Marijuana Legalization

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: CA Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Sites Bill, MI Pot Poll Looks Good, More... (10/1/18)

Jerry Brown signs and vetoes drug bills, the drug czar's office confirms the existence of a secretive marijuana committee, Johns Hopkins researchers suggest psilocybin should be Schedule IV, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been very busy lately. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

White House Confirms It's Been Running An Anti-Marijuana Committee. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has confirmed the existence of a secretive committee operated from the White House with an agenda to portraying marijuana as a national threat and propagating negative attitudes toward the drug and its users. The existence of the committee was revealed by Buzzfeed News last month, and ONDCP confirmed its existence in a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who inquired after the initial media report. ONDCP claims the work of the committee will be unbiased.

California Governor Signs Cannabis Equity Act into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Equity Act. The law aims to reverse some of the damaging impacts marijuana prohibition has had on people from disadvantaged communities. It is the first social equity marijuana law passed in the United States. Four California cities -- Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- have already established local equity programs, and they will be well-placed to receive funding under this new law.

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new poll from EPIC/MRA for the Detroit Free Press has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 55% of respondents, with 41% opposed. While that is a fairly comfortable lead, it is down from the 61% support reported by the same pollsters in a March poll.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Opponents Pony Up Cash. Opponents of the Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative are ponying up big bucks in a bid to defeat the measure. Wealthy Utahns have contributed $230,000 to the opposition group Drug Safe Utah in recent months and $65,000 to another anti group, the Truth About Proposition 2, while initiative sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition has raised only $68,000, with $50,000 of that coming from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1409, which clarifies the state's existing hemp laws. The law ends some certification requirements on hemp seed cultivars and restriction on how hemp can be produced.

Psychedelics

Johns Hopkins Researchers Suggest Psilocybin Should Be Reclassified as Schedule IV. In an evaluation of the safety and abuse research on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggested that if the drug clears clinical trials, it should be scheduled as Schedule IV, like prescription sleeping aids. It is currently classified as Schedule I, a drug with no known medical potential and a high potential for abuse.

Harm Reduction

California Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Site Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed San Francisco to open overdose prevention services that would let drug users use controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, and other services. "I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto," said Laura Thomas, Interim State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It's disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?"

Sentencing

California Governor Signs Bill Giving Judges Power to Set Aside Five-year Sentencing Enhancement. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Act. The bill will give state judges the discretion not to impose five-year sentencing enhancements if they feel they are unwarranted. "This new law is a crucial step in ending the mandatory use of failed and punitive policies from California's tough on crime era," said Eunisses Hernandez, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This five-year enhancement is one of the most used enhancements in California; with close to 100,000 years applied to sentences of people in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California can and must continue to be a leader in repealing ineffective and punitive policies that waste millions in taxpayer dollars on incarceration, tear families apart, and fail to help our communities thrive."

Chronicle AM: DEA Reschedules Marijuana-Based Drug, House GOP Blocks Pot Tax Reform, More... (9/27/18)

The House GOP once again blocks a marijuana reform, the DEA reschedules a marijuana-based drug, Ontario sets its pot sales rules, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Committee Blocks Marijuana Tax Relief Bill. The House Rules Committee, led by Rep. Pete Sessions (R) has voted down an amendment that would allow marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses like any other businesses. The amendment would have exempted pot businesses from a federal tax provision -- 280E -- aimed at preventing drug cartel leaders from writing off yachts and other luxury items as business expenses, but now forces state-legal marijuana businesses to pay an effective tax rate of up to 70%.

California Bill to Allow Pot Sales, Consumption at Special Events Becomes Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 2020, which "authorizes a state licensing authority to issue a state temporary event license to a licensee authorizing onsite cannabis sales to, and consumption by, persons 21 years of age or older at a county fair or district agricultural association event, provided that certain other requirements are met."

New Hampshire Could Gain $58 Million a Year from Legal Pot. The state Department of Revenue Administration has released a new estimate of tax revenues if the state legalizes marijuana. The department said the state could take in $58 million a year, although it acknowledged actual revenues would depend on a range of factors, including how high taxes are set in the first place.

Medical Marijuana

DEA Reschedules Marijuana-Derived Drug Epidiolex. The DEA has rescheduled Epidiolex, a marijuana-derived drug manufactured by GW Pharmaceutical. The move comes after the FDA approved the drug in June and clears the way for GW to begin selling the drug. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug derived from marijuana.

International

Canada's Largest Province Sets Rules for Retail Marijuana Sales. Officials in Ontario on Wednesday unveiled rules to govern retail marijuana sales in the country's most populous province. There will be no cap on the number of pot shops, but large marijuana producers will be limited to one shop each. Pot shops will be operated by private companies but will have to buy their marijuana from the provincial government. Ontario accounts for 40% of all Canadian pot sales, according to Statistics Canada.

Look Who's Got the Antidote to Trump's Prescription for Global Drug War [FEATURE]

Even as US President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a "failed" repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

While Trump spoke in New York City, the Global Commission on Drug POLICY unveiled its report, Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs, with a press conference in Mexico City, capital of a nation frequently scapegoated by Trump for America's drug crises, but which in reality has suffered mightily from the demons unleashed by drug prohibition. The county's death toll in a decade of heightened prohibition-related cartel and government violence now exceeds 200,000 -- the kind of figure associated more with festering civil wars than with law enforcement problems.

One of Mexico's former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo, is a member of the commission, established in 2011 by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, along with former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. The group also includes notable global figures, such as Richard Branson and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as American political names such as former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

"A demand for drugs exists, and if it is not satisfied through legal ways, then it will be satisfied by the illegal market," said commission chair former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, "Prohibition has allowed criminal organizations to control the whole chain of drugs. Every region in the world suffers from violence induced by turf wars over production areas and transit routes, from corruption and connivance of state institutions, and from the laundering of drug money, which damages the legal economy and the functioning of democratic institutions."

In the report, the commission calls on policymakers to open local and national participatory processes to shape the reforms and collect evidence on the legal regulation of drugs. That's something incoming Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already begun with his town hall meetings on violence and his proposal of amnesty for non-violent traffickers and drug crop farmers.

"This report provides a coherent account of what the legal regulation of drugs can look like in a real-life context, based on scientific evidence and current regulatory frameworks for legal substances," said Dreifuss. "It draws particular attention to the risks associated with over-commercialization and the need to learn from mistakes in regulating alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids."

The global leaders also call for the renegotiation of the international treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Not only do they encourage a repressive approach to the drug question where drug users and low-level dealers face stiff prison sentences, they are also increasingly out of touch with social and political realities. Uruguay, Canada, and nine American states have legalized marijuana in contravention of the treaties, and Bolivia does not acknowledge coca's inclusion in their drug schedules.

"The international drug control system has failed to achieve its own objectives in terms of the supply in and demand for drugs," said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. "It needs to adapt quickly to the reality that an increasing number of states are calling for or have implemented reforms which are incompatible with the framework it established. The gap which has developed between the expectations created by that framework and the reality on the ground needs to be faced up to. A new system is urgently needed which will support countries to implement effective drug policies."

American drug reformers applauded the commission's call for a new approach.

"The war on drugs has been an abject failure that has had devastating consequences throughout the world," said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Amidst this backdrop, it is heartening to see experienced world leaders boldly step forward with innovative, forward-looking proposals that are grounded in human rights, health, and development."

In a world where Donald Trump's drug war photo-op at the UN gets the press, it's easy to forget that when it comes to drug policy, the global prohibitionist consensus has already crumbled. The commission's report is a salutary reminder that better ways exist -- if we can muster the political muscle to implement them.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Chronicle AM: Bad Drug Bill Dropped From Fed Opioid Package, Acapulco Cops Disarmed, More... (9/26/18)

A bad provision gets stripped out of the congressional opioid package, a Pennsylvania legislator files a legalization bill, Mexican Marines disarm Acapulco cops, and more.

The Mexican military disarms all the cops in Acapulco amidst allegations of drug gang links. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania State Rep Files Bill to Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for adults and expunge the records of people convicted of past pot-related crimes. "My bill would immediately release people jailed for crimes associated with cannabis," Wheatley said in a news release. "Those who have criminal histories related to cannabis would be expunged, and professional and driver's licenses that were revoked or suspended due to cannabis-related crimes would be reinstated. For far too long, the criminal justice system has unfairly punished Pennsylvanians, especially minorities, who are caught with cannabis." The bill also would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. It's not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Damaging Drug War Provision Excluded From Congressional Opioid Package. Late last night, the final text for the Congressional opioid package was released. SITSA, a sweeping bill expanding penalties on synthetic drugs and the broader war on drugs -- passed the House in July, and was expected to be included in the final bill. But a coalition of drug policy and criminal justice reform groups managed to push back against its inclusion, successfully keeping it out of the bill. "This is a huge win for public health over outdated drug war approaches," said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance's national office. "The bill would have expanded mass incarceration, while worsening the overdose crisis. It would have given Jeff Sessions unprecedented powers to schedule drugs and set draconian new criminal penalties. To pull this back from the brink after it easily passed the House only two months ago is a tremendous victory."

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Decide Whether Maternal Drug Use Equals Child Abuse. The state's highest court on Tuesday began weighing whether women who abuse drugs during their pregnancies can be punished under state law as child abusers. The court has never addressed the matter, which is again igniting debate as the opioid crisis spawns a new generation of babies born dependent on their mothers' drugs. The justices heard oral arguments in the case of a woman who gave birth in January 2017 to a child who spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug withdrawal. The woman had tested positive for marijuana, opioids, and anxiety drugs. The child was taken into custody by Children and Youth Services, and the mother was charged with child abuse.

New Psychoactive Substances

DC Mayor Backs Bill Penalizing Dealers of Synthetic Cannabinoids. Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed emergency legislation to go after dealers in synthetic cannabinoids as the District suffers from a spike in "fake weed" overdoses. "This is not marijuana," Bowser said at a Tuesday news conference. "The effects are very different, and they can be deadly." The city already prohibits the sale of synthetic drugs, but this bill would expand that ban.

International

Mexican Marines Disarm Entire Acapulco Police Force Over Links to Drug Gangs. Authorities in the state of Guerrero disarmed and placed under investigation the entire police force of Acapulco, the state's largest city, claiming the local police were infiltrated by drug gangs. Two top Acapulco police commanders were also charged with homicide. Last year, Acapulco had a murder rate of 103 per 100,000 residents, one of the highest in the world.

Venezuela Calls on Colombia to Take Action on Drug Trafficking. The Foreign Ministry called Tuesday for its eastern neighbor to "assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry." Caracas wants Bogota to redouble its anti-trafficking efforts in light of the "alarming increase" in coca cultivation in Colombia reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last week. "For the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is even more worrisome that, according to said report, one of the most affected departments is precisely the north of Santander, bordering Venezuela, from where groups of drug trafficking and paramilitary violence are constantly attacking the population, the economy, and Venezuelan institutions. Venezuela urges the Colombian authorities to make sincere and effective efforts to assume international responsibilities for the damage caused by the drug trafficking industry to neighboring countries and the world," the ministry said.

[Disclosure: Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Will New Jersey Be the Next State to Legalize Weed?

Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will have a chance to legalize marijuana on Election Day, but lawmakers in New Jersey could beat them to the punch. After much back-and-forth all year long, legislators have finally crafted a bill to legalize marijuana.

The bill, building on an earlier proposal by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), is now being reviewed by the office of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned on a platform that included marijuana legalization. Only minor changes are expected to come from the governor's office, and then the legislature should be ready to move.

Murphy had talked about legalizing weed in his first hundred days in office. That didn't happen. Legislative leaders then talked about doing it before the end of this month. That's unlikely to happen, given the need for hearings and the fact that the bill hasn't officially been filed yet. But now legislators are talking about getting it done by the end of next month.

While the bill hasn't yet been filed, New Jersey Advance Media has obtained a draft. Here's what the measure will include:

·         The legalization of the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and over, but not home cultivation.

·         The creation of a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

·         The creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to craft rules and regulations based on the foundations in the bill. The five-member body appointed by the governor would also provide oversight for the industry.

·         No ceiling on the number of potential licenses granted. That would be up to the commission.

·         A 10 percent tax on marijuana sales, which would be among the lowest in the country.  Earlier versions had taxes rising to 15 percent or 25 percent over time, but not this one—although there are reports that Gov. Murphy wants a higher tax, so this could change.

·         Marijuana lounges would be permitted. Businesses with a marijuana retail license could apply to have a consumption space, but they would have to get local as well as state approval to do so.

·         Marijuana delivery services would be allowed. If a business has a retail marijuana license, it could get permission from the state to deliver to customers.

·         Creation of an office of business development for women, minorities, and disabled veterans, with 25 percent of all licenses set aside for these groups. Depending on negotiations, that 25 percent could revert to being a goal instead of a mandate.

·         Creation of micro-licenses aimed at allowing smaller businesses to get in the game. The bill calls for at least 10 percent of licenses to be micro-licenses.

·         Targeted support for areas with high unemployment. Any town with an unemployment rate that ranks in the top 10 percent in the state would be considered a "social impact zone." The bill sets a goal of awarding 25 percent of all licenses to applicants who have lived in such a zone for at least three years.

·         Expungement of past convictions has yet to be finalized. Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) has been working on that issue and says expungement language will be in the final version of the bill.

Except for any changes coming from the governor's office, this is what legalization is going to look like in New Jersey. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) says he has the votes to pass the bill and is looking to get it done next month. Assembly Speaker Chris Coughlin (D-Middlesex) is also onboard. Will New Jersey get it done fast enough to beat Michigan and North Dakota, where voters will decide on November 6? Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: Northern Marianas Islands Legalizes Weed, CA Pot Appellations Coming, More... (9/21/18)

The Northern Marianas Islands becomes the first US territory to legalize marijuana, a New Mexico poll has strong support for marijuana legalization, and more.

The flag of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. It flies high today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Begins Creating Marijuana Appellations. The state Department of Food & Agriculture has begun the process of establishing a process for defining marijuana "appellations," specific geographic areas in which farmers will be allowed to identify and market their crop with that name. The process will be lengthy, though: The first public meeting was held in Ukiah on September 10, but local groups won't be able to submit applications to create appellations until 2021.

New Mexico Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Albuquerque Journal poll has support for marijuana legalization, taxation, and regulation at 60%. The poll found majority support for legalization in all areas of the state, even the conservative-leaning eastside. Some 74% of Democrats supported legalization, compared to only 53% of Republicans.

Northern Marianas Islands Becomes First US Territory to Legalize Marijuana. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) became the first US territory to legalize marijuana with Gov. Ralph Torres (R) signing a marijuana legalization bill into law Friday. That means the CNMI becomes the first state or territory to legalize marijuana commerce through the legislative process. Vermont got halfway there last year, but only legalized personal possession and cultivation, not taxed and regulated sales.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan to Allow Patients to Register, Renew Online. The state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation announced Friday that as of next month, medical marijuana patients and physicians will be able to complete their registrations online. The new online registration is, for now, only available for patients without caregivers, although the bureau said it may expand online registration to include patients with caregivers in the future.

Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Chronicle AM: Trump Plans UN Meeting to Push Drug War, NJ Pot Bill Details Unveiled, More.... (9/19/18)

President Trump is headed to the UN to rally global drug warriors, New Jersey's long-awaited marijuana legalization bill is just about ready, Philadelphia settles a massive asset forfeiture lawsuit, and more.

President Trump will address a UN side meeting of hard-line drug war counties next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Bill Just About Ready, Draft Released. Legislators have sent a draft legalization bill to Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) office and legislative leaders say they aim to pass it next month. NJ Advance Media obtained a copy of the draft. Bill features include taxed and regulated marijuana commerce; set asides for minorities, women, and areas with high unemployment; social consumption spaces, delivery services, but no home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Fight Over Medical Marijuana Doses. A "negotiated rulemaking" panel of the Department of Health spent hours Monday arguing about how much medical marijuana doctors should be able to recommend for patients. The state currently has no caps on how much pot patients can consume or their doctors prescribe. Some physicians are arguing for controls, saying they underestimated the dangers of opioid prescribing and didn't want to repeat that mistake. But other physicians argued that equating marijuana with opioids is "problematic" for a number of reasons. In the end, the panel agreed to set daily limits at a total of 1,550 milligrams for THC and 2,250 for CBD, or about five to six times the average recommended dosages for medical marijuana patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia to Roll Back Civil Forfeiture, Pay $3 Million to Victims. To settle a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, the city of Philadelphia agreed Tuesday to stop allowing law enforcement from profiting from asset forfeiture and to set up a $3 million fund to compensate people victimized by past asset forfeiture actions. The plaintiffs were Philadelphia residents who had property seized through civil asset forfeiture, including one man whose home was seized after his son made a $40 drug sale. Under the settlement, the city agreed to not seize property for minor drug crimes like possession, not forfeit cash in amounts less than $250, and not use any proceeds to pay police officers or prosecutors, to name a few conditions.

Foreign Policy

Trump Administration Plans UN Side Meeting to Ramp Up Global Drug War. The Trump administration will hold an invitation-only event at the UN next week to push for tougher global drug law enforcement. The "Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem" is limited to countries that have signed onto a US "action plan."  Among the signatories are countries with some of the world's harshest drug policies, including China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, as well as Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, India, and Costa Rica. Countries who signed on will "receive an invitation to attend this High-Level Event" with the US president. "The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem," says the so-called diplomatic note.

Republicans Are Playing Dirty in Their Bid to Stop North Dakota's Legal Pot Initiative

As North Dakotans prepare to head to the polls in November to vote on the Proposition 3 marijuana legalization initiative, they rely on their state government to come up with an estimate of what it will cost taxpayers. It's not just this initiative—state law mandates that voters be informed of the potential budgetary impacts of any measure on the ballot.

North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the prairies meet the badlands. (Creative Commons)
But for voters to accurately assess the cost of a measure, the cost estimates must reflect reality. That's not the case with the cost report issued last week by the state's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and approved in a party-line vote over the objections of Democratic lawmakers.

The OMB report put the cost of implementing the marijuana measure at $6.7 million, but two-thirds of that figure is to pay for a program not mandated in the initiative. OMB said it would take $2.2 million in clerical costs to expunge some 18,000 marijuana arrest records, as the initiative requires, but that it would also cost $4.4 million for a youth education campaign that the state Health Department argued would be necessary and the salaries of two full-time employees to run it for the next four years.

The Health Department may think such a campaign is necessary, but the initiative itself does not require—or even mention—any such campaign, and to include the Health Department's wish list in the measure's fiscal impact statement is just plain dishonest. That didn't stop Republican lawmakers from voting to approve it.

Democrats tried to stop them. House Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) offered an amendment to approve the fiscal impact statement but omit the Health Department’s figures, with other costs to be determined.

"This does not lead to a $6.7 million fiscal impact. It’s a $2.2 million fiscal impact, with more that’s likely to happen but it cannot be determined," Mock said. "It will cost more than $2.2 million. We just don’t know how much."

The amendment failed on a 10-5 party line vote. The Legislative Management Committee then approved by the same margin a motion by House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) to accept the fiscal impact statement with the Health Department's cost estimate included.

Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) told the Bismarck Tribune after the vote that the fiscal impact statement as passed amounted to a lie.

"There seems to be a disagreement among this committee about what we want versus what the language in the measure actually says," Oban said. "I think there was universal agreement, probably around this table, about wanting, if Measure 3 passed, an education campaign from the health department about the impacts of marijuana, especially on youth, for prevention purposes. But the measure does not require that. To me, it is lying to claim that Measure 3 required that because it didn’t."

One Republican lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden), defended including the Health Department costs on rather dubious grounds.

"Until the measures are passed, and the Legislature and all the agencies can dig in and put an actual cost on it, I think our job has been simply to approve something that somebody said might cost this," Klein told the Tribune.

The Health Department argued that because it has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of North Dakotans, the educational campaign would be warranted, but again, it is not mandated in the initiative itself, and the Health Department doesn't exactly have a great record when it comes to marijuana measures.

As North Dakota columnist and political blogger Rob Port pointed out in a column laying into the shady cost estimates, the Health Department was way, way off in its estimate of the costs of the successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative there.

"What people should keep in mind is that two years ago when the health department presented their information on what they estimated to be the cost of medical marijuana if it passed they said $8.7 million," he quoted one lawmaker as telling him after the vote. "For fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, their actual cost was $363,000."

That inflated figure didn't stop voters from approving medical marijuana in 2016. Perhaps the inflated figure this year won't stop voters from approving marijuana legalization in 2018, but it would be better if North Dakota Republicans could just be honest about the costs.

Chronicle AM: South Africa Legalizes Pot Possession, Senate Passes Opioid Bill, More... (9/18/18)

South Africa just became the first country on the continent to legalize marijuana possession, New Jersey wants to be the next state to legalize marijuana, the Senate passes a limited opioid bill, and more.

South Africans celebrate Constitutional Court ruling legalizing private pot possession and use Tuesday. (The Smokers Club)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Goucher Poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Only 33% were opposed. The poll also had majority support for a $15 an hour minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and single-payer health care, and 71% disapproving of President Trump. Expect the legislature to try again to pass legalization next year.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Almost Ready. A bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce is "98% done," one of the state's leading marijuana advocates said Monday. Scott Rudder, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said the remaining issue is whether to impose a 25% retail tax right away or to start with a lower tax rate that goes up over time. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also expressed optimism about prospects for a bill. "I continue to believe it’s this year," Murphy said. "Doing it is important but doing it right is more important and that’s going to be key." Legislative leaders have vowed to get a bill to Murphy's desk by the end of the month, but the clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Lifts Limits on Number of Patients for Whom Each Doctor Can Recommend Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Medical Examiners on Monday got rid of a rule that limited the number of patients to whom doctors can recommend medical marijuana. The board also agreed to remove a restriction that would have required patients to see their doctor every 90 days in order to renew their order for medical cannabis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Passes Opioid Bill. The Senate on Monday approved legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680) The bill includes provisions increasing scrutiny of incoming international mail, eases the way for the National Institutes of Health to speed research on non-addictive pain relievers, allows the Food and Drug Administration to require pharmaceutical companies to package smaller quantities of opioids, and creates new federal grants for treatment, training emergency workers, and research on prevention. Funding for the anticipated spending will have to be provided in separate spending bills. The House passed its own opioid bill earlier this year. Now, congressional leaders will have to hammer out a compromise in conference committee.

Drug Policy Expert Says Senate Bill is Not Enough. While the opioid bill referenced above authorizes $500 million a year in grants states will have to compete over, the amount is well below the massive outlay of funds used to combat the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, and the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would be revenue-neutral. That irked Stanford psychiatry professor and former Obama drug policy advisor Keith Humphreys. "How much money was Congress willing to spend on the worst opioid epidemic in US history? None," he said. "Given that there was no consensus in Congress in favor of a really big investment such as we employed for AIDS, the two sides did the next best thing, which was agree on many second-tier policies that were smaller bore," Humphreys said. "There are good things in the bill that will save lives, but it will not be transformational."

International

South Africa High Court Legalizes Marijuana Possession. In a case brought by three marijuana users who argued marijuana prohibition "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres," the country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. >"It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling. Thousands of predominantly poor and black South Africans are arrested for marijuana offenses each year.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School