by the region's Knights Templar cartel. The vigilantes were supposed to have joined rural police forces, but Mireles and his men had not done that and had instead begun organizing a new vigilante group. He and his men were arrested when they set up roadblocks around the port city of Lazaro Cardenas.

Zambian Government Says No Marijuana Legalization. Responding to increasing calls for marijuana legalization to improve the economy, the government says no way. Home Affairs Minister Ngosa Simbyakula said last Friday that the government remains determined not to legalize marijuana. It would encourage drug use in the country, he said.

Chronicle AM -- June 27, 2014

Things are looking good after legalization in Colorado, a medical marijuana bill moves in Pennsylvania, food stamp drug testing is on hold in Mississippi, hash battles break out in Libya, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DPA Issues Report on Six Months of Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and the marijuana industry is generating thousands of new jobs in Colorado, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. The report is Status Report: Marijuana Regulation in Colorado After Six Months of Retail Sales and 18 Months of Decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously yesterday to approve Senate Bill 1182, which would allow qualified patients to obtain marijuana through dispensaries, but not grow their own. Neither could patients smoke their medicine, but they could use edibles or vaporize it. Now, the bill is on to the Appropriations Committee and, if it passes there, a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation in the House has yet to move.

Tulsa Medical Marijuana Petitioners Say Tulsa Cops Backed Off After They Went Public. Signature-gatherers for the Oklahomans for Health medical marijuana initiative report they are no longer being harassed by Tulsa Police after they went public with their complaints. Police had, on several occasions, stopped and investigated petitioners, at least twice after purportedly receiving complaints they were selling or smoking marijuana. The group hasn't had any formal response from Tulsa Police or city officials, but they are no longer being harassed, they said.

Drug Testing

Mississippi Food Stamp Drug Testing Implementation Delayed. A Mississippi law approved this year that would require food stamp applicants to be subject to drug testing is being delayed. It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but will be held up pending a public hearing set for July 22. The delay comes thanks to ACLU of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice, which challenged the start-up on grounds that it violated the state's administrative procedures law.

Methamphetamine

Michigan Governor Signs Package of Meth Bills. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Thursday signed into law three bills increasing the criminalization of methamphetamine users and producers. One makes it a crime to purchase pseudoephedrine knowing it will be used to make meth, another makes it a crime to solicit someone else to do so, and the third specifies that the second mandates a 10-year prison sentence. Click on the link for more bill details.

International

Are the Latin American Drug Cartels on the Wane? Council on Hemispheric Affairs analyst Claudia Barrett has penned a provocative analysis suggesting the era of the cartels may be coming to an end. The piece is The Breakdown of Cartel Culture -- An Analysis.

Reductions in Coca Cultivation Don't Necessarily Mean Less Cocaine. The Global Post has a think piece on the reported decline in coca production and why it doesn't necessarily mean cocaine supplies are decreasing. Click on the link to read it.

Libya Hash Bust Sparks Deadly Battle. A hash bust in Benghazi last Saturday erupted into a pitched battle when armed gunmen attacked government forces who were destroying a major stash of hash seized from a cargo ship. At least seven people were reported killed. Government officials accused Al Qaeda of being involved.

Tunisia Will Reform Its Drug Laws. Tunisia is going to revamp its drug laws, a vestige of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship. The North African country has some 25,000 people in prison for drug offenses. Current laws don't differentiate between hard and soft drugs and require mandatory minimum prison sentences for any drug offense. A commission is expected to submit to parliament this summer an amended law that does away with the mandatory sentences of one-to-five years for drug possession.

New Zealand Poll Has Majority for Marijuana Reform. A majority of New Zealanders polled in a recent survey support reforming the country's marijuana laws. The New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll had 32% supported decriminalization and another 22% wanting it completely legalized, while 45% were opposed to any reform. Even among members of the ruling National Party, which opposes reform, 45% supported decrim or legalization.

Medical Marijuana Update

A Senate companion to the successful House DEA defunding amendment has been filed, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, a CBD bill is moving in North Carolina, Rhode Island retrenches, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, US Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker cosponsored a DEA defunding amendment in the Senate. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month. While an early vote was expected, conflicts between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have caused the overall appropriation bill to be delayed.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council moved toward permitting a fourth dispensary. The council voted to adopt regulations promulgated by the Medical Cannabis Commission that will set up a process to select a fourth dispensary for the East Bay city of 115,000. This more than three years after voters approved Measure T in 2010, which called for allowing a fourth dispensary. The commission had recommended six dispensaries, but that was too much for the council, which approved one new one in principle and said it would review the situation in a year.

On Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance strongly criticized the statewide medical marijuana regulation bill. Senate Bill 1262, which was set to go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee the same day, would leave thousands of patients without access to their medicine, fails to establish effective statewide regulation, and doesn't deal with edibles, the group said in an analysis posted on the California legislature's web site. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still must get through the Assembly.

Also on Tuesday, Desert Hot Springs city leaders expressed support for allowing dispensaries and were quite frank in saying it was all about the tax revenues. The city has an existing moratorium that will have to be removed. Leaders set no timeline at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors placed a restrictive cultivation measure on the November ballot. The measure would ban collective gardens and limit outdoor parcels to four plants. It is being backed by a group called the Emerald Unity Alliance.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Clara County supervisors voted for a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The move was in response to San Jose's new regulations on dispensaries and cultivation, which supervisors fear would push them out into the county. Supervisors want time to see how to respond and will revisit the issue at an August 5 meeting.

New York

Last Friday, New York become the 23rd medical marijuana state. The state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana, and the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state. The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill won House committee votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee. The House approved the measure, House Bill 1220, in a floor vote on Friday.

On Wednesday, the limited CBD medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. House Bill 1220 was approved by the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Rhode Island

Last Friday, the legislature amended the state's medical marijuana law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

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

Chronicle AM -- June 24, 2014

Your fearless reporter has been traveling, so the schedule is off, but the drug policy news continues. Paul Stanford calls it quits in Oregon, pot shops are coming within days in Washington, an Alabama drug task needs to reconsider its priorities (or maybe the people funding it need to reconsider theirs), and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a store near you -- if you live in Washington state.
Marijuana Policy

Paul Stanford Pulls Plug on Oregon CRRH Initiative. Paul Stanford, the man behind the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp legalization initiatives, announced Friday that had given up the effort to qualify for the November ballot. That leaves the New Approach Oregon initiative, which is well over 100,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and the campaign still has another week to get more signers.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Says First Marijuana Retail Stores Will Open July 8. The board, which is charge of legal marijuana commerce, said it will issue the first licenses July 7, but that the licensees would have to spend that first day getting their product into their store tracking programs.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Legislature Amends Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

Collateral Consequences

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons -- With Conditions. Gov. Jay Nixon signed into a law a bill that would allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps, but only if they submit to drug tests and an assessment to see if they need drug treatment, which they must enroll in and complete if they are determined to need it. The bill is Senate Bill 680. The 1996 federal welfare reform law banned drug felons from obtaining food stamps, but allowed states to opt out. By now, more than 30 have.

Opiates

Federal Bill Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates Filed. US Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation that seeks to respond to rising levels of opiate use by creating a "Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force" to develop prescribing practices that aim to ensure "proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse." Along with federal agencies such as HHS, Defense, the VA, and the DEA, the task force would include treatment providers, people from pain advocacy groups and pain professional organization, and experts in pain research and addiction research. Pain advocates will be watching carefully. The bill, Senate Bill 2504, would also provide grants to expand prescription drug monitoring programs.

Law Enforcement

Texas to Spend $1.3 Million a Week on "Border Surge" Aimed at Immigrants, Drugs. Using the influx of underage immigrants across the US-Mexican border as a jumping off point, Texas authorities announced last week they plan to spend $30 million this year tightening border security, with a major emphasis on law enforcement and cutting drug flows. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has also asked President Obama to send a thousand National Guard troops, to be joined by hundreds of Texas troopers Perry is deploying to the border. What this will mean on the ground is more troopers patrolling the highways, more surveillance, more undercover operations -- in an area already sinking under the weight of the billions spent beefing up border security since 9/11.

Alabama Drug Task Force Gets Busy With Chump Change Drug Round-Up. The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force based in Tuscaloosa arrested 24 people last Friday in a round-up that "stemmed from multiple ongoing investigations." But they were almost entirely charges like "unlawful sale of marijuana within three miles of a school" ($30,000 bond), "unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia" ($5,000 bond), and "unlawful possession of marijuana" ($15,000 bond). Only five of the charges didn't involve marijuana, and of those, three were for possession of a controlled substance, two were "unlawful sale of cocaine within three miles of a school," and one was for "interfering with government operations."

International

Vietnam Upholds Death Sentences for 29 Drug Smugglers. A Vietnamese appellate court last Thursday upheld the death sentences for 29 people convicted. The court reduced one other death sentence in the case to life in prison. The sentences came in what is Vietnam's largest heroin case ever, with 89 defendants and 1.5 tons of heroin involved.

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Drops to 11-Year Low. Coca cultivation declined 9% in Bolivia last, reaching the lowest level since 2002, according to the annual Bolivian coca survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This is the third straight decline, in line with the Bolivian government's commitment to reduce production to 50,000 acres by 2015. The 2013 crop was about 55,000 acres.

British Medical Association to Debate Legalizing Marijuana. Britain's largest doctors' organization will debate a motion calling on it to legalize marijuana as its Annual Representatives Meeting continues this week after a weekend hiatus. "The current law isn't working and only by adopting a different approach can we regulate, educate and exert a level of quality control," the motion says. "Cannabis use should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

Chronicle AM -- June 20, 2014

Two killer narcs face consequences for their actions, New York is set to become the 23rd medical marijuana state, the Pope comments on drug policy, prohibition-related violence flares in Mexico and Peru, and more. Let's get to it:

Killed by a Utah narc. Finally, there might be some justice for Danielle Willard. (facebook.com)
Marijuana Policy

FDA Studying Whether to Reclassify Marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is studying whether marijuana should be moved from Schedule I -- no medical use, high potential for abuse -- to a less restrictive schedule. The agency is acting at the request of the DEA, which is considering another rescheduling petition. Federal agencies have fended off efforts to reschedule marijuana for more than 40 years. The FDA reviewed marijuana's classification in 2001 and 2006 and found no reason to change it then.

Medical Marijuana

New York to Become 23rd Medical Marijuana State. The New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana this week, and today, the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state.The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Drug Policy

Pope Says Nope to Dope. Pope Francis told participants at a drug control conference that he opposes marijuana legalization, and he's not so sure about using opiate maintenance to treat heroin users. 'Drugs are an evil, and with evil you can't give way or compromise," Francis said. "Even the partial legalization of so-called recreational drugs, besides being questionable on legal grounds, doesn't produce the intended effects," according to the text of his remarks posted on the Vatican web site.

California Set to End Ban on Food Stamps for Drug Felons. The California legislature has approved a bill that will once again allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps. A 1996 federal law barred drug felons from food stamp programs, but also gave states the ability to opt out. With the passage of Assembly Bill 1468, which Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign, California will have done so. Only 12 other states continue to ban drug felons from getting food stamps.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Injury Free Medication and Drug Overdose Prevention Summit Coming Next Month. State agencies and non-profits will take part in medication and overdose prevention summit on July 14 in Raleigh. Click on the lick for more details.

Law Enforcement

Utah Narc Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Danielle Willard. Former West Valley City Police undercover narcotics officer Shaun Cowley has been charged with manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting death of Danielle Misha Willard. Willard, who was unarmed, was shot and killed as she backed up her car in an apartment building parking lot. Cowley and another officer, who were investigating heroin sales, claimed they feared for their lives, but prosecutors didn't buy it. "Mr. Cowley acted in a reckless manner, and the evidence that we have does not support that his life was in danger or give him the justification to use the force that he did," said Salt Lake County prosecutor Sam Gill. The case has already resulted in a major shake-up in the department, and Willard's family has already filed a civil lawsuit.

Georgia Narc Must Pay Millions to Family of Pastor He Killed in Drug Investigation. A federal judge has ruled that Georgia undercover narc Billy Shane Harrison used unreasonable force in the killing of Pastor Jonathan Ayers and must pay his widow $2.5 million. Harrison shot and killed Ayers in a convenience store parking lot as Ayers attempted to drive away from undercover officers approaching him. They thought Ayers had some connection with a woman they were investigating, but he was just acting as a pastor.

International

Cartel Drug Wars Inflaming Mexico's Tamaulipas State. Dozens of people have been killed and numerous others have gone missing in Mexico's northeastern state of Tamaulipas since April as factions of the Gulf Cartel fight for dominance there. Click on the link to read more.

Peru Clashes Leave Soldier, Shining Path Guerrillas Dead. A Peruvian army soldier and three suspected Shining Path guerrillas have been killed in gun battles this week between security forces and suspected drug traffickers in the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), a major Peruvian coca producing region. The soldier died fighting "narco-terrorists," Peruvian authorities said.

Medical Marijuana Passes in New York

The New York legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana this week, and today, the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state.

The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

In all, patients with ten specific diseases or conditions will qualify for medical marijuana. The state will be able to add other conditions, and, under the bill, it must determine within 18 months whether to add Alzheimer's, PTSD, muscular dystrophy and dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The bill also places restrictions on healthcare providers, such as requiring that all recommendations for medical marijuana be made by physicians (excluding nurse practitioners or physician assistants who can prescribe many other medications) and mandating that participating physicians take a training course, an extremely uncommon requirement in US medicine.

Cuomo, who has never been a big fan of medical marijuana, threw a spanner in the works late last week, demanding a number of changes be made to win his support. This came after the Assembly had already passed the Compassionate Use Act and the GOP-dominated Senate had signaled it would allow a vote.

The sponsors of the Compassionate Use Act, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) worked over the weekend and through this week to craft a compromise that addressed the governor's concerns, and now, New York has a medical marijuana bill, albeit more restrictive than originally envisioned.

For patients and advocates it was a bittersweet victory.

"Today, the Senate passed a medical marijuana bill that will help some patients in New York, and that is good news," said Susan Rusinko of Auburn, who has multiple sclerosis. "But this bill they passed is far from perfect. With any medication, the decision about the best mode of administration, including smoking for some patients, should be left up to healthcare providersand their patients, and this bill does not do that. We fought hard to get this far, and we'll keep fighting to make sure that New York's medical marijuana program becomes the best in the country."

"I'm pleased that the New York Senate stood with patients and on the side of compassion when they passed the medical marijuana bill today," said Holly Anderson, executive director of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester. "This was a long, hard fight, and we are elated that cancer patients and others will have one more tool to help alleviate disease symptoms and side effects of treatments. But this bill has flaws, including the exclusion of smoking, which may be the cheapest and most effective way for many patients to use medical cannabis. We call on the Commissioner of Health to quickly implement a program that is accessible to all patients, regardless of their income."

"Today the Senate passed a medical marijuana bill that will help some, but not all, seriously ill New Yorkers who could benefit from medical cannabis," said Kate Hintz of North Salem, whose daughter, Morgan, has Dravet's Syndrome, a serious seizure disorder. "As a parent of child with a seizure disorder, I'm glad that my family will be able to access medicine that can help my daughter. But I must remind these lawmakers that they are not doctors. The decision if and how to treat a condition with medical marijuana should be left up to the patient and the doctor, not our government. We will keep fighting for the regulated, flexible program that all New Yorkers deserve."

"This is a huge step for patients in New York who will benefit from this legislation, and without question, today would not be possible but for the dedicated and sustained organizing work by patients, families, and advocates," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"And we are especially appreciative of the leadership shown by Assemblyman Gottfried and & Senator Savino," he continued. "This bill is far from perfect. Many of the limitations in this bill -- like the restrictions on conditions and physician-patient relationships -- are unnecessary and not supported by the science. And we know that overly restrictive medical marijuana programs leave patients behind. But if implemented quickly and effectively, this program will help thousands of sick and suffering New Yorkers, who need help now."

"Passage of this measure comes as a relief to thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers and their families. Medical marijuana can be an effective treatment option for a variety of debilitating conditions. For some patients, it is their only option," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"While the bill's passage is a significant step forward, it leaves behind thousands of patients. We hope the governor's staff promptly implements the measure and that the health department will approve additional qualifying conditions," O'Keefe added. "Voters overwhelmingly agree that seriously ill people should have legal access to medical marijuana."

Both the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project have worked along with state and local organizations for more than a decade to pass a medical marijuana bill in New York.

Albany, NY
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 19, 2014

We can watch the marijuana policy landscape shift before our eyes, with legalization initiatives and decrim measures popping up around the country and even Oklahoma Republicans arguing over legalization. There is also action on the opiate front, the Senate will vote on defunding the DEA's war on medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and more. Let's get to it:

US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) cosponsors an amendment to cut DEA medical marijuana funding. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Fails to Add Rider to Block DC Decriminalization Law. The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a familiar series of social policy riders on the District of Columbia budget, but did not include one that would seek to undo the city's recent adoption of marijuana decriminalization. It's not a done deal yet, however; such a rider could still be added during the legislative process. The subcommittee did approve riders barring the District from funding needle exchanges or medical marijuana programs.

Delaware Decriminalization Bill Heads for House Floor Vote. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and levy a maximum $250 fine passed the House Public Safety Committee today. House Bill 371 now heads for a House floor vote.

Marijuana Policy in the Oklahoma GOP Governor's Race. In next week's GOP primary, sitting Gov. Mary Fallin is up against two longshot opponents who both favor marijuana legalization. Both Chad Moody, also known as "The Drug Lawyer," and Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican, have come out in favor of freeing the weed. But Fallin says that's not on her to-do list: "I just don't see that it provides a substantial benefit to the people of Oklahoma," Fallin said.

Milwaukee Legalization Initiative Signature-Gathering Drive Underway. A coalition of Milwaukee groups have begun a petition drive to place a municipal legalization ordinance on the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce. The groups have until July 29 to come up with 30,000 valid voter signatures. People interested in helping out can get more information here.

Philadelphia City Council Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana. The city council today approved a decriminalization measure introduce last month by Councilman Jim Kenney. Up to 30 grams is decriminalized, with a maximum $25 fine. Four years ago this month, the city began treatment small-time possession as a summary offense, with a maximum $200 fine and three-hour class on drug abuse.

Activists Gather Twice the Signatures Needed for York, Maine, Legalization Initiative. Activists supported by the Marijuana Policy Project needed 100 valid voter signatures to present a marijuana legalization petition to the York Board of Selectmen. They handed in 200. Similar petition drives are going on in Lewiston and South Portland, and Portland voters approved a legalization referendum last year. The local efforts are laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Sens. Rand Paul, Cory Booker Cosponsor DEA Defunding Amendment in Senate; Vote Could Come as Soon as Tonight. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month.

New York Governor, Legislature in Tentative Deal as Session Draws to End. With the legislative ticking down its final hours, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders today announced a deal that would allow passage of a medical marijuana pilot program, but would not allow patients to smoke their medicine.

North Carolina Limited CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee today.

Drug Policy

Drug Policy in the Colorado GOP Senatorial Race. Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for the state's GOP senatorial nomination, is being attacked as a drug legalizer in a radio ad created by a committee supporting former Sen. Mike Copp. While Tancredo supports marijuana legalization and has in the past spoken of the need to consider drug legalization, he says he is not ready to legalize hard drugs and is demanding that the ads be pulled.

Opiates

Vermont Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Opiate Use. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of bills and executive orders that will ramp up treatment for opiate addiction, but also increase penalties for bringing more than one gram of heroin into the state. The centerpiece of the legislative package is Senate Bill 295, which will fund pretrial screening and drug treatment for suspects before they are arraigned.

New York Assembly Set to Approve Package of Heroin Bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and key lawmakers announced Tuesday night that they had a deal on a package of heroin bills that would raise awareness of the issue and increase insurance coverage of heroin treatment. What isn't clear is whether they agreement also includes a series of Rockefeller drug law-style measure passed by the Republican-dominated Senate that would increase criminal penalties for some heroin offenses.

Harm Reduction

DC Police Chief Orders No Arrests for Overdose Victims. In a recent memorandum, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has instructed her police force to observe protections from arrest and charge granted under a DC law designed to encourage residents to seek immediate medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose. The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#A19-564), which was passed by the D.C. Council in 2012 and took effect on March 19, 2013, provides limited legal protection from arrest, charge and prosecution for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.

Sentencing

Federal Fair Sentencing Act Picks Up Another Sponsor. And then there were 39. Rep. William Envart (D-IL) has signed on as a cosponsor to the Federal Fair Sentencing Act. That makes 25 Democrats, along with 14 Republicans. It would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences and impose retroactivity for crack cocaine sentences handed down before 2010.

International

Britain's Looming Khat Ban Could Create Black Market. A ban on khat is about to go into effect in England, and this report suggests that it could create political tensions in East Africa, as well as creating a black market for the substance in England itself.

Albanian Siege of Marijuana-Producing Village Continues. A police assault on the village of Lazarat that began Monday is still underway as clashes continued between police and armed villagers. Some 800 police are involved in the operation, and they say they have seized or destroyed more than 10 tons of marijuana so far. But that's only a fraction of the 900 tons the village is estimated to produce annually. The town's $6 billion pot crop is equivalent to about half Albania's GDP.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares 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.)

Senate Could Vote to Cut DEA Funds as Soon as Tonight

Cut that funding!

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is reporting that Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal.

The vote could come as soon as tonight or tomorrow, MPP says.

While the House vote was historic, it will be only a symbolic victory unless the Senate also joins in. Passage of the DEA defunding by the Congress (and the presumed signature of the bill by the president) would, on the other hand, have real world consequences--for the better. 

Stay tuned for what could be a very well-deserved slap in the face for the DEA. Even if the measure fails in the Senate, it should provide a heads-up to the agency that there is growing dissatisfaction with it on the Hill. But we don't want to settle for that; we want the DEA handcuffed when it comes to medical marijuana.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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