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Mexico's Supreme Court Effectively Legalizes Marijuana Possession, Cultivation, and Use [FEATURE]

In an earth-shaking development, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that the country's prohibition of marijuana use, possession, and personal cultivation is unconstitutional. The decision came in a pair of cases challenging the ban on weed, and because these rulings mark the fifth time the court has ruled similarly, the opinions are now legal precedent in the country.

The high court in Mexico City based its decision on constitutional protections of individual autonomy.

"The fundamental right of the free development of the personality allows adults to choose -- without any interference -- what recreational activities they desire to undertake and protects all the activities necessary to make that choice… The effects of marijuana consumption do not justify an absolute prohibition of its use," the court held.

But the court also noted explicitly that the right to grow, possess, and consume marijuana "is not absolute and the consumption of certain substances can be regulated."

That means it will be up to lawmakers to come up with rules around the legal use of marijuana, as well as any move toward a regulated, legal marijuana market in the country. And that is likely to happen: Parties backing President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who is supportive of marijuana legalization and open to considering broader legalization, control absolute majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

In its rulings, the high court ordered the federal health regulatory agency, COFEPRIS, to authorize the use of marijuana by adults who choose to do so, but it also added: "albeit without allowing them to market it, or use other narcotics or psychotropic drugs."

Mexico has already decriminalized both pot possession and the possession of personal use amounts of other illicit drugs.

Coming less than two weeks after Canada's marijuana legalization came into effect, the striking decision by the Mexican Supreme Court is only going to add to the pressure to advance federal marijuana legalization here in the US.

"This is extraordinary because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs," said Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "With marijuana already legal in Canada, now both of the US's neighbors will have legal marijuana, making the US federal government's prohibition of marijuana even more untenable."

If the Democrats take control of the House this week, expect to see a strong push for federal legalization, along the lines that Congressional Cannabis Caucus founder Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out earlier this month. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, as is widely expected, the upper chamber would be a tougher nut to crack -- but GOP senators may want to reflect on the fact that, according to the most recent Gallup poll, support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high of 66 percent, and even 53 percent of Republican voters now are on board.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of both Drug War Chronicle and Drug Reporter.

Chronicle AM: FDA Seeks Public Comment on Marijuana Classification WA Bans Gummies and Candies, More... (10/10/18)

The FDA is seeking public comment on marijuana classification, Mississippi cops continue to seize cash and other goods despite a change in state law that should have stopped them, and more.

No marijuana-infused gummies for you, Washington staters! (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Trump Administration Seeks Public Comments On Marijuana Reclassification. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment about "the abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use" of cannabis and several other substances now under international review. Marijuana is currently Schedule I under US law and international anti-drug treaties. Public comments "will be considered in preparing a response from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the abuse liability and diversion of these drugs," Leslie Kux, FDA's associate commissioner for policy, wrote in a Federal Register filing published on Wednesday. "WHO will use this information to consider whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed on these drugs."

Pennsylvania Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to decriminalize the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, House Bill 928, was approved in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. Under current state law, possession is a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a driver's license suspension. The bill now heads for a House floor vote.

Philadelphia Mayor Again Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said once again on Tuesday that Pennsylvania should legalize the recreational use of marijuana statewide. "Legalizing cannabis is the right thing to do for the commonwealth," Kenney said as he announced the 2018 Cannabis Opportunity Conference next weekend. "We don't need to be wasting precious resources locking people up for marijuana possession when we should be focused on improving our schools and other priorities."

Washington State Regulators Move to Ban Marijuana Gummies and Hard Candies. The state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board announced last week it would reverse its earlier approval of marijuana-laced gummies and hard candies because they are "especially appealing to children." The board told pot companies that "all production of hard candy, tarts, fruit chews, colorful chocolates, jellies, and any gummy type products should cease" because they will no longer be approved for sale under new regulations that go into effect January 1, 2019. Stores can sell such products through April 3, 2019, or until existing inventory is depleted.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Police Ignore New State Law, Keep Seizing Property. Police agencies in the state have continued to seize cash, guns, and vehicles under a state law that lapsed on June 30. That law allowed police to seize up to $20,000 in property associated with illegal drugs. Now, Mississippi agencies must sue in court and get a judge to approve seizures, as they already were required to do with larger amounts, but state police agencies have made at least 60 seizures since then without obtaining prior judicial approval.

Chronicle AM: New Pew Pot Poll, UK MedMJ, Mexico Opium Talk, More... (10/8/18)

A new Pew poll shows continuing majority support for marijuana legalization, Mexico's president-elect talks legalizing opium production for the medical market, Texas's governor gets behind reducing pot penalties, and more.

Mexican President-Elect Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador is talking about legalizing opium production again. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Pew Poll Has Continued Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. More than six out of 10 Americans (62%) say marijuana should be legalized, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. That's largely unchanged from last year when the figure was 61%. Among Democrats, 69% support legalization; among independents, the figure is 75%, but only 45% of Republicans support it.

Texas Governor Proposes Lessening Possession Punishments. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced last Friday that he favors dropping the maximum penalty for marijuana possession from six months in jail to a fine and no jail time. Such a move would not be decriminalization, though, because possession would remain a misdemeanor, although a less serious one.

International

Ireland Should Decriminalize Drugs, Report Says. A new report from the Ana Liffey Project and the London School of Economics says treating people caught with small amounts of drugs as criminals is "counter-productive". Instead, the report says, such offenses should be decriminalized. "The evidence is pretty clear that decriminalization is the smarter way to deal with this issue, that you shouldn't be giving young people, or anyone for that matter, criminal records for possessing certain substances or consuming certain substances," said Dr. John Collins from the London School of Economics International Drug Policy Unit. "That, ultimately, is just an ineffective way and an ineffective use of police resources."

United Kingdom to Allow Medical Marijuana by Prescription Starting Next Month. Beginning next month, people in the UK will be able to obtain cannabis oil containing THC through prescriptions. The Home Office will reportedly announce the rescheduling of marijuana in parliament within the next two weeks, and patients will be able to obtain prescriptions within a matter of weeks after that.

Mexico President-Elect Says He Will Look at Legalizing Some Drugs. President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Sunday he would consider legalizing certain drugs as part of a broader strategy to fight crime and poverty. He also said he would consider paying farmers more for their corn as a means of reducing the planting of opium.

Mexico Defense Minister Says Legalizing Opium for Medical Use a "Way Out" of Violence. Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos said last Friday that legalizing opium for medicinal use could help reduce violence among drug gangs fighting over control of poppy fields and trafficking routes in the country's southwest. Legalization "is already on the table. I think it can be a way out of the problem," Cienfuegos said when asked about violence in the state and proposals to regulate opium production.

Chronicle AM: Senate Passes Opioid Bill, CA Cops Face Racial Profiling Charges, More... (10/4/18)

Congress sends an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk, the DEA has another Colombia scandal, the San Francisco police and Los Angeles sheriff's deputies face charges of racial profiling, and more.

Congress has sent an omnibus opioids bill to the president's desk. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Blocks Medical Marijuana License Process. A Tallahassee judge Wednesday agreed to block state health officials from moving forward with the application process for medical marijuana licenses. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson two months ago had found the state's licensing cap "directly contradicts" the amendment legalizing medical marijuana in the state and had set a Wednesday deadline for either health officials or the legislature to resolve deficiencies in the law. When that didn't happen, Dodson issued a verbal order halting the application process.

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Reach Deal With Legislative Leaders, LDS Church Representatives, and Utah Medical Association. Backers of the Utah medical marijuana initiative joined other organizations and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday to announce they have reached an agreement on an alternative medical cannabis law that will be enacted in a special session following the election. Proposition 2 will still appear on the 2018 ballot, but it will no longer determine the final outcome for Utah medical cannabis patients. Instead, a compromise medical marijuana bill will be enacted during a special session after the 2018 election,

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Sweeping Opioids Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved a sweeping opioids package on a 98-1 vote. The bill now goes to the desk of President Trump. The omnibus opioids bill combines dozens of smaller proposals and expands and reauthorizes programs and policies across the federal government, as well as creating new programs aimed at treatment, prevention, and recovery. One portion of the bill likely to have a big impact requires US postal inspectors to screen packages shipped from overseas -- mainly from China -- for fentanyl. The bill passed the House last week.

Law Enforcement

DEA Colombia Staff Facing Three Separate Misconduct Probes. At least three DEA agents based in Bogota have left in recent months amid separate investigations into alleged misconduct. One is accused of using government resources to hire prostitutes. Ironically, that agent, Robert Dobrich, the agency's top-ranking official in Latin American, was brought in in 2015 in the wake of a scandal about agents participating in sex parties with prostitutes. A former DEA agent assigned to Colombia, Jose Irizarry, is being investigated for passing information on to drug cartels. Irizarry resigned after his activities in Cartagena were curtailed earlier this year. Meanwhile, Dobrich's deputy, Jesse Garcia, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

ACLU Sues San Francisco Police Over Racially Motivated Drug Arrests. The ACLU of Northern California has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six black people arrested during anti-drug operations in the Tenderloin between 2013 and 2015. The six were among 37 arrested in the stings -- every one of whom was black -- and federal public defenders raised concerns over selective enforcement. The lawsuit cites a survey of Tenderloin drug users that found about half were black, but 20% were Latino and 17% were white. Charges against 12 of those arrested were dropped in January 2017 after a judge found there was "substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement, but the dropping of the charges meant a full accounting of police misconduct never happened.

Los Angeles County Deputies Accused of Racially Profiling Hispanics in I-5 Traffic Stop Drug Searches. LA County deputies stopped thousands of Latinos on the I-5 freeway in hopes of making their next drug bust, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The sheriff's Domestic Highway Enforcement Team seized lots of drugs, but it also searched the vehicles of more than 3,500 drivers who had no drugs or other illegal items, the overwhelming majority of them Latino. Some of the teams' drug busts have been thrown out of federal court as the credibility of deputies came under fire and judges found they violated the rights of motorists by conducting unconstitutional searches. The Times examined data from every traffic stop done by the team from 2012 through 2017 -- more than 9,000 of them -- and found that Latinos accounted for 69% of stops, and that two-thirds of Latinos had their vehicles searched, compared to less than half of other drivers. Though Latinos were much more likely to be searched, deputies found drugs or other illegal items in their vehicles at a rate that was not significantly higher than that of black or white drivers. The sheriff's department said racial profiling "plays no role" in the deputies' work.

International

Canada Drug User, Advocacy Groups Call for Opioid Decriminalization. Some 93 groups representing drug users assembled in Edmonton this week have called for the federal government to move toward decriminalizing opioids. The coalition is calling for Ottawa to expand legal access to safe drugs for people with substance use disorder, decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and expand the availability of harm reduction services.

Chronicle AM: Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative; MI, NJ Pot Polls Looking Good, More... (9/12/18)

New polls show strong support for marijuana legalization in Michigan and New Jersey, the Manhattan DA throws out 3,000 pot cases, Denver mushroom activists are pushing a new initiative, and more.

The Denver magic mushroom people are trying another initiative, this one aimed at May 2019 local elections. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Marijuana Initiative Winning. Yet another poll has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning in November. A new Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll has the measure winning with 56% support, in line with earlier polls. "What's interesting is how consistent these numbers have been over two years," said pollster Richard Czuba of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the survey. "There are hardly any undecided people left on this issue. It's baked into the electorate."

New Jersey Poll Has a Plurality for Legal Pot, A Majority If It Cuts Taxes. A private survey obtained by NJ Advance Media has support for legalization at 44%, with 31% opposed. But when asked if they supported legalization if it meant less of a tax burden on residents, 53% said yes. The poll comes as legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) prepare to try to push legalization through the legislature this fall.

Manhattan DA Throws Out 3,000 Marijuana Cases. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. on Wednesday dismissed more than 3,000 marijuana smoking and possession cases, some of them dating back to 1978. "Outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart," Vance said. "New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing and immigration consequences, and because many of them fear they will be arrested for an open warrant, they don't collaborate with the (New York Police Department) and district attorneys to keep our communities safe." As of September 1, New York City residents are no longer subject to arrest for small-time pot offenses, and now, Vance is undoing some of the past damage.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Patient Appeals Ruling That Edibles Are Illegal. Rodney Jones, who was convicted of possessing 0.05 ounces of hashish and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, is appealing a state Court of Appeals ruling that upheld his conviction. In that ruling, the appeals court held that hashish and edibles made from marijuana extracts are not covered by the state's medical marijuana law and their possession remains a crime. Jones spent a year behind bars awaiting trial and has since been released, but he still wants the conviction overturned and the appeals court's interpretation of the law thrown out.

Psychedelics

Denver Activists Look to May 2019 Magic Mushroom Initiative. Members of a group calling itself Denver for Psilocybin submitted two initiatives Monday that would essentially allow city residents to consume psychedelic mushrooms without facing legal trouble. Both initiatives would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the person use and possession of psychedelic mushroom" and neither allows for the sale of the famous fungi. One initiative would decriminalize "the personal possession, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms with no amount limits, while a second, backup initiative would only decriminalize use and possession -- not propagation -- and set a possession limit of two ounces. The initiatives must now be approved by city officials before they can go to the signature-gathering phase.

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

Chronicle AM: Yet Another Good News Pot Poll, Colombia's Santos Rips Drug War, More... (8/1/18)

Another national poll has a solid majority for marijuana legalization, Manhattan quits prosecuting most small-time pot cases, Colombia's outgoing president takes a parting shot at drug prohibition, and more.

Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has some parting words for the war on drugs. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Has a National Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Harris Insights and Analytics has support for marijuana legalization at 57% and support for medical marijuana at a whopping 85%. The poll is in line with numerous recent polls showing majorities for marijuana legalization.

Manhattan Prosecutor Quits Prosecuting Small-Time Marijuana Cases. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office's new policy of not prosecuting most small-time marijuana cases went into effect today. People will not be arrested for possessing small amounts or smoking in public, but could still get busted for sales or if there is a public safety threat.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Votes to Cap Dispensary Numbers. The city council voted Tuesday night to limit the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city to 75. The measure also regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, testing, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and imposes limitations on the size, location, and operations of medical marijuana businesses.

Oklahoma Health Board Considering New Rules for Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health is meeting Wednesday to try once again to come up with regulations for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program. The revised guidelines now eliminate a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and a requirement that a pharmacist be present in every dispensary. The new rules also drop the requirement that women of child-bearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana.

International

Colombia's Santos Directs Parting Shot Against War on Drugs. Outgoing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ripped into the global war on drugs in an opinion piece in the Americas Quarterly. "The War on Drugs has taken too many lives: The cure has been worse than the disease. In Colombia, we have paid a very high price for it, perhaps the highest of any nation," Santos warned. "The time has come for the world to take a moment of sober reflection. We must study, seriously and rigorously, the efforts that have been made around the world to regulate the drug trade, in order to learn from our successes, as well as our difficulties and failures," added the Nobel Prize winner.

Ghana Drug Control Board Member Calls for Drug Decriminalization. Michael Addo, deputy executive secretary of the Ghanaian Narcotics Control Board, called Tuesday for drug decriminalization, saying that the country was wasting resources imprisoning drug users and calling for alternative sanctions for them. He also called for the strengthening of drug treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

Italian Health Minister Says Government Will Expand Medical Marijuana Program. Health Minister Giulia Grillo said Tuesday that the government will ramp up its medical marijuana program. She said the government will explore licensing private companies to produce marijuana and that she would "make every effort to make medical cannabis available" in pharmacies alongside other prescription drugs.

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions -- At Least Until Fall

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that. In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority.

"I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune -- one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills, S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it's a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it's not regulated, it's not taxed. So I'll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that's a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I'm all in. I think the Assembly speaker... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

There’s a Surprising Obstacle to Ending Marijuana Prohibition in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on, among other things, a promise to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office. That didn't happen. It may not happen at all this year, and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) is one major reason why.

New Jersey state Sen. Ronald Rice (NJSenDems via YouTube)
Marijuana legalization advocates led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) filed a pair of bills this session, S 2702 and S 2703 that provide lawmakers a framework for legalization, but opposition from the likes of Rice has blunted forward momentum so far.

Rice represents part of Newark, a district more than half black, and is the head of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. He is also a major anti-marijuana legalization advocate, with an array of arguments from the depths of Reefer Madness.

He most recently made headlines last week with his hyperventilating warning that if pot is legalized, Garden Staters will be faced with the prospect of -- gasp! -- "sex toys and oils with marijuana," and it could be happening right in his face.

"If in fact we legalize recreational marijuana, right across the street from my office they're going to put up stores," Rice told NJTV. "They want to call them dispensaries, but they're going to be stores that do retail selling cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toys and oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."

It's not clear why Rice thinks "kids" will be able to get marijuana products, or get them more easily than they could before. When marijuana is legalized, it has only ever legalized for adults -- not kids.

He also made a muddled attempt to deploy the discredited gateway theory that marijuana use leads to hard drug use, arguing that, "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people who've never used any type of drugs goes up substantially in terms of drug use." Say what?

Rice recognizes the devastating impact that racially biased marijuana law enforcement has on the state's minority communities -- the New Jersey ACLU reported last year that between 2000 and 2013, black residents were arrested at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups used weed at similar rates -- but says the answer is decriminalization, not legalization.

He has even filed a bill this year that would decriminalize the possession of up to ten grams, but that would also enable the state to force some marijuana users into drug treatment.

"I still want to deter people from doing something that's bad for them," Rice explained to Gothamist back in April. "If you get too high, you die from it. It kills you directly if it's too potent."

Of course, there is no known case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose, but somebody forgot to let Rose on the secret.

In that same Gothamist interview, Rice unleashed a Gish gallop of problems he claimed would be unleashed by legal (but not decriminalized?) marijuana: Babies born with THC in their brains, businesses desperate for workers who could pass drug tests, people cashing in food stamps to score weed, drug cartels getting in the legal pot businesses, an army of drug addicts as pot smokers escalate to harder drugs, and devastated inner cities, among other looming calamities.

Rice also took his anti-legalization views to Washington, DC -- on April 20th of all days -- along with Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark's Paradise Baptist Church and former Democratic US Rep. Patrick Kennedy to join up with the pot prohibitionist Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) at a press conference to blunt legalization moves.

The senator was in typical form there, warning that people already go hungry to buy drugs and that those numbers will only increase if it's easier to access legal marijuana. Rice also raised the specter of lethal violence if white college students from outside Newark come into the city in search of drugs or if blacks from the city go to white suburban towns to buy legal weed.

"Somebody's going to get killed," he said.

Rice has been in the state Senate since 1986, has won reelection easily in his heavily Democratic district, and didn't even face a primary challenger this year. He may be progressive on some issues, but on other issues, he displays the same reactionary tendencies he has displayed around marijuana. He was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against bills legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012. It may be time for District 28 voters to start looking for a senator from this century.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: NJ AG Suspends Pot Prosecutions, Denver Magic Mushroom Init Stalled, More... (7/25/18)

In a surprise move, New Jersey's attorney general suspends marijuana prosecutions, an Oklahoma industry trade group releases proposed draft medical marijuana regulations, a Denver initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms is delayed, and more.

No magic mushroom initiative for Denver this year. Maybe next year. (Flickr/Greenoid)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions Until September. State Attorney General Gurbur Gerwal announced Monday night that he had ordered county and municipal prosecutors to suspend marijuana-related cases at least until September. The surprise move came after Grewal met with Jersey City officials over that city's effort to decriminalize small-time possession. Grewal last week initially told the city it couldn't do that, but after the Monday meeting he announced that he was forming a working group to create a statewide policy for prosecutors and: "In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court. This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

Washington State Felony Marijuana Busts Plummet After Legalization. Felony pot busts have fallen by 90% since the state legalized marijuana in 2012, according to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council. More than 1,300 felony sentences were handed out in an 18-month period in 2008 and 2009, but only 147 such cases in an 18-month period following the opening of retail marijuana shops in 2014. "It's really heartening," said Alison Holcomb, the director of strategy for the ACLU of Washington who authored and sponsored the legalization initiative. "These are strong signs that this was the right policy choice for Washington state voters to make and we're really grateful that they had the courage to do it."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Won't Be on 2018 Ballot. A proposed initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms will not be on the ballot this year. Advocates were thwarted by the Denver elections division, which has yet to approve ballot language. That means the group has almost no time to gather signatures before the city's mid-August deadline for the November election. They will now aim for the city's May 2019 ballot.

Drug War Issues

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