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Medical Marijuana Update

From Alabama to Washington, medical marijuana continues to be a burning issue. Here's the latest:

Alabama

Supporters of a medical marijuana bill pending in the state legislature are tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to lawmakers. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, which composed House Bill 66, is working on amendments to assuage concerns of legislators. One would add a 5% sales tax earmarked for city and county law enforcement to fight drugs; another would more closely define the doctor-patient relationship.

Arizona

The lawsuits are not over yet. Last week, the medical marijuana interests who filed a successful lawsuit to force state officials to implement the dispensary portion of the state's medical marijuana law filed an amendment to that lawsuit. Compassion Care First is seeking a summary judgment against state officials over regulations that require that a medical marijuana dispensary employ a licensed physician as a medical director. The requirement to employ a medical director is not found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed by voters in November 2010, the lawsuit charges. Meanwhile, state officials said they were moving forward with the dispensary application and licensing process. Up to 124 dispensaries are allowed under the law.

California

Last Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors quietly voted to amend the county's marijuana cultivation ordinance to eliminate the provision allowing collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel with a permit through the Sheriff's Office. The new ordinance reverts to the 25-plant limit for all growers, and is effective March 14. The county acted after the US Attorney's Office threatened to file an injunction against the county's ordinance and "individually go after county officials who were supporting these laws," 5th District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said.

Last Wednesday, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA) announced it was supporting the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012, which would impose statewide regulation on medical marijuana operations. GLACA only lists 13 dispensaries on its roster, but has been a powerful player as city hall deals with the issue. The group said it had donated $50,000 to the campaign, which is in its signature-gathering phase.

Last Thursday, Sacramento County medical marijuana activists announced a local initiative campaign aimed at returning dispensaries to the county. Last year, there were at least 80 dispensaries operating in the county; now, after federal threats and the county's ban, there are nearly none. Longtime local activists Kimberly Cargile and Mickey Martin are behind the Patient Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis Act of 2012. It would allow one dispensary per every 25,000 people, for a total of 20 to 25 dispensaries and tax sales at 4%. It would also limit advertising and impose a 1,000-foot rule on dispensaries near schools and parks.

Also last Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved three new dispensaries, all in the Excelsior district. There are currently 21 dispensaries in the city, but 12 have been the subject of federal inquiries. Last year, the feds were interested in five other dispensaries; those are all gone now after landlords received threat letters.

Last Friday, the city of Murrieta won a preliminary injunction against a cooperative operating despite a local ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can no longer distribute marijuana at the location, the injunction said.

Also on Friday, President Obama was met by medical marijuana demonstrators when he came to San Francisco on a fund-raising trip. The action was part of a national week of action criticizing the Obama administration's hard-line approach on the issue.

On Monday, Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she intends to create a medical marijuana working group to research and evaluate ordinances in other cities and make recommendations following a review of the city's ordinance by the California Supreme Court. That should take between 12 and 18 months. The working group will include resident and business groups, medical marijuana dispensary representatives, the city attorney, the city prosecutor, city staff and others.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided a prominent Vallejo dispensary and arrested the owner. The raiders hit the Greenwell Cooperative and arrested owner Matthew Shotwell. The exact charges are not yet clear. While the DEA was present, the cops were executing a state search warrant and included agents from the State Board of Equalization, which deals with tax collections. Employees and patients alike were temporarily detained, and marijuana and other items were seized.

Also on Tuesday, the Lake County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved placing a medical marijuana cultivation initiative on the June 5 ballot. The Lake County Medical Marijuana Cultivation Act of 2012 was brought by Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association. Supervisors could have just approved the initiative, but decided to punt to voters. The initiative came after the board earlier crafted a restrictive ordinance.

That same day, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to put a new dispensary ordinance on the June 5 ballot. The move comes after Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 17,000 signatures to overturn the board's decision last summer to ban dispensaries. The board voted 4-1 to rescind the existing ordinance and put a new measure before voters in June. It includes restrictions on locations of dispensaries.

Also on Tuesday, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors passed a medical marijuana cultivation ordinance. Personal gardens will have to be 300 feet to 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, youth centers and treatment facilities and can be no bigger than 100 square feet. Collectives, dispensaries and collaboratives are banned in the unincorporated areas of the county.

On Wednesday, the city of Berkeley ordered two collectives to shut down. The 40 Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective stopped operations in late January after Berkeley Code Enforcement sent it a letter informing the group it was operating in violation of the city's municipal code, but the Perfect Plants Patients Group is still in business. The collectives had run afoul of the city's zoning ordinances.

Colorado

Last week, employees of the Budding Health dispensaries joined the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. They become the first union medical marijuana shop in Denver, though not the first in the state's medical marijuana industry. The UFCW organized some dispensaries in Fort Collins, but those have all been shut down by a local ban. The UFCW has also organized workers in numerous California dispensaries and has become an advocate for marijuana law reform.

Last Thursday, national and state medical marijuana supporters announced the formation of the  Patient Voter Project to inform patients and their supporters about hostile actions taken by the Obama administration against medical marijuana. It's a joint effort by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA), Just Say Now and others with a combined reach in Colorado of more than 40,000 online supporters.

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana banking bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill, Senate Bill 75, would have created the authority for licensed medical marijuana stakeholders to form an exclusive financial cooperative specific to the industry, but committee killed the legislation on a 5-2 vote. The bill was responding to dispensary operators who reported that banks have refused their business for fear of repercussions from the federal government. The bill was opposed by Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, the Colorado attorney general’s office and the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Delaware

Last Thursday, the sponsor of the state's medical marijuana legislation urged Gov. Jack Markell (D) to reconsider his decision to halt implementation of the law. Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D) said regulation-writing and licensing of dispensaries should continue despite veiled threats of prosecution of state workers by US Attorney Charles Oberly III. Markell had called a halt to the program a week earlier after receiving a threat letter from Oberly. Delaware has no provision for patients to grow their own, so if there are no dispensaries, there is no medical marijuana program.

Michigan

Last Tuesday, the Port Orchard City Council extended a moratorium on dispensaries and another on collective gardens for six more months. The two moratoria have been in effect for a year now and are intended to give city staff more time to develop appropriate land-use and zoning regulations for medical marijuana collective gardens and dispensaries. The city attorney said regulations could be completed during this six-month period, especially if the state legislature clarifies regulation at the state level.

On Tuesday, the owner of the Herbal Resource dispensary in Owosso was charged with state marijuana cultivation distribution offenses.  The charges stem from a January 19 raid by the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).

Montana

The number of medical marijuana patients and providers is plummeting after state and federal crackdowns, the Helena Independent Record reported Sunday. The number of patients peaked at 31,522 in May 2011, but has declined to fewer than 16,000 as of last month. The decline in growers and dispensaries is even more dramatic. For most of last spring, that figure hovered around 4,800, but following federal raids and the state legislature's virtual repeal of the voter-approved law, that number had declined by 90%, to 417. Under the 2011 law, all caregivers’ licenses cards became invalid on July 1, 2011. Those wanting to continue to legally grow and sell marijuana for medical reasons had to register with the department to get providers' cards.The number of participating physicians has also declined, but not so dramatically, dropping from a high of 365 last June to 274 in January.

That same day, the Missoulian reported that medical marijuana providers busted by the feds in raids last year are getting relatively light sentences. Many faced five-year mandatory minimum federal sentences, but the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months. In the case of three men who had operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized agreed-upon sentencing guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men believed their work to be legal under state law. He sentenced them to one year, instead of the 2 ½ recommended. More than 60 indictments have resulted from the federal raids, with some people receiving sentences of up to five years in prison -- not the mandatory minimum five years.

Oregon

Hundreds of non-Oregon residents have obtained Oregon medical marijuana cards, the Oregonian reported Sunday. Since June 2010, when the state started issuing cards to non-residents, nearly 600 out-of-staters have traveled here to obtain one, according to the Oregon Health Authority, the agency that oversees the state's medical marijuana program.  Some 72,000 state residents also hold medical marijuana cards. Neighboring states account for nearly two-thirds of out-of-state card-holders, with 309 from Washington, 138 from Idaho, and 50 from California.

Washington

On Wednesday, a bill that would have regulated dispensaries in the state died after failing to move before a legislative deadline. Sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), Senate Bill 6265 was an effort to create a legal framework for dispensaries, but was opposed by some elements of the medical marijuana community.

Meet Obama's Proposed 2013 Federal Drug Budget [FEATURE]

The Obama administration this week released its Fiscal Year 2013 National Drug Control Budget, and it wants to spend nearly $26 billion on federal anti-drug programs. Despite all the talk about the staggering federal debt problem and current budget deficits, the administration found nothing to cut here. Instead, the proposed budget increases federal anti-drug funding by 1.6% over fiscal year 2012.

Drug War Autopilot and Co-Autopilot: ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
The proposed budget is remarkable for how closely it hews to previous years, especially in regard to the allocation of resources for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) versus those for supply reduction (domestic and international law enforcement and interdiction). The roughly 40:60 ratio that has been in place for years has shifted, but only incrementally. The 2013 budget allocates 41.2% for treatment and prevention and 58.2% for law enforcement.

"This is very much the same drug budget we've been seeing for years," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The Obama drug budget is the Bush drug budget, which was the Clinton drug budget. Little has changed."

"It's really just more of the same," said Sean Dunagan, a former DEA intelligence analyst whose last assignment in northeastern Mexico between 2008 and 2010, a when prohibition-related violence there was soaring, helped change his perspective. Dunagan quit the DEA and is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

"There are very minor adjustments in how the drug spending is allocated and bit more money for treatment, but there's a significant increase in interdiction, as well as a $61 million increase for domestic law enforcement," Dunagan noted. "They're trying to argue that they're abandoning the drug war and shifting the focus, but the numbers don't really back that up."

The proposed budget also demonstrates the breadth of the federal drug spending largesse among the bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington. Departments that catch a ride on the drug war gravy train include Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans' Affairs, as well as the federal judiciary, District of Columbia courts, the Small Business Administration, and, of course, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office).

"It's just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "In a way, it's ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar's office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn't happen," he said.

"The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar's budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin," Sterling continued. "They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that's almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars."

The Justice Department alone would get $7.85 billion, up almost $400 million from FY 2012, with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the DEA among those Justice components seeing funding increases. BOP spending would increase by about 8%, while the DEA budget would increase from $2.35 billion to $2.38 billion. On the other hand, the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which lost its congressional patron with the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), has been zeroed out.
 

"The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous," said Sterling. "There are too many people doing too much time they don't need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.

"He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. "He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great."

"That increase in incarceration spending really jumps out at me, too" said Dunagan. "To make their claim that they're not going to be locking up small-time dealers and users is pretty disingenuous."

Pentagon spending on interdiction and other anti-drug activities would decline somewhat, with the budget proposing $1.725 billion for 2013, a decline of $200 million from the 2012 budget. But interdiction spending goes up elsewhere, as Dunagan noted.

And State Department drug spending would take a hit. Spending would decline by just more than $100 million to $687 million, but most of that decrease would come from reduced funding for alternative development assistance, while State's other drug-related program, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), would see only a $6 million decrease.

While funding for prevention and treatment would increase by 4.6% under the proposed budget, some treatment and grant programs are seeing cuts, while criminal justice system-based approaches are getting more money.

"I'm concerned that the budget seems to be emphasizing drug courts and criminal justice-based drug treatment," said Piper. "They're cutting SAMHSA, which funds a lot of treatment, but increasing spending for prison-based treatment."

The $364 million earmarked for SAMHSA's treatment programs is a $61 million reduction from FY 2012, while drug courts saw a $17 million increase to $52 million and BOP drug treatment programs saw a $16 million increase to $109 million.

The new drug budget also resurrects the drug czar's widely criticized National Youth Media Campaign, dropped last year when Congress failed to fund it.

"I'm also disappointed that they put back in funding for the drug czar's failed youth media campaign, which Congress eliminated last year," said Piper. "It's only $20 million, and you can hardly do a national media campaign with that, but still."

This is only the administration's budget proposal, of course, and Congress will have plenty of opportunities to try to cut (or increase) portions of it. Still, the proposed budget is a window on the thinking of administration that has talked the talk about how we are no longer in a war on drugs, but has taken only stumblingly tiny steps toward walking the walk. And drug reformers aren't liking what they're seeing.

"LEAP thinks this is misguided," said Dunagan. "The only thing that's different is the rhetoric used to spin it, and even that is a sort of tacit acknowledgment by the administration that people don't really like the drug war, but substantively, there's very little different from the past."

"Between the drug budgets and his war on medical marijuana, we're very disappointed in Obama," said DPA's Piper.

"We should be disappointed in the Obama administration," said Sterling. "There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I'm very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don't have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.

Washington, DC
United States

Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2012 [FEATURE]

Since California voters made it the first medical marijuana state in 1996, other states have come on board at a rate a little better than one a year. Now, 15 years later, 16 states and the District of Columbia have effective medical marijuana laws, and by year's end, we could have 17, 18 or even more.

Connecticut State House
Especially in the early years, much of the movement toward medical marijuana came through the initiative process, with California followed by Alaska, Oregon, and Washington (1998), Maine (1999), Colorado and Nevada (2000), Montana (2004), Michigan (2008), and Arizona (2010). Washington, DC, could also be included on this list, since voters passed an initiative there in 1998, even though Congress wouldn't allow it to actually happen until 2010.

While there are a number of states that allow initiatives left, those early victories have removed the low-hanging fruit. Medical marijuana initiative campaigns are underway in some of the remaining states, such as Massachusetts and Ohio, but increasingly -- and out of necessity in states without the initiative process -- patients, advocates, and activists have turned to the legislative process to pass medical marijuana bills. The first state to do so was Hawaii in 2000, followed by Vermont (2004), Rhode Island (2006), New Mexico (2007), New Jersey (2010), and Delaware (2011).

This year, legislation to allow for the use of medical marijuana has been (or will be) filed in 18 states. Some have good prospects of passage, some have been percolating for years but are still unlikely to pass this year, and some are a first stab at what are usually frustrating multi-year educational efforts.

The Chronicle talked to a number of people at national drug and marijuana reform groups to try to get a sense of where the prospects are best and what impact the Obama administration's crackdown in recent months could have at the state house. The early favorites look to be Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

"Connecticut has a good chance of becoming the next medical marijuana state," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML. "Our Connecticut NORML chapter is very active and helped get it decriminalized last year. This year, they have legislation already written and the governor lined up with a pen. Can Connecticut not only pass medical marijuana legislation, but actually implement it by July 1? It looks like it could happen," he said.

The Drug Policy Alliance  (DPA) also thought Connecticut's chances were good this year. Jill Harris, the group's managing director for strategic initiatives, said it was working with the local group A Better Way Foundation to get a bill passed there.

"A Better Way is on the ground there, and they are coming back with a bill this session," she said. "The governor is likely to support it this time."

"Connecticut is one of the states with the best chance," concurred Karen O'Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Both chambers passed a medical marijuana bill there, only to see it vetoed. But the new governor looks to be on board; he sponsored the decriminalization legislation last year."

"Most recently, we've been involved with advocates in New Hampshire and Indiana," said Mike Liszewski, policy director for Americans for Safe Access. "The New Hampshire bill looks like it has a solid chance of getting adopted in some form, but Connecticut also looks like it has a good chance, and Massachusetts is one that could pass."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/illinoisstatehouse.jpg
Illinois State House
"We have paid lobbyists or legislative analysts in Illinois, which I think has a good chance of passage, in New Hampshire, which also looks good, and Maryland, and we'll be working with DPA in New York," said MPP's O'Keefe.

"In New Hampshire, an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature passed it only to fall two votes shy of overturning a veto in 2009," said O'Keefe. "We're very excited that this time around, the House has already passed it, and now we're working on the Senate."

All of this legislative work will be taking place against the backdrop of DEA raids on dispensaries, threat letters from US Attorneys to state officials, and the specter of federal agents swooping in on staid, state-employed regulators.

The federal clampdown wasn't helping, DPA's Harris said. "The more threatening the administration acts, the more difficult it is," she noted. "The argument that 'We can't do this because it's against federal law' is pretty potent," she said. "We've sent our legal staff to different states to testify that states can enact their own laws, but a lot of officials believe that notion that they can't do it because it's against federal law."

"We've seen this federal clampdown hurting with legislators," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're seeing this have effects throughout the country. Even though some states are still moving forward, it really comes down to whether individual politicians are feeling brave and are willing to put the interests of patients above federal intimidation."

But for MPP's O'Keefe the hostility emanating from the Obama Justice Department is nothing new and nothing especially intimidating.

"The federal government has, by and large, been hostile to medical marijuana since the first law was passed in 1996," she said. "Remember, the Clinton administration threatened doctors and had to be slapped down in federal court. Although there was a brief period where we thought Obama would live up to his pledge, federal policy has always been a challenge. It would be easier if the federal government was not so obstinate, but I don't think the federal attitudes are decisive."

Time will tell about that, but in the meantime, here are the states where passing medical marijuana is on the agenda at the statehouse [compiled via StoptheDrugWar.org's Legislative Action Center, MPP's medical marijuana legislation list, and the Procon.org list of medical marijuana bills]:

[Editor's Note: This list does not include pending legislation to modify (for better or worse) existing state medical marijuana laws, symbolic measures in support of medical marijuana, or other medical marijuana miscellanea.]

Alabama

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Massachusetts State House
Two bills are pending in Alabama. House Bill 25, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana and six mature plants. It would create compassion centers to distribute medical marijuana, create a state ID card system, and provide protections regarding employment, housing, and child custody.  House Bill 66, sponsored by Rep. K.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville), would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, allow for collective cultivation, create a state ID card system, and provide protections regarding employment, housing, and child custody. The bills have been referred to the Committee on Health.

Connecticut

No bill has been formally filed yet, but one is expected shortly. Medical marijuana passed the state legislature in 2007, only to be vetoed by then Gov. Jodi Rell (R), who is not around to veto legislation this year.

Idaho

Last month, Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow) introduced House Bill 370, which would create state-regulated dispensaries to serve registered patients. The bill has been referred to the State Affairs Committee.

Illinois

House Bill 30
, which was introduced last year by House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would create a three-year pilot program allowing registered patients to grow up to six plants or obtain marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. A similar bill passed the Senate in the 2009-2010 session, but HB 30 fell shy during a floor vote in May 2011. Because Illinois has a two-year session, HB 30 is still alive, as is its companion measure, Senate Bill 1548, introduced by Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton). SB 1548 passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote last year.

Indiana

Last month, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-House District 55) introduced House Bill 1370, which would allow patients to obtain marijuana from state-registered dispensaries. There is no provision for patients to grow their own. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Public Policy.

Iowa

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) introduced Senate File 266 in February 2011, and the bill was referred the Human Services Committee and then to a Human Services subcommittee that same month. Because Iowa has a two-year legislative session, the bill is still alive. It would allow patients to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of usable marijuana, obtained from growing up to six plants or by buying it at a nonprofit dispensary.

Kansas

Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita) introduced House Bill 2330 a year ago this week, and it remains alive because Kansas has a two-year legislative session. It was referred to the House Committee on Health and Human Services a few days later, and had an informational hearing last month. The bill would allow registered patients to grow their own or buy it from state-registered dispensaries. Last month, Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), introduced identical legislation, Senate Bill 354, which has been assigned to the Committee on Federal and State Affairs.

Maryland

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New Hampshire State House
Last month, Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) introduced House Bill 15, which would allow for patients to grow their own or obtain it at dispensaries. It is now before the Health and Government Operations & Judiciary Committees. Last week, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) filed two bills based on working group approved by the legislature last year. House Bill 1024 would allow medical marijuana distribution only through university-affiliated hospitals, while House Bill 1158 would allow distribution through registered dispensaries.  Maryland has a medical marijuana law, but it does not allow for access to medical marijuana and it only provides for a defense in court -- not protection from arrest.

Massachusetts

In January 2011, Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) introduced House Bill 625, which would allow registered patients or their caregivers to possess up to four ounces of usable marijuana and up to 24 plants or to obtain their medicine from registered dispensaries. Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) introduced a companion bill, Senate Bill 1161 at the same time. The two bills were referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health and received hearings in July. Also, Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) introduced Senate Bill 818, which would allow patients or caregivers to possess up to four ounces and 10 plants. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. All three bills are still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.

Mississippi

Last month, Sen. Deborah Dawkins (D-Pass Christian) introduced Senate Bill 2252, which would allow allow qualifying patients to cultivate and use medical marijuana. The bill has been  referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Division A.

Missouri

Last month, Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) introduced House Bill 1421, which would allow people with a debilitating medical condition and a doctor's recommendation to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and seven plants (three mature) or obtain it from registered nonprofit dispensaries. The bill has had its first and second readings, but has not been referred to a committee.

New Hampshire

Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) has pre-filed Senate Bill 2994, which would allow the medical use of marijuana and permit a limited number of state-regulated dispensaries. The House approved a similar bill, House Bill 442 eleven months ago on 221-96 vote. That bill is still alive because the state has a two-year legislative session.

New York

A year ago, Sen Tom Duane (D-Manhattan) introduced Senate Bill 2774, which would allow pharmacies, nonprofits, and health departments to dispense marijuana cultivated by registered producers. Patients could not grow their own, but could possess up to 2 ½ ounces. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session and was re-referred to the Senate Health Committee last month. Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) last year introduced a similar bill, Assembly Bill 7347, which passed the Assembly Health, Assembly Codes, and Ways & Means Committees in May and June 2011. It, too, is still alive.

Ohio

In April 2011, Rep. Kenny Yuko (D-Euclid) introduced House Bill 214, which would allow the medical use and cultivation of marijuana by qualified patients. The bill is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Oklahoma

A year ago, Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) introduced Senate Bill 573, which would remove criminal penalties for possession and cultivation of marijuana from patients and caregivers who cultivate marijuana for a patient’s medical use, upon a doctor's recommendation. The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee and remains alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Pennsylvania

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Norristown) introduced Senate Bill 1003, in April, and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) filed a companion bill, House Bill 1653 in June. The bills would allow qualified patients to possess and grow their own medical marijuana, or obtain it from one of three dispensaries. SB 1003 was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health and and HB 1653 was referred to the House Health Committee. Both bills carry over because of the state's two-year legislative session.

West Virginia

A year ago this month, Rep. Mike Manypenny (D-Morgantown) introduced House Bill 3251, which would allow patients registered with the state to grow their own medical marijuana or obtain it from dispensaries. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and is still alive because of the state's two-year legislative session.

Wisconsin

Last month, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middletown) introduced Senate Bill 371, the Jackie Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) introduced companion legislation, Assembly Bill 475. The bills would allow patients registered with the state to possess and cultivate medical marijuana or obtain it from regulated dispensaries. The two bills have been referred to their respective health committees.

There you have it. Eighteen states that could pass medical marijuana through the legislative process this year. We will be watching with great interest as these bills move forward (or not) and in hopes that we can actually add one, two, three, or more this year.

Medical Marijuana Update

From action in state legislatures to raids at dispensaries, there's no let-up in the medical marijuana action around the nation. Here's the latest:

National

Last Thursday, Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal brief in the DC Circuit to compel the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. In July 2011, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), which was denied only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. The ASA brief filed is an appeal of the CRC rescheduling denial.

Alabama

The Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 25), which seeks to enact legal protections for authorized medical marijuana patients, has been marked for reintroduction in the Alabama legislature for the session starting on February 7th. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Health. A separate medical cannabis bill, House Bill 66, has also been prefiled in the House and is also before to the House Committee on Health.

California

Last Tuesday, Union City issued a temporary ban on dispensaries, suspending the approval of business licenses or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries and their operations for 45 days. But the recently opened CHA Wellness Center was still operating as of the weekend and said it had every right to. City officials disagree.

Also last Tuesday, the Fresno city council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on outdoor grows for another 10 months after Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council the grows were a magnet for crime and violence. Fresno Police say there have been at least five shootings and one homicide as the result of outdoor growing operations within the city limits. Police say many big marijuana growing operations have already moved indoors. Dyer said he expected to have a permanent outdoor cultivation ordinance ready by April.

Last Friday, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a memo calling for the city to kill its medical marijuana ordinance. He cited the California Supreme Court's decision to review four medical marijuana cases dealing with varying interpretations of the state's law, as well as potential ballot initiative that could go before the voters in November. The city will remain in talks with dispensaries and will continue to collect taxes on them.

On Sunday, the last dispensary in La Puente closed its doors in response to the ongoing federal crackdown. La Puente Co-op was the last of three city dispensaries to go out of business in response to threat letters from the Southern California US Attorney. Azusa Patient Remedies and Trinity Wellness Center shut down the previous week. The San Gabriel Valley town was once home to 10 dispensaries.

On Monday, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said it had provided the Los Angeles city council with two motions to regulate dispensaries. The move comes as the council inches toward a total ban. The first motion, "public nuisance abatement," proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores. The second motion calls for a "ban with abeyance" or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they that are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance.

Also on Monday, narcotics officers from the LAPD Devonshire Division raided and shut down the last dispensary in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. The raid was at the Herbal Medical Care facility, and three people were arrested for suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale, 50 pound of marijuana and 156 plants were seized, and so were the dispensary's medical records. Police vowed to "target" some 200 other San Fernando Valley dispensaries. Since December 2008, police in the Devonshire Division have shut down 37 of what were once 60 dispensaries operating there.

Also on Monday, San Francisco announced it would resume licensing and inspecting dispensaries. The move comes after the agency said last week that the application process was suspended. Under clarified rules, existing dispensaries must sign a statement swearing that all medical marijuana sold on-site is cultivated in California and comes from a grower who is a member of the dispensary's nonprofit collective. New applications stopped being processed in December following a ruling in a state appeals court. In that case, Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, the court ruled that California cities violated federal law by regulating and permitting medical marijuana. That ruling was vacated when the California Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and San Francisco's city attorney gave the health department the green light to resume its program January 20, but the department had announced last week that all applications were still on hold indefinitely.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco controller's office reported that dispensaries in the city did an estimated $41 million in sales last year, generating $410,000 in medical marijuana sales tax revenues.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Bill 129 died for lack of action in the state legislature. Introduced by Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Americans for Safe Access, the bill would have protected the employment rights of medical marijuana patients.

Also on Tuesday, DEA agents and local law enforcement raided the Balboa Medical Center in Kearney Mesa, near San Diego. They seized medicine and medical records, but made no arrests.The raid came after similar raids on dispensaries in the area last week.

Hawaii

House Bill 1963
, which seeks to restrict the state's medical marijuana program and remove chronic pain as a qualifying condition for patients, is set for a hearing Thursday in the House Committees on Health and Public Safety and Military Affairs.

Montana

On Monday, the Missoulian reported that DEA agents investigating medical marijuana distribution had asked witnesses whether state Sen. Diane Sands (D-Missoula) might be involved in a marijuana conspiracy.Sands has been deeply involved in the state's battles over medical marijuana. She is not the only legislator being looked at; at least one more said he would not speak publicly for fear of "additional harassment."

Vermont

The Vermont Department of Public Safety has announced guidelines for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries
. Dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and must be more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. Would-be operators will have to pay $2,500 just to apply for one of the four dispensary certificates. If approved, dispensaries would pay the state $20,000 dollars for the first year, and $30,000 in the years to follow. Patients can go to dispensaries by appointment only, and only one patient at a time is allowed in the dispensary. There are also stiff requirements for inventory control, building security, and background checks for operators and employees.

Virginia

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee killed a resolution that would have asked the governor to petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana. The resolution had been filed by Delegate David Englin (D-Alexandria).

Washington

Last Thursday, 42 state legislators signed a letter asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana so that it could be prescribed and sold in pharmacies. That same day, lawmakers introduced a resolution to the same effect. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee. The letter and resolution piggyback on Gov. Christine Gregoire's existing petition to reschedule marijuana, which is also supported by a handful of other states.

Montana Marijuana Initiative Saddles Up [FEATURE]

Provoked by heavy-handed federal raids and prosecutions aimed at medical marijuana providers and prodded on by the Republican-dominated state legislature's virtual repeal-disguised-as-reform of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, Montana advocates are now rolling out an initiative campaign for a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Big Sky County.

Now organized as Montana First, this is largely the same group of activists and supporters who last summer and fall organized the successful signature-gathering campaign to put the IR-124 initiative on the November 2012 ballot. That initiative seeks to undo the legislature's destruction of the state medical marijuana distribution network.

And now they're back for more, and they're cutting to the chase.

Constitutional Initiative No.110 (CI-110) is short and sweet. It would add two sentences to the state constitution: "Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation.  Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities."

In addition to those two sentences, the actual ballot language informs voters which part of the constitution is to be amended, notes that "federal criminal laws regarding marijuana will not be changed by the passage of this initiative," and specifies that it would go into effect July 1, 2013, if approved by the voters.

Passage of the initiative would not directly repeal the state's marijuana laws, but would render them moot, a legal vestige of a bygone era, like laws requiring that horses in front of bars be tethered to rail posts.

"The personal use of marijuana should never result in criminal penalties," explained Barb Trego, a former deputy reserve sheriff in Lewis & Clark County and the measure's proponent. "Whatever you think about marijuana, it's easy to see that we have higher priorities for our law enforcement resources," she said.

"This measure is as simple as it can be," she continued. "The basic principle is clear as day. After voters pass it, there will be work to do to define limits and regulations. This is an appropriate task for elected leaders after the voters signal their preference to stop arresting and jailing adults for personal use of marijuana."

To qualify for the ballot, campaigners need to gather some 45,000 valid voter signatures, and Montana law also requires that those signatures include 10% of voters in at least 40 of 100 of the state's electoral districts. They have until June 22.

While campaigners can point with pride to the successful signature-gathering campaign of a few months ago, this time around, it is going to be more difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a constitutional initiative, organizers will have to gather more than double the number of signatures they needed for I-124. Second, because the state's once thriving medical marijuana distribution industry has been decimated by state and federal action, the opportunities for fundraising within the industry have largely evaporated.

"We anticipate a mostly volunteer effort; we just don't see any way to have a paid signature-gathering effort, said Montana First treasurer John Masterson, who is also the founder and head of Montana NORML. "We'd like to be able to pay six or seven zone coordinators, people we can count on to work long hours and oversee the petition effort, and we'd like to raise enough money to retain a consulting firm that specializes in making the ballot."

While relying on volunteer efforts to get an initiative on the ballot is usually a death knell for campaigns in high population states -- in California you need more than 500,000; in Michigan, more than 322,000 -- Montana is a different story. Last year's signature-gathering campaign was almost entirely all-volunteer, and it generated a cadre of nearly a thousand petitioners. That's a relatively large activist base for a state with not quite a million residents.

And then there's Montana itself, with its tradition of rugged individualism and suspicion of government. This year, for example, other initiatives being circulated include one that would allow for jury nullification and one that would  "reserve to the people" -- not the legislature -- the right to amend or repeal initiatives, as well as a legislative initiative that would bar mandated health insurance purchases that is already set for the ballot.

"Montana is highly independent," said Masterson, "and it's not just a right-wing thing. Our Democratic Gov. Schweitzer opposed REAL ID. Montana really values its independence, and these continuous and ongoing federal intrusions have people of all political stripes outraged."

It's hard to say what will happen, said political consultant and communications specialist Kate Chowela, who was deeply involved with both the IR-124 campaign and the Montana Cannabis Industry Association, but who is "not officially tied to anybody" right now.

"We need bigger signature numbers than last year, and we've been taking a real beating here," she said. "It will depend on whether people are beaten down or whether they feel called to stand up in the face of injustice. And this is happening in a very dynamic world with a lot of instability as well, with the state of the economy, Occupy Wall Street, the elections. All of these things bump up against and influence each other."

"The people in Montana found out they were not safe, the businesses weren't safe, the patients weren't safe, even being a legislator isn't safe," Chowela said, referring to the recent news that the DEA was investigating state legislators for supposed links to marijuana distribution conspiracies. "To some extent, this is the citizens coming back and looking for a way to make their position clear and look for a sense of safety that we have lost completely."

"We believe our initiative really solves a big part of the marijuana problem in America," said Masterson. "By eliminating all penalties for responsible adult use, we send a message to the federal government that if you want to prohibit this plant, Montana does not agree and will not participate in your campaign. That's how alcohol Prohibition crumbled. We think that Montanans will see that a regulated marijuana commerce and the right of adults to access marijuana is far preferable to the harm and damage caused by prohibition, to say nothing of the waste of our police resources."

The petitions have been printed up, the volunteers are hitting the pavement, and the clock is ticking down toward June. A legalization initiative has already been approved for the ballot in Washington, and one is awaiting almost certain certification in Colorado. Similar initiative campaigns are already underway in California, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon, but Montana could be the best bet for making it a legalization initiative trifecta come November.

MT
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Medical marijuana is an active issue around the country, and especially so these days in California. Here's the latest:

Arizona

Last Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer gave up her fight against medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Her decision came after having her challenges thrown out in both federal and state court. Last Friday, she directed state officials to begin implementing the law to allow dispensaries to apply to operate.

California

The clock is ticking on Senate Bill 129, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The bill would provide medical marijuana patients with protection from workplace discrimination. The legislature must act on the bill by month's end or it dies. It's the same story with Assembly Bill 1017, introduced by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which would allow for reduced misdemeanor charges in cultivation cases.

Last Tuesday, the Colusa City Council voted unanimously to extend its ban on dispensaries to another full year. The ordinance goes into effect immediately. This is the last extension on the temporary ban; after this, the city will need a permanent ordinance to spell out the restrictions.

Last Wednesday, federal agents raided the Disabled American Veterans Collective in Murrieta. The owner, Kevin Freeman of Temecula, and one other person were arrested on suspicion of possession of marijuana for sale. Federal search warrant documents accused Freeman of operating a for-profit business that would sell marijuana to people without medical conditions. But Freeman said his operation was "a true collective." The dispensary had previously seen customers pulled over by deputies after leaving the premises and been the subject of an undercover buy by a deputy who fraudulently obtained a medical marijuana recommendation.

Also last Wednesday, the US Attorney for Southern California announced that federal prosecutors over the past week have filed four asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange counties and have sent warning letters to property owners and operators of "illegal marijuana stores" in several Southland cities. They also sent threat letters to dispensary operators and property owners of the nearly two dozen dispensaries operating in Costa Mesa. The feds also raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries.

Also last Wednesday, Glenn County supervisors moved ahead with an ordinance that would ban dispensaries, collectives, and co-ops, but would allow backyard grows for patients. The county's emergency moratorium ordinance expires in March.

Last Thursday, the California Supreme Court decided to hear four medical marijuana cases in a bid to restore same clarity to the state's muddled medical marijuana laws. The cases revolve around state-federal and state-local conflicts, and mixed rulings in lower courts have led to massive confusion in the state.

Also last Thursday, Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana announced it had filed a medical marijuana regulation initiative with the state last month. The campaign expects to be okayed for signature-gathering early next month and has until April 20 to gather more than 500,000 valid signatures to make the November ballot. See our feature story on it here.

Last Friday, prosecutors in San Luis Obispo County announced they were dropping the charges against six people arrested in 2010 for running medical marijuana delivery services. Prosecutors threw in the towel after a judge issued jury instructions that allowed the defendants to argue that they thought an undercover officer who infiltrated them was part of their collective. That would make the case tough to win, prosecutors said.

Also last Friday, a judge in Riverside rejected a restraining order sought by the city of Murrieta against a newly opened medical marijuana collective. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club can stay open pending a February 17 hearing, even though Murrieta has a moratorium on dispensaries, the judge ruled.

On Monday, federal agents and Riverside County sheriff's deputies raided six suites containing medical marijuana operations in a business park north of Murrieta. The lawmen became aware of the operations while raiding a neighboring dispensary last week. Three people were arrested on marijuana cultivation charges. The raids were led by the DEA.

Also on Monday, the Calexico Planning Commission approved a ban on dispensaries. The proposed ban will now go before the city council.

On Tuesday, San Francisco announced it would begin issuing dispensary permits again after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear four medical marijuana cases that could clarify state law. In doing so, the high court vacated a case, Pack v. Long Beach, that said city or county laws regulating medical marijuana violated federal law. Now that Pack has been vacated, city officials said the permitting process can resume as normal. The following day, the city changed its mind.

Also on Tuesday, Mendocino County supervisors voted to kill the county's medical marijuana permit program after receiving threats of legal action from Northern California US Attorney Melinda Haag. The innovative program allowed collectives to grow up to 99 plants per parcel, with each plant tagged by the sheriff's office.

Also on Tuesday, Humboldt County supervisors voted unanimously to extend a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries for an additional 10 months and 15 days. The supervisors also added language to the ordinance that is meant to protect existing dispensaries from closure. Three dispensaries currently operate in the county.

Also on Tuesday, the Whittier city council voted to impose a 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries, citing the Pack v. Long Beach ruling and ignoring the fact that the state Supreme Court vacated it last week. That means the number of dispensaries in the city is capped at one -- the Whittier Hope Collective, which opened in July 2010 after the council approved a conditional use permit. Although the moratorium is only for a month and a half, the council indicated it intended to maintain the status quo until the Supreme Court decides Pack and other medical marijuana cases.

Lastly, on Tuesday, a judge in Live Oak heard arguments in a civil lawsuit brought against the city over its ban on growing medical marijuana. James Maral sued after the city council last month approved the ban on even personal grows, saying it would force him to make "cruel choices." The lawsuit accused the city of running afoul of state law (Proposition 215), which allows patients to grow their own medicine. The city had acted after complaints from residents about the "stench" of marijuana and fears of violent robbery attempts. The judge refused to issue a temporary injunction because he had not seen the ordinance, but left open the possibility of revisiting the decision at a later date.

Colorado

Last Thursday, Colorado US Attorney John Walsh told the Denver Post that evidence medical marijuana is having a negative impact on kids spurred his decision to crack down on dispensaries near schools. The comments came days after he sent letters to 23 dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools. The letters ordered the dispensaries to close by Feb. 27 or face potential criminal prosecution or seizure of assets.

On Monday, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition sent a letter to Colorado US Attorney John Walsh saying his threats and actions against medical marijuana providers are "a disservice to the state of Colorado." The letter was signed by LEAP director Neill Franklin and two Colorado law enforcement figures, former municipal court Judge Leonard Frieling and retired Denver police officer Tony Ryan.

On Wednesday, medical marijuana supporters organized by Sensible Colorado did a mass phone-in to their US congressional representatives urging them to help call off the federal crackdown and support the state's medical marijuana program.

Indiana

Earlier this month, state Rep. Tom Knollman (R) introduced a medical marijuana bill, HB 1370, which calls upon the Indiana Department of Health to develop a regulatory framework for the growth and distribution of medical marijuana through dispensaries and to register patients with debilitating medical conditions. This is the first medical marijuana bill introduced in the state in recent memory.

Kansas

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill got a hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, the Kansas Compassion and Care Act, was introduced by Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita). Previous medical marijuana bills have been stalled in committee, and the committee took no action on this one Tuesday. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill packed the hearing room and demonstrated outside before the hearing.

Maryland

Maryland House Delegate Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore) has introduced a comprehensive medical marijuana bill that would replace a bill passed last year as a stop-gap measure while the state appointed a workgroup to further study the issue. House Bill 15, the Maryland Medical Marijuana Act, would create clear rules for qualified patients and law enforcement, and put in place a strictly regulated production and distribution system. A measure passed last year created minimal protections for patients but did not set up a distribution system. That measure created a working group to come up with proposals for this year, but neither of those proposals includes allowing patients to grow their own. Glenn's bill does. It now awaits committee hearings.

Montana

Last Thursday, the owner of the Big Sky Health Health dispensary in Missoula pleaded not guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Jason Washington is one of six defendants in an indictment that followed federal raids last November on numerous businesses, homes and warehouses linked to marijuana businesses in western Montana. Washington is a former quarterback for the University of Montana Grizzlies, and the feds even seized his Big Sky championship ring, as well as 80 pounds of marijuana and $232,000 in cash.

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't shield providers of the drug from federal prosecution. US District Judge Donald Molloy dismissed a civil lawsuit by 14 persons and businesses that were among those raided by federal authorities last year. He cited the Constitution's supremacy clause. "Whether the plaintiffs' conduct was legal under Montana law is of little significance here, since the alleged conduct clearly violates federal law," Molloy wrote. "We are all bound by federal law, like it or not."

New Jersey

Last Friday, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of John Ray Wilson. Wilson, an MS patient, was sentenced to five years in prison for growing his own medicine in his back yard. He had been out on appeal, but now must resume serving his sentence. Wilson was not allowed to tell his jury why he was growing marijuana plants. Supporters, including legislative leaders, have campaigned for clemency for Wilson, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Friday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a medical marijuana ballot issue, and on Monday, the Ohio ballot board gave its okay. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment campaign can now begin signature gathering. It needs some 385,000 valid voter signatures to make the November ballot. This is the second Ohio medical marijuana initiative to be certified for the 2012 campaign. The Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment was approved in October.

Washington

On Monday, the city of Bellingham revoked the registrations of medical marijuana dispensaries after deciding that dispensaries were not legal under state or federal law. The city has not yet decided what to do about dispensaries that are already operating there, but at least one said it would reopen as a private, members-only club next month.

Washington, DC

On Monday, a hydroponics superstore known as the "Walmart of Weed" announced it would open a store in the nation's capital in March. WeGrow sells all of the products and services one would need to grow marijuana or other indoor plants, but does not sell the plant itself. The company said it had signed a lease for a property on Rhode Island Avenue NE. The company already operates superstores in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.

Hemp Farming Bill Filed in Kentucky

A bill to allow farmers to register to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky was filed last Thursday. House Bill 286 has 12 cosponsors.

hemp field at sunrise (votehemp.com)
The bill would create a process through which farmers could apply to grow hemp and then be vetted by state officials. If applicants passed a background check, they would pay a fee to be registered to grow hemp.

Hemp production is prohibited under federal law (unless the DEA authorizes a permit, which it doesn't), and the bill acknowledges as much, saying "nothing in [this bill] shall be construed to authorize any person to violate any federal rules or regulations."

But bill supporters said passage of a hemp legalization bill would send a message to Washington that Kentucky is joining the list of states that want to grow hemp. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a former House member, is among those supporters.

"This sends a message that this is something we're serious about here in Kentucky," Comer said.

According to the industry group Vote Hemp, nine states have passed bills authorizing either hemp production or research into it, while eight states have passed resolutions calling for legal hemp production.

Kentucky passed a hemp research bill in 2001, and hemp production bills have been introduced there each year since 2009.

Hemp is produced in at least 30 countries, and can be legally imported to the US, but not grown here because the DEA refuses to make a distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana. Hemp is the only plant that can be imported, but not produced here.

The bill was filed Thursday by Rep. Richard Henderson (D-Jeffersonville), with co-sponsors including former House Speaker Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), David Osborne (R-Prospect) and Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville).

The bill has been assigned to the Agriculture and Small Business Committee.

Lexington, KY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's our weekly look at medical marijuana news from around the country. There's plenty going on--and late breaking news from California Wednesday afternoon.

California

On January 11, the city of Upland filed a motion that would allow it to close the G3 Holistic dispensary. The motion seeks to vacate a stay granted by the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside to G3 back in June. The co-op and the city disagree over whether the stay allows the dispensary to stay open despite an injunction granted to the city in August 2010 by the West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.

Also on January 11, Mendocino County officials confirmed that the feds are threatening to sue over the county's marijuana cultivation permit program. The warning was delivered during a meeting a week earlier, county officials said. The program is already suspended pending resolution of a court case about whether local governments can regulate activities prohibited by federal law. Supervisors will consider amending its medical marijuana ordinance at the January 24 meeting.

On January 12, Shasta County medical marijuana advocates fell short in their effort to gather enough signatures to force a recent county ordinance restricting marijuana growing onto a ballot before it became law that day. Nor Cal Safe Access needed 6,544 valid signatures  to place a referendum on the ballot. Organizers didn't have an exact count, but said they gathered "thousands." It wasn't enough. The ordinance bans growing inside residences but allows it in detached accessory structures and sets limits for outdoor growing regardless of how many patients live at a residence.

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors filed a forfeiture complaint against the Sacramento Holistic Healing Center. The feds said the center had been warned in October it was operating within a thousand feet of an elementary school and high school and told to cease operations.

Also last Thursday, the owner of the Regenesis Health dispensary in Adelanto was arrested by San Bernadino County sheriff's deputies. Ramsey Najor, 69, of Hesperia was arresting for violating municipal codes and suspicion of assault on a peace officer after he dragged a deputy with his car as he fled the scene.

Also last Thursday, the Sonoma County Planning Commission recommended a cap on dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. The planners want to limit the number at nine. The Board of Supervisors will have to vote on it later. There currently are six permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and another three pending applications. In addition there are four dispensaries within city limits: two in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. Those cities also have caps that prohibit additional shops. The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Last Friday, Lake County authorities reported that dispensary numbers are dwindling. Supervisors decided last month that they are not authorized land uses in the county's jurisdiction and have moved forward with the abatement process to close them down. Of 10 dispensaries that were operating in unincorporated areas of the county, as few as three are still open.

Also last Friday, a second dispensary has opened in Murrieta despite a citywide ban. The Greenhouse Cannabis Club has been hit with thousands of dollars in fines and several code violations every day. Owner Eric McNeil said he plans to fight the ban in court. The first dispensary to open, the Cooperative Medical Group, which opened in July, is now closed by court order after going several rounds with the city's attorneys. They are still awaiting a final court decision in that case.

Also last Friday, the LA city council's Public Safety Committee approved a motion to ban dispensaries in the city. The motion now moves to the city council and Planning Commission, which next meets January 26. The motion would indefinitely shutter the estimated 300 dispensaries in the city. The motion is the work of Council Member Jose Huizar, who said he was responding to the Pack v. City of Long Beach ruling, which held that that city's ordinance, which is similar to LA's, violated federal law by attempting to regulate the sale of a federally banned drug.

On Tuesday, an East Palo Alto dispensary announced it was closing its doors because of threats from the feds. The Peninsula Care Givers Collective said it was losing its lease after its landlord received a letter from the federal government threatening to seize the building. The city had passed an ordinance in July banning dispensaries, but Peninsula Care Givers was already open by then and refused to close. The city had been pursuing civil remedies. East Palo Alto police Chief Ron Davis said the city had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office for help in shutting down Peninsula Care Givers.

On Tuesday, the DEA and local law enforcement raided the Green Tree Solutions dispensary in Kearney Mesa. It was the fourth raid on a San Diego area dispensary in less than a week. The DEA raiders were met by protesting patients and advocates.

Also on Tuesday, the DEA raided three Costa Mesa dispensaries, along with their owners' homes. The targeted businesses were American Collective, Otherside Farms and Simple Farmer.

Also on Tuesday, the Monroe city council voted to extend a moratorium on dispensaries for 180 days, and will revisit the issue in 60 days.

Also on Tuesday, the Poway city council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives.The ordinance will go into effect within 30 days if the council adopts it at its February 7 meeting.
 

On Wednesday afternoon, the California Supreme Court said it would review two controversial medical marijuana cases. In Pack v. City of Long Beach, the appeals court held that federal law preempted the city's ability to regulate dispensaries and in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, the appeals court held that cities could ban dispensaries altogether. The two rulings have been used by elected local officials to back away from regulating dispensaries and toward banning them.

Colorado

Last Thursday, federal prosecutors sent threat letters to 23 dispensaries and their landlords across Colorado warning that they must shut down within 45 days or "action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property." The letter was sent to dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school.

Last Friday, state Sen. Steve King said he would reintroduce a drugged driving bill. The bill would set a per se limit on THC, meaning police would not have to prove actual impairment, only that the driver's THC levels exceeded the limit. Such laws are fervently opposed by the state's medical marijuana patients, who managed to block one last year.

Idaho

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill, HB 370, was introduced in the Idaho House. It is the brain child of Rep. Tom Trail (R-Moscow), who filed similar legislation last year. It got an informational hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, but didn't proceed. HB 370 would permit patients with debilitating medical conditions to be dispensed up to 2 ounces of marijuana every 28 days; they'd have to get it from state-authorized "alternative treatment centers."

Michigan

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a pair of medical marijuana cases that could clarify the state's murky law. In one case, the issues include when someone using marijuana must have consulted a doctor and received a state-issued registration card to be legally protected under the medical marijuana law. In the second case, the court must consider what constitutes an "enclosed, locked facility" under the law.

That same day, an Oakland County circuit court judge dismissed the case against seven employees of the Clinical Relief dispensary in Ferndale. Clinical Relief was the first dispensary raided back in August 2010, and since then Michigan's Court of Appeals has ruled that person-to-person marijuana sales through dispensaries are illegal, but that ruling hadn't been made when the Ferndale workers were arrested, so the judge dismissed the case. Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said she plans to appeal.

Montana

Last Friday, federal prosecutors filed charges against four more people in their ongoing offensive against the medical marijuana industry in the state. They are 33-year-old Christopher Durbin, 40-year-old Justin Maddock, 29-year-old Aaron Durbin and 33-year-old Trey Scales. Christopher Durbin also is charged with structuring, or making bank deposits of less than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.

New Jersey

On January 11, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said he would file a bill that would keep the state's medical marijuana growers from running afoul of zoning laws. The move comes after several New Jersey communities have blocked dispensaries or grows through zoning laws.

Last Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he would not force towns to allow medical marijuana facilities. He said he would veto O'Scanlon's bill if it came to that.

On Wednesday, patients and supporters rallied at the statehouse steps in Trenton to protest Gov. Christie's failure to implement the state's medical marijuana law. The protest and press conference came two years after the measure was signed into law. There are still no dispensaries in New Jersey.

Ohio

Last Thursday, backers of a medical marijuana initiative filed language with Attorney General Mike DeWine in a first step toward getting the measure on the November ballot. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2012, accompanied by nearly 3,000 signatures, will be submitted to DeWine to review the language summarizing the proposal. This is the second time the amendment has been submitted; the first proposal was rejected last year after DeWine said it did not fairly summarize the measure. If approved, backers will need to collect 385,245 signatures to get it on the ballot. A competing proposal, the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment, has already been approved for signature gathering.

Virginia

Last Thursday, a bill, House Joint Resolution 139, requesting the governor to seek rescheduling of marijuana was filed in Richmond. Governors in four medical marijuana states have already called for rescheduling.

Washington, DC

On Tuesday, the DC city council approved emergency legislation limiting the number of marijuana cultivation permits in each ward to six. The measure came after residents of Ward 5 complained that because zoning restrictions closed off large swathes of the city to grows, their neighborhoods would be inundated.

Medical Marijuana Update

Here's the latest from the medical marijuana skirmishes:

Arizona

A federal judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit filed on behalf of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) that had blocked the implementation of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana dispensary program. Brewer and state health officials had sued to ask the court for clarification about whether the state's medical marijuana law was preempted by federal drug laws, saying they feared going forward would put state employees at risk of federal prosecution.

California

On December 21, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent a letter to top lawmakers in which she warned that any efforts to regulate medical marijuana via the legislative process will be limited by the state constitution and by the federal government's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act. In the letter, she noted that an appeals court ruling (Pack v. Superior Court) found that state regulation of large scale medical marijuana cultivation "stands as an obstacle to federal enforcement efforts and is therefore preempted by the Federal Controlled Substances Act."

But Harris also noted that because Proposition 215 was enacted by voter initiative, any legislative regulation that would "undo what the people have done" would be unconstitutional under state law. Still, Harris wrote, the legislature needs to intervene because there are "significant unresolved legal questions" regarding parts of the initiative that allow for collaborative cultivation and the legality of dispensaries.

"I hope that the foregoing suggestions are helpful to you in crafting legislation," Harris concluded. "California law places a premium on patients' rights to access marijuana for medical use. In any legislative action that is taken, the voters' decision to allow physicians to recommend marijuana to treat seriously ill patients must be respected."

Also on December 21, the Happy Wellness Center in Newark reopened a week after being raided by state agents. "There's no way that me, the way I am, could just sit back and not open," said the center's CEO, Justin Hammer. "If I felt we were doing anything wrong, anything illegal, I wouldn't be here." The Happy Wellness Center operated for 105 days before the raid and originally opened before the city ban on such operations. An attorney for the collective says only a court order will change their position.

On December 23, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department returned 2 pounds of medicinal marijuana to a dispensary from which it was seized earlier this month. The move came after a Superior Court judge the same day ordered them to return the medicine. It had been seized in a December 1 raid at the Common Roots Collective.

On December 23, two Long Beach dispensary operators, Jon Grumbine and Joseph Byron, were found guilty of marijuana trafficking after prosecutors argued the men operated the businesses for profit, which is forbidden under state law.

On December 26, medical marijuana patients rallied and marched in San Diego to protest the federal crackdown and recalcitrant local authorities. A crowd of 50 to 75 people showed up, including Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, who is running for mayor. 

On December 28, Riverside County officials said they had begun legal action to close down about three dozen dispensaries in unincorporated areas. The county asked a Riverside County Superior Court judge to declare Platinum Collective in Home Gardens a public nuisance. The county is seeking civil penalties of $1,000 for each day Platinum Collective has been open since March 7, when the business was notified it was operating illegally, and wants reimbursement for the cost of abatement, investigation and enforcement. Dispensaries are illegal under a ban the Board of Supervisors approved in 2006.

On December 29, veteran activist Steve Kubby filed a municipal initiative in South Lake Tahoe to control marijuana odor and rewrite restrictive cultivation rules. The city has 15 days from then to write a title and summary so the signature-gathering process can begin.

In late December, San Francisco's Market Street Co-op announced it would close January 9 due to pressure on its landlords from the feds. "A San Francisco Assistant United States Attorney threatened our landlords with property forfeiture if the cooperative does not stop dispensing cannabis at our current location," the dispensary noted.

On New Year's Eve, Sacramento's One Love Wellness Center closed its doors. The dispensary had had its bank account seized by federal authorities in September after a Treasury Department criminal task force alleged that the dispensary structured $102,713 in deposits in small amounts to skirt rules requiring financial establishments to report all deposits of $10,000 or more to the Internal Revenue Service. No charges have been filed, but One Love was under additional pressure after Sacramento US Attorney Benjamin Wagner sent out a notice threatening its landlord with seizure of its property if marijuana sales continued on site. One Love said the move will cost 20 jobs. The dispensary also noted that it had paid more than $227,000 into state coffers in sales taxes last year and nearly $50,000 to the city of Sacramento. About two dozen dispensaries remain in the city, but nearly a hundred Sacramento County dispensaries have been shut down since supervisors decided they weren't permitted in unincorporated communities.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana patients in Shasta County began seeking to oust Sheriff Tom Bosenko in the latest skirmish in the on-going war between them and county officials. Bosenko was handed a recall notice Tuesday by patient and advocate Rob McDonald after he suggested tightening restrictions on medical marijuana cultivation in the county. Recall notices are being prepared for supervisors David Kehoe and Les Baugh, though neither has been presented yet, McDonald said. He is also targeting for recall Redding City Council members Patrick Jones, Francie Sullivan and Rick Bosetti in response to the city's dispensary ban, passed in November.

Also in Redding, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Stephen Baker granted the city of Anderson's request for a preliminary injunction against the Green Heart, the city's only dispensary. The judge gave Green Heart until next Tuesday to appeal.

Also on Tuesday, in Lakeport, the Lake County Board of Supervisors rescinded an October cultivation ordinance in response to a successful referendum petition. The Lake County Citizens for Responsible Regulations and the Lake County Green Farmers Association want less stringent rules than those passed by the board. The board could have let the voters decide in a special election, but decided that would be too expensive, and just repealed the ordinance.

And also on Tuesday, Riverside County officials raided numerous dispensaries in the Lakeland Village area. Police, county code enforcement, and a county attorney came knocking on doors to let dispensaries know they must shut down within 72 hours or face legal action. The move came after the county Board of Supervisors last month authorized county attorneys to sue any dispensaries still open in unincorporated areas of the county.

Colorado

On December 22, Colorado became the fourth state to ask the DEA to reschedule marijuana. The head of the state Department of Revenue made the request in compliance with state law. Colorado now joins Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in seeking rescheduling.

Rhode Island

On December 27, Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox said he will personally petition the federal Department of Justice to see how Rhode Island can open the large-scale dispensaries for growing and selling marijuana that advocates have long sought. Fox disagrees with Gov. Lincoln Chafee's decision to halt the process of issuing dispensary permits in the face of federal threats.

Washington

On December 15, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles released a summary of a proposed comprehensive medical marijuana bill. The Cannabis Defense Coalition had some issues with it; click the link to find out more.

On December 21, a state medical board that regulates medical marijuana has scheduled a hearing in Renton for January 11 to consider adding Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as qualifying conditions.

On December 27, the town of Castle Rock approved zoning regulations for medical marijuana gardens. Under the zoning rules, group gardens only are allowed in two commercial areas east of Interstate 5 near exits 48 and 49. The gardens must not be able to be viewed from public streets and must be locked or otherwise secured. Any planned group garden also must be inspected by city officials. The city is trying to keep gardens away from schools and public areas.

The Top Ten Domestic US Drug Policy Stories of 2011 [FEATURE]

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/usmap-small.jpg
We can put 2011 to bed now, but not before looking back one last time at the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a year of rising hopes and crushing defeats, of gaining incremental victories and fending off old, failed policies. And it was a year in which the collapse of the prohibitionist consensus grew ever more pronounced. Let's look at some of the big stories:

Progress on Marijuana Legalization

Last year saw considerable progress in the fight for marijuana legalization, beginning in January, when Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) got President Obama to say that legalization (in general) is "an entirely legitimate topic for debate," and that while he does not favor it, he does believe in "a public health-oriented approach" to illicit drugs. Before the LEAP intervention, which was made via a YouTube contest, legalization was "not in the president's vocabulary." While we're glad the president learned a new word, we would be more impressed if his actions matched his words. Later in the year, in response to "We the People" internet petitions, the Obama White House clarified that, yes, it still opposes marijuana legalization.

In June, Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) made history by introducing the first ever bill in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition, H.R. 2306. It hasn't been scheduled for a hearing or otherwise advanced in the legislative process, but it has garnered 20 cosponsors so far. Sadly, its lead sponsors are both retiring after this term.

Throughout the year, there were indications that marijuana legalization is on the cusp of winning majority support among the electorate. An August Angus Reid poll had support at 55%, while an October Gallup poll had it at 50%, the first time support legalization has gone that high since Gallup started polling the issue. A November CBS News poll was the downside outlier, showing support at only 40%, down slightly from earlier CBS polls. But both the Angus Reid and the Gallup polls disagreed with CBS, showing support for legalization trending steadily upward in recent years.

Legalization is also polling reasonably -- if not comfortably -- well in Colorado and Washington, the two states almost certain to vote on initiatives in November. In December, Public Policy Polling had legalization leading 49% to 40% in Colorado, but that was down slightly from an August poll by the same group that had legalization leading 51% to 38%.

In Washington, a similar situation prevails. A January KING5/SurveyUSA poll had 56% saying legalization would be a good idea and 54% saying they supported marijuana being sold at state-run liquor stores (similar to what the I-502 initiative proposes), while a July Elway poll had 54% either definitely supporting legalization or inclined to support it. But by September, the Strategies 360 Washington Voter Survey had public opinion evenly split, with 46% supporting pot legalization and 46% opposed.

The polling numbers in Colorado and Washington demonstrate that victory at the polls in November is in reach, but that it will be a tough fight and is by no means a sure thing. "Stoners Against Proposition 19"-style opposition in both states isn't going to help matters, either.

Oh, and Connecticut became the 14th decriminalization state.

Medical Marijuana Advances…

In May, Delaware became the 16th state to enact a medical marijuana law. Under the law, patients with qualifying conditions can legally possess up to six ounces of marijuana, but they cannot grow their own. Instead, they must purchase it from a state-licensed compassion center. That law will go into effect this year.

Meanwhile, New Jersey and Washington, DC, continue their achingly slow progress toward actually implementing existing medical marijuana laws. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) finally got out of the way and okayed plans for up to six dispensaries, but early efforts to set them up are running into NIMBY-style opposition. In DC, a medical marijuana program approved by voters in 1998 (!) but thwarted by Congress until 2009 is nearly at the stage of selecting dispensary operators. One of these months or years, patients in New Jersey and DC may actually get their medicine.

And late in the year, after the federal government rejected a nine-year-old petition seeking to reschedule marijuana, the governors of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington formally asked the Obama administration to reschedule it so that states could regulate its medical use without fear of federal interference. As the year came to an end, Colorado joined in the request for rescheduling.

…But the Empire Strikes Back

Last year saw the Obama administration recalibrate its posture toward medical marijuana, and not for the better. Throughout the year, US Attorneys across the country sent ominous signals that states attempting to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries could face problems, including letters to state governors not quite stating that state employees involved in regulation of the medical marijuana industry could face prosecution. That intimidated public officials who were willing to be intimidated, leading, for example, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delaying his state's medical marijuana program, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) to kill plans for dispensaries there, and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) to veto key parts of a bill there that would have regulated dispensaries.

Then the feds hit hard at Montana, raiding dispensaries and growers there, even as the state law was under attack by conservative Republican legislators. Now, Montana medical marijuana providers are heading to federal prison, and the state law has been restricted. What was once a booming industry in Montana has been significantly stifled.

There have also been raids directed at providers in Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, but California has been the primary target of federal attention in the latter half of the year. Since a joint offensive by federal prosecutors in the state got underway in October, with threat letters being sent to numerous dispensaries and their landlords, a great chill has settled over the land. Dispensary numbers are dropping by the day, the number of lost jobs number in the thousands, and the amount of tax revenues lost to local jurisdictions and the state is in the millions. That's not to mention the patients who are losing safe access to their medicine.

It's unclear whether the impetus for the crackdown originated in the Dept. of Justice headquarters in Washington or with individual US Attorneys in the states. Advocates hope it will stay limited mainly to states that are not effectively regulating the industry, and a coalition in California has filed a ballot initiative for 2012 that would do just that. Either way there is plenty of pain ahead, for patients and for providers who took the president's and attorney general's earlier words on the subject at face value.

Synthetic Panic

Last year, Congress and state and local governments across the land set their sights on new synthetic drugs, especially synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and a number of methcathinone derivatives ("bath salts") marketed for their stimulating effects similar to amphetamines or cocaine. Confronted with these new substances, politicians resorted to reflex prohibitionism, banning them as fast as they could.

Some 40 states and countless cities and counties have imposed bans on fake weed or bath salts or both, most of them acting this year.

At the federal level, the DEA enacted emergency bans on fake weed -- after first being temporarily blocked by retailers -- and then bath salts until Congress could act. It did so at the end of the year, passing the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011. The bill makes both sets of substances Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which will pose substantial impediments to researching them. Under the bill, prison sentences of up to 20 years could be imposed for the distribution of even small quantities of the new synthetics.

But the prohibitionists have a problem: Synthetic drug makers are responding to the bans by bringing new, slightly different formulations of their products to market. Prosecutors are finding their cases evaporating when the find the drugs seized are not the ones already criminalized, and retailers are eager to continue to profit from the sales of the new drugs. As always, the drug law enforcers are playing catch-up and the new drug-producing chemists are way ahead of them.

The Drug War on Autopilot: Arrests Hold Steady, But Prisoners Decline Slightly

overcrowded Mule Creek State Prison, CA
Last year saw more evidence that drug law enforcement has hit a plateau, as 2010 drug arrests held steady, but the number of prisoners and people under correctional supervision declined slightly.

More than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US in 2010, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report 2010, and more than half of them were for marijuana. That's a drug arrest every 19 seconds, 24 hours a day, every day last year. The numbers suggest that despite "no more war on drugs" rhetoric emanating from Washington, the drug war juggernaut is rolling along on cruise control.

Overall, 1,638,846 were arrested on drug charges in 2010, up very slightly from the 1,633,582 arrested in 2009. But while the number of drug arrests appears to be stabilizing, they are stabilizing at historically high levels. Overall drug arrests are up 8.3% from a decade ago.

Marijuana arrests last year stood at 853,838, down very slightly from 2009's 858,408. But for the second year in a row, pot busts accounted for more arrests than  all other drugs combined, constituting 52% of all drug arrests in 2010. Nearly eight million people have been arrested on pot charges since 2000.

The vast majority (88%) off marijuana arrests were for simple possession, with more than three-quarters of a million (750,591) busted in small-time arrests. Another 103,247 people were charged with sale or manufacture, a category that includes everything from massive marijuana smuggling operations to persons growing a single plant in their bedroom closets.

An analysis of the Uniform Crime Report data by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research added further substance to the notion that drug enforcement is flattening. The center found that the arrest rate for drug violations has decreased for the last four years, but still remains more than twice as high as rates in the early 1980s. The all-time peak was in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that for the first time since 1972, the US prison population in 2010 had fallen from the previous year and that for the second year in a row, the number of people under the supervision of adult correctional authorities had also declined.

In its report Prisoners in 2010, BJS reported that the overall US prison population at the end of 2010 was 1,605,127, a decrease of 9,228 prisoners or 0.6% from year end 2009. The number of state prisoners declined by 0.8% (10,881 prisoners), while the number of federal prisoners increased by 0.8% (1.653 prisoners). Drug offenders accounted for 18% of state prison populations in 2009, the last year for which that data is available. That's down from 22% in 2001. Violent offenders made up 53% of the state prison population, property offenders accounted for 19%, and public order or other offenders accounted for 9%.

In the federal prison population, drug offenders made up a whopping 51% of all prisoners, with public order offenders (mainly weapons and immigration violations) accounting for an additional 35%. Only about 10% of federal prisoners were doing time for violent offenses. Overall, somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000 people were doing prison time for drug offenses last year.

Similarly, in its report Correctional Population in the US 2010, BJS reported that the number of people under adult correctional supervision declined 1.3% last year, the second consecutive year of declines. The last two years are the only years to see this figure decline since 1980.

At the end of 2010, about 7.1 million people, or one in 33 adults, were either in prison or on probation or parole. About 1.4 million were in state prisons, 200,000 in federal prison, and 700,000 in jail, for a total imprisoned population of about 2.3 million. Nearly 4.9 million people were on probation or parole.

America's experiment with mass incarceration may have peaked, exhausted by its huge costs, but change is coming very slowly, and we are still the world's unchallenged leader in imprisoning our own citizens.

Federal Crack Prisoners Start Coming Home

Hundreds of federal crack cocaine prisoners began walking out prison in November, the first beneficiaries of a US Sentencing Commission decision to apply retroactive sentencing reductions to people already serving time on federal crack charges. As many as 1,800 federal crack prisoners were eligible for immediate release and up to 12,000 crack prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions that will shorten their stays behind bars.

The releases come after Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010, which shrank the much criticized disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. After Congress acted, the Sentencing Commission then moved to make those changes retroactive, resulting in the early releases beginning in November.

Despite the joyous reunions taking place across the country, the drug war juggernaut keeps on rolling, and there is much work remaining to be done. Not all prisoners who are eligible for sentence reductions are guaranteed to receive one, and retroactivity won't do anything to help people still beneath their mandatory minimum sentences. A bill with bipartisan support in Congress, H.R. 2316, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, would make Fair Sentencing Act changes to mandatory minimum sentences retroactive as well, so that crack offenders left behind by the act as is would gain its benefits.

And the Fair Sentencing Act itself, while an absolute advance from the 100:1 disparity embodied in the crack laws, still retains a scientifically unsupportable 18:1 disparity. For justice to obtain, legislation needs to advance that treats cocaine as cocaine, no matter the form it takes.

But even those sorts of reforms are reforms at the back end, after someone has already been investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced. Radical reform that will cut the air supply to the drug war incarceration complex requires changes on the front end.

Also in November, the US Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether the Fair Sentencing Act should be applied to those who were convicted, but not sentenced, before it came into effect -- the so-called "pipeline" cases. The decision to take up the issue came after lower courts split on the issue. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June.

Drug Testing the Needy

drug testing lab
With state budgets strained by years of recession and slow recovery, lawmakers across the country are turning their sights on the poor and the needy. In at least 12 states, bills have been introduced that would require people seeking welfare or unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing and risk losing those benefits if they test positive. Some Republicans in the US Congress want to do the same thing. In a thirteenth state, Michigan, the state health department is leading the charge.

The race to drug test the needy appears to be based largely on anecdotal and apocryphal evidence. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Hailey (R), to take one example, cited reports that a nuclear installation there couldn't fill vacancies because half the applicants failed drug tests, but had to retract that statement because it was nowhere near to being true. In Florida, where welfare drug testing was briefly underway before being halted by a legal challenge, 96% of applicants passed drug tests, while in an Indiana unemployment drug testing program, only 2% failed.

While such legislation appeals to conservative values, it is having a tough time getting passed in most places, partly because of fears that such laws will be found unconstitutional. The federal courts have historically been reluctant to approve involuntary drug testing, allowing it only for certain law enforcement or public safety-related occupations and for some high school students. When Michigan tried to implement a welfare drug testing program more than a decade ago, a federal appeals court ruled that such a program violated welfare recipients' right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

That ruling has served to restrain many lawmakers, but not Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Florida legislature. Scott issued an executive order to drug test state employees, but had to put that on hold in the face of threatened legal challenges. The state legislature passed and Scott signed a bill requiring welfare applicants and recipients to undergo drug testing or lose their benefits.

But the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed suit in federal court to block that law on the grounds it violated the Fourth Amendment. In October, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction preventing the state from implementing it. A final decision from that court and decisions about whether it will be appealed are eagerly awaited.

Marking 40 Years of Failed Drug War

Drug War 40th anniversary demo, San Francisco
June 17 marked forty years since President Richard Nixon, citing drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1," declared a "war on drugs." A trillion dollars and millions of ruined lives later, a political consensus is emerging that the war on drugs is a counterproductive failure. The Drug Policy Alliance led advocates all across the country in marking the auspicious date with a day of action to raise awareness about the catastrophic failure of drug prohibition and to call for an exit strategy from the failed war on drugs. More than 50 events on the anniversary generated hundreds of local and national stories.

In dozens of cities across the land, activists, drug war victims, and just plain folks gathered to commemorate the day of infamy and call for an end to that failed policy. Messages varied from city to city -- in California, demonstrators focused on prison spending during the budget crisis; in New Orleans, the emphasis was on racial injustice and harsh sentencing -- but the central overarching theme of the day, "No More Drug War!" was heard from sea to shining sea and all the way to Hawaii.

The crowds didn't compare to those who gather for massive marijuana legalization protests and festivals -- or protestivals -- such as the Seattle Hempfest, the Freedom Rally on Boston Commons, or the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, or even the crowds that gather for straightforward pot protests, such as 420 Day or the Global Marijuana March, but that's because the issues are tougher. People have to break a bit more profoundly with drug war orthodoxy to embrace completely ending the war on drugs than they do to support "soft" marijuana. That relatively small groups did so in cities across the land is just the beginning.

Congress Reinstates the Federal Ban on Funding Needle Exchanges

Two years ago, after years of advocacy by public health and harm reduction advocates, the longstanding ban on federal funding for needle exchanges was repealed. Last month, the ban was restored as the Senate took the final votes to approve the 2012 federal omnibus spending bill.

It was a Democratic-controlled House and Senate that rescinded the ban two years ago, and it was House Republicans who were responsible for reinstating it this year. Three separate appropriations bills contained language banning the use of federal funds, and House negotiators managed to get two of them into the omnibus bill passed Saturday.

A Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill including the ban on domestic use of federal funds for needle exchanges and a State Department bill including a ban on funding for needle exchange access in international programs both made it into the omnibus bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

Needle exchange supporters said restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

US Drug War Deaths

As far as we know, nobody has ever tried to count the number of people killed in the US because of the war on drugs. We took a crack at it last year, counting only those deaths directly attributable to drug law enforcement activities. The toll was 54, including three law enforcement officers.

Most of those killed were shot by police, many of them while in possession of firearms (some in their own homes) and some of them while shooting at police. Some were shot in vehicles after police said they tried to run them down (why is it they never were merely trying to get away?). But not all died at the hands of police -- several died of drug overdoses from eating drugs while trying to evade arrest, several more died from choking on bags of drugs they swallowed, one man drowned after jumping into a river to avoid a pot bust, and another died after stepping in front of a speeding semi-trailer while being busted for meth.

People were killed in "routine traffic stops," SWAT-style raids, and undercover operations. Hardly any of those cases made more than a blip in local media, the two exceptions being the case of Jose Guerena, an Iraq war vet gunned down by an Arizona SWAT team as he responded to his wife's cry of intruders in his own home, and the case of Eurie Stamps Sr., a 68-year-old Massachusetts man accidentally shot and killed by a SWAT team member executing a warrant for small-time crack sales.

Our criteria were highly restrictive and absolutely undercount the number of people who are killed by our drug laws. They don't include, for instance, people who overdosed unnecessarily because they didn't know what they were taking or medical marijuana patients who die after being refused organ transplants. Nor do they include cases where people embittered by the drug laws go out in a blaze of glory that wasn't directly drug law-related or cases, like the four men killed last year by Miami SWAT officers during an undercover operation directed at drug house robbers.

The toll of 54 dead, then, is an absolute minimum figure, but it's a start. We will keep track again this year, and look for a report on last year's numbers in the coming weeks.

In Conclusion...

Last year had its ups and downs, its victories and defeats, but leaves drug reformers and their allies better placed than ever before to whack away at drug prohibition. This year, it looks like voters in Colorado and Washington will have a chance to legalize marijuana, and who know what else the new year will bring. At the least, we can look forward to the continuing erosion of last century's prohibitionist consensus.


 

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