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Chronicle AM: DOJ Says It Can Still Prosecute Dispensaries, GA Forfeiture Bill Passes, More (4/2/15)

A Tennessee "decrim" bill moves, an Idaho CBD cannabis oil bill is back from the dead, a Georgia asset forfeiture reform bill passes, the Justice Department says it can still prosecute California dispensaries, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Tennessee Bill to Lessen Marijuana Penalties Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would make possession of up to an ounce a misdemeanor punishable only by a $100 fine was approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 873, now goes before the House Finance and Ways and Means Committee. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 1211, is set to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Under current law, possession of between a half-ounce and 10 pounds is a felony.

Medical Marijuana

Justice Department Says It Can Still Prosecute California Dispensaries. A Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday that the congressional ban on the agency interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal does not apply to California dispensary prosecutions. Patrick Rodenbush said the department does not believe the amendment to a spending bill applies to cases against individuals, but only stops Justice from "impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws."

Florida CBD Implementation Bill Faces More Challenges. A bill trying to get the state's CBD cannabis oil law, passed last year, actually implemented is now facing a new challenge: how to give black farmers a fair shot at growing the new crop. The existing law only allows farms that have been in existence for at least 30 years and that grow 400,000 plants or more to apply for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the crop. But hundreds of black farmers say they are being cut out of the deal because 30 years ago, they were still fighting with the US Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and weren't yet in business. The sponsor of both last year's successful bill and this year's implementation bill, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), said he would attempt to address the issue. The bill is Senate Bill 7066.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill is Back from the Dead. The bill, Senate Bill 1146, was killed on a tie vote in the House State Affairs Committee Monday, but the committee has agreed to reconsider it and was set to meet today for further discussion on it. If it passes the committee, it could go to a House floor vote tomorrow.

Prescription Opiates

FDA to Help Drug Makers Develop Abuse-Deterrent Opiates. "The science of abuse-deterrent medication is rapidly evolving, and the FDA is eager to engage with manufacturers to help make these medications available to patients who need them," Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the FDA's commissioner, said in a press release. "We feel this is a key part of combating opioid abuse. We have to work hard with industry to support the development of new formulations that are difficult to abuse but are effective and available when needed." The agency also issued a document called "Guidance for Industry: Abuse-Deterrent Opioids -- Evaluation and Labeling," outlining how future studies can decide whether a new drug has abuse-deterrent properties.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would standardize asset forfeiture procedures easily passed the Senate Tuesday. The bill is House Bill 233. It has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal (R). The bill creates safeguards for owners of seized assets, requires regular accounting, and prohibits law enforcement agencies from using seized goods for anything other than law enforcement.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal CBD bill is filed, the federal medical marijuana bill picks up more sponsors, and bills are moving (or dying) in a number of state. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, a federal CBD bill was filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

As of Tuesday, the House CARERS Act had eight cosponsors. The House version of the federal bill to allow states to move forward on medical marijuana without federal interference is accumulating cosponsors. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced it a week ago today, and it now has seven more cosponsors. Click on the link to see who they are.

California

Last Thursday, the Fresno city council voted to allow residents to grow up to four plants. The move would be a step forward for the city, which last year banned all cultivation within the city limits. The council will take a second and final vote on the measure in coming weeks.

Also last Thursday, four Yuba county medical marijuana growers sued the county over its new, restrictive medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. The ordinance allows only for up to 12 plants to be grown inside a structure -- but not a residence -- and no outdoor grows.

Last Friday, a raided El Dorado County dispensary operator sued the county to recover marijuana and financial and medical records seized during a sheriff's department raid last November. The Pure Life Cannabis Collective has been closed since the raid. The lawsuit charges that the dispensary was legitimate and the raid was not.

Florida

Last Friday, more delays came for the state's CBD medical marijuana program. A Central Florida grower and a South Florida trade association are the latest to file legal challenges to the state Health Department's rules for the program. The program envisions only five growers, and the competition is vicious. Now, there are three active legal challenges, which means the department cannot proceed with the program until they are resolved. This is after an earlier delay caused by an earlier legal challenge.

On Tuesday, an expanded CBD medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of CBD cannabis oil, quadruple the number of dispensing organizations to 20, and establish a time frame for issuing licenses.

Georgia

Last Wednesday, a CBD medical marijuana bill passed the legislature. The House gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Last Friday, Gov. Deal signed an executive order to speed expedite the new law. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed the order to speed up the enactment of House Bill 1, which has passed both houses of the legislature. The bill provides immunity from prosecution for CBD patients who register with the state. Deal said he would sign the bill at the end of the legislative session.

Hawaii

Last Wednesday, a dispensary bill won a pair of committee votes. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Idaho

On Monday, the governor's office pushed back against a CBD cannabis oil bill. Gov. "Butch" Otter (R) sent his drug policy point-man to the capitol today to speak out against Senate Bill 1146, which would provide an affirmative defense for parents of children using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures. Elisha Figueroa, head of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, warned that "Idaho will be violating federal law if this bill passes." Fourteen other Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar laws, but they're all violating federal law, too, he said. Figueroa is pushing for a different bill, Senate Bill 1156, which would set up a special program to run trials on a GW Pharma CBD product called Epidiolex.

On Tuesday, the bill was killed in committee. The House State Affairs Committee listened to hours of tearful testimony from supporters of Senate Bill 1146, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children, then voted to kill it Monday.

Iowa

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

Missouri

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Select Committee on General Laws approved House Bill 800, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a handful of specified diseases. It would also allow for up to 30 dispensaries.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the Assembly approved a trio of medical marijuana bills. Legislators in Trenton Thursday approved adding PTSD to the list of qualifying diseases, and then some. They also approved ACR 224, which would undo the Christie rule that doctors who recommend medical marijuana must be publicly listed and A 4286, which allows dispensaries to share surpluses. The bills now go to the state Senate.

New York

On Wednesday, the state issued final regulations for the medical marijuana program and advocates were not happy. The state has issued final regulations for the program, and they are very similar to the heavily-criticized draft regulations it started out with several months ago. The regs limit the number of dispensaries to 20 and don't add any new qualifying conditions. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the law's sponsor, said the final regs are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."

North Carolina

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was killed in committee. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Tennessee

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The House Health Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookville). The measure, which would not allow for the smoking of marijuana, now goes to the full House Health Committee.

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

Chronicle AM: Holder Takes on Forfeiture Again, NY Medical Marijuana Final Rules, More (4/1/15)

It's mainly medical marijuana news today, but there's also another move on asset forfeiture from Attorney General Holder.

Eric Holder
Medical Marijuana

Florida CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of CBD cannabis oil, quadruple the number of dispensing organizations to 20, and establishe a time frame for issuing licenses.

Idaho CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Killed in Committee. The House State Affairs Committee listened to hours of tearful testimony from supporters of Senate Bill 1146, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures in children, then voted to kill it Monday.

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Select Committee on General Laws has approved House Bill 800, which would allow for the use of medical marijuana for a handful of specified diseases. It would also allow for up to 30 dispensaries.

New York Issues Final Regulations for Medical Marijuana Program; Advocates Upset. The state has issued final regulations for the program, and they are very similar to the heavily-criticized draft regulations it started out with several months ago. The regs limit the number of dispensaries to 20 and don't add any new qualifying conditions. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the law's sponsor, said the final regs are needlessly restrictive and "gratuitously cruel."

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The House Health Subcommittee unanimously approved Tuesday a medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookville). The measure, which would not allow for the smoking of marijuana, now goes to the full House Health Committee.

Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Holder Announces New Curbs on Civil Asset Forfeiture. Federal authorities will only seize bank accounts when serious illegalities have been documented, he said Tuesday. The guidance focuses on Justice Department and IRS agents who have made seizures related to "structuring," or intentionally limiting the size of deposits to avoid scrutiny. "With this new policy, the Department of Justice is taking action to ensure that we are allocating our resources to address the most serious offenses," Holder said in a statement. "Appropriate use of asset forfeiture law allows the Justice Department to safeguard the integrity, security and stability of our nation's financial system while protecting the civil liberties of all Americans."

Chronicle AM: AK Pot Bill Advances, Obama Commutes Drug Sentences, Brit Drug Spat, More (3/31/15)

There will still be marijuana felonies under a bill moving in Alaska, North Dakota has a new hemp law, an Arkansas welfare drug test bill heads to the governor's desk, Obama commutes sentences, and more.

Are there hemp fields on the horizon in North Dakota? (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Senate Passes Marijuana Bill -- Without Ban on Concentrates. The Senate voted Monday night to approve SB 30, the bill designed to update the state's criminal code to reflect marijuana's legalized status. The bill was approved 17-3 after an amendment to make concentrates illegal in two years was defeated. It continues to list pot as a controlled substance and has provisions making it a felony to possess more than a pound or to grow more than 25 plants. It also bans pot businesses in unorganized boroughs.

Another Maine Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mark Dion (D-Portland) has filed a bill to allow adults 21 and over to use marijuana, regulate commercial sales, and tax them at 15%. The bill is still being drafted and is not yet available on the legislative web site. Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) has also filed a legalization bill, but its language isn't completed yet, either. There are also two separate legalization initiative campaigns brewing the in the state.

Hemp

North Dakota Governor Signs Hemp Bill Telling Feds to Butt Out. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) last Friday signed House Bill 1436, which allows farmers to apply to grow the crop for either research or commercial purposes. The bill says that "license required by this section is not conditioned on or subject to review or approval by the United States drug enforcement agency," a direct jab at the DEA. Instead, licensing will be up to the state agriculture department.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Legislature Passes "Suspicion Based" Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House Monday approved Senate Bill 600, which would set up a two-year pilot program for "suspicion based" drug screening and testing of public benefits applicants. The Senate, which had already approved it, gave it a final approval today, and the bill now heads to the governor's desk.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Needle Exchange Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Public Health Committee Monday approved a bill to allow needle exchanges in the 23 counties in the state with the highest rates of hepatitis C infections. The bill actually addresses an HIV outbreak in southeastern Scott County, where Gov. Mike Pence (R) days ago issued an executive order allowing for emergency needle exchanges. The bill now goes to the House floor.

Law Enforcement

Maine Governor Slams Foes As "Weak on Drugs." Faced with legislative skepticism over his proposals to beef up the state's drug enforcement apparatus, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage has come out swinging. "They are weak on drugs," LePage told reporters, describing the legislators. "They simply don't want to deal with the problem. Frankly, they shouldn't be in this hall, they shouldn't be in this building if they can't take care of our children. And the gloves are off now."

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences of 22 Drug Offenders. The president today doubled the number of drug sentence commutations he has issued in one fell swoop by cutting sentences for 22 drug offenders, mostly crack cocaine offenders and mostly doing sentences of 20 years or more. Eight were doing life sentences for drug offenses, including one doing life for growing pot plants.

International

Spanish Cannabis Club Wins Acquittal. The provincial court in Vizcaya has acquitted five people accused of violating Spanish law by forming a club to grow and consume marijuana. The members of the Pannagh collective were charged with drug trafficking and "criminal organization," but in a victory for cannabis advocates, the court held that Pannagh acted within the limits of the concept of "collective cultivation."

British Labor Party Attacks Lib Dems as "Soft on Crime, Drugs, and Thugs." Labor has put out a leaflet attacking the Liberal Democrats on drug and crime policy ahead of looming parliamentary elections, but Labor is taking lots of flak for its efforts. One critic called the Labor approach "medieval," another accused it of underestimating the intelligence of the electorate, and yet another accused Labor of "turning their back on progressive, sensible, evidence-based reform."

Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Including Eight Lifers

President Obama today commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal drug offenders. With that action, he has doubled the number of commutations he has issued since taking office in January 2009.

President Obama commuted 22 drug sentences today. (whitehouse.gov)
The prisoners who got their sentences cut were all convicted of possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Fourteen of the cases involved cocaine.

Many of those were convicted under harsh crack cocaine sentencing laws adopted in the 1980s and at least partially rolled back during the Obama administration. The sentences were typically 20 years or longer, with most of the prisoners having already served more than a decade behind bars.

In eight cases, the defendants were serving life sentences for drug crimes. Among the life sentences, six were for crack cocaine offenses (one included heroin, too), one was for a meth offense, and one was for a Kentucky man convicted of growing more than a thousand marijuana plants.

"Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement announcing the commutations. "Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years -- in some cases more than a decade -- longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

In a first, the president also sent letters to each of the prisoners whose sentences he commuted urging them to take full advantage of any post-release opportunities.

"I wanted to personally inform you that I have granted your application for commutation," President Obama told Terry Barnes at the Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Barnes was only halfway through a 20 year sentence for crack cocaine distribution.

The same letter went out to the other 21 commutees as well.

The prisoners will see their sentences end on July 28. For a complete list, click on the link at the top of this article.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: CO Defends Pot Law, Drug Testing News, Feds Target Reddit Users, More (3/30/15)

Colorado defends marijuana legalization at the Supreme Court, a DC seed sharing event goes big on its second day, pediatricians reject drug testing in schools, two courts set limits on worker drug testing, the feds go after Reddit users over dark web drug sales, and more.

Drug testing took a couple of shots in the courts, and pediatricians say it shouldn't be used in schools. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska House Marijuana Regulation Bill Moves. The House Judiciary Committee has approved a new version of House Bill 79, which defines a municipality's role in regulating pot businesses, sets a maximum household limit of 24 plants, and includes pot clubs in the list of regulated marijuana businesses. The bill also bans public consumption of marijuana.

New Legalization Ballot Campaign Launched in Arizona. Dr. Gina Berman, chair of the Marijuana Policy Project's Arizona legalization initiative campaign, has formed a second ballot committee, Responsible Arizona. It's unclear exactly why, although it could be an effort to blunt opposition to marijuana law reforms from a recently-formed group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. Responsible Arizona has not yet released a draft initiative.

Kansas Bill to Lessen Pot Penalties Will Get Floor Vote. A bill that would lessen penalties for first- and second-time pot law violators will get a floor vote this session, House Speaker Rep. Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) has confirmed. The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Rubin (R-Shawnee), would make second-time possession a misdemeanor with no jail time, as opposed to the up-to-42 months the charge now carries.  

DC Seed Sharing Event Draws Thousands on Day Two. People lined up for blocks around the DC Cannabis Campaign headquarters in Adams Morgan Saturday to get marijuana seeds. The second day of the "seed sharing" event was even more successful than the first.

Colorado Defends Marijuana Legalization at the Supreme Court. State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman last Friday urged the high court to reject a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska seeking to invalidate the state's legalization of marijuana. She told the justices the two states were trying to "selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree." She also pointed out that overturning the state's regulation and taxation of marijuana would lead to a situation where marijuana remains legal, but unregulated.

Medical Marijuana

House CARERS Act Picks Up Cosponsors. The House version of the federal bill to allow states to move forward on medical marijuana without federal interference is accumulating cosponsors. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced it a week ago today, and it now has seven more cosponsors. Click on the link to see who they are.

Georgia Governor Signs Executive Order to Expedite CBD Cannabis Oil Law. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) last Friday signed the order to speed up the enactment of House Bill 1, which has passed both houses of the legislature. The bill provides immunity from prosecution for CBD patients who register with the state. Deal said he would sign the bill at the end of the legislative session.

Idaho Governor's Office Pushes Back Against CBD Cannabis Oil Bill.Gov. "Butch" Otter (R) sent his drug policy point-man to the capitol today to speak out against Senate Bill 1146aa, which would provide an affirmative defense for parents of children using low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil to treat severe seizures. Elisha Figueroa, head of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, warned that "Idaho will be violating federal law if this bill passes." Fourteen other Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar laws, but they're all violating federal law, too, he said. Figueroa is pushing for a different bill, Senate Bill 1156, which would set up a special program to run trials on a GW Pharma CBD product called Epidiolex.

Drug Testing

Pediatricians Reject School Drug Testing. The American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended against schools using suspicionless drug testing. There is little evidence that drug testing deters drug use or helps get users into drug treatment, the group said in an updated policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics.

Anonymous Tip Not Enough to Create "Reasonable Suspicion" for Employee Drug Test, Federal Court Rules. An unidentified source telling a reporter about on the job drug use and the reporter then relaying the assertion to the employer is not enough to create individualized reasonable suspicion" to require a public employee to submit to a drug test, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled this month. The ruling came in the case of a Detroit construction inspector who was fired after refusing a drug test after a reporter called public works to say an anonymous informant had told him workers were smoking pot. The inspector has been reinstated.

Presence of Marijuana Metabolites in Drug Test Doesn't Workman's Comp Benefits, Ohio Court Rules. A worker who had marijuana metabolites in his system is not barred from collecting workman's compensation benefits unless drug use was the proximate cause of his work-related injury, the Ohio Court of Appeals has ruled. In the case in question, the employer showed no evidence the worker was under the influence of marijuana when he was injured, only that he had used it sometime in the recent past.

Law Enforcement

Feds Target Reddit Users in Bid to Crack Dark Web Drug Sales. The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division has subpoenaed Reddit demanding that it turn over personal data about five users of its dark web drug markets forum. The feds are seeking names, IP addresses, data on site visits, and other information, such as phone numbers and credit card data, that Reddit doesn't possess. The popular web discussion site doesn't even require an email address to register. The subpoenas appear to be an expansion of investigations into the Evolution dark web drug sales site.

Sentencing Reform

DC Sentencing Reform Summit Drew Hundreds. More than 600 lawmakers, advocates, and criminal justice leaders gathered in the nation's capital last Thursday to unite for sentencing reform. Among those attending were Attorney General Holder, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), The Wire creator David Simon, and many more. Click on the link for more details and press coverage. 

International

Vietnam Moving to End Death Penalty for Some Drug Offenses. The Ministry of Justice last week proposed abolishing the death penalty for a number of crimes, including heroin smuggling. It said it would keep the death penalty for heroin dealing, but not for smuggling and possession. Those acts will only carry a penalty of up to life in prison. 

Two More Drug War Deaths This Week

A Virginia man was shot and killed by police Tuesday after a drug investigation turned into a chase and confrontation, and a Florida man died Wednesday after swallowing drugs in a bid to avoid arrest by a police drug task force. Walter Brown III and Michael Antoine Rodriguez become the 14th and 15th persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

According to The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, citing police sources, Brown was sitting in a car with another man outside the Southside Garden apartments in Portsmouth when police conducting surveillance for drug activity suspected he might have been selling drugs. The other man got out of the passenger seat, but Brown, in the driver's seat, drove away. Police chased him through Portsmouth until he pulled onto the lawn of a residence and ran up to the front door. (It was Brown's house.)

An officer used a stun gun on Brown without being able to subdue him, police said. Brown and the officer struggled into the house, down a hallway, and into a bedroom before two other officers arrived. Brown was again hit with a stun gun, again to no avail. Police said he then pulled out a handgun. One officer yelled "Gun!" and tried to grab it from Brown's hand, and another officer opened fire, shooting Brown three to five times.

Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Brown's wife, Octavia, was in the house at the time. She told reporters she had been ordered out of the room where her husband and police were fighting. Then she heard shooting. She said police would not let her see her husband's body. She said he had just gone out to pick up lunch before going to work.

"Why would they take him from us?" she asked. "Why would they take him from his kids?"

She said police treated her husband like an animal.

"He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he was a family person," she said. "He did not have a weapon."

Police said they recovered a handgun from the scene.

"I know my son had emotional problems all his life," said Walter Brown, Sr., who said his daughter-in-law had called him to tell him his son was dead. "He had problems with authority. He didn't like nobody grabbing on him. He would fight back," he said. "No matter if it was drug-related or whatever, it could have been handled a different way."

Meanwhile, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, citing police sources, on Wednesday, the Broward County Drug Task Force was conducting an undercover drug operation in Oakland Park when Rodriguez, 38, showed up shortly before 10:00pm carrying a methamphetamine delivery.

When Rodriguez saw narcs approaching to arrest him, he swallowed the drugs. Detectives tried to stop him, but failed. They then called for medical assistance, and Rodriguez was taken to Holy Cross Hospital nearby. He then went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.

Chronicle AM: CA Poll Has 55% for Legalization, GA MedMJ CBD Bill Passes, DEA Sex Parties, More (3/26/15)

Marijuana and medical marijuana remain hot items at the statehouse, a new report says DEA agents partied with prostitutes paid for by drug traffickers, Indiana's governor okays emergency needle exchanges, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Bill Would Still Treat Pot as Controlled Substance. The state Senate is preparing to vote Friday on the bill to deal with marijuana post-legalization, but it will vote on a version of Senate Bill 30 that keeps marijuana listed as a controlled substance. A Judiciary Committee draft removed marijuana from the list, but the Senate voted as a whole to adopt instead language from the Finance committee that keeps it on the list.

New California Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55%. A new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll has 55% of Californians supporting marijuana legalization. "Support for legalization is at its highest point since PPIC began asking the question in May 2010," the group noted.

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy Releases Policy Road Map Today. A group of experts led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is today unveiling a "progress report" that outlines issues that should be addressed in any legalization initiative going before voters next year. The commission also includes the ACLU, leading academics, law enforcement officials, and activists.

Massachusetts Prosecutors Reject Legalization. State DAs showed little interest in legalizing marijuana at a statehouse hearing Wednesday. "We ought to turn ourselves into Denver, Colorado, where gummy bears are littering the streets that are made of marijuana?" asked Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe in a typical comment from prosecutors. If the legislature doesn't legalize pot this year or next, the state is extremely likely to see one or more initiatives to do so next year.

New Jersey Governor Says Marijuana Tax Revenue is "Blood Money." Gov. Chris Christie (R) used the occasion of the ribbon-cutting event at a drug treatment facility to reiterate his opposition to marijuana legalization. Christie said marijuana is a "gateway drug" and that tax revenues from its sale would amount to "blood money."

ResponsibleOhio Begins Signature Gathering. Signature gathering started Wednesday for the group's marijuana legalization initiative, which is unique and controversial because of its scheme to essentially create a commercial marijuana monopoly with only 10 registered commercial growers. The group needs some 300,000 signatures by July to qualify for this year's ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Federal CBD Bill Filed. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has filed HR 1635, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabidiol (CDB) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the definition of marijuana under the act.

Georgia CBD Passes Legislature, Governor Will Sign. The House Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 1, which would allow patients with eight specified diseases to use CBD cannabis oil. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said today he will sign the bill.

Hawaii Dispensary Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Public Health and Public Safety committees have approved House Bill 321, which would create dispensaries and production centers in each county in the state. They also amended the bill to speed up the opening of dispensaries, which would now be set for next year.

Iowa Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday approved Senate Study Bill 1243, which would allow patients with a number of specified medical conditions to use medical marijuana -- but not to smoke it.

North Carolina House Committee Kills Medical Marijuana Bill. After an intense hour-long hearing, the House Judiciary Committee voted to kill a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 78. Some supporters of the bill vowed to move to other states, while one Republican foe of the bill, Rep. Dan Arp, complained he was struck in the back by an angry supporter. The man was detained by police, but later released without charges.

Heroin and Opiates

Kentucky Legislature Passes Compromise Heroin Bill. After more than three years of negotiations, the legislature has passed a bill that will allow for needle exchange programs, but also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is expected to sign the bill.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Authorizes Limited Needle Exchange Program to Fight HIV Outbreak. Gov. Mike Pence (R) has declared a public health emergency in Scott County, which has seen 79 new HIV cases since December, all tied to needle sharing among drug users. The move allows him to institute a short-term needle exchange program to attempt to slow the outbreak.

Drug Testing

Arkansas Welfare Drug Testing Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has approved House Bill 1924, which would establish a pilot program to require welfare applicants to undergo screening for drug use and submit to drug tests if deemed "suspicious." The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Law Enforcement

DEA Agents in Colombia Enjoyed "Sex Parties" Paid for By Drug Traffickers. A new report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General finds that foreign drug trafficking organizations paid for "sex parties" attended by DEA agents, including at least one DEA Supervisory Agent. At least seven overseas agents admitting attending parties with prostitutes, and they were hit with penalties of suspensions ranging from two to10 days. The DEA wasn't especially helpful in preparing the report, the OIG noted.

International

New Zealand Prime Minister Rejects Marijuana Decriminalization. Prime Minister John Key said while campaigning Thursday that he did not support marijuana decriminalization. When accused by a listener of wanting to lock people up, he said, "It's not so much that, I just don't agree with drugs." That prompted Northland candidate Maki Herbert to retort that Key was sending mixed messages. "On the one hand he wants cannabis to remain a crime but he denies wanting to lock people in jail for that crime," she said. "Mr. Key should remember that alcohol is also a drug, one which he admits to using regularly."

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A DC FBI agent's heroin habit gets the best of him, a sticky-fingered Utah narc is in trouble, so are four Memphis jail guards, and crooked cops in San Francisco and Houston head for prison. Let's get to it:

In Washington, DC, an FBI agent was arrested last Friday on charges he stole hundreds of grams of heroin seized in drug raids, keeping it in his car, and occasionally using it. Matthew Lowry, 33, will plead guilty to 64 counts of obstruction of justice, heroin possession, and conversion of property, his attorney said. Lowry's larceny caused federal prosecutors to have to drop charges against at least 28 defendants in drug cases and to notify 150 more than Lowry had been part of their investigations.

In South Salt Lake, Utah, a Unified police detective was arrested last Friday on charges he stole more than $8,500 in drug buy money from the department. Sgt. Kenneth Calhoun, 49, went down after an audit earlier this year revealed discrepancies in the drug buy funds. The audit identified at least 46 cases where Calhoun submitted "chits" for drug buy funds, but never turned in any drugs. He is charged with misuse of public money and official misconduct. The 19-year department veteran is now on administrative leave.

In Memphis, four Shelby County corrections deputies were arrested Monday on charges they conspired to smuggle Oxycontin into the county jail. The four went down in a sting after the FBI's Tarnished Badge Task Force found "cooperating" inmates who agreed to ask them to smuggle the drugs into the jail. The sting included meetings between the jailers and people named by the inmates as intermediaries where fake Oxycontin pills and cash were given to them. The jailers then smuggled the pills into the jail, where the cooperating inmates turned them in to authorities. All four are now looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In San Francisco, a former San Francisco police undercover officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years and three months in prison for stealing money and belongings from people during drug searches. Edmond Robles, 47, a 22-year veteran of the force, had been convicted in February of five counts -- conspiracy to violate civil rights, two counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program (namely, the Police Department) and theft. Robles is the third San Francisco police officer to go down in the case, which targeted residents of the city's SRO hotels.

In Houston, a former Houston police officer was sentenced last Friday to more than five years in federal prison for agreeing to use his law enforcement position to provide security for a 10-kilogram drug deal. He agreed to provide security for a $2,500 payment. He had been indicted on charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.

Medical Marijuana Update

There is now a House version of the federal CARERS Act, California regulatory squabbles continue, CBD cannabis oil bills move in the darndest places, and more.

National

On Monday, a House version of the federal medical marijuana bill was filed. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (D-AK) introduced the House version of the CARERS Act filed two weeks ago in the Senate. Both bills would allow states to have medical marijuana without federal interference, reschedule marijuana to Schedule II, allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana, allow interstate commerce in CBD cannabis oils, and ease banking problems for the industry. The House version is HR 1538.

California

Last Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo city council approved an odor ordinance aimed at medical marijuana cultivators. After complaints from residents, the council amended the ordinance to apply to any offensive and persistent odors. The ordinance includes provisions specifying when enforcement actions could be taken. One more council vote is necessary for the measure to become law.

Last Friday, several Clearlake residents filed a lawsuit against the ban on cultivation in the city. The lawsuit was filed in Lake County Superior Court and says the recently adopted ban violates both the letter and the spirit of Proposition 215.

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors voted to ban commercial medical marijuana production. Supervisors voted 3-2 to allow only limited personal grows. The county says there are 145 illegal pot grows there, up from 80 last fall. The new rules allow for only a 100-square foot garden per parcel. The ban is set to go into effect on May 30, after a second reading.

Last Friday, Upland patient advocates sought a court order to force a special election on dispensaries this year. The California Cannabis Coalition charges that the city council violated election laws when it decided to delay placing a dispensary ballot initiative on the ballot until the 2016 general election. They will get a hearing on the motion in May.

Georgia

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a CBD cannabis oil bill. The state Senate approved House Bill 1, which would allow the use of the oil for eight specified medical conditions. The bill has already passed the House, but because it was amended in the Senate, it has to go back for a final House vote. That was expected to happen today.

Idaho

Last Friday, two CBD cannabis oil bills were headed for Senate floor votes. A bill that would allow for the use of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of epilepsy passed the Senate State Affairs Committee and now heads for a Senate floor vote. The measure is Senate Bill 1106. Another cannabis oil bill that would only allow an affirmative defense, Senate Bill 1146, also awaits a Senate floor vote.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved one of those bills. The state Senate voted 22-12 to approve Senate Bill 1146, which would allow the use of the oil for children with severe forms of epilepsy. The bill had originally only offered an affirmative defense to prosecution, but was amended in the Senate to go further. The bill now heads to the House.

Louisiana

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was pre-filed. State Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has pre-filed a bill that would allow for the use of marijuana for specified medical conditions, including seizure disorders, glaucoma, cancer, and the side effects of cancer treatments. The bill is House Bill 6. Last year, similar legislation failed to get out of committee in the face of opposition from law enforcement. The session begins April 13.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, North Carolinians rallied for a new medical marijuana bill in Raleigh. More than a hundred people rallied at the state capitol today in support of House Bill 317, which would allow for medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients. Rep. Kelly Alexander formally introduced it today.

Tennessee

Last Thursday, a Republican state senator said he would file a medical marijuana billl. State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) said today he is working on a bill that would allow for medical marijuana. He said he expected to have final details by Monday. A Democratic bill in the House has yet to make it out of committee.

Last Saturday, medical marijuana advocates rallied in Johnson City. Hundreds of people showed up for the Smoky Mountain Medical Marijuana Rights Rally and march in Johnson City Saturday. The rally comes as the state legislature considers a number of medical marijuana-related bills.

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

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