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Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths, Naloxone Price Hikes, How Weed Can Win in 2016, New Synthetics, More (12/2/14)

A new report suggests how to win pot legalization initiatives in 2016, a closely watched medical marijuana trial is delayed, there's naloxone and overdose death news, Mexican pot farmers are getting squeezed from competition north of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Moms Key Demographic for Winning Initiatives, Research Report Argues. Women between 30 and 55 are the key demographic group for winning marijuana legalization initiatives, according to a new report from the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The report, "Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012," analyzed the 2012 initiative efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as looking at the 2010 Prop 19 effort in California. The campaigns in Colorado and Washington successfully targeted that key demographic, the analysis found. The report also found that key messages to voters were that legalization would free up scarce law enforcement resources and that it would create new tax revenues. There's plenty more to read in the report; click on the link for the whole thing.

Marijuana DUI Breathalyzer Test Coming? Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that could detect THC on a driver's breath. The researchers said the device would probably not provide an exact reading of the amount of THC, but could help officers determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. But a follow-up THC blood test would still be necessary for use as evidence in court. Researchers said they hope to start testing this device in the first half of next year.

Arizona Legislative Analysts Say Legal Pot Could Generate $48 Million a Year in Tax Revenues. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has produced a report estimating tax revenues from legalization at $48 million a year. The report was produced in September, but details were not released until the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times obtained a copy Monday. The report was in response to a Democratic bill to legalize marijuana. That bill was killed in April, but could be back next year. And there is a legalization initiative effort underway for 2016, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical Marijuana

Trial Postponed, New Judge Assigned in Widely Watched Federal Medical Marijuana Case of Kettle Falls Five. A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

Los Angeles Has Shut Down More Than 400 Dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Members Save Over 200 North Carolinians From Drug Overdoses With Naloxone. The Coalition announced today that it had received a report of its 208th overdose reversal using the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Coalition has distributed over 5,100 overdose prevention kits containing naloxone since August 2013. That was made possible by the passage of a 911 Good Samaritan/naloxone access law in April 2013. For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, go here.

Naloxone Price Going Up Dramatically. Just as police departments across the country make plans to stock up on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, manufacturers are jacking up prices. In Georgia, police report the price of a kit jumped from $22 to $40, while New York City is reporting a 50% price increase. Manufacturers have not explained the increases, but some activists have suggested that with the surge in orders from government entities, the makers have seen a chance to grab windfall profits."We've had a pretty steady price for several years now,"said Matt Curtis, the policy director of VOCAL-New York, an advocacy group. "Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we're seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable."

CDC Reports Drug Overdose Deaths More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, more than 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, more than doubling the figure of 17,000 in 1999. Of the 41,000 drug overdoses in 2012, 16,000 were from opioid pain relievers (although that number actually decreased 5% from 2011), while nearly 6,000 were from heroin. Thus, legal and illegal opioids accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2012. The overall overdose death rate also doubled, from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. The highest rates of overdose deaths were in West Virginia (32 per 100,000), Kentucky (25 deaths per 100,00 people), New Mexico (24.7 per 100,00 people), Utah (23.1 per 100,00 people) and Nevada (21 per 100,00 people). The report is "Trends in Drug Poisoning Deaths, 1999-2012."

Law Enforcement

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is seeking an emergency appropriation for a "heroin surge" to combat increased heroin addiction and overdoses. He wants $100 million appropriated to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The move would increase HIDTA funding to $338 million nationwide, if the funding is approved in the federal budget.

Drug Testing

Kansas Welfare Drug Testing Law Not Catching Many. That's at least in part because the state is not actually testing many welfare applicants. After four months in effect, the state has tested only 20 applicants, of whom four tested positive. The testing is only required for people who are visibly using drugs, been recently arrested on a drug charge, or were found during a questionnaire screening to be likely to be using drugs. The state has paid $500,000 for the program so far, but has not achieved the $1.5 million in savings from people being disqualified for benefits earlier estimated because it has tested and disqualified so few people.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Synthetics and the Changing Global Drug Marketplace. Stanford University drug policy analyst Keith Humphreys has penned an informative piece on the increasing shift from natural, plant-based drugs to synthetic ones as well as the shift to on-line drug selling and buying. This phenomenon could "upend traditional understanding of drug markets and drug policy," he writes. There's much more; check it out at the link.

International

US Marijuana Production Hurting Mexican Pot Farmers. National Public Radio's John Burnett reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa that Mexican marijuana producers are being squeezed by made-in-America weed. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,"one grower there told him. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground." That grower said if matters continued as they were, he would plant opium poppies instead. The report also quotes a DEA official as saying Mexican cartels are now importing high-quality American weed to Mexico for high-end customers.

Chronicle AM: Green Friday, CA Drug Prisoners Walk Free, Mexico Crime Plan, N Korea Meth, More (11/28/14)

California's Prop 47 sentencing reform is kicking in with a vengeance, it's Green Friday in legal pot states, and there's a whole raft of international news. Let's get to it:

Mexican President Pena Nieto finds himself in a tight spot as anger over corruption and impunity reach the boiling point.
Marijuana Policy

In Legal Marijuana States, Black Friday is Green Friday. Legal marijuana retailers in Colorado and Washington are getting in the holiday spirit by offering "Green Friday" specials to customers. Kindman Premium Cannabis in Denver is offering $50 ounces to the first 16 Colorado residents today and tomorrow, while the Green Room in Boulder has their $50 eighths on sale for $40. Some Washington state retailers are offering similar deals.

With Threat of Initiative Looming, Some Key Massachusetts Lawmakers Start Talking Legalization. Some Bay State lawmakers are saying it's time to pass a bill to tax and regulate marijuana, or else the voters are going to do it themselves. "It's almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right," said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee. "I don't think it's wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question." Not everyone agrees, including Committee on Public Health Chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker. But if the legislature doesn't act, an initiative looks very likely in 2016.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona University Professor Fired for Medical Marijuana Research Gets Colorado Grant to Study Pot and PTSD. Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley, who was fired from her job at the University of Arizona over her medical marijuana research, has been awarded a $2 million grant from the state of Colorado to continue her research into the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD.

Sentencing

California Drug Offenders Being Freed Under Prop 47. Hundreds of jail and prison inmates have already been released in the three weeks since California voters approved Proposition 47, which retroactively reduced drug possession (and some other minor offenses) from a felony to a misdemeanor. Scores more people are flooding courts with applications to have their records cleansed of felonies. Nearly 5,000 people in state prison and tens of thousands more in county jails and on probation are probably eligible for resentencing. Those who completed their sentences years ago also can have their felonies erased. Also, thousands of probationers will be released from regular monitoring. Foes expect the worst, but time will tell.

International

Mexican President Announces National Anti-Crime Plan. Under intense political pressure after the apparent kidnapping and murder of 43 radical teachers' college students in Guerrero in September in a collaboration between corrupt politicians, corrupt police, and drug gangsters, President Enrique Pena Nieto Thursday announced a plan designed to cool public outrage and reform the nation's notoriously corrupt police forces. Pena Nieto is proposing giving Congress the power to dissolve corrupt municipal police and also placing local police under the control of the nation's 31 state governments. The same day Pena Nieto made the announcement, police in Guerrero announced the discovery of 11 burned and decapitated bodies (not the missing students). Similar anti-crime plans aimed at corrupt local police were announced in 2004 and 2008, but didn't succeed in rooting out the problem.

Colombia President Announces Crop Substitution Pilot Program, Says Will End Need for Aerial Fumigation of Coca Crops. President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday a pilot program for crop substitution in southern Putumayo state and said there will be "no more need" for aerial fumigation of crops once it is implemented. The pilot program is set to start in April. Crop substitution is a key part of the interim agreement on drugs between Colombia and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. The two forces have been in extended peace negotiations for the past two years.

Uruguay Delays Marijuana Pharmacy Sales. Although the Uruguayan government had initially planned to start allowing the sale of marijuana in pharmacies by year's end, it has now pushed that goal back to March, and perhaps further. National Drugs Board General Secretary Julio Calzada told reporters Wednesday that the delay loomed. The Reuters report linked to here mentioned "a variety of hurdles," but didn't specify what they are. Under Uruguay's legalization, people can grow up to six plants at home, organize into collectives to grow jointly, or register with the government and buy their pot at the drug store -- once the government crosses those hurdles.

Malay Man Gets Death Sentence for 20 Pounds of Weed. The Malaysian High Court in Alor Setar has sentenced a 37-year-old Penang man to death for trafficking 9.4 kilos of marijuana. Akbar Ali Abdul Rahman was convicted under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which imposes a mandatory death sentence for some drug offenses.

North Korea as China's Meth Supplier. The Guardian has in-depth reportage on North Korea's methamphetamine industry, which it says is flooding northwest China with the drug. The report says the Hermit Kingdom's meth industry has shifted from centralized and government-controlled production to decentralized, privatized production. North Korea denies it's doing any such thing. A very informative read.

Australia Report Finds Drug Enforcement Doesn't Affect Drugs on the Street. The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has released "the most comprehensive assessment of drug law enforcement ever undertaken in Australia," and found no evidence that increased drug law enforcement -- as measured through seizures and arrests of drug dealers -- affected the amount of drugs on the street or reduced hospital admissions related to hard drugs. The report is "Supply Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm."

Medical Marijuana Bill Filed in Australia's Tasmania. A bill to allow for medical marijuana and set up a controlled farming regime was filed Thursday in the Tasmania state parliament. Local media says the bill has "broad support," and was cosponsored by a Liberal, a Liberal Democrat, and a Green. The bill is not yet available on the Tasmania parliament web site.

The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 and Beyond [FEATURE]

State-level marijuana law reform won big in this month's elections, with legalization initiatives triumphing convincingly in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. The Florida medical marijuana initiative lost, but only because it had a higher bar of 60% of the popular vote. It ended up with 57%, a clear sign of solid majority support. And don't forget Guam -- the US territory approved medical marijuana with 56% of the vote.

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform is laying the groundwork for 2016. (CCPR)
Local marijuana reform initiatives also fared well. In Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, activists built on earlier successes to win more victories this year, while in New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe voted in favor of decriminalizing pot possession.

All in all, a good year for marijuana law reform, the second good election year in a row. Since 2012, voters in four states and DC have been asked to legalize marijuana. They've now said yes in all of them.

And now, eyes to turn to 2016 and beyond. There are excellent prospects for more victories in the West, as well as in the Northeast. And there could be some surprises lurking out there in the middle of the country.

California, of course, is the big prize, and efforts are already well underway to ensure that legalization is on the ballot in 2016 -- and that it actually wins this time. Arizona and Nevada are also on the radar, and the Nevada initiative campaign has already turned in twice the number of signatures needed to make the 2016 ballot.

In the Northeast, both Maine and Massachusetts are initiative states, and legalization appears headed for the ballot in both. In Rhode Island and Vermont, the push will come in the state legislatures.

"Things are clearly headed in the right direction," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Mason Tvert, scanning the post-election terrain. "Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities."

MPP will be backing 2016 initiatives in five states, Tvert said, although the Nevada legislature could ease its burden by just approving an initiative rather than punting to the voters.

"In Nevada, the petition drive has just wrapped up. At this point, our goal there is to pass the ballot initiative; if the legislature chooses to take an objective look and give it some real consideration, that would be excellent, too," he said.

"We also have committees filed to support initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts," Tvert said. "In California, we want to begin to raise money to support that effort, but it's pretty early in the process. We expect to see very solid support for such a measure in California, especially running in a presidential election year when support for legalizing marijuana has been growing nationwide. Prop 19 got 47% in 2010; that will be six years ago come 2016."

"We have a pretty comprehensive statewide coalition working on this," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which is a key part of that grouping, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. "The coalition includes us, the Prop 19 people, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, MPP, the Emerald Growers Association, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a partner in this, too."

A little less than two years out, it's a work in progress, said Gieringer.

"Pretty much all the leading groups interested in drug reform are interested in collaborating, but exactly how that will work hasn't been settled yet," he said.

Now that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, Gieringer sees some political space for pushing the envelope.

"Home cultivation will be in it," he said. "They have that in Oregon and Colorado, and we're going to have it in California. I also want to provide for on-site consumption; we're working to get that instituted here in Oakland. In Colorado, they banned public use, which is one thing if you mean smoking pot on the street, but governments tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes public use, like a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. I think we can provide for licensed on-site consumption, at least by local option."

And no reason to make what he called "unnecessary concessions."

"We have a DUID law, and we don't need to change that," he said. "They didn't do that in Colorado and Oregon, and we don't need to do it. We learned a lesson in Washington -- that lack of an express DUID provision didn't make a difference -- and we're not going to repeat that."

Although more than any other group in the coalition, CANORML represents the interests of marijuana consumers, Gieringer said it's not pot smokers or growers who are going to make an initiative victorious.

Maybe Missouri's Show Me Cannabis will show us all.
"Marijuana users are 12% to 15% of the population here; we really have to depend on more than that," he said. "The users and growers will not determine this campaign. And I'm sure there will be people discontented with however the initiative turns out; there always are. But there aren't that many growers in the state, anyhow. Some growers didn't like Prop 19, but it failed for other reasons. It didn't win in Los Angeles County, and that's not because of the growers."

In some states, such as Massachusetts, activists have been piling up marijuana reform victories for years. MassCANN/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have an unbroken record of winning non-binding public policy questions on marijuana reform issues going back seven election cycles. Voters in the Bay State have also signaled their approval of marijuana law reform by passing statewide medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization initiatives (2012).

Now, Bay State Repeal has formed to free the weed in 2016, and it has a pot populist tinge to it. The group wants home cultivation, not just to keep prices down, but "to keep the cops from busting through the door just because there is marijuana growing there" and it wants taxation and regulation, but only "moderate," not "cash-cow taxation or giant licensing fees."

In Maine, where MPP has been active, putting successful municipal legalization initiatives on the ballot in Portland and South Portland (but losing one in Lewiston), there could be not one but two legalization initiatives unless differing actors come together. In addition to the MPP effort, a new group, Legalize Maine, is also moving forward with plans for an initiative.

As with Bay State Repeal, there is a pot populist tinge. Legalize Maine couches its argument not only in terms of justice and common sense, but also talks about jobs and economic development. And it wants marijuana regulated in a way that "focuses on people instead of large economic interests that seeks to dominate the marijuana industry."

Legalization could also pop up in some unexpected places, too. While the major movement organizations already have selected targets for 2016 and have plans well afoot, things could break faster than the big players anticipate, and local activists in some states -- Arkansas and Missouri, for example -- may manage to get initiatives on the ballot without significant outside support.

In Missouri, Show Me Cannabis has been undertaking a vigorous and energetic campaign to put an initiative on the ballot in 2016. It submitted its initiative to state officials earlier this month; the first step in getting the measure before the voters. Similar efforts by different groups are also underway next door in Arkansas.

Those Ozark-area efforts don't have the backing of big national organization behind them, but that could change.

The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann wants to see the polling. (OSI)
"If these initiatives are well-drafted and the polling is strong, we'll help as best we can, but we're not making any financial commitments," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "We have a major commitment in California, and we're helping MPP draft initiatives in other states. In Missouri, let's make sure there's a solid draft initiative, and if the polling is there, well, a victory in Missouri would be very compelling."

Seeing marijuana legalization creep along the West Coast, make inroads on the East Coast, and maybe even in the Ozarks would make for a very impressive 2016, but some Midwestern activists are looking further down the road.

Led by indefatigable Tim Beck, Michigan activists have managed to pass municipal personal legalization initiatives in all the state's largest cities in the past few years. This year, they went eight for 13 with similar initiatives in smaller Michigan communities.

Michigan voters also approved marijuana in a statewide initiative in 2008, but, for Beck, getting the state's dispensary situation settled -- not legalization -- is the first order of business.

"Although the state legislature is totally controlled by the GOP, we've been working with them, and they've kind of seen the light on a regulated system with a lot of local control, which is big with Republicans," he said. "We have one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, and it's going to get better with a regulated dispensary system, as well as ingestibles. We won 95-14 in the House, and it's going through the Senate now," he said.

"We have over 1.5 million people now living in cities that have decriminalized," Beck said. "And we liberated 140,000 this year -- on the cheap. This has an impact. When we have dispensaries and when we have decriminalization, local officials won't be able to say 'Oh, we don't want marijuana here,' because the voters do."

Legalization may not be the first order of business, but it is the ultimate goal, Beck said.

"My philosophy has never been that the solution is medical, but straight-out, unadorned legalization, but we're -having to do it on our own," he explained. "Michigan is fly-over country for the big players. It's a large state with a population of more than 10 million, so it's expensive to win a campaign, and it's a bit more conservative than the East or West coasts."

That means Michigan needs to be patient.

"Our realistic priority for the next couple of years is to work with the legislature," Beck said. "We have a new class of entrepreneurs who have come out of the closet, and we've been able to fund our own lobbyist to the tune of about $150,000. Once we get dispensaries, then we'll turn to decriminalization at the statehouse. We had a decriminalization bill this year, but it was introduced by a Democrat and went nowhere."

Beck is also waiting for the opinion polls to move further in the right direction.

"There's a weird dichotomy in our polling," the veteran activist explained. "We get well over 60% saying yes to reallocating police resources away from small-time marijuana users, but when it comes to legalization, that number drops dramatically. We might be at 50%; we'll do another poll at year's end, but I don't think much will change. It's hard to demand that anyone open their checkbook when you're only running 50%. We have to just keep going on an incremental basis. Maybe by 2018 or 2020, we'll be ready."

While Beck counsels patience, Nadelmann is counseling prudence. And while he is of course happy that all the legalization initiatives passed, he doesn't want people to think it's going to be a walk in the park from here on in.

"The downside is a sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself," he said. "That could make it more difficult to fundraise if there's a sense that you can put anything on the ballot and not anticipate serious opposition. There could be a sense in the industry that you can be free riders while the activists raise the money."

There are other potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope could push too far, Nadelmann said.

"Don't forget the Montana disaster," he warned, referring the wide open medical marijuana expansion there that created a backlash that drove the industry back into the ground. "Don't be short-sighted and greedy, and contribute and support the organizations working on this."

And don't forget federal pot prohibition.

It's one thing for a handful of states -- or even more -- to legalize marijuana, but as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, even the legal marijuana states could theoretically face a concerted federal effort to roll back the clock. Using federal marijuana prohibition as a hammer, a hostile Congress and president could wreak havoc with state-level regulation and taxation. (Ironically, a move to do that could result in marijuana being legal to smoke and possess in those states, but not to sell or be taxed or regulated.)

But if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go.

"A lot more states are going to have to approve this before it gets to the point where repeal can pass," said Nadelmann. "When you look at medical marijuana and how slowly that moves on Capitol Hill, you see that it wasn't until this year that we actually got something passed, and that was just to stop federal interference in medical marijuana states. I'm more optimistic about winning votes like that next year, to get the federal government out of the way."

Congress has not been especially responsive to growing support for marijuana legalization, and there's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, Nadelmann said.

"It's hard to imagine Congress playing any sort of leadership role on this stuff," he explained.

Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. That means there's still plenty of work to be done at the state house and the ballot box.

Chronicle AM: Historic UK Drug Debate Looms, NYPD Ending Marijuana Possession Arrests, More (11/10/14)

Look out! Here comes the next wave of marijuana legalization efforts. Also, NYPD will stop its penny-ante pot arrests, Oregon DAs ponder dropping pot charges, the FBI's annual arrest figures are out, the ACLU gets $50 million to fight overincarceration, Britain awaits a historic debate on drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

The election was only last week, but eyes are already turning to 2015 and 2016. (www.regulateri.org)
Marijuana Policy

Nevada 2016 Legalization Initiative Ready to Hand in Signatures. The Nevada Coalition to Regulate Marijuana says it will turn in 170,000 signatures Wednesday for its proposed 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana. It needs 102,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

Oregon Prosecutors to Rethink Pending Pot Cases. Although marijuana possession won't be legal in the state until July 2015, prosecutors in some of its most populous counties say they will revisit pending marijuana cases in light of last week's legalization victory at the polls. DAs in Clackamas (Oregon City), Multnomah (Portland), and Washington (Hillsboro) counties all said they are trying to figure out how to proceed.

Rhode Island Activists Aim to Legalize It in 2015. Which will be the first Northeastern state to legalize marijuana? Rhode Island activists organized into Regulate Rhode Island want their state to be the one. They are putting together a coalition to try to push a bill to tax and regulate marijuana through the General Assembly next year. The bill died in the legislature this year. This is a Marijuana Policy Project effort.

NYPD to Stop Arrests for Minor Marijuana Offenses. The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced today that the department will quit arresting people for low-level marijuana possession. NYPD has been arresting tens of thousands of people each year, but in the face of withering criticism, it will now begin issuing tickets instead. But people caught smoking pot in public will continue to face arrest.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Drug Testing for Unemployment, Food Stamps. Newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is calling drug testing of people seeking public benefits, including unemployment insurance. He and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both say it will be a priority in the coming legislative session. Walker and Vos haven't unveiled an actual proposal, but any bill that calls for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is certain to face constitutional challenges.

Law Enforcement

Pot Arrests Drop, But Still 1.5 Million Drug Arrests Last Year. More than 1.5 million people were arrested for drug offenses in the US last year, and more than 693,000 of those for marijuana offenses. The figures come from the FBI's 2013 Uniform Crime Report, which was released today. Marijuana arrests have declined from peaks early in this century. In 2008, there were a record 872,000 marijuana arrests, so pot busts have declined by slightly more than 20% since then. But arrests for other drug offenses continue apace, actually increasingly slightly last year. Still, because of the decline in marijuana arrests, the overall number of drug arrests dropped by about 50,000.

Sentencing

ACLU Gets $50 Million to Fight to Reduce Incarceration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been awarded a $50 million grant from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to mount an eight-year campaign to change criminal justice policies and reduce incarceration in this country. The group says there is an emerging bipartisan consensus to make reforms, although last week's election results may stiffen opposition. The ACLU wants to reduce imprisonment by 50% in the next years.

International

Missing Mexican Students Were Murdered By Drug Gang, Officials Say. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said last Friday that 43 radical student teachers missing for more than a month in Iguala, Guerrero, had been murdered by a drug gang working with the wife of the mayor of the city. Murillo said the students were killed and their bodies burned, with the remains scattered in a local river. The announcement of the students' fate has not, however, quieted outrage in the country, where corruption and impunity are major issues. Demonstrators torched the wooden front doors of the National Palace in Mexico City Saturday night and were blocking the Acapulco airport Monday, among other actions.

Former Chilean President Calls for Drug Decriminalization. In an interview last Friday, former President Ricardo Lagos said decriminalizing marijuana -- and possibly even cocaine -- possession was the best way to reduce both prohibition-related crime and drug use. Start with marijuana, he said. "After one or two years we will see if we dare to legalize cocaine. It starts with a major prevention campaign and with providing non-prison punishment for those who are incarcerated today, depending on the magnitude of their offenses," Lagos proposed. "The only thing that's clear to me is that there were 10,000 drug arrests per year in Chile in 2002 and 10 years later it's multiplying by eight, reaching 82,000. Chile needs to grow up," he said. Lagos was president of the country from 2000 to 2006.

In Historic Move, British Parliament to Debate Drug Policy. The House of Commons will debate Britain's drug policies for three hours this coming Thursday. It is the first time Parliament has taken up the topic since passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act -- the current law -- four decades ago. The debate comes as Britain's governing coalition has been sundered on the issue, with the junior partner Liberal Democrats coming out loudly for drug decriminalization and the senior partner Conservatives firmly holding the line against any reforms.

Australia's New South Wales Wants Random Drug Testing of Drivers. The New South Wales state government has introduced a bill that would allow police to randomly drug test drivers for the presence of marijuana, amphetamines, and ecstasy. The tests would be done with a saliva swab.

Chronicle AM: Rahm Says Defelonize, Mex Prez Says Don't Legalize, Florida MedMJ Poll, More (9/23/14)

Thar's gold in them thar marijuana legalization laws, Seattle's prosecutor throws out pot possession tickets, Massachusetts medical marijuana advocates chastise the slow-moving state government, Rahm Emanuel wants to defelonize drug possession, and more. Let's get to it:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for the defelonization of drug possession. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana Sales in DC Could Net Nearly $9 Million in Tax Revenues. A report from NerdWallet estimates that the District of Columbia could net nearly $9 million a year from taxes on the sales of marijuana -- if taxation and regulation is approved in the District. The DC marijuana initiative, Measure 71, does not include provisions for taxation and regulation because DC law precludes it from doing so, but a tax and regulate legalization bill is already before the city council. The NerdWallet report also includes marijuana tax revenue projections for all 50 states.

DC Council Advances Effort to Seal Marijuana Possession Records. The DC Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety voted unanimously last week to approve B20-467, a bill that would allow people to file motions to seal records for offenses that have since been legalized or decriminalized. DC decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year and could legalize it in November if Measure 71 passes, which means many DC residents would be able to take advantage of the law if it passes.

Seattle Prosecutor Will Drop All Pot Possession Charges. City Attorney Pete Holmes said Monday will dismiss about a hundred pot possession tickets issued by the Seattle Police Department in the first half of this year -- because most of them were written by a single police officer who disagrees with the state's marijuana legalization law. That officer, Randy Jokela, has been temporarily reassigned.

Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts Advocates Press State Leaders on Slow Implementation. Patients and advocates rallied Monday at the state house to put pressure on the Department of Health to speed up access to medical marijuana under the state's nearly two-year-old law. The rally was sponsored by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose leader, Matthew Allen, told reporters that Gov. Deval Patrick (D) had not lived up to his responsibility to implement the will of the voters.

Florida Campaign Internal Poll Has Initiative at 69%. The United for Care campaign, the people behind the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, released an internal poll Monday that showed support for the initiative at 69%. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, it needs 60% to pass. The internal poll release came after several recent polls showed the initiative hovering at the edge of defeat.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar to Open Next Month's National Harm Reduction Conference. Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House's Office on National Drug Control Policy, better known as the drug czar's office, will provide the opening remarks for the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference set for Baltimore a month from now. Click on the title link or the conference link to learn more.

Sentencing

Chicago Mayor Calls for Statewide Defelonization of Drug Possession Offenses. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) today proposed before a General Assembly panel in Chicago that possession of up to a gram of any controlled substance be treated as a misdemeanor, not a felony, as is currently the case. Emanuel also proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession statewide. "It doesn't make sense that one arrest for a very small amount of a controlled substance can lead to a lifetime of struggles," Emanuel said. "It is time to put our sentencing policies in line with our values, reduce penalties for nonviolent, misdemeanor drug offenses so we don't put people in prison who need drug treatment."

International

Mexican President Opposes Marijuana Legalization. In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he opposes legalizing marijuana because that would be "opening the door to a large intrusion of drugs that is very damaging to the population." But he added that he was open to discussion on the issue. "I'm in agreement that we need to have a large debate in the hemisphere about the policies for this area, whether it's to tolerate or to legalize or to simply take a hemispherical definition," Pena Nieto said.

Peru Dynamiting Cocaine Plane Landing Strips, To No Avail. The Peruvian armed forces have been dynamiting clandestine airstrips in the world's number one coca growing region, the Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). But even though soldiers "cratered" 54 airstrips, Peru's counternarcotics chief, Gen. Vicente Romero, said that they were quickly repaired, with traffickers paying villagers up to $100 each to fill in the holes. Sometimes, he said, they get fixed overnight.

Iran Hangs 13 on Drug Charges. Iran has executed 13 people for drug crimes in the past week, including eight hanged in Shahab Prison in Kerman on September 18 and five, including two Pakistani women, hanged in Central Prison in Zahedan. Along with China and Saudi Arabia, Iran is one of the world's most prolific drug war executioners.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Poll, NM Pot Poll, Molly Fry Petition, EU Sides with Bolivia on Coca, More (9/19/14)

A pair of marijuana polls have good news for DC, but not so good for New Mexico, there's a move on to get Dr. Molly Fry out of federal prison, Ohio employers are pushing drug testing for students, the EU sides with Bolivia -- not the US -- on that country's coca policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Dr. Molly Fry's supporters have started a petition drive seeking a pardon for the medical marijuana practitioner. (change.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has DC Initiative at 65%. A new Washington Post/NBC News/Marist poll has the DC marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative Measure 71 winning easily with the support of nearly two-thirds of likely voters. That's the highest number ever polled for an actual legalization initiative. Click on the poll link for more information.

New Poll Has Legalization Coming Up Short in New Mexico. An Albuquerque Journal poll suggests it may be a good thing New Mexicans aren't voting on legalization this year. The poll asked whether respondents supported legalizing marijuana for adults with a tax and regulation scheme similar to Colorado. Only 44% were in favor, with 50% opposed. Click on the title link for more information.

Medical Marijuana

Change.org Petition to Free Dr. Mollie Fry. California medical marijuana advocate Dr. Mollie Fry is sitting in federal prison for providing the drug to sick patients. Supporters have organized a Change.org petition seeking a pardon for her. As of this writing, there are only 27 signatures. You can add yours by clicking on the title link.

Drug Testing

Ohio Industry Groups Urge Schools to Drug Test Vocational Education Students. The Mahoning Valley Manufacturer's Coalition and the Youngstown/Warren Chamber of Commerce have sent a letter to schools in Columbiana, Mahoning, and Trumbull counties urging them to drug test students who enroll in vocational training programs. While somewhere between 20% and 30% of school districts nationwide subject some students to drug testing, this is the first time we've heard of employers directly lobbying schools to do so.

International

European Union Agrees With Morales, Not Obama, on Bolivia's Coca Policy. The Obama administration this week certified that Bolivia had "failed demonstrably" to live up to US drug policy mandates, but the European Union has joined Bolivian President Evo Morales in strongly disagreeing. "In my opinion, the work we have achieved has been successful, the results as well are visible in the successful and sustained reduction of the coca production in the country, and successes as well related with the prohibition," said Timothy Torlot, head of an EU delegation in Bolivia. "My experience here, working with the Bolivians, is one of a government that seriously executes its work, that has proved its results, no need to talk with the US government about that," he added.

Non-Binding Referendum on Marijuana in Mexican State of Jalisco. The state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara, the country's second largest city, has begun voting on a non-binding referendum on marijuana policy. The referendum asks whether medical marijuana should be legalized and whether personal possession limits should be increased. Voting takes place through Sunday. So far, medical marijuana is winning approval, but increasing possession limits is not. After the referendum, PRD legislator Enrique Velazquez will present a bill in the state congress.

Luxembourg Justice Minister Says It Is Time to Rethink Drug Policy, But Rules Out Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Felix Braz told the newspaper Luxemburger Wort that the country needs to rethink its drug policy, saying that criminalization and repression have not had the desired results. Braz pointed to increasing drug problems in the country. "I am convinced that we cannot help these people only through criminal justice measures," the Justice Minister said. "The fact that drug consumption increases steadily, leads us to the conclusion that we need to rethink our drugs policy. With an open spirit, we need to search for alternative solutions to get the problem under control," he added. But Braz also said that the coalition government of which he is a member is not going to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is effectively decriminalized in Luxembourg.

Chronicle AM: Philly Decriminalizing, Global Commission Report, Police Militarization Hearing, More (9/9/14)

Philly will decriminalize, the Global Commission on Drugs issues a ground-breaking new report, LEAP's Norm Stamper testifies on police militarization, Jodie Emery runs for parliament, there's medical marijuana news from Europe and South America, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Opium poppies in Afghanistan. The Global Commission on Drugs would like to see this regulated. (unodc.org)
Philadelphia Will Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. Mayor Michael Nutter announced today that he will sign a municipal ordinance decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The city council passed the measure in June, but Nutter had held out for changes that he has now obtained, including requiring court appearances for those caught with pot (but no criminal charges) and, for those caught actually toking up, the imposition of a $100 fine for smoking in public on top of the $25 fine for possession. Decriminalization is expected to go into effect on October 20.

Drug Policy

World Political Leaders Call for Radical New Direction in Drug Policies. In a report released last night and in a New York City press conference this morning, a number of global leaders, including former heads of state, called for drug decriminalization and the regulation of psychoactive drug markets. Those same global leaders are meeting this afternoon with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his deputy, Jan Eliasson. These world leaders are members of the Global Commission on Drugs and their new report is Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. Click on the title link for a full report.

Drug Policy Forum of California Publishes 2014 Voters's Guide.The guide covers all candidates for state and congressional office and all local ballot measures concentrating on marijuana- and drug policy-related stances and issues. Click on the link to check it out.

Law Enforcement

Norm Stamper Testifies Before Senate on Police Militarization. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, a long-time member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), testified today before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on the militarization of law enforcement in the post-9/11 era. Click on the link to read his submitted remarks in full.

Nevada Officials, Lawmakers Call for Careful Review, Revision of Marijuana DUID Law. The state currently has a strict DUID law, meaning the presence of more than 2 nanograms per million of detectable THC in a driver's blood makes drivers "per se" guilty of driving under the influence, but a growing number of lawmakers, prosecutors, and advocates are calling for the legislature to review and possibly revise that law next year. They are looking for some way of measuring marijuana impairment that actually measures impairment, not THC in the blood. Some are holding up California as a model. That state has no legal standard, but instead relies on the judgment of police at the scene. In California, prosecutors can use blood test results as evidence, but must still prove actual impairment.

International

Jodie Emery Officially Files to Run for Canadian Parliament. Jodie Emery, the wife of just released from US prison "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and an effective activist in her own right, has officially filed for the Liberal Party nomination to run as a member of parliament representing the Vancouver East riding. That seat is currently held by New Democratic Party stalwart Libby Davies, herself an avid drug reformer, and Davies is widely expected to retain the seat.

Italian Army to Grow Medical Marijuana. Italian media are reporting that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense have agreed that the military will grow medical marijuana at a military-run pharmaceutical factory in Florence. Italy allows for the use of medical marijuana, but there are no legal private growers, leaving patients to obtain supplies abroad and leaving the Italian health care system footing the bill. The move is designed both to cut costs and to ensure that the drug is produced under strict controls.

Chilean Government Approves First Medical Marijuana Farm. The governor of metropolitan Santiago announced yesterday that the county's first medical marijuana production operation had been approved by the Agricultural Livestock Service. The operation will grow marijuana for medical and research purposes and is expected to produce cannabis oil as well. The farm will be sponsored by La Florida, a Santiago municipality, as well as Fundación Daya, "a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to research and promotion of alternative therapies to alleviate human suffering."

Chronicle AM: Massive Marijuana Poll, Saudis Behead Four for Drugs, CA Defelonization Init, More (9/4/2014)

Massive marijuana poll has good news, Cornhuskers ponder legalization "problems," another Florida medical marijuana poll is out, a California defelonization initiative quietly advances, another drug war death, Saudis behead four people for drug trafficking, and more. Let's get to it:

Another poll suggests marijuana is becoming normalized. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Massive Online Polling Survey Finds 58% Support for Legalization. The online polling data company CivicScience has released the results of a massive, two-year online poll that asked more than 450,000 US adults whether they would "support or oppose a law in your state that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana like alcohol." Some 39% said they strongly supported, and another 19% said they somewhat supported the idea. That's 58% for legalization. Support is even higher in the last three months, with 61% of recent respondents saying they favored legalization. The results are music to the ears of Marijuana Majority head Tom Angell. "This huge poll is yet another indication that marijuana legalization is officially a mainstream issue. With ending prohibition polling better with voters than most elected officials do these days, it'll be really interesting to see which 2016 contenders realize that supporting marijuana reform is good politics and which still don't get it," he said.

Nebraska Legislature to Consider "Problems" of Colorado Marijuana Legalization. Next Monday, the legislature's Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LR 520, a resolution "to gather information about the developing problems that law enforcement is encountering since the State of Colorado legalized the sale and recreational use of marijuana." The Marijuana Policy Project is encouraging legislators to examine all the results of legalization in Colorado, not just the "problems."

Medical Marijuana

New Florida Poll Has Medical Marijuana Initiative Coming Up Just Short. A new Florida Decides poll has a majority in favor of the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative, but not the supermajority needed to pass a constitutional amendment. The poll had support at 57%, but 60% is needed. But the poll also had 17% undecided, and if only a fraction of the undecided break in favor of the initiative, it could win. Another poll earlier this week had support at 64%.

Law Enforcement

Ohio Man Kills Himself During Marijuana Garden Raid Stand-Off. An Ashville, Ohio, man shot and killed himself after a two-hour stand-off at a property where he was growing marijuana Tuesday evening. Timothy Sturgis, 42, becomes the 32nd person to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Initiative Quietly Awaits Opposition. An initiative that would reduce petty drug (and other) offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, Proposition 47, is qualified for the November ballot and is now quietly waiting for a backlash to emerge. It polled at 57% in June and has $3 million in the bank. Opponents have raised only $8,000. But there are still two months left.

International

Saudi Arabia Beheads Four Foreigners for Drug Trafficking. Three Syrians and an Iranian were executed by beheading for drug trafficking offenses, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. The three Syrians were executed for smuggling "a large quantity of banned amphetamine pills" into the kingdom, and the Iranian was beheading for smuggling "a large quantity of hashish." That makes 45 executions in Saudi Arabia so far this year. It's not clear how many were for drug offenses, but the Saudis also executed four people for hash offenses last month.

Guyana Rastafaris Call for National Marijuana Commission. The Guyana Rastafari Council has called for the creation of a National Marijuana Commission. "Among the resolutions passed at the Council's last General Meeting held at the F.E. Pollard Primary School on August 24, was a call on the Government of Guyana to immediately implement the mandate of the last CARICOM Heads of Government meeting, that each CARICOM member state sets up a National Marijuana Commission to complement the Regional Marijuana Commission to look at decriminalizing marijuana for medical, religious and recreational purposes," the council said.

Chronicle AM: Oregon Marijuana Legalization Endorsement, PA Mandatory Minimums, Heroin Maintenance, More (8/25/14)

The Oregonian says legalize it, so do Vermont GOP gubernatorial candidates, LEAP founder says legalize heroin, a Pennsylvania court throws out mandatory minimums, Vancouver's SALOME participants will get their heroin, and more. Let's get to it:

Diacetylmorphine (pharmaceutical heroin) will soon be on its way to Vancouver. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon's Largest Newspaper Endorses Measure 91. In a Sunday editorial, the Oregonian has endorsed marijuana legalization in general and New Approach Oregon's initiative, Measure 91, in particular. Click on the title link to read the newspaper's reasoning.

Vermont GOP Governor Candidates Agree Marijuana Should Be Legal. In interviews with Vermont Public Radio, all three Republican gubernatorial candidates said they agreed that marijuana should be legalized. Steve Berry of Wolcott, Scott Milne of Pomfret and Emily Peyton of Putney are competing in tomorrow's primary. Peyton and Berry came out strongly for legalization, while Milne said he would sign a bill if it got to his desk. Milne is the leading contender.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Eviction of Public Housing Tenant for Marijuana Criminal Activity. With marijuana decriminalized in the state, can a public housing tenant still be evicted for possession of less than an ounce? That question remains undecided after the state's high court sidestepped it in Figgs v. Boston Housing Authority. A lower court had held that the tenant could not be evicted for simple possession, but the high court reversed, saying the facts in the case showed not just possession, but also that the tenant's roommate sold marijuana and possessed a weapon. Figgs is going to have to find a new place to live now.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Advocates File Lawsuit over PTSD Treatment Restrictions. The Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging limits imposed on patients with PTSD who seek to use medical marijuana. Health Director Will Humble has ruled that PTSD patients can only use medical marijuana if they are already getting some other form of treatment for PTSD. The lawsuit is in Maricopa County District Court.

Kansas Democratic Party Endorses Medical Marijuana. Kansas Democrats now formally support medical marijuana, they announced during their statewide Demofest convention Saturday night. "Kansas Democrats support the availability of marijuana for medical use and protection of patients from criminal arrest and prosecution." the plank says. The platform link wasn't working as of Tuesday night, but you can try it here.

Sentencing

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Mandatory Minimums Unconstitutional. In a decision last week, the court has thrown out the use of mandatory minimum sentences as violating the constitution. The ruling came in Pennsylvania v. Newman, where James Newman had received a mandatory minimum 5-year sentence for possession of drugs and a gun. Relying on a line of federal court decisions beginning with Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Superior Court held that, in sentences based on the elements of the crime, jurors -- not judges -- must find that those elements existed.

California Fair Sentencing Act Heads for Governor's Desk. After a final Senate concurrence vote last Thursday, the Fair Sentencing Act is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The act, Senate Bill 1010, would eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses by reducing the penalty for crack offenses.

Heroin

Boston Globe Op-Ed Calls for End to Heroin Prohibition. A Sunday op-ed in the Globe published by former New Jersey narcotics officer and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition founder Jack Cole forthrightly calls for ending heroin prohibition. Police efforts to repress heroin "did more harm than good, and the harder my colleagues and I tried, the more damage we did," he writes. "As a police officer, I understand the instinct to mete out punishment, send a message, put somebody away for abusing drugs. Nonetheless, my experience has shown me that it is futile, counterproductive, and dangerous to try to arrest our way out of this very real problem." There's much more; click on the title link to read the whole thing.

International

Number of Disappeared in Mexico Keeps Rising. The number of people who have vanished since former President Felipe Calderon initiated his drug war in 2006 has increased to some 23,000, according to the Interior Ministry. More than 12,000 disappeared during the Calderon sexenio, and nearly 10,000 more have vanished during the first two years of the Enrique Pena Nieto presidency. Human rights groups say these official numbers are low.

Two-Thirds of Canadians Support Marijuana Law Reform. A new Forum Research poll finds that 66% of Canadians favor either legalizing and taxing marijuana or taking pot possession out of the criminal code (decriminalizing it). Some 35% said legalize it, while another 31% said decriminalize it. Only 16% said they were happy with the marijuana law status quo.

Canada's SALOME Study Will Get Prescription Heroin By Christmas. Vancouver heroin addicts participating in the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) will have legally prescribed heroin by Christmas, their attorney said last week. They won the right to use heroin as a maintenance drug after the BC Supreme Court in May granted them an injunction exempting them from a federal government ban on such uses. The pharmaceutical grade heroin is coming from a European manufacturer.

Australian National Council on Drugs Softens on Medical Marijuana. The Australian National Council on Drugs today released Medicinal Use of Cannabis: Background and Information Paper, which concedes that pharmaceutical marijuana products are effective for treating some forms of pain, reducing nausea, and helping people with wasting syndrome. The backgrounder comes as clamor grows, especially in Victoria, for legalizing medical marijuana.

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

DC Marijuana Initiative Hands in Plenty of Signatures [FEATURE]

It now looks extremely likely that the residents of the nation's capitol will vote in November on whether to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. Representatives of the DC Cannabis Campaign legalization initiative handed in some 58,000 signatures Monday morning, and they only need some 25,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

outside DC election headquarters (drugpolicy.org)
Signature-gathering experts generally expect to see something between 20% and 30% of signatures handed in deemed invalid. For the DC initiative to fail to qualify, the invalidation rate would have to be above 50%.

The measure will be known as Initiative 71 once it officially qualifies for the ballot.

The District of Columbia isn't the only locale where marijuana legalization is almost definitely going to be on the ballot this fall. An Alaska legalization initiative has already qualified, and organizers of an Oregon legalization initiative just last week handed in more than 145,000 signatures, nearly twice the 88,000 valid voter signatures needed to qualify.

Colorado and Washington led the way on marijuana legalization, with voters in both states passing legalization initiatives in 2012. DC, Alaska, and Oregon all appear poised to join them in November.

In DC, campaigners will emphasize the racially disparate impact of marijuana prohibition. In 2010, black people accounted for 91% of marijuana arrests, even though they now account for less than half the city's population. The District is also currently saddled with the highest per capita marijuana arrest rates in the nation.

The DC initiative is not a full-blown legalize, tax, and regulate measure. It would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate six plants at home. But District law prevents initiatives from addressing budgetary issues, which precludes the initiative addressing the tax and regulate/marijuana commerce aspect of legalization. But the DC city council currently is considering a tax and regulate bill to cover that.

boxes of signature petitions ready to go (drugpolicy.org)
The city council passed a decriminalization bill that goes into effect shortly, but advocates argued based on other decrim laws in the states that alone is not enough to change police practices. They noted that in Colorado and Washington, where actual legalization is in effect, marijuana arrest rates have dropped dramatically. Those declines not only save millions in tax dollars; they also save thousands of people from the legal and collateral consequences of a pot bust.

After handing in signatures this morning, key players in the initiative gathered for a noon tele-conference.

"In just a few weeks, DC's groundbreaking decriminalization law goes into effect," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which is supporting the initiative. "But decriminalization is just the first step. Today, the DC Cannabis Campaign turned in enough signatures to put Initiative 71 on the ballot."

"Last week, the US celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act," noted Dr. Malik Burnett, recently brought in as DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Drug policy reform is the civil rights issue of this century. Prohibition isn't working, and it is leading to poor outcomes, especially in communities of color. We definitely applaud the city council for getting decriminalization done, but in other jurisdictions with decriminalization, we continue to see a large number of racially biased arrests. If we look at jurisdictions that have legalized, arrest rates for small amounts of marijuana are down 75%."

"Today is a big day in this effort," said Councilmember David Grosso, sponsor of the Tax and Regulate Marijuana Act of 2014. "It looks like it will be on the ballot this fall, and I'm confident that people here in DC will vote to legalize marijuana. The people have been in the forefront of this for a long time, starting with medical marijuana back in 1998."

Grosso said he sponsored the tax and regulate bill because of the failures of prohibition.

"I'm a strong believer that the war on drugs has been a failure," he said. "We need to move beyond putting people in jail for marijuana and non-violent offenses. But once we legalize it, it's important to regulate it in a way that is responsible for the District, which is why I introduced the tax and regulate bill. It has to go through a couple of committees, but we're a full-time legislature and could have it done by the end of the year. If not, I will reintroduce it next year."

"This initiative is very different from the other efforts," said DC Cannabis Campaign chair and long-time DC political gadfly Adam Eidinger. "It's very focused on the consumer, how we can keep them out of jail and give them a supply without creating a marketplace. This is looking at the rights of the individual and letting them produce their own at home. This by itself isn't full legalization -- Grosso's bill is the complete picture, but we can't put that on the ballot, so we did the next best thing to enshrine the rights of the consumer," he explained.

"We already passed home cultivation for medical marijuana in 1998, and many us were demanding from the city council that we actually get home cultivation as part of medical," Eidinger noted. "Their failure to do so has fueled the interest in pushing this forward. Medical marijuana is not the destination for every user, nor is decriminalization. The goal is to stop the bleeding, to stop arresting four or five thousand people here every year. My goal is take marijuana arrests down to zero," he said.

DC election workers start validating signatures. (drugpolicy.org)
"I want to note that I am also the social action director for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a major backer which provided money to get this off the ground," said Eidinger. "We've raised and spent at least $150,000 and we hope to raise another $100,000 between now and election day. A lot of these initiative campaigns are fueled by business interests, but we're not offering a retail outlet as the end result of the initiative. It's a little more difficult to raise money when it's about civil rights -- not making some business person rich."

Even if the initiative makes the ballot and passes, there is still an outside chance that congressional conservatives will seek to block it. That's what happened with the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which Congress didn't allow to go into effect for more than a decade.

Similar moves are already afoot over the District's yet-to-go-into-effect decriminalization law. A Maryland congressmen and physician, Rep. Andy Harris (R), has already persuaded the House Appropriations Committee to approve a rider to the DC appropriations bill that would block implementation of the decrim law. But that measure still has to be approved by the House as a whole, and then by the Senate.

If that were to happen, it wouldn't be without a fight.

"The Drug Policy Alliance and the DC Cannabis Campaign look forward to working with members of the city council to expand on Initiative 71 to develop tax and regulate centered around the idea of racial justice," said Dr. Burnett. "The first step is passing 71 to show the will of the people, followed by legislation from the city council. That combination will show Congress that DC residents are serious about reforming their drug policies, and Congress will respect DC home rule."

Dr. Burnett also had some advice for Dr. Harris, the Republican congressman trying to block DC marijuana reforms.

"I would encourage Dr. Harris to take a continuing medical education class on cannabis and to see the reports from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse that teen marijuana use is flat and to understand that the health outcomes associated with incarceration are much worse than those associated with cannabis use," he said.

According to recent polls, support for legalizing marijuana in the District is around 60%. If the initiative actually makes the ballot, it has a very good chance to win in November. And if it wins in November, congressional conservatives will have to explain why DC residents aren't good enough for direct democracy, or get out of the way. And the following spring could see a thousand flowers bloom in the nation's capital.

Washington, DC
United States

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