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The Smoke Clears on California Marijuana Legalization as AUMA Takes Center Stage [FEATURE]

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

After several years of jostling since the defeat of Proposition 19 in 2010, the smoke has cleared in California and it now appears that a single, well-funded marijuana legalization initiative will go before the voters next November. That vehicle is the California Control, Tax, and Regulate Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), backed by Silicon Valley tech billionaire Sean Parker, WeedMaps head Justin Hartfield, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), and a growing cast of state and national players.

The AUMU has sucked all the air out of the room for other proposed initiatives, most notably the measure from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA), which had been widely assumed to the effort around which the state's various cannabis factions could coalesce.

Instead, more than half of the ReformCA board members have now endorsed the AUMA, including Oaksterdam University founder and Prop 19 organizer Richard Lee, California Cannabis Industry Association director Nate Bradley, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) head Neill Franklin, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) deputy director Stacia Cosner, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap head David Bronner.

That move came earlier this month, after proponents of the AUMA amended their initial proposal to provide safeguards against child use and protections for workers, small businesses, and local governments that also bring it closer in line with Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy.

"These amendments reflect a collaborative process of public and expert engagement and make an extremely strong measure even stronger," Dr. Donald O. Lyman, MD, the measure's lead proponent said in a statement. "This measure now includes even more protections for children, workers, small business, and local governments while ensuring strict prohibitions on marketing to kids and monopoly practices."

"We have carefully reviewed amendments submitted by the proponents of the AUMA, and we're convinced it's time to endorse that initiative and unite everyone behind a single, consensus measure to achieve a legal regulated system, which a majority of voters have consistently said they want," Bronner said in a statement.

Here's what the AUMA would do:

Local control. Cities and counties can regulate or totally prohibit commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, sales, and deliveries, but they can't ban deliveries merely passing through their jurisdiction. They can ban even personal outdoor grows, but not indoor ones.

Personal possession. Adults 21 and over can possess up to an ounce or eight grams of concentrate.

Personal cultivation. Adults can grow up to six plants per household, if their localities don't ban personal outdoor grows. Also, landlords maintain the right to ban cultivation or even possession on their property. Growers can possess all the fruits of their harvest.

Social consumption. Localities may allow on-site marijuana consumption at designated businesses.

Public consumption. Not allowed.

Taxation. A 15% excise tax on marijuana products, plus state and local sales taxes, plus a $9.25 an ounce cultivation tax on buds and a $2.75 one on leaves. Also, counties may impose additional taxes, subject to a popular vote.

Regulation. The state agencies empowered to regulate medical marijuana under this year's three-bill regulation package have their briefs expanded to include non-medical marijuana as well.

Licensing. Provides tiered licensing based on business type and size, but to protect small businesses bars the issuance of the largest tier of cultivation licenses for five years and creates a special licensing tier for "microbusinesses."

Employee drug testing. Still allowed.

Criminal offenses. Possession of more than an ounce, cultivation of more than six plants, unlicensed sales, and possession for sale are all six-month misdemeanors, reduced from felonies, although they can still be charged as felonies in some cases.

Tech billionaire Sean Parker has vowed to match MPP donations for California. (wikimedia.org)
This past weekend, the AUMA picked up the support of Tim Blake, organizer of the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, which this year drew a record crow to the annual growers' competition/trade show.

"You know what, I'm going to endorse this thing," Blake told activists assembled for a legalization debate.

His endorsement drew a mixed reaction from the crowd, many of whom want to see a more wide open form of legalization. That's a sentiment that's shared by some prominent figures in the state's marijuana community. Dale Gieringer, a ReformCA board member and long-time head of Cal NORML is one of them.

"This is like 60% legalization," he said. "Some people on the board endorsed it, but I didn't endorse, and Cal NORML doesn't endorse it. We're a consumer organization, and from the standpoint of consumers, the AUMA is the worst drafted one," he said, ticking off a list of issues.

"Cities can still ban dispensaries, deliveries, and outdoor cultivation," he noted, "and it makes it illegal to consume publicly. There are a lot of medical marijuana users in San Francisco where the only legal place they can smoke is the street. And it treats vaping like smoking, which is totally outrageous and unjustified in our opinion."

"These are all major disappointments," he said. "This was an opportunity for California to move ahead of the rest of the country, but instead they blew it with excessive language. This is 60 pages of text. We'll be looking at years and years of litigation."

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is on board with the AUMA. (gavinnewsom.com)
That doesn't necessarily mean Cal NORML will oppose it, though, Gieringer said.

"If it ends up being the only thing on the ballot in November, I suspect we would support it," he conceded.

At this point, that looks extremely likely to be the case. None of the other initiatives are showing any signs that they have the organization or the funding to go out and get the 365,000 valid voter signatures needed to make the ballot.

Gieringer also conceded that passage of the AUMA would be progress.

"If it passes, it will do three valuable things," he said. "Adults can grow six plants and possess an ounce. Just allowing for personal use is extremely important. The AUMA decreases mandatory felony penalties for cultivation or possession with intent to sell down to misdemeanors in most cases, and that's important. And it establishes a legal marketplace for adult use."

The AUMA may not be perfect, but unless Californians are willing to go another election cycle or wait for the legislature to legalize it, this is most likely what they'll have a chance to vote for.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Progam, Syrians Flee ISIS for Lebanon's Hash Trade, More (12/23/15)

Two federal agencies make drug policy-related announcements, Syrians are fleeing the ISIS caliphate to work in the hash fields of Lebanon, and more.

Lebanese hash field (cannabisculture.com)
Medical Marijuana

DEA Eases Requirements for Natural Marijuana-Derived Research. The DEA today eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

New Hampshire to Begin Issuing Medical Marijuana ID Cards. State officials said today that they will begin issuing ID cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

Asset Forfeiture

Justice Department Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program. The Justice Department released a memorandum Monday notifying law enforcement agencies that it is temporarily suspending the equitable sharing program asset forfeiture funds because of tight budgets. This means law enforcement agencies will no longer get a share of federal funds confiscated through civil asset forfeiture, and that means law enforcement agencies have lost a considerable financial incentive to turn drug busts over to the feds. Many state laws require seized funds to be allocated to the general fund or education funds, and law enforcement agencies used the federal equitable sharing program to get around those laws. Under the federal program, the local seizing agency got 80% of the haul.

International

Syrians Flee ISIS to Harvest Hash in Lebanon. Refugees from Raqqa, the capital of the ISIS caliphate, are fleeing across the border to Lebanon, where they can get work in that country's booming cannabis trade. Their work in the trade places them in danger of retribution from the jihadists if they return home, they said. "If Islamic State back home knew we work with hashish, they would cut us" with knives, said one refugee.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress again blocks the Justice Department from messing with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, California localities scurry to regulate or face losing that authority to the state, Maryland patients find out they face more delays, and more.

National

Last Friday, Congress passed a budget bill barring the DOJ from interfering in medical marijuana states. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

On Wednesday, the DEA eased requirements for natural marijuana-derived research. The DEA eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

California

For the past few weeks, localities across the state have been acting to ban or regulate medical marijuana before the state assumes the power to regulate it itself. Once the three bills that comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act go into effect March 1, cities or counties that do not have a land use regulation or ordinance governing cultivation and delivery in place will lose control and the state will become "the sole licensing authority" for those enterprises. There are getting to be too many of them for us to list them all.

Florida

Last Friday, the Supreme Court okayed medical marijuana initiative ballot language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supports collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, the Health Department issued dispensary rules. The Health Department released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

Maryland

On Monday, patients got news they will have to wait until 2017 to get their medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission announced that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Detroit city council approved a restrictive dispensary ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, officials announced they will begin issuing medical marijuana ID cards. State officials said that they will begin issuing the cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

New Jersey

On Monday, a Senate panel approved employment protections for patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

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

Chronicle AM: Colombia Legalizes MedMJ, MD MedMJ Delayed Until 2017, More (12/22/15)

DPA ups the pressure on Louisiana Gov. Jindal to free Bernard Noble, Maryland patients face further delays, Colombian patients won't, and more.

Colombian President Santos signs medical marijuana decree today. (colombia.gob)
Marijuana Policy

The Drug Policy Alliance Requests Sentencing Reprieve for Louisianan Given 13-year Prison Sentence for Possession of Two Marijuana Cigarettes. The Drug Policy Alliance today formally requested the Louisiana governor today to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release Mr. Noble from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes. "The sentence inflicted by Louisiana on Mr. Noble for simple, low-level marijuana possession, on a gainfully employed father with absolutely no history of any serious or violent crime, is a travesty," said Daniel Abrahamson, senior legal advisor to the Drug Policy Alliance. "Mr. Noble's sentence does not enhance public safety. It has devastated Mr. Noble and his family. And it flies in the face of what Louisianans believe and what current law provides. Governor Jindal should exercise mercy and use his power as Governor to advance fairness, justice and compassion by issuing Mr. Noble a sentencing reprieve."

Wyoming Decriminalization Bill Introduced. For the third year in a row, Rep. Jim Byrd (D-Cheyenne) has introduced a bill to decriminalize pot possession. House Bill 3 would decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, with a $50 for less than a half ounce and a $100 fine for up to an ounce.

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Patients Will Wait Until 2017 to Get Their Medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission said Monday that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

New Jersey Senate Panel Approves Employment Protections for Patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 Monday to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

Harm Reduction

Indiana County to Start Needle Exchange in Bid to Fend Off Hep C. Monroe County will become the fourth in the state to authorize needle exchange programs after officials there declared a public health emergency amid an outbreak of Hepatitis C. That declaration allows the county to start a needle exchange program.

International

Colombia Legalizes Medical Marijuana. President Juan Manuel Santos today signed a decree legalizing medical marijuana. "This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana," he said from the presidential palace. "It places Colombia in the group of countries that are at the forefront... in the use of natural resources to fight disease."

Israel's Top Ethicist Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Professor Asa Kasher, described as "Israel's preeminent expert on ethics and philosophy," told the Knesset Committee on Controlled Substances Tuesday that restrictions on medical use of marijuana violated the principles of medical ethics and that general legalization "can be promoted, but only if the process includes relevant regulation."

Chronicle AM: Pittsburgh Decriminalizes, College Drug Testing News, ODs Hit Record High, More (12/21/15)

Pittsburgh decriminalizes, Detroit restricts dispensaries, the Univ. of Alabama is forcing all frat members to be drug tested, fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year, and more.

Rastaman has reason to smile after Jamaica grants festival a "marijuana exemption." (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Signature Count Certified. The initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been certified as handing in enough signatures to force the legislature to consider it this spring. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act by May 3, the campaign must then come up with another 10,000 signatures to put the issue directly to the voters in November.

Pittsburgh City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted 7-2 today to approve a decriminalization ordinance. The bill makes possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offense, with a fine of $100. The measure was intended to "help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system," said bill sponsor Public Safety Chair David Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Approves Restrictive Dispensary Ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

Public Health

CDC: Drug Overdoses Hit New High Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control reported last Friday that more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, with 60% of them involving heroin or prescription opiates. Heroin overdose deaths were up 26%, prescription opiate deaths were up 9%, and synthetic opiate deaths (mainly fentanyl) nearly doubled over 2013.

Drug Testing

University of Alabama Subjects All Frat Members to Mandatory Drug Tests. Every fraternity member at the school was required to pass a drug test at the beginning of the academic year, and now, fraternity members are being randomly selected each week for more drug tests. If students test positive, they get several warnings before they are expelled from the fraternity and a university anti-drug program intervenes to "help students get back on track before the school doles out harsher penalties. The drug testing program has been criticized by fraternity members and others as invading the privacy of students, but no one has yet challenged it in court.

ACLU to Appeal Federal Court Ruling Allowing Drug Testing of All Students at Missouri Tech College. The ACLU of Missouri said it will appeal an 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the suspicionless drug testing of all students at the State Technical College of Missouri. The ACLU is seeking a rehearing of the case before the same three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in the school's favor or by the entire bench in the 8th Circuit. The ACLU had filed suit in 2011 to challenge the policy and won at the district court level, but the appeals court last year reversed the lower court decision. The federal courts have held that, with a handful of exceptions, mandatory suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures. The ACLU said the appeals court decision is "poorly crafted and departs from the 8th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent."

International

"Marijuana Exemption" Granted for Jamaica Rasta Festival. The Rebel Salute 2016 festival, to be held next month in St. Ann, has been granted a "marijuana exemption" personally delivered by Justice Minister Mark Golding. "Persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith," explained a Justice Ministry factsheet. "Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event." This is the second time such an exemption has been granted.

Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

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Chronicle AM: DE Decriminalizes Tomorrow, Drought Halves Afghan Opium Crop, More (12/17/15)

The Obama administration weighs in on Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado legalization, Delaware decrim goes into effect tomorrow, Hawaii released medical marijuana dispensary rules, drought is hurting Afghan poppy production, and more.

Afghan opium production is down 48% this year, thanks to drought conditions. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law. In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law. The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems." Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause. They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce. But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction. The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

Delaware Decriminalization Goes Into Effect Tomorrow. Beginning tomorrow, people caught possessing an ounce of pot or less will face a $100 civil fine instead of a criminal charge. Minors caught smoking pot in public will still face criminal sanctions.

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Bill Unveiled. A legalization bill to be introduced next month by Sens. Jeannette White (D-Windham) and Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) will allow Vermonters to possess up to one ounce and grow up to 100 square feet. Any harvest from personal grows in excess of an ounce must be kept in a secured location. The bill would also set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce, and it would for public consumption in lounges where customers could purchase and use marijuana.

Pittsburgh Decriminalization Wins Preliminary Vote. The city council voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill would make possession of up to 30 grams a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Health Department Issues Dispensary Rules. The Health Department Tuesday released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

International

Drought Forces Decline in Afghan Opium Production. For the first time since 2009, opium production has decreased in Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said reported. The area under cultivation declined by 19% from last year -- an all-time high -- and production declined even more, by 48%. UNODC attributed the decline to drought conditions. "The low (overall) production can be attributed to a reduction in area under cultivation, but more importantly to a drop in opium yield per hectare," said the report, which was released last week. "The lack (of) sufficient water for irrigation... affected the decision of some farmers not to cultivate poppy."

Mexico City Mayor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana-Based Medicines. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera is pushing a national initiative in the congress to allow the importation -- but not the production in Mexico -- of marijuana-based medications. He said if morphine-based medicines are legal, marijuana-based ones should be, too.

Obama Administration Urges Supreme Court to Dismiss States' Suit Against Colorado Marijuana Law

In a brief filed Wednesday, the US Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana legalization law.

Will they agree with the Solicitor General?
The two states had filed the lawsuit in December 2014, complaining that "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system" and that "marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

Nebraska and Oklahoma argued that Colorado's voter-approved system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and thus violates the Constitution's supremacy clause.

They seek an injunction invalidating the sections of the Colorado legalization law that regulate legal marijuana commerce.

But in its brief urging the high court to dismiss the lawsuit, the Solicitor General argues that the Supreme Court is not the proper venue for the case because Nebraska and Oklahoma show no direct injury by the state of Colorado (as opposed to third parties acting criminally) and it is thus not a proper case of original jurisdiction.

The proper jurisdiction, the Solicitor General suggested, was federal district court.

The state of Colorado is fighting the lawsuit, and the Solicitor General's brief largely followed the arguments of the state in its briefs.

Drug reformers applauded the action.

"We are pleased the DOJ agrees that this lawsuit borders on the frivolous. States have historically been allowed to establish their own criminal laws," said Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Moreover, Colorado is putting resources into ensuring its policies follow DOJ guidelines and has worked extensively with the DOJ towards this goal."

The federal government itself has not challenged the regulatory law in Colorado, nor did they choose to interfere with its implementation. To the contrary, the government has deprioritized enforcement of state-level marijuana reforms and acknowledged the interests that both states and the Federal government have in openly regulating marijuana.

"Nebraska and Oklahoma's primary problems are their own punitive policies regarding marijuana use and possession," said Art Way, Colorado State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is not Colorado's fault these states look to spend such a high degree of law enforcement and judicial resources on marijuana prohibition. Nebraska and Oklahoma should look to establish policies based on the potential harm of marijuana as opposed to simply using marijuana as the gateway to their criminal justice systems."

"This is the right move by the Obama administration," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. "Colorado and a growing number of states have decided to move away from decades of failed prohibition laws, and so far things seem to be working out as planned. Legalization generates tax revenue, creates jobs and takes the market out of the hands of drug cartels and gangs. New federal data released this week shows that as more legalization laws come online, we're not seeing an increase in teen marijuana use, despite our opponents' scare tactics," he continued.

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