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CA Safe Injection Site Bill Goes to Governer, WV Cities and Counties Settle with Opioid Distributors, More... (8/2/22)

Louisiana police can no longer search homes based on the odor of marijuana without a warrant, there is good polling for marijuana legalization in Missouri, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site. California cities could soon follow suit. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Cops Can No Longer Use Marijuana Odor as Excuse to Search Homes. As of Monday, police in the state are prohibited from searching people's residences based on the odor of marijuana unless they have a warrant. That is because the legislature this year passed and the governor signed into law Act 473, which mandates that: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a search without a warrant of a person's place of residence." Another new law, this one banning vaping or smoking marijuana in a vehicle, also went into effect Monday.

Missouri Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll of registered voters has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, including majorities of every demographic group except those over 65 and Republicans. While GOP voters did not show majority support, more Republicans supported legalization (47 percent) than opposed it (40 percent). The poll comes as marijuana legalization initiative awaits a decision a week from today on whether it has turned in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Opioids

West Virginia Cities and Counties Settle with Drug Firms Over Opioid Crisis. A group of cities and counties that sued drug distribution firms, accusing them of fueling a deadly wave of opioid use, have settled with three distributors for $400 million. The companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, were facing imminent trial in state court when they settled. Last month, a federal judge ruled against Cabell County and Huntington in similar claims. They are not included in the settlement announced Monday and plan to appeal the ruling that rejected most arguments made against the drug companies.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow four safe injection site pilot programs to get underway is now on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 57 got final approval in the Senate Monday. It had already passed the Senate earlier, but was amended in the House, necessitating a final concurrence vote. Under the bill, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco could open harm reduction centers as pilot programs lasting through January 1, 2028. "We're seeing an escalation in overdose deaths," Wiener said after Monday's vote. "These sites are a proven strategy to save lives and get folks into treatment. It's time." A similar bill passed in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D). If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, California would follow Rhode Island as states that have okayed safe injection sites. A municipal safe injection site program is currently underway in New York City.

AR Legalization Init Has Enough Signatures, UN Experts Criticize Singapore Drug Executions, More... (7/29/22)

Marijuana seizures at the US-Mexican border are down again, Colombia's Gulf Clan is escalating its attacks on police as it jockeys for position in upcoming negotations, and more.

San Francisco could become the largest US city to decriminalize psychedelics. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Feds Report Significant Year-Over-Year Decline in Marijuana Seizures at the US Border. The amount of marijuana seized at the US-Mexico border has dropped dramatically this fiscal year, with seizures averaging 408 pounds a day, down from an average of 874 pounds a day during FY 2021, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Other drug seizures at the border are up, but the decline in marijuana seizures is part of a consistent downward trend in recent year. As the DEA has noted, "In US markets, Mexican marijuana has largely been supplanted by domestic-produced marijuana."

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Set to Qualify for Ballot. State officials have confirmed that a marijuana legalization initiative from Responsible Growth Arkansas has submitted enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But the state Board of Election Commissioners must first approve the popular name and ballot title of the measure. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but not home cultivation. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Psychedelics

San Francisco Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Filed. Supervisors Dean Preston (D) and Hillary Ronen (D) have filed a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution also calls for broader statewide reform. If the resolution is passed, San Francisco would be the most populous city in the country to decriminalize psychedelics.

International

Colombia's Gulf Clan Trafficking Group Stepping Up Attacks on Police. The Gulf Clan, the country's most powerful drug trafficking organization, is stepping up a campaign of violence against police that began in May, when its leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, known as "Otoniel," was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges. But now, as the country approaches the transfer of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, is ratcheting up the violence, apparently in a bid to bolster its prospects in potential negotiations with the new government. At least 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf Clan, 12 of them in the last month, and three in just the past week.

UN Experts Call for Immediate Moratorium on Singapore Executions for Drug Offenses. UN experts have condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug-related charges. There has been a sharp rise in execution notices issued in Singapore this year.

Nazeri Bin Lajim was arrested in April 2012 and convicted for trafficking 33.39 grams of diamorphine under the 1973 Misuse of Drugs Act in September 2019. The mandatory death penalty was subsequently imposed in his case and enforced on 22 July 2022. "Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the 'most serious crimes', involving intentional killing," the experts said. "Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold."

The experts reiterated that, as per the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's report on arbitrary detention relating to drug policies andits subsequent jurisprudence, imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses is incompatible with international standards on the use of the death penalty.

White House Preps for MDMA Therapy Approval, MO Legalization Init Could Come Up Short, More... (7/28/22)

South Dakota's first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary opens, the FDA is moving toward approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Legalizing them could be on the ballot in Medford, Oregon, this November. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Needs More Signatures as Deadline Looms. Legal Missouri, the group behind an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, handed in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November election, but may still come up short because of the state's requirement that it meet signature thresholds in each of the state's congressional districts. The group is 1,144 signatures short in the 7th Congressional District and 1,573 short in the 6th. The campaign says it is double-checking signature counts from local election authorities in hopes of making up the shortfall. Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) will announce by August 9 whether or not the campaign has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota's First State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The Unity Road Dispensary in the small town of Hartford opened its doors for business Wednesday, becoming the first state-licensed dispensary to open after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. But it is not the first dispensary in the state: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Cannabis in July 2021, saying it did not need to wait for the state to license it because it is on sovereign Native American territory. Another has since opened on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Psychedelics

Biden Administration Preparing for FDA Approval of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter Wednesday that described the Food and Drug Administration's "anticipated approval… within approximately 24 months" of psychedelic-assisted therapies. The letter said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is exploring establishment of a Federal Task Force to address the complex issues associated with the commercialization of psychedelic medicines, including clinical, regulatory, and public policy matters.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has pioneered clinical trials on MDMA, was pleased: "We applaud the Biden Administration for taking psychedelic-assisted therapies, and their potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, seriously. A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don't leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments," said MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

Doblin continued, "For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering."

Medford, Oregon, City Council Ponders Psilocybin Legalization. In a surprise move, the city council has scheduled a study session about psilocybin for tonight's meeting. No vote on an ordinance is expected, but the city council said it wants the study session to make an informed decision about putting an ordinance on the November ballot.

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

Australia's First Drug Checking Site Opens This Week, TX Bill Would Make Legal Pot a Local Option, More... (7/19/22)

There are marijuana reform rumblings in the Lone Star State, Ohio becomes the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip decrim bill, and more.

Texas State Capitol (Daniel Mayer, Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill Would Let Cities, Counties Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) has filed a bill, House Bill 3248, that would let cities and counties the option of locally legalizing recreational marijuana use, possession, and sales. The bill would also impose a 10 percent tax on marijuana products, with 10 percent of that going to pay for regulation, another 10 percent to pay for marijuana testing and quality control, 20 percent to participating local governments for oversight, and the rest would go into the state school fund. "While Texas has made progress with the Compassionate Use Act, we have been left behind on a potential revenue source that would increase investments in public education, stop the unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession and create jobs in our state," González said. "We should allow our local communities to make the best decision for themselves in regards to cannabis legalization, and HB 3248 would allow that for adults 21 years or older." The bill faces long odds in the GOP-dominated legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Calls for Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) says he supports the expansion of medical marijuana access and nodded toward other conservative states that have fully legalized medical use. Governments should only be able to make something illegal "for a powerful reason or set of fact," he wrote in a letter, comparing pot prohibition to the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s. "As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable,"he wrote. It is time for all of us, including the Governor, members of the Texas Legislature and others to come together and set aside our political differences to have an honest conversation about cannabis: where we have been, where we are going and what role government should properly play," Miller ended his letter. "We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas."

Harm Reduction

Ohio Bill Would Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Ohio could become the latest state to decriminalize or legalize fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction measure aimed at reducing overdose deaths. State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) has filed House Bill 456 would decriminalize fentanyl drug testing strips. They are currently classified as drug paraphernalia, but that hasn't stopped them from beginning to pop up in bar bathrooms in Cincinnati. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is increasingly adulterating other illicit drugs or appearing as counterfeit prescription opioids. In Ohio, nearly two-thirds of 1,497 cocaine overdose deaths last year were caused by drugs laced with fentanyl. The bill has just been filed, but has garnered no opposition so far.

International

Australia's First Fixed Drug Checking Site to Open This Week in Canberra. Beginning on Thursday, Australia's capital city, Canberra, will host the country's first fixed location drug checking site. Previously, drug testing has twice been done at music festivals. The move comes as the Australian Capital Territory prepares to implement drug decriminalization. "This Australian-first program will help people who use drugs better understand or avoid unknown and potentially dangerous substances in illicit drugs," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

"We know the safest option is not to take drugs and this will always be our advice to the community. However we recognize some people will choose to use drugs and there is a need for initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use."

Medical Marijuana Update

A Nebraska initiative campaign hands in signatures, no more medical marijuana sales tax in the Garden State, and more.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has handed in some 90,000 raw signatures to try to put its a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. It needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving the campaign with a very slim buffer to account for any invalidated signatures. But after a court ruling this week, the campaign may need to have the support of five percent of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties. That issue is currently being litigated, but as things stand, the requirement is still in effect.

New Jersey

New Jersey Ends Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana Products. Beginning July 1, medical marijuana patients no longer have to pay a state sales tax on their purchases. New Jersey had been one of the few states that imposed the sales tax on medical marijuana but passed legislation in 2019 to begin phasing it out. Now it is gone. "Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Governor Murphy and the legislature's intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability," said Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. "As the sales tax has been phased out… patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers."

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

MA Drug Decrim Bills Move to Study Phase, New San Francisco DA Pledges Drug Crackdown, More... (7/13/22)

DC's congressional delegate files an amendment to allow marijuana use in public housing in places where weed is legal, Connecticut hands out its first social equity marijuana growing licenses, and more.

San Francisco's Tenderloin (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Eleanor Holmes Norton Files Amendments to Allow Marijuana Use in Public Housing in Jurisdictions Where It Is Legal. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced Wednesday that she has filed two amendments at the House Rules Committee to the fiscal year 2023 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to allow marijuana in public housing in jurisdictions where marijuana is already legal. One amendment would prohibit the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on marijuana in federally assisted housing in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal. The other would prohibit HUD from using its funds to enforce the prohibition on medical marijuana in jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal. The amendments are co-led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Connecticut Social Equity Council Awards First Commercial Marijuana Licenses. The state took another step toward getting retail marijuana sales up and running Tuesday as the Social Equity Council awarded its first commercial marijuana licenses. The 16 licenses are for marijuana growers. The marijuana grows must be located in areas "disproportionately impacted" by the war on drugs. "Our actions today will be transformative for social equity applicants, but more importantly will bring change to communities most harmed by the war on drugs," said Andrea Comer, Connecticut Social Equity Council chair. It's not quite a done deal, though: Licensees must still pass a background check and pay a $ 3 million (!) fee before being officially licensed.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Drug Decriminalization Bills Move to Study Phase. After the legislature's Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery approved a pair of companion drug decriminalization bills, Senate bill 1277 and House bill 2119, last month, the legislation has now advanced to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. That committee has now referred the measures for further study, with a report issued at an unspecified later date. Most bills referred to study die there, and bill sponsor Sen. Julian Cyr (D) has expressed doubts about its future. Still, a decriminalization bill has advanced in the state legislature.

Law Enforcement

New San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins Announces Large Reversal of Boudin Policies Over Drug Arrests. After progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin was recalled by voters last month, incoming District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is now working to undo his policies. She announced that she would be going after drug dealers in the city, singling out the Tenderloin district as areas that need the most help. She also singled out fentanyl as the big drug to crack down in the city. "The days of giving dealers a free pass to flood the streets with fentanyl are over," said Jenkins during a press conference in the district on Tuesday. "I told the public that on day one I will begin enforcing drug crime law. I mean what I say and I am focused on delivering on my promise to hold serious and repeat offenders accountable for wreaking havoc in our communities like the Tenderloin." Jenkins said she would offer more details on policy changes soon.

PA Governor Signs Pot Banking Protection Bill, RIP Ann Shulgin, Violence in Peru's Coca Zone, More... (7/12/22)

Pennsylvania will provide some protections to banks and insurers doing business with marijuana companies, a Florida therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed, and more.

psychedelic pioneer Ann Shulgin (MAPS)
Marijuana Policy

California Awards $1.7 Million in Grants to Support Sustainable Marijuana Cultivation. State officials have announced that have handed out more than $1.7 million in grants to promote sustainable marijuana cultivation practices. The funding is coming from the Qualified Cultivator Grant Program with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Cannabis Restoration Grant Program. The grants are going to qualifying nonprofits, government entities, and tribes, who will then distribute the money to individual grower applicants. This is just the first round of grants under the program, which will total $6 million through April 2023.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Pioneer Ann Shulgin Dead at 91. Ann Shulgin, who along with her husband Sasha co-authored the pioneering psychedelic classics PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation. The two acronyms refer to phenelthylamines and triptamines I have known and loved, and the two volumes are compendiums of recipes for hundreds of psychedelic substances. Sasha was the chemist, but Ann was the therapist, and worked with drugs such as MDMA in therapeutic settings when it was still legal. Shulgin continued to advocate for the therapeutic use of psychedelics throughout her life. She spent the last eight years as a widow after Sasha Shulgin died in 2014.

Florida Bill to Legalize Psilocybin for Therapeutic Use Filed. Rep. Michael Grieco (D) has filed the Florida Psilocybin Mental Health Care Act, which would create state-sponsored clinics where patients suffering from mental health disorders could be administered microdoses of psilocybin by a licensed medical professional. The patient would go through the experience under the therapist's supervision and then be offered a post-trip counseling session. The bill comes after earlier bills to study therapeutic psilocybin died in committee in the Republican-controlled legislature.

International

Drug Traffickers in Fresh Round of Violence Against Peru's Indigenous Communities. Indigenous leaders in the Peruvian Amazon have announced that multiple killings of members of the Native Federation of Kakataibos Communities (Federación Nativa de Comunidades Kakataibos -- FENACOKA) in the departments of Ucayla and Huanaco. Four leaders of the federation have been killed since 2019, the group said. The group says the indigenous communities it represents have been subject to worsening intimidation and violence since asking the Peruvian government for support in eradicating coca crops. Last month, armed drug traffickers beat and threatened to kill one community member, demanding that he tell them where to find the leaders who "brought the Navy" to eradicate coca. In another incident last month, three community members were threatened by traffickers and forced to flee their homes. The remote area has become a favorite for traffickers because the presence of the Peruvian state is so attenuated there.

ND Legalization Init Hands in Signatures, No More Sales Tax for NJ Patients, More... (7/8/22)

Signatures are handed in for a marijuana legalization initaitive in North Dakota and a medical marijuana initiative in Nebraska, and more.

A Nebraska medical marijuana initaitive campaign faces nail-biting time after handing in signatures with very little cushion.
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Says It Has Sufficient Signatures, Will Hand Them in Monday. David Owen, the chairman of Legalize ND, the group trying to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot, said Thursday that the group has gathered at least 21,400 raw voter signatures and will probably add more before turning them in on Monday, the deadline for turning in signatures. The initiative needs 15,582 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving a fairly comfortable cushion to make the ballot even if some signatures are invalidated.

Ohio Senate President Rejects Marijuana Legalization, Clearing Way for Signature Drive to Put Issue Before Voters. Although the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol handed in enough signatures to compel the legislature to consider a recreational marijuana legalization bill they proposed, State Senate President Matt Huffman (R) has made it clear that the legislature would not approve it. Under state law, if the legislature rejects or fails to approve the measure, it would go to voters, provided the coalition successfully completes another signature drive. "I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it." Because of signature-gathering deadlines, it is too late to qualify for this year's ballot, and the campaign is now aiming at 2023.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Ends Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana Products. Beginning July 1, medical marijuana patients no longer have to pay a state sales tax on their purchases. New Jersey had been one of the few states that imposed the sales tax on medical marijuana but passed legislation in 2019 to begin phasing it out. Now it is gone. "Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Governor Murphy and the legislature’s intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability," said Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. "As the sales tax has been phased out… patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers."

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has handed in some 90,000 raw signatures to try to put its a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. It needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving the campaign with a very slim buffer to account for any invalidated signatures. But after a court ruling this week, the campaign may need to have the support of five percent of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties. That issue is currently being litigated, but as things stand, that requirement is still in effect.

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

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