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DC Marijuana Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering

The District of Columbia Board of Elections announced this morning that it had approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature-gathering. That means voters in the nation's capital could vote to free the weed in November.

The Board rejected warnings from the city's attorney general, who said that the initiative would put DC in conflict with federal law if it passed.

Now, the DC Cannabis Campaign must gather some 25,000 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But first, the Board of Elections must finalize the language for the measure. It has 20 days to do so.

The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to three plants at home. If approved by the voters, it would still have to get an okay from Congress, which blocked the District's 1999 medical marijuana from being implemented for more than a decade. But that was a different era.

The initiative appears well-placed to win if it goes before the voters. A Washington Post poll in January had support for legalization at 63%, above the 60% comfort margin usually desired by initiative watchers at the beginning of a campaign.

Alaska voters are already set to vote on a legalization initiative there in August, and efforts are underway in the other most likely 2014 initiative state, Oregon, to get a measure on the November ballot there.

Washington , DC
United States

Responding to Holder on Heroin, Reformers Call for a Health Direction [FEATURE]

US Attorney General Eric Holder had heroin on his mind Monday, using his weekly video message and an accompanying press release to draw attention to rising heroin overdose deaths and vowing to combat the problem with a combination of law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and harm reduction measures. Drug reformers generally responded positively, but called on the Obama administration to seek comprehensive, science- and health-based solutions instead of engaging in more drug war.

Attorney General Holder takes on heroin (usdoj.gov)
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates -- including certain prescription pain-killers -- is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results. Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45%," Holder said. "Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to -- and increase in -- heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we've seen over the past decade."

What Holder didn't mention is that the rise in prescription pain pill misuse is tied to a massive increase in prescribing opioids for pain in the past decade. A study published last fall found that between 2000 and 2010, the amount of opioids prescribed for non-cancer pain had nearly doubled, and that during the same period, the percentage of people complaining of pain who received prescriptions for opioids jumped from 11% to nearly 20%. But reining in prescriptions generally isn't the answer either.

But at the same time, a 2011 Institute of Medicine report found that while "opioid prescriptions for chronic non-cancer pain [in the US] have increased sharply… 29% of primary care physicians and 16% of pain specialists report they prescribe opioids less often than they think appropriate because of concerns about regulatory repercussions."

As the IOM report noted, having more opioid prescriptions doesn't necessarily mean that "patients who really need opioids [are] able to get them." Opioid misuse and under-use of opioids for pain treatment when they are needed are problems that coexist in society. Pain pill crackdowns have also been found to result in increased use of street heroin, as a Washington Post article last week reports -- two additional reasons advocates prefer public health approaches to heroin more than law enforcement -- and why great care should be taken with the law enforcement measures.

"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent -- and growing -- public health crisis. And that's why Justice Department officials, including the DEA, and other key federal, state, and local leaders, are fighting back aggressively," Holder continued. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."

Holder pointed to DEA efforts to prevent diversion of pharmaceutical pain-relievers to non-medical users, mentioning investigations of doctors, pharmacists, and distributors.

"With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users," Holder said.

Cooking heroin (wikimedia.org)
Holder also pointed out that DEA had opened some 4,500 heroin investigations since 2011 and promising more to come.

But, as Holder noted, "enforcement alone won't solve the problem," so the administration is working with civil society and law enforcement "to increase our support for education, prevention, and treatment."

And although he didn't use the words "harm reduction," Holder is also calling for some harm reduction measures. He urged law enforcement and medical first responders to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) and signaled support for "911 Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.

Holder got restrained plaudits from drug reformers for his small steps toward harm reduction measures, but they called for a more comprehensive approach.

"Preventing fatal overdose requires a comprehensive solution," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While naloxone is an absolutely critical component, we need a scientific, health-based approach to truly address the roots of the problem. This includes improving access to effective, non-coercive drug treatment for everyone who wants it, as well as improving access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine."

Naloxone (Narcan) can reverse opiate overdoses (wikimedia.org)
Ralston also added that just making naloxone available to cops and EMTs wasn't good enough. Friends and family members, not "first responders," are most often the people who encounter others in the throes of life-threatening overdoses.

"While we applaud Attorney General Holder's clear support for expanding access to naloxone, particularly among law enforcement and 'first responders,' we urge him to clarify that he supports naloxone access for anyone who may be the first person to discover an opiate overdose in progress," she said.

But Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs, applauded the move, which could help soften reflexive law enforcement opposition to carrying the overdose antidote, an attitude reflected in the the International Association of Chiefs of Police's opposition to all harm reduction measures.

"Police may not be the first to embrace change, but we are slowly evolving," said Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.). "We cannot arrest our way out of a public health problem, and it's clear that the Attorney General is beginning to understand that and to embrace the role of harm reduction in reducing death, disease and addiction in our communities. We still have a long way to go, but this is a good sign."

The idea is "a no-brainer," according to executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). "It is simply immoral not to support something proven to save lives for political reasons," Franklin added. "Yes, police send a message when they choose not to carry naloxone. But that message is not 'don't do drugs,' it's 'if you make the wrong decisions in your life, we don't care about you.' That offends me both as a former cop and as a human being."

The nuanced pushback to Holder's law enforcement/prevention/treatment/hint of harm reduction approach is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Decriminalizing and destigmatizing now illicit drug use, as has been the case in Portugal, is an obvious next step, and removing the question of drugs from the purview of the criminal justice system altogether would be even better. Still, that a sitting attorney general is calling for treatment and harm reduction as well as law enforcement is a good thing, and for reformers to be calling him on not going far enough is a good thing, too.

Chronicle AM -- March 10, 2014

California's Democrats endorse marijuana legalization, Caricom gets ready to talk marijuana, Attorney General Holder calls for expanded access to naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, legislatures in the Pacific Northwest make moves on medical marijuana, and more. Let's get to it:

Caribbean leaders are discussing ganja this week. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Federal Marijuana Impaired Driving Bill. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a supporter of marijuana legalization, has introduced the Limiting Unsafe Cannabis-Impaired Driving (LUCID) Act, which would expand the federal definition of an impaired driver to include those impaired by marijuana use. The bill is not yet available online, and the devil is in the details. Stay tuned.

California Democratic Party Endorses Legalization. The California Democratic Party voted Sunday to include in its platform a plank "to support the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol."

Support for Legalization at CPAC. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington included many supporters of marijuana legalization, according to both a Huffington Post informal survey and a CPAC straw poll, which had 62% saying legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Program Won't Consider Adding New Conditions Until 2015. A Health Department spokesperson said late last week that the state's medical marijuana program will not consider expanding the list of conditions covered under state law until next year. That would appear to contradict the law, which required the health department to consider adding new diseases requested by the public after it submitted two annual reports, beginning in 2011, charting the program's progress. It also required the health department to produce a biennial report in 2012 and every two years after assessing whether there were enough growers to meet demand. But the Chris Christie administration didn't issue any reports at all until late last month, and now says it is too soon to add more illnesses.

Washington Senate Votes to Regulate Medical Marijuana. Legislation that would essentially fold the state's existing medical marijuana program into the I-502 legalization framework passed the Senate Saturday. Senate Bill 5887 would require dispensaries to be licensed under the legalization format. Patients could get their medicine there or grow their own, and they could voluntarily register with the state to get a partial tax break and buy greater quantities than allowed under general legalization. The measure now goes to the House, which has already passed a bill that requires mandatory patient registration. The session ends this week.

New York Assembly Democrats Roll Medical Marijuana Bill into Budget Proposal. In a bid to finally get medical marijuana through the legislature, Assembly Democrats have folded a bill to do that into this week's budget proposal. The bill resembles the Compassionate Care Act introduced by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), but is not identical to it.

Harm Reduction

Holder Calls Heroin ODs "Urgent Public Health Crisis," Calls for Expanded Naloxone Access. US Attorney General Eric Holder Monday said the Justice Department was stepping up efforts to slow the increase in heroin overdose deaths. As part of that effort, he reiterated the administration's call for more law enforcement agencies to be equipped with the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan).

Methamphetamine

Pseudoephedrine Restriction Bill Introduced in Missouri House. Reps. Stanley Cox (R-118) and Kenneth Wilson (R-12) have filed a bill that lowers limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine-based medicines that people can purchase each month, sets an annual limit on purchase amounts, lowers the amount people can legally possess, and requires a prescription for anyone with a felony drug offense. House Bill 1787 is similar to legislation filed earlier this year in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 625, is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

International

LEAP Proposes Amendment to UN Drug Treaties. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has proposed an amendment to the UN drug treaties, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. The amendment seeks to "eliminate the criminalization-oriented drug policy paradigm and replace it with a health, harm reduction, and human rights-oriented policy." The proposed amendment is accompanied by a letter to world leaders from LEAP executive director Neill Franklin. Read the amendment by clicking on the title link and sign onto it at the MoveOn.org link here.

Caricom Leaders to Debate Marijuana Legalization This Week. Leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc will discuss a preliminary report on decriminalizing marijuana and exploring its medicinal uses at a two-day summit beginning today on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The summit comes on the heels of a research report released last week by Caricom researchers that found such moves could help the region's sluggish economy.

Mexico Kills La Familia Cartel Leader -- Again. Mexican authorities are reporting that that they killed Nazario "El Mas Loco" (The Craziest One) Moreno in a shootout in Michoacan Sunday. The funny thing is that Moreno, one time leader of the La Familia Cartel, was also reported killed by authorities in December 2010. But his body was never found, and now government spokesmen say he was still alive and was acting as head of La Familia's replacement, the Knights Templar Cartel.

"The New Jim Crow" Author Michelle Alexander Talks Race and Drug War [FEATURE]

On Thursday, Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling and galvanizing The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sat down with poet/activist Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance to discuss the book's impact and where we go from here.

Michelle Alexander (wikimedia.org)
The New Jim Crow has been a phenomenon. Spending nearly 80 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, it brought to the forefront a national conversation about why the United States had become the world's largest incarcerator, with 2.2 million in prison or jail and 7.7 million under control of the criminal justice system, and African American boys and men -- and now women -- making up a disproportionate number of those imprisoned. Alexander identified failed drug war policies as the primary driver of those numbers, and called for a greater challenge to them by key civil rights leaders.

It's now been nearly four years since The New Jim Crow first appeared. Some things have changed -- federal sentencing reforms, marijuana legalization in two states -- but many others haven't. Alexander and Bandele discuss what has changed, what hasn't, and what needs to, raising serious questions about the path we've been down and providing suggestions about new directions.

Audio of the conversation is online here, and a transcript follows here:

Asha Bandele: The US has 5% of the world's population, but has 25% of the world's incarcerated population, and the biggest policy cause is the failed drug war. How has the landscape changed in the last four years since The New Jim Crow came out?

Michelle Alexander: The landscape absolutely has changed in profound ways. When writing this book, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by the failure of many civil rights organizations and leaders to make the war on drugs a critical priority in their organization and also by the failure of many of my progressive friends and allies to awaken to the magnitude of the harm caused by the war on drugs and mass incarceration. At the same time, not so long ago, I didn't understand the horror of the drug war myself, I failed to connect the dots and understand the ways these systems of racial and social control are born and reborn.

But over last few years, I couldn't be more pleased with reception. Many people warned me that civil rights organizations could be defensive or angered by criticisms in the book, but they've done nothing but respond with enthusiasm and some real self-reflection.

There is absolutely an awakening taking place. It's important to understand that this didn't start with my book -- Angela Davis coined the term "prison industrial complex" years ago; Mumia Abu-Jamal was writing from prison about mass incarceration and our racialized prison state. Many, many advocates have been doing this work and connecting the dots for far longer than I have. I wanted to lend more credibility and support for the work that so many have been doing for some, but that has been marginalized.

I am optimistic, but at the same time, I see real reasons for concern. There are important victories in legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in Holder speaking out against mandatory minimums and felon disenfranchisement, in politicians across the country raising concerns about the size of the prison state for the first time in 40 years, but much of the dialog is still driven by fiscal concerns rather than genuine concern for the people and communities most impacted, the families destroyed. We haven't yet really had the kind of conversation we must have as a nation if we are going to do more than tinker with the machine and break our habit of creating mass incarceration in America.

Asha Bandele: Obama has his My Brother's Keeper initiative directed at black boys falling behind. A lot of this is driven by having families and communities disrupted by the drug war. Obama nodded at the structural racism that dismembers communities, but he said it was a moral failing. He's addressed race the least of any modern American president. Your thoughts?

Michelle Alexander: I'm glad that Obama is shining a spotlight on the real crisis facing black communities today, in particular black boys and young men, and he's right to draw attention to it and elevate it, but I worry that the initiative is based more in rhetoric than in a meaningful commitment to addressing the structures and institutions that have created these conditions in our communities. There is a commitment to studying the problem and identifying programs that work to keep black kids in school and out of jail, and there is an aspect that seeks to engage foundations and corporations, but there is nothing in the initiative that offers any kind of policy change from the government or any government funding of any kind to support these desperately needed programs.

There is an implicit assumption that we just need to find what works to lift people up by their bootstraps, without acknowledging that we're waging a war on these communities we claim to be so concerned about. The initiative itself reflects this common narrative that suggests the reasons why there are so many poor people of color trapped at the bottom -- bad schools, poverty, broken homes. And if we encourage people to stay in school and get and stay married, then the whole problem of mass incarceration will no longer be of any real concern.

But I've come to believe we have it backwards. These communities are poor and have failing schools and broken homes not because of their personal failings, but because we've declared war on them, spent billions building prisons while allowing schools to fail, targeted children in these communities, stopping, searching, frisking them -- and the first arrest is typically for some nonviolent minor drug offense, which occurs with equal frequency in middle class white neighborhoods but typically goes ignored. We saddle them with criminal records, jail them, then release them to a parallel universe where they are discriminated against for the rest of their lives, locked into permanent second-class status.

We've done this in the communities most in need our support and economic investment. Rather than providing meaningful support to these families and communities where the jobs have gone overseas and they are struggling to move from an industrial-based economy to a global one, we have declared war on them. We have stood back and said "What is wrong with them?" The more pressing question is "What is wrong with us?"

Asha Bandele: During the Great Depression, FDR had the New Deal, but now it seem like there is no social commitment at the highest levels of government. And we see things like Eric Holder and Rand Paul standing together to end mandatory minimums. Is this an unholy alliance?

Michelle Alexander: We have to be very clear that so much of the progress being made on drug policy reflects the fact that we are at a time when politicians are highly motivated to downsize prisons because we can't afford the massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. This is the first time in 40 years we've been willing to have a serious conversation about prison downsizing.

But I'm deeply concerned about us doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This movement to end mass incarceration and the war on drugs is about breaking the habit of forming caste-like systems and creating a new ethic of care and concern for each of us, this idea that each of us has basic human rights. That is the ultimate goal of this movement. The real issue that lies at the core of every caste system ever created is the devaluing of human beings.

If we're going to do this just to save some cash, we haven't woken up to the magnitude of the harm. If we are not willing to have a searching conversation about how we got to this place, how we are able to lock up millions of people, we will find ourselves either still having a slightly downsized mass incarceration system or some new system of racial control because we will have not learned the core lesson our racial history is trying to teach us. We have to learn to care for them, the Other, the ghetto dwellers we demonize.

Temporary, fleeting political alliances with politicians who may have no real interest in communities of color is problematic. We need to stay focused on doing the right things for the right reasons, and not count as victories battles won when the real lessons have not been learned.

Asha Bandele: Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug use has remained flat, overdoses been cut by a third, HIV cut by two-thirds. What can we learn from taking a public health approach and its fundamental rejection of stigma?

Michelle Alexander: Portugal is an excellent example of how it is possible to reduce addiction and abuse and drug related crime in a non-punitive manner without filling prisons and jails. Supposedly, we criminalize drugs because we are so concerned about the harm they cause people, but we wind up inflicting far more pain and suffering than the substances themselves. What are we doing really when we criminalize drugs is not criminalizing substances, but people.

I support a wholesale shift to a public health model for dealing with drug addiction and abuse. How would we treat people abusing if we really cared about them? Would we put them in a cage, saddle them with criminal records that will force them into legal discrimination the rest of their lives? I support the decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. If you possess a substance, we should help you get education and support, not demonize, shame, and punish you for the rest of your life.

I'm thrilled that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana and DC has decriminalized it -- these are critically important steps in shifting from a purely punitive approach. But there are warning flags. I flick on the news, and I see images of people using marijuana and trying to run legitimate businesses, and they're almost all white. When we thought of them as black or brown, we had a purely punitive approach. Also, it seems like its exclusively white men being interviewed as wanting to start marijuana businesses and make a lot of money selling marijuana.

I have to say the image doesn't sit right. Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for doing the same thing. As we talk about legalization, we have to also be willing to talk about reparations for the war on drugs, as in how do we repair the harm caused.

With regard to Iraq, Colin Powell said "If you break it, you own it," but we haven't learned that basic lesson from our own racial history. We set the slaves free with nothing, and after Reconstruction, a new caste system arose, Jim Crow. A movement arose and we stopped Jim Crow, but we got no reparations after the waging of a brutal war on poor communities of color that decimated families and fanned the violence it was supposed to address.

Do we simply say "We're done now, let's move on" and white men can make money? This time, we have to get it right; we have to tell the whole truth, we have to repair the harm done. It's not enough to just stop. Enormous harm had been done; we have to repair those communities.

Chronicle AM -- March 7, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has passed the legislature with only temporary local bans allowed, more CBD medical marijuana bills are moving, an Indiana hemp bill has passed the legislature, and more. Let's get to it:

Yours truly with Peruvian coca farmer. The government wants to eradicate his crop. (Phil Smith/stopthedrugwar.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Cops Want Marijuana Tax Dollars Because…. Colorado police chiefs have written a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) asking for a bigger cut of marijuana tax revenues. "Many of our local law enforcement agencies have diverted staff from other operations into marijuana enforcement, leaving gaps in other service areas as a direct result of marijuana legalization," according to the letter from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. They claim they need more money to learn how to spot stoned drivers, to pay for "oral fluid testing" at DUI stops, and to create a database of marijuana-related crime.

Maryland Senate Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a decriminalization bill on a 8-3 vote Friday. Senate Bill 364, cosponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard), would replace criminal penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana with a $100 fine, similar to a parking ticket. It would also make penalties for minors the same as those for underage possession of alcohol. Under current Maryland law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Puerto Rico Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Approval Looming. Bills that would decriminalize small-time pot possession (Senate Bill 517) and allow for medical marijuana (House Bill 1362) in Puerto Rico are due for debate soon and are expected to pass. The decrim bill has already passed the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Home Grow Bill Passes House. The House Friday approved a bill that would allow patients to grow their medicine while waiting for the state to develop regulations for dispensaries and commercial medical marijuana cultivation. House Bill 1622 now heads for the state Senate.

Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel Recommends PTSD as Qualifying Condition. The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel appointed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has decided to recommend that the department add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. It is now up to Steve Arwood, Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to accept or reject the recommendation. If he does, Michigan will become the 8th state to allow marijuana for the treatment of PTSD.

South Carolina CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House Panel. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for epileptic seizures passed a House subcommittee Thursday. House Bill 4803, sponsored by Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville), calls for clinical trials of a CBD-based drug, but very few can participate in such trials, Hilton said. While the bill would also allow doctors to prescribe CBD oil pharmaceuticals, it's unclear whether all doctors would be able to do so.

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Stalls in Senate. A bill that would allow for the use of high-CBD cannabis oil for treatment of seizure disorders hit a roadblock as the Senate adjourned Thursday before taking it up. Senate Bill 174 could still get a hearing next week, though.

California Dispensary Limits Bill Gets Hearing Next Week. A bill that would expand the minimum distance of dispensaries or collectives from schools to 1,000 feet (up from 600 feet under current law) is set for a hearing next week. Assembly Bill 1588 will go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday. It is opposed by Cal NORML.

Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Passes With Only Temporary Local Bans Allowed. The Oregon Senate Friday gave final approval to a statewide dispensary regulation bill after the House approved compromise language that would allow localities to issue moratoria on dispensaries, but only for a year while they figure out how to regulate them. Senate Bill 1531 now heads to the governor's desk.

Hemp

Indiana Hemp Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would license Indiana farmers to grow hemp has been approved by the legislature. Senate Bill 357 passed the Senate unanimously last month and passed the House 93-4 earlier this week. Because it was amended in the House, the Senate needed to approve the changes. It has now done so, and the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Pence (R).

Harm Reduction

Transnational Institute Releases Paper on Cocaine Harm Reduction. The Transnational Institute has released the latest paper in its Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies. The paper, Cocaine: Toward a Self-Regulation Model -- New Developments in Harm Reduction, argues that most cocaine users do not "escalate toward addiction," but instead self-regulate their use, and that drug treatment programs stressing the disease model of addiction should be replaced by programs that empower users and their ability to self-regulate.

Federal Overdose Prevention Bill Reintroduced. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and 18 cosponsors reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat Act (House Resolution 4169) Friday in a bid to reduce the toll of fatal drug overdoses. It would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs run by community agencies and municipal, state and tribal governments. The bill is supported by the American Medical Association, the Trust for America's Health, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Law Enforcement

Press Conference Monday to Promote New Jersey Bail Reform. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is set to hear a bail reform bill Monday morning, but before that happens, supporters of the legislation will hold a statehouse news conference will faith leaders. Click on the link for more details. A number of bail bills have been filed; it's not clear which one(s) will be heard.

International

Italian Government Won't Challenge Abruzzo Law Allowing Medical Marijuana. The Italian government has decided not to challenge a regional law that would permit the supply of cannabis-based prescription drugs in Abruzzo, government sources said. The decision would open the door for legal marijuana use for therapeutic purposes in the central Italian region. The case refers to a law passed this past January. The area has been on the vanguard of cannabis legislation in Italy for years.

Peru Will Spend $300 Million to Eradicate Coca Crops. Peru's government has reaffirmed its pledge to meet a coca eradication target set at 30,000 hectares by allocating US $300 million for boosting ongoing efforts to tackle drug trafficking, Peruvian Prime Minister, Rene Cornejo, said on Thursday. Cornejo's remarks came during the signing ceremony of a financing agreement with the European Union to support the country's National Anti-Drug Strategy. Peru is once again the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, after losing that title to Colombia late in the last century.

Israeli Health Ministry Approves Medical Marijuana for Epileptic Kids. The Health Ministry has decided to approve the use of medical marijuana for children suffering from extreme cases of epilepsy, but only if other drugs are ineffective or less effective. It's not clear if only high-CBD cannabis oils are approved, but the exception for epilepsy is only for kids. The ministry also added fibromyalgia to the list of approved diseases and conditions.

Chronicle AM -- March 6, 2014

Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary regulation bill has gone back to the Senate with compromise language allowing only temporary local bans, a GOP US Senate candidate there says legalize it, Chuck Schumer fights heroin, Canada's Tories look to be going soft on pot law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

Canadian Justice Minister Peter Mackay hints that something much like marijuana decriminalization is coming. (petermackay.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Legalization Debate Draws Hundreds. A week after the Alaska marijuana legalization initiative was officially certified for the ballot, hundreds of people streamed into the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska in Anchorage for a debate on marijuana policy. In an opening speech, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance called the war on drugs "a rat hole of waste" and that marijuana prohibition was "grounded in bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance." Then a panel of five people, including Nadelmann, as well as an anti-legalization Project Sam representative, went at it. Click on the title link for more.

Another Missouri Legalization Initiative Approved for Signature-Gathering. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved a marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering Wednesday. This is not one of the initiatives filed by Show-Me Cannabis, which had a bakers' dozen of similarly-worded initiatives approved earlier this year, but has decided to wait until 2016 for its effort. The initiative has a May 4 deadline for handing in petitions, and must obtain signatures from registered voters equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the 2012 governor's election from six of the state's eight congressional districts.

Maryland Sheriffs Rally Against Legalization. Local sheriffs attended a rally in Annapolis to voice opposition to proposed legislation to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland Wednesday. Sheriffs from the Eastern Shore and local police chiefs attended a rally sponsored by the Maryland Sheriff's Association and its supporters. The sheriffs are taking a stand against legalizing marijuana in Maryland, as lawmakers ponder a legalization bill.

Oregon GOP US Senate Candidate Endorses Legalization. Portland attorney Tim Crawley, who is seeking the Republican US Senate nomination, favors marijuana legalization. In a press release this week, he said he had "long been concerned with the tremendous waste of money and human potential the criminalization of marijuana has involved." In a subsequent interview, Crawley said he would support a legalization initiative in Oregon and if elected to the Senate, he would support removing marijuana from the controlled substances list.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon House Passes Dispensary Regulation Bill With Only Temporary Local Bans. The statewide dispensary legalization and regulation bill, Senate Bill 1531, passed out of the House on Wednesday with a provision allowing localities to ban dispensaries, but only for a year while they develop regulations for them. The Senate has already passed a version without the temporary ban language, but is expected to accept this compromise language.

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances with House Committee Vote. A bill that would allow the use of high-CBD cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday. House Bill 843 now heads for the House Judiciary Committee.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced. A bill to allow patients with specified diseases and conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation to use and grow their own medicine or purchase it at dispensaries has been introduced. House Bill 4879, filed by Minority Leader Rep. J. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Heroin

Schumer Wants New York Heroin Database. US Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called Wednesday for a standardized heroin database to fight crime and addiction related to the drug's use. "Data and information sharing drives solutions, and we're seriously lacking in that department," said Schumer. "All we know for sure is heroin is ravaging families across New York state." He called on the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to help set up a statewide "Drugstat" database to track heroin use patterns, hospitalizations, and overdoses, which he said could help police combat the drug.

Law Enforcement

California Informants Sue San Luis Obispo Over Rogue Narc. A civil lawsuit recently filed in federal court against the city and county of San Luis Obispo by two former confidential informants of disgraced narcotics detective Cory Pierce charges that Pierce allegedly forced the female informant to have sex with him. Pierce is currently serving a prison term for corruption. According to prosecutors in his federal trial, both informants aided Pierce in acquiring cash, oxycodone and heroin, and now allege that they were forced into indentured servitude, including being kept addicted to drugs and engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. According to prosecutors, Pierce used the informants to set up drug buys with local dealers, then later robbed them. The federal lawsuit alleges that Pierce used his position as a detective to force the woman into engaging in sex with him, including an act of oral copulation, and on another occasion, forced sexual intercourse. Click on the link for more sleazy details.

International

Canada's Tories Hint at Move Toward Ticketing Marijuana Possession Offenders. Conservative Justice Minister Peter Mackay said Wednesday that the government is seriously considering looser marijuana laws that would allow police to ticket anyone caught with small amounts of pot instead of laying charges, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday. "We're not talking about decriminalization or legalization," MacKay said prior to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill. "The Criminal Code would still be available to police, but we would look at options that would... allow police to ticket those types of offenses." Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has called for legalization.

Vancouver Police Say They Won't Bother with Busting Dispensaries. All but a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries are supposed to be illegal after Canada's new medical marijuana law comes into effect April 1, but Vancouver police said Wednesday they are not going to bother them unless there are signs they are selling to people without a medical marijuana permit. "I don't think for now there is any plan to change the current drug policy that is in place to fit specifically with these changes," said Constable Brian Montague. "We don't have plans for massive raids on April 2nd."

(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.)

Medical Marijuana Update

CBD medical marijuana bills are moving in states that have traditionally been unreceptive to medical marijuana, New Mexico moves to increase supply, Maryland promulgates draft rules, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, marijuana foes urged the Justice Department not to reschedule marijuana, instead calling for more research.  Project SAM, addiction-oriented medical groupings, and anti-drug groups sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department urging it to resist calls to reschedule marijuana and calling instead for easier access to marijuana for researchers. The signatories have "deep concern" about the "normalization" of marijuana and about "recent statements from members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use."

California

Last Wednesday, Shasta County petitioners handed in more than 13,000 signatures, double the number required to force the county's pending ban on outdoor medical marijuana gardens onto the November ballot.

Florida

On Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana passed a House Subcommittee vote. The "Charlotte's Web" bill (House Bill 843), named after a strain believed to reduce epileptic seizures, passed a subcommittee of the House Criminal Justice Committee and now awaits a full committee vote.

Georgia

On Monday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the House. The bill would make CBD cannabis oil available to treat certain seizure disorders. House Bill 885 now goes to the state Senate.

Iowa

On Sunday, a poll found solid majority support for medical marijuana in the Hawkeye State. The Iowa Poll had support at 59%. But support for general legalization was only at 28%. Medical marijuana bills introduced in the legislature in recent years have gone nowhere.

Maryland

Last Thursday, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission released proposed draft regulations for medical marijuana programs and growers. The commission is taking comments for one more week. The program is supposed to be ready for implementation by July 1.

Michigan

On Wednesday, a bill that would bar patients from growing or smoking in rental properties unless their landlord approves passed the Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), now heads to the House.

Minnesota

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was approved by a House committee. House File 1818 passed the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee and now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, but faces opposition from law enforcement, which is demanding that marijuana be available only in pill, liquid, or vapor form.

New Mexico

Last Friday, the Department of Health announced it was taking steps to increase the supply of medical marijuana. It is proposing to increase the number of marijuana plants and seedlings that licensed, nonprofit producers can have and open the application process for more producers to become licensed. There are only 23 producers in the state now, but the number of patients is on the rise. After reviewing information about patients' weekly usage and purchases, officials concluded that the program's participants need more than 11,000 pounds of marijuana yearly. The problem: Producers were reporting harvests that would provide only about 2,200 pounds.Under the proposals announced Friday, producers would be able to boost their crop from a total of 150 plants and seedlings to as many as 150 mature plants and 300 seedlings. The state would also be looking to add another 12 producers to the list.

New York

On Monday, medical marijuana supporters launched a month-long campaign to get a bill passed. Patients, families, caregivers and healthcare providers gathered Monday in Albany to launch March for Compassion, a month of activities and events held around New York to demand the State Senate to past the Compassionate Care Act (Assembly Bill 6357/Senate Bill 4406) by April 1.  The patients are living with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other serious, debilitating medical conditions, and the families include parents of children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet's syndrome.

Oregon

On Wednesday, legislators were still struggling to find compromise on the bill to regulate dispensaries statewide. Legislators trying to get the statewide dispensary regulation bill, House Bill 1531, through the House have floated the idea of allowing localities to enact temporary moratoria of up to a year in a bid to win over cities and counties that have objected to having to allow dispensaries to operate. The bill has already passed the Senate without allowing localities to ban dispensaries, and bill sponsors have indicated they will not support a bill that allows bans. Stay tuned.

Utah

On Monday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the Utah House. The bill would make CBD cannabis oil available on a trial basis for children suffering seizure disorders. House Bill 105 passed on a 62-11 vote and now goes to the state Senate.

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

Chronicle AM -- March 5, 2014

Washington state's marijuana legalization passes a milestone, the DEA gets an earful on pot in Congress, the fight over Oregon's statewide dispensary regulation bill continues, pain pill prescriptions decrease, Indian poppy farmers are plagued by strung-out antelope, and more. Let's get to it:

"Hey, buddy, know where I can score?" Opium-addicted nilgai are wrecking Indian poppy crops. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers Take on DEA Over Marijuana in Congressional Committee Hearing. DEA official Thomas Harrigan was on the hot seat at a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee Tuesday. "There are no sound scientific, economic or social reasons to change our nation's marijuana policy," Harrigan told loudly skeptical lawmakers, even though he could not point to one death caused by marijuana. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) were among those who raked Harrigan over the coals. Click on the link for more.

First Ever Marijuana Producer License in Washington Granted in Spokane. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has granted the first license to grow marijuana for the state's legal pot market. The honor goes to Kouchlock Productions of Spokane, owned by Sean Green, who also owns dispensaries in Spokane and Seattle.

Oregon Bill to Put Legalization on November Ballot Dead in Senate. The Oregon legislature will not act to put marijuana legalization before the voters in November. A bill to do so, Senate Bill 1556, sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Portland), doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate and faces near certain death in committee, lawmakers said Tuesday. That means if Oregon wants to legalize it this year, it will have to happen through the citizen initiative process.

North Carolina Poll Has Slight Majority Opposing Legalization. A new Elon Poll has 51% of North Carolinians opposed to marijuana legalization, with 39% in favor. The only demographic group to support legalization was young people. Among the 18-to-30 group, 54% said legalize it.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Foes Urge Justice Department Not to Reschedule, Call for More Research. Project SAM, addiction-oriented medical groupings, and anti-drug groups sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department urging it to resist calls to reschedule marijuana and calling instead for easier access to marijuana for researchers. The signatories have "deep concern" about the "normalization" of marijuana and about "recent statements from members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use."

Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee advanced a medical marijuana bill Tuesday. House File 1818 now moves to the House Government Operations Committee, but faces opposition from law enforcement, which is demanding that marijuana be available only in pill, liquid, or vapor form.

Compromise on Oregon Dispensary Regulation Bill Would Allow Only Temporary Local Bans. Legislators trying to get the statewide dispensary regulation bill, House Bill 1531, through the House have floated the idea of allowing localities to enact temporary moratoria of up to a year in a bid to win over cities and counties that have objected to having to allow dispensaries to operate. The bill has already passed the Senate without allowing localities to ban dispensaries, and bill sponsors have indicated they will not support a bill that allows bans. Stay tuned.

Michigan Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Restriction Bill. A bill that would prohibit medical marijuana users from growing or smoking their medicine in rental properties, including apartments and hotels, passed the Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), allows landlords to ban such activities in leases. The bill now heads to the House.

Hemp

Nebraska Hemp Bill Passes Senate. A bill to allow the production, sale, and purchase of industrial hemp overwhelmingly passed the Senate Tuesday. Legislative Bill 1001 passed on a vote of 32-1. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Norm Wallman (D-Cortland). It now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill to Drug Test Politicians Filed. State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) has filed a bill to require drug testing for judges and elected officials. The bill, House Bill 1435, is intended to "ensure that public officers are sober as they undertake their responsibility to make policy decisions that affect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they represent." But similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in the federal courts.

Prescription Drugs

Opioid Prescriptions Decrease. Doctors and healthcare providers wrote approximately 11 million fewer prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in 2013 than in 2012. They wrote about 230 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet in 2013 according to data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That's down about 5% from 2012, when about 241 million prescriptions were written.

Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill Would Up Penalties for Synthetic Drugs. State Rep. Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) Tuesday introduced a bill to increase the penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs. House Bill 495 would reduce the weights of synthetic drugs that trigger trafficking charges and would shift a first offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

International

Indian Villagers Want Leopards Returned to Protect Legal Opium Crops From Strung-Out Antelope. Poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh's opium belt want leopards returned to their area because, in their absence, opium-addicted nilgai (antelope) are wreaking havoc with their crops. The district had two leopards until 2008, but they were removed after farmers complained they feared for their lives. But since then, the population of nilgai has skyrocketed, fearlessly attacking poppy crops, and now the villagers want the big cats back. "Our opium fields were safe as long as leopard was here," said one. [Ed: Note that India including the Madhya Pradesh province is one of the countries providing licit opium growing for the global medicinal market.]

Mexican Vigilantes Demand Resignation of Apatzingan Mayor. Vigilantes opposed to the presence of the Knights Templar Cartel in the western state of Michoacan took over city hall in Apatazingan, a city of 100,000, Monday and demanded the resignation of the mayor, who they say is allied with the cartel. The vigilantes had entered the city three weeks ago, but pulled back to the outskirts and set up checkpoints to prevent cartel members and supporters from entering. The vigilantes are allied with Mexican security forces, who are attempting to absorb them as Rural Defense Forces.

Chronicle AM -- March 4, 2014

The INCB releases its annual drug report and so does the US State Department, DC moves toward marijuana decriminalization and so does New Hampshire, the Georgia House approves a CBD medical marijuana bill and so does the Utah House, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. The District of Columbia city council Tuesday voted 10-1 to give final approval to a marijuana decriminalization bill. It must still be signed by the mayor and approved by Congress. The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized.

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Decriminalization Bill. The New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved a decriminalization bill Tuesday. House Bill 1625 would allow for the possession of up to an ounce. It would also make the cultivation of up to six plants a misdemeanor.

Oklahoma City Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Ready to Get Underway. Signature gathering will begin Friday for an Oklahoma City municipal initiative that would decriminalize small-time pot possession. Advocates filed the measure Monday. They have 90 days to gather some 6,200 valid voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot in the next municipal election. Click on the link to see the initiative.

Pennsylvanians Evenly Split on Legalization, Favor Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for legalization at 48%, with 49% opposed. Medical marijuana is favored by 85%.

Northeastern NAACP Chapters Endorse Rhode Island Legalization.The New England Area Conference of the NAACP, comprising chapters in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, is supporting legislation to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. Among other reasons, the NAACP cited "an alarming racial disparity" in marijuana arrests.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Georgia House Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available to treat certain seizure disorders. House Bill 885 now goes to the state Senate.

Utah House Approves CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The Utah House Monday approved a bill to make CBD cannabis oil available on a trial basis for children suffering seizure disorders. House Bill 105 passed on a 62-11 vote and now goes to the state Senate.

Drug Testing

Georgia House Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Georgia House Monday approved a bill that would require food stamp and welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if a state caseworker suspects they are using drugs. A positive drug test would result in a loss of benefits. House Bill 772, sponsored by Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) now goes to the state Senate.

Indiana Senate Committee Amends, Then Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Indiana Senate Health Committee Monday approved a welfare drug testing bill, but only after amending it so that it only applies to recipients with previous drug convictions. Senate Bill 287 now heads to the Senate floor.

Prescription Drugs

Oklahoma House Approves Bill Adding Prescription Drugs to Drug Trafficking Statute. The Oklahoma House Monday unanimously approved a bill that would make people carrying large quantities of specified prescription drugs subject to drug trafficking charges. The bill adds morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and benzodiazepine to the list of drugs in the trafficking statute. People possessing more than specified amounts of those drugs could face prison time and Senate.

International

International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report, Frets About Marijuana Legalization. The INCB is very "concerned" about moves to legalize marijuana in US states and Uruguay. But the UN agency is also coming under serious attack from critics over what they call its ideologically-based positions. Click on the link for access to the report and to read our feature article on it and the critics.

State Department Releases Annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Click on the link to read the report.

DC City Council Okays Marijuana Decriminalization

Washington, DC, is set to become the next entity to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession after the city council Tuesday gave final approval to a decriminalization bill. The bill must still be approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, who has signaled support for decriminalization.

But even after the mayor signs off, the measure will not become law until Congress has completed a required legislative review. That process could last into the summer.

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014" (Council Bill 20-409) removes the threat of arrests for the possession of less than an ounce and replaces it with a $25 fine, the lowest fine in any state that has decriminalized. In setting the fine so low, council members cited homelessness in the District and high poverty rates in areas of the city that have seen the highest numbers of arrests.

Police still can, however, seize your marijuana and whatever you used to smoke it. And public use of marijuana remains a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

"This is a big step forward for our nation's capital, as well as our nation as a whole. Clearly, marijuana prohibition's days are numbered in the United States," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which supported the bill. "We should not be saddling people with criminal records simply for using a substance that is less harmful than alcohol," Riffle said. "Law enforcement resources should be used to address serious crimes, not to arrest and prosecute adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Neither the District nor any of the states can afford to continue criminalizing adults for marijuana possession."

"For far too long, people of color have been disproportionately and unfairly arrested and marginalized for marijuana possession in the District of Columbia. DC council members took the first critical step today toward ending the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition policies that have perpetuated racial disparities in the criminal justice system for decades," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, which also supported the bill.

"Council members heard the public's demand that marijuana arrests end and have passed model legislation that is one of the strongest marijuana decriminalization laws in the whole country," Smith continued. "Mayor Vincent Gray should sign and ensure this bill goes to Congress for its review without delay. With every day that passes, more District residents' lives are irrevocably harmed with these senseless marijuana possession arrests."

Passage of the decrim bill is by no means the end of pot politics in the District this year. Two other marijuana-related bills are still before the council, one (Council Bill 20-467) that would seal marijuana arrest and conviction records and one (Council Bill 20-466) that legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana commerce for adults.

And looming over the legislative activity is the DC marijuana legalization initiative, which is awaiting approval for signature-gathering from the Board of Elections.

Washington, DC
United States

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