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Six States That Could Pass Marijuana Initiatives This Year [FEATURE]

While marijuana reform efforts continue at an excruciatingly slow pace in state legislatures -- Vermont became the first state to free the weed at the statehouse just last month -- the initiative and referendum process continues to serve as a direct popular vote alternative to the crap shoot that is trying to get a pot bill through two houses and signed by a governor.

There are at least six states with a serious shot at legalizing either recreational marijuana or medical marijuana via the initiative process this year. In one state, a medical marijuana initiative has already qualified for the ballot; in another, plentiful signatures have already been handed in for a legalization initiative; in three others, signature gathering campaigns are well underway; while in the last, a legalization initiative hasn't been officially filed yet, but already has serious financial backing.

By the time we get past election day, we should be looking at a legalization victory in at least one more state and medical marijuana victories damned near anywhere an initiative manages to get on the ballot. In the last election cycle, marijuana reform initiatives won in eight out of nine contests.

Here are the 2018 contenders:

1. Michigan -- Legalization

The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already completed a petition campaign and handed in more than 365,000 raw signatures in November for its legalization initiative. It hasn't officially qualified for the ballot yet, but it only needs 250,000 valid voter signatures to do so, meaning it has a rather substantial cushion. If the measure makes the ballot, it should win. There is the little matter of actually campaigning to pass the initiative, which should require a million or two dollars for TV ad buys and other get-out-the-vote efforts, but with the Marijuana Policy Project on board and some deep-pocketed local interests as well, the money should be there. The voters already are there: Polling has shown majority support for legalization for several years now, always trending up, and most recently hitting 58% in a May Marketing Resource Group poll.

2. Missouri -- Medical

New Approach Missouri's Right to Medical Marijuana initiative would legalize the use of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions and create a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales. The campaign is well into its signature gathering phase and reported this week that it already has 175,000 raw signatures. It only needs 160,000 verified valid voter signatures, but has set a goal of 280,000 raw signatures to provide a comfortable cushion. Signature gathering doesn't end until May 6. There is no recent state polling on the issue, but medical marijuana typically polls above 80% nationally.

3. New Mexico -- Legalization

The Land of Enchantment has a unique path to a popular vote on marijuana legalization: A measure before the legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 4, would, if approved, take the issue directly to the voters in November. New Mexicans would vote on a constitutional amendment to legalize weed, and if they approved it, the legislature would meet next year to promulgate rules and regulations. The measure passed one Senate committee on Friday, but still faces another Senate committee vote, a Senate floor vote, and action in the House, and the clock is ticking. Supporters have only about two weeks to move this bill before the session ends. If it can get before the voters, it could win: A poll last week had support at 61%.

4. Ohio -- Legalization

Responsible Ohio tried to legalize marijuana in 2015 via a "pay to play" initiative that would have created a growers' oligopoly limited to cash-heavy early supporters who financed the entire campaign. Ohio voters didn't buy that, so some of the players are back again with what they're calling the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment. It hasn't been officially filed yet, but would reportedly have a "free market" approach to a system of taxed and regulated cultivation, distribution, and sales, and it would allow for personal cultivation. Organizers say they have $3 million already for signature gathering and campaigning. They will need 305,592 valid voter signatures and they have a goal of July 4 for getting them.

5. Oklahoma -- Medical

The Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative, State Question 788, has already qualified for the ballot and will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative legalizes the use, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana to qualified patients. A January Sooner poll had support at 62%, a fairly low level of support for medical marijuana, which typically polls above 80% nationwide. But this is Oklahoma.

6. Utah -- Medical

The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. It limits the numbers of dispensaries and growers, and patients could only grow their own if they reside more than 100 miles from the nearest dispensary. Patients could not smoke their medicine, but they could vaporize it. The Utah Patients Coalition is currently in the midst of its signature gathering campaign. It needs 113,000 verified voter signatures by April 15, and it has the money in the bank, including $100,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, to get it done. A series of polls last year had support levels ranging from 69% to 78%.

Chronicle AM: San Francisco SIJs Coming Soon, House Dems Want Pot Hearing, More... (2/6/18)

Safe injection sites are coming to San Francisco, House Democrats want a hearing on Sessions' backwards-looking marijuana policies, CBD bills pass in Indiana and Virginia, and more.

Kellyanne Conway. This is who is effectively running White House opioid policy. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

House Judiciary Committee Democrats Demand Hearing on Sessions Marijuana Policy. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), eleven Democratic members of the committee called on him to hold a hearing of the full committee to discuss recent moves by Attorney General Sessions to roll back laissez-faire Obama-era policies regarding enforcement of federal drug laws in marijuana-legal states. In the letter, the Democrats said they feared new Justice Department policies "will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states."

Delaware's Governor Remains Opposed to Marijuana Legalization. After months of meeting with legalization supporters, Gov. John Carney (D) has rebuffed their efforts to get him on board. "There are a lot of people who are pushing that. I don't think it's a good idea to be out ahead of that, [to be] one of the lead states there," Carney told WHYY-TV. "I've talked to my colleagues, governors from Colorado and the state of Washington, and they talk about some of the unintended negative consequences." While he did not say he would veto a legalization bill, he remains strongly opposed: "I just don't think we ought to be a leader there. Again, as we're trying to strengthen our workforce, create an environment where companies can be successful to make Delaware stronger, I don't think that will do it."

California Bill Would Allow For Consumption at Special Events. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) has filed a bill that would allow for the sale and consumption at temporary special events. Assembly Bill 2020 would allow a state agency to issue temporary event licenses allowing sales and consumption. "These events support local economies and small businesses," Quirk said in a statement. "Despite the fiscal and communal benefits such events bring to a city or local community, current law prohibits local governments from approving applications for cannabis sales at special events if they are held anywhere but county property," he added. The measure is also sponsored by the city of Oakland.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Joins House in Passing CBD Bill. The Senate voted 35-13 Monday to approve Senate Bill 294, which would allow any state resident to purchase and use CBD cannabis oil. Similar legislation passed the House last week on a unanimous vote.

Virginia Senate Passes CBD Bill. The Senate voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill 726, which would allow doctors to recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil or THC-A oil. The House passed a companion bill, also unanimously, last Friday. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Czar's Office Frozen Out of Trump Administration's War on Opioids. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has effectively taken control of the administration's opioids agenda, largely sidelining the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to a report in Politico. The report says Conway is "quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address" the opioid crisis. The main response so far has been to demand a border wall and to suggest a sort of "just say no" program. The administration is expected to propose massive cuts in the drug czar's office this month.

West Virginia Governor Sets New Plan, Names New Drug Policy Director. Gov. Jim Justice (D) said Monday the state will take a different approach to the opioid crisis by focusing a pilot program on two of the state's hardest hit counties. Justice said there wasn't enough funding to fight the crisis in all 55 counties, but that statewide efforts would continue. "We know that everything we've tried so far has failed," he said. Justice also announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Brumage as the new director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

Drug Testing

Vermont GOP Bill Would Require Drug Screening, Testing for Public Assistance. House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has filed a bill, House Bill 866, that would require people seeking public assistance to undergo screening for substance abuse and undergo drug testing if the screening process suggests drug use. Those who failed drug tests cold still receive assistance if they agreed to and completed drug treatment, but refusing treatment or failing to complete it would result in loss of benefits.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Should See Safe Injection Sites by July.San Francisco Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said Monday the city is on track to open its first two safe injection sites around the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. She said she is working with six to eight nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and other drug addiction services and will choose two of them to open safe injection sites. The sites will initially be privately funded, which will help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is a crime under both state and federal law. Opening the sites will not require the approval of the city's Board of Supervisors or other city officials, she said.

International

British Columbia Sets More Legal Pot Rules. The provincial government announced Sunday that marijuana will not be sold in the same stores as alcohol and that in urban areas, licensed retailers would only be able to sell marijuana and accessories -- not other products, such as food, gas, clothing, and lottery tickets. Rural areas will qualify for exceptions to the general rule. Also, people 19 and over will be able to possess up to 30 grams in public, and smoking will generally be allowed in public spaces where smoking is allowed. Adults will be able to grow up to four plants per household, but landlords will be able to bar tenants from growing.

Colombia Says Armed Groups Impeding Coca Crop Substitution. Colombian Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo said Sunday that illegal armed groups are impeding the country's efforts to replace illicit coca crops with legal ones. The comments came after a United Nations verification team was attacked last week by dissident FARC guerrillas. Pardo also pointed a finger at Marxist ELN guerrillas. Both groups, as well as rightist paramiitaries, continue to try to benefit from the illicit coca and cocaine trade.

Chronicle AM: Trump Vows Foreign Aid Cuts Over Drugs, German Cops Says Legalize It, More... (2/5/18)

The president accuses Mexico and Central American countries of not doing enough to fight our drug war, a group of senators joins the call to save ONDCP, the German police association calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

The president singled out Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for criticism over illegal drug imports. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

Virginia House Passes CBD Bill. The House has passed a bill, House Bill 1215, which would allow doctors to prescribe CBD cannabis oil for any medical condition. A companion measure is up for a vote in the Senate next week and is expected to pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Indiana Senate Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate has unanimously approved Senate Bill 99, which does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does require prosecutors to file an affidavit for probable cause within seven days after a seizure and file asset forfeiture motions within 21 days if the owner of the property has objected in writing, 90 days if he has not. Under current state law, property can be held up to six months before the state decides to file a forfeiture claim. The bill now heads to the House.

Drug Policy

US Senators Call on Trump Administration to Keep Drug Czar's Office Intact. A dozen senators have written to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and to the Senate leadership urging them to block proposed changes to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) that would essentially gut it. OMB has proposed moving two major grant programs -- HIDTA and the Drug-Free Communities -- out of ONDCP, which would reduce the office's budget by 95% as the nation confronts an opioid crisis.

Foreign Policy

Trump Threatens to Cut Aid to Mexico, Central America Over Drugs. President Trump last Friday threatened to cut off aid to countries from which illicit drugs are imported into the United States. "I want to stop the aid. If they can't stop drugs from coming in, 'cause they can stop them a lot easier than us. They say, 'oh we can't control it.' Oh great, we're supposed to control it," the President said. "So we give them billions and billions of dollars, and they don't do what they're supposed to be doing, and they know that. But we're going to take a very harsh action. We want strong borders. We want to give you laws. We want to stop the catch and release nonsense that goes on. You catch somebody and you release them. You know they're bad," he said. "They're pouring in from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, all over. They're just pouring into our country. These countries are not our friends, you know. We think they're our friends, and we send them massive aid, and I won't mention names right now," he said. "But I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them, we send them massive aid and they're pouring drugs into our country and they're laughing at us."

International

German Police Call for Marijuana Legalization. The Association of German Criminal Officers (BDK) has come out in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. "The prohibition of cannabis has historically been seen as arbitrary and has not yet been implemented in an intelligent and effective manner," the head of BDK, André Schulz, told Bild newspaper on Monday. "in the history of mankind there has never been a society without the use of drugs; this is something that has to be accepted," he added. "My prediction is cannabis will not be banned for long in Germany." The BDK thus calls for a"complete decriminalization of cannabis use," Schulz said, adding that the current legal system is stigmatizing people and promoting criminal careers.

Philippines Drug War Killing Ratchet Up Again. The Philippine National Police announced last Friday that nearly 50 people suspected of using or selling drugs had been killed by police in the past two months. That's the period that the National Police have been back on the job in the drug war -- after President Duterte temporarily pulled them away last year after officers were found to have killed three teenagers and lied about their deaths.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Bills Popping Up, HRW Calls on Philippines to Support UN Inquiry, More... (2/1/18)

With the legislative season gearing up in the states, marijuana bills are everywhere. And Human Rights Watch has a message for the Philippine government.

Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Seal Public Records of Past Marijuana Convictions. Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage) has filed House Bill 316, which would seal public records for past marijuana possession convictions. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Georgia Bills Would Amend State Constitution, Codes to Legalize Marijuana. Lawmakers in Atlanta have not one, but two, marijuana legalization measures to deal with this year. Senate Resolution 614 proposes amending the state constitution to legalize it, while Senate Bill 344 would amend the state code to allow for the legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses. Since the measures are in the form of amendments to the constitution, they must first pass the General Assembly and then they would go to the voters on the November 2018 ballot.

Maine House Fails To Pass Short-Term Moratorium on Retail Marijuana Sales. The House has failed to extend a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that expired today. Supporters had said that extending the moratorium would send a strong signal to would-be entrepreneurs that legal sales are still on hold, but failure to pass it will have little effect, since retail operations can't happen until there is a regulatory framework in place. It's now been more than 13 months since voters approved legalization.

New Mexico Bill to Legalize Marijuana Introduced. State Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) on Wednesday filed House Bill 312, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. Advocates don't expect the bill to pass this year, but said it would advance the conversation.

New Jersey Assembly Sees Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, Assembly Bill 1348, that would allow a single household to grow up to 12 plants. The bill would also set a limit of 80 retail marijuana outlets in the state. If it passes the Assembly, it would need to be reconciled with a legalization bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 380, that doesn't allow home grows and does not cap the number of shops.

San Francisco to Wipe Out Thousands of Old Marijuana Convictions. City District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that the city will retroactively apply the state's marijuana legalization to past marijuana cases going back to 1975. He said more than 3,000 misdemeanor cases dating back decades will be dismissed and sealed.

Medical Marijuana

Maine Governor Agrees to Delay New, More Restrictive Medical Marijuana Rules. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has agreed to delay the implementation of new, more restrictive rules that were set to go into effect Thursday. They would have allowed surprise inspections of caregivers and shut down markets for infused edibles, tinctures, and lotions. Now, the governor is giving the legislature another three months to draft a new law. "While I believe strongly that the medical marijuana program needs improved and increased regulation, waiting until May to ensure we do not create unnecessary confusion and complication is a reasonable approach," LePage said in a letter Wednesday.

Utah Medical Marijuana Bills Advance. Two bills taking the state down the path toward allowing medical marijuana advanced in the legislature Wednesday. House Bill 197 would allow marijuana cultivation for research purposes, while House Bill 195 would establish a "right to try" for terminally ill patients. Both bills were filed by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem). They passed the House Health and Human Services Committee and now head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, an initiative for a full-blown medical marijuana program is now in the signature gathering phase.

Industrial Hemp

Indiana House Unanimously Passes Industrial Hemp Legalization Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 1137 on a vote of 90-0. The bill would allow farmers in the state to grow industrial hemp crops -- if the federal government issues the necessary permits and waivers. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employee Drug Testing Bill Filed. Sen. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) has filed a bill that would usher in a sweeping overhaul of the state's employee drug testing laws, giving employers new powers to test and discipline workers for drug or alcohol use. The bill is backed by GOP lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would remove probable cause requirements for drug tests and eliminate provisions mandating that employers provide access to drug treatment.

South Dakota Senate Panel Approves Bill Requiring Drug Tests for Legislators. Two days after a committee in the House voted to kill the bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to approve House Bill 1133, which would require legislators to submit to drug testing. The full Senate will now take up the bill.

Vermont Legislature Considers Saliva Test Ahead of Marijuana Legalization. The House Committee on Transportation is pondering whether to look into a saliva test for drivers as the state faces looming legalization. Legislators are also proposing a per se THC blood limit of .05 nanograms per milliliter. But as the Vermont ACLU noted, the presence of THC does not necessarily indicate impairment.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls on Philippines Government to Support UN Inquiry into Drug War Killings. The Philippine government should urgently support the creation of a United Nations-led investigation into the thousands of killings linked to its "war on drugs," Human Rights Watch said Thursday. A UN-led probe would both help clarify the disparity in official and independent estimates of killings in the anti-drug campaign and facilitate accountability for unlawful deaths. "The glaring disparity between the Philippine government's official death toll and those of credible independent observers underscores the urgent need for a UN-led independent investigation into killings since the drug war began in June 2016," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. "The government should welcome a UN effort to establish an impartial and verifiable death toll as a crucial first step in accountability for wrongful deaths."

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Bank Plan, Israel Decrim Draft, No Drug Testing SD Lawmakers, More... (1/31/18)

California's treasurer wants to create a public bank for pot businesses, a New Jersey poll on legalization has mixed results, the Indiana House passes a CBD bill, Israel takes another step toward marijuana decriminalization, and more.

Marijuana decriminalization is coming to Israel.
Marijuana Policy

California Treasurers Lay Out Plan to Create Public Marijuana Bank. State Treasurer John Chiang on Tuesday laid out a plan to create a public bank for marijuana businesses, a defiant move in the face of the Trump administration's opposition to legal marijuana. "We are contending with the emergence of a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry that needs banking services, and a private banking industry that is stymied by federal law in meeting the needs of the new industry," said Chiang, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. "The current administration is out of step with the will of the people, not only those in California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis."

New Jersey Pot Poll Has Mixed Results. A new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University has strong support for further marijuana law reforms in the state, but only a minority in favor of outright legalization. The poll found 42% said legalize it, 26% said only decriminalize it, and 27% said it should be legal only for medical purposes. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) champions the cause of legalization and with one legalization bill already filed in the Senate and another set to be filed in the House.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana House Approves CBD Bill. The House voted 93-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 1214, which would allow anyone to buy and use CBD cannabis oil, provided it contains less than 0.3% THC. The bill also gets around federal controlled substance prohibitions by designating CBD oil as an exempt hemp product. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Drug Testing

Maine Employers Must Ignore Off-Work Marijuana Use, Cease Testing Applicants. As of Thursday, Maine becomes the first state to protect workers from adverse employer action because of their use of marijuana. The state Department of Labor has removed marijuana from the list of drugs for which employers can test in its model drug policy. The legalization initiative passed by voters bars employers from refusing to employ or otherwise penalizing any person age 21 or older based on that person"s "consuming marijuana outside the … employer's property. Employers can still discipline workers who are high on the job, but a positive drug test will not be deemed sufficient to conclude that a worker was under the influence at work.

South Dakota Lawmakers Reject Drug Testing Themselves. The House State Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to kill House Bill 1133, which would have required lawmakers to be drug tested within two weeks of taking office. The committee "deferred the bill to the 41st day," of the legislature's 40-day legislative session.

International

Israeli Ministry Releases Marijuana Decriminalization Draft Legislation. The Public Security Ministry on Tuesday published draft legislation to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the proposal, being caught with pot would lead to a $265 fine on a first offense, a $530 fine on a second offense, and possible prosecution for a third offense. The draft language doesn't specify the amount of marijuana being decriminalized, but it will likely be up to 15 grams. The draft legislation will be submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on February 18.

Chronicle AM: Amnesty Warns on Philippines Drug War, NY Safe Injection Site Push, More... (1/30/18)

Republican legislators are gumming things up in Maine and Virginia, a big coalition calls for preserving the drug czar's office, Amnesty International warns the Philippines, and more.

Duterte's bloody drug war is drawing heat from Amnesty International, but not so much from the State Department. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Republicans Set to Delay Adult Use Sales. With a moratorium on legal marijuana sales set to expire Thursday, the state GOP is moving to push back the date legal sales can begin. The Senate Tuesday approved Republican Sen. Roger Katz's bill to delay sales until the spring, but Republican House Leader Ken Fredette is calling for a delay in recreational sales until next year. Gov. Paul LePage (R) has also been an obstacle to implementing the will of the voters, who approved legalization in November 2016, some 14 months ago now.

Virginia Senate Republicans Kill Decriminalization Bill. Nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted Monday to kill Senate Bill 111, which would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate action followed action in the House, where Republicans already killed a similar bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee is taking up a bill that would reform, but not eliminate, civil asset forfeiture in the state. The bill would prevent forfeiture in cases of simple drug possession and would prevent forfeiture of large quantities of cash unless there is evidence of criminal activity. The measure is RS25826, which is not yet available on the legislative website. A similar bill passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Butch Otter (R).

Drug Policy

Coalition Calls for Trump Not to Gut Drug Czar's Office. More than 150 groups have signed onto a letter sent Monday to the White House opposing the Trump administration's proposed plans to radically cut funding the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) and move its grant programs to other agencies. The move would "create an unnecessary distraction from efforts to save our lives," the groups said. Signatories include groups from the prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice communities, and more. "Not only would such a move drastically weaken these vitally important programs, and force them to compete for priority, direction, and funding in larger agencies with competing and higher priorities, but it would significantly impact ONDCP's ability to effectively carry out its mission," the groups, led by the Addiction Policy Forum, wrote.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists Press Lawmakers to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Drug policy reform advocates gathered in Albany Monday to urge lawmakers to act on a bill that would allow for the creation of safe injection sites in the state. Legislation was filed last year by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), but never acted on. If state Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton), head of the Senate Heroin Task Force, has his way, it won't be acted on either. "Our state dollars should not be going to a facility that is allowing people to continuously inject drugs," he told the New York Daily News.

International

Amnesty International Demands Philippines Hold Police to Account for Unlawful Drug War Killings. Responding to news that the Philippine National Police have resumed their role in waging President Duterte's bloody war on drugs, Amnesty International warned that police killers must be held to account. "The Philippines neither can nor should try to solve its drug problems at gunpoint," said James Gomez, the group's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "Since President Duterte came to power, police have unlawfully killed thousands of people, the vast majority of them from poor and marginalized communities, in attacks so extensive and brutal they may well amount to crimes against humanity. Now that police are once more returning to the forefront of anti-drug operations, the government must make sure that there is no repeat of the bloodshed seen during the past 18 months."

State Department Drug Agency Vows to Support Duterte's War on Drugs. The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs ("drugs and thugs"), says it will continue to support the Philippines drug war. "We are aware that the police are continuing the resumption of their operations. Many folks have been tracking the EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and the Philippines. There are some [encouraging things] that were seen, some of our human rights training [is] working and so I would describe [the] United States being cautiously optimistic... when it comes to a good, appropriate way of [carrying out the anti-]drug campaign," Deputy Assistant James Walsh said in a Tuesday press briefing. "And so we'll just monitor that and we'll continue supporting the government of the Philippines with our rule of law, our demand reduction programs and our maritime assistance," Walsh added.

Chronicle AM: MedMJ Icon Dennis Peron Dies, ALEC Spurns Drug-Free Zone Laws, More... (1/29/18)

A pioneer of the medical marijuana movement is dead, the conservative group ALEC calls for reform of drug-free zone laws, the Trump administration is turning to private prisons, and more.

Dennis Peron, RIP (Pinterest)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. "Legalize it. Tax it. Use the revenue to fix Florida's public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1." That's what Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum tweeted last week in response to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing 60% of Americans favor legalization. No other candidate supports legalization, but at least two have called for decriminalization. Although at least five Democrats are running, Gillum is one of the leading contenders.

Medical Marijuana

Dennis Peron, "The Father of Medical Marijuana," Dead at 72. A key player in California's groundbreaking embrace of medical marijuana has died. Dennis Peron, an AIDS activist whose partner, Jonathan West, died of the disease in 1990, argued for the benefits of medical marijuana for AIDS patients, opened the nation's first dispensary in San Francisco, and was a driving force behind the city's 1992 ordinance allowing medical marijuana. That was the first step toward the state's historic passage of Prop 215 four years later. Peron was 72. He died of lung cancer at a San Francisco hospital.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. The House Judiciary Committee has filed House Bill 2459, which would not eliminate civil asset forfeiture, but would create a process for people to file a claim on seized property and assets. The bill was the result of an effort by the Kansas Judicial Commission to draft reform recommendations after eight different reforms bills were offered last year. In a hearing last week, the bill won the support of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, although no vote was taken.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Bill to Allow Drug Testing of Infants Advances. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-1 last week to approve Senate Bill 105, which would allow doctors to drug test newborns for up to 28 days for evidence of prenatal drug exposure. The measure would absolve health care workers from any civil or criminal liability related to the test. Doctors would be required to report positive test results to the state. The bill now heads to a Senate floor vote.

Sentencing Reform

ALEC Calls on States to Reform "Drug-Free Zone" Laws. The conservative, pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for state legislatures, passed a resolution last Friday calling on states to reform drug-free zone laws. Such laws impose stiffer penalties for drug offenses committed within such areas, typically around schools, churches, and parks. They have been criticized as unduly harsh and having a disproportionate racial impact. "Most Drug-Free Zone laws were established decades ago," the resolution says, "but have not been reformed despite evidence that Drug-Free Zones are arbitrary and often unnecessarily broad, are ineffective at deterring drug- related crime, and create significant unintended consequences, including unwarranted disparate impacts on minority defendants."

Trump Administration Seeks to Boost Use of Private Prisons.The Bureau of Prisons now has the goal of "increasing population levels in private contract facilities," a memo sent last week by the agency's Assistant Director for Correctional Programs Division Frank Lara said. The memo follows guidance from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse an Obama-era policy to reduce reliance on private prisons. DOJ is also seeking to cut federal prison guard positions.

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Tax Bonanza, Mexico Legal MJ for Tourists, Corruption and Violence in Central American Drug Trade, More... (1/26/18)

California looks set to make big bucks from legalizing weed, Mexico's tourism minister suggests legalizing it at some of the country's biggest tourist beach resorts, the new Honduran national police chief has some explaining to do, and more.

Legal green will make the Golden State a bit more golden. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

California Will Reap $643 Million in Pot Taxes Next Year, Governor Estimates. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) estimated Wednesday that the state will take in $643 million in marijuana taxes in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, more than 10 times the cost of issuing licenses and enforcing new rules. The estimate comes in the governor's budget proposal for the next fiscal year. This year, with only five months remaining in the fiscal year and with sales just getting underway, the budget estimates $175 million in pot taxes. The high tax proceeds estimates are leading to calls from some consumers and the California Growers Association to lower the taxes.

Virginia House Panel Kills Decriminalization Bill. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts and Justice voted 7-1 Wednesday to kill a decriminalization bill, House Bill 1063. A bill that would lessen penalties for a first marijuana offense remains alive.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho CBD Bill Filed. Conservative Republican state Rep. Dorothy Moon has filed a bill that would allow the CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. House Bill 410 would limit cannabis oils to less than 0.3% THC. It is now before the House Health and Welfare Committee.

International

Mexico Tourism Minister Calls for Legal Marijuana at Major Beach Resorts. Tourism Minister Enrique de la Madrid said Thursday that Mexico should legalize marijuana at two of the country's major beach resorts, Cancun and Los Cabos, in a bid to reduce criminal violence. "It's absurd we're not taking this step as a country," he told reporters in Mexico City. "Even if there's work to be done in the whole of the country, I'd like to see that it might be done in Baja California and Quintana Roo," the states where Los Cabos and Cancun, respectively, are located.

Mexican Military on Patrol in Reynosa in Wake of Cartel Violence. The military is out in force, on the ground and in the air, in the Mexican border city of Reynosa after days of gun battles between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel left at least a dozen people dead. The military patrols will continue indefinitely, the governor of Tamaulipas state said.

Honduras National Police Chief Reportedly Helped Cartel Rescue Cocaine Load. The new chief of National Police, Jose David Aguilar Moran, promised to continue reforming an agency stained by corruption and complicity with drug cartels, but the Associated Press reports that he helped a cartel leader successfully retrieve and deliver nearly a ton of cocaine after lower-ranking police stopped the truck it which it was being transported. That report is based on confidential Honduran government security reports obtained by the AP.

Georgian Protesters Demand Drug Law Reforms. Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament building in Tbilisi Thursday to reiterate their demand that the country liberalize its drug laws. The rally was sparked by the Monday sentencing of actor Giorgi Giorganashvili to eight years in prison on drug charges. The protestors representing 20 civil society groups said the sentence "once again legitimized the inhumane and repressive drug policy in Georgia." The action comes as the parliament is considering a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of drugs.

Eight Things That Do (or Don't) Happen When We Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

The great social experiment that is marijuana legalization is now five years old, with six states already allowing legal marijuana sales, two more where legal sales will begin within months, and yet another that, along with the District of Columbia, has legalized personal possession and cultivation of the herb.

As a number of state legislatures -- including Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York -- seriously contemplate joining the parade this year, it's more important than ever to be able to assess just what impact marijuana legalization has had on those states that have led the way.

The prophets of doom warned of all manner of social ills that would arise if marijuana were legalized. From hordes of dope-addled youths aimlessly wandering the streets to red-eyed carnage on the highway, the divinations were dire.

So far at least, they were wrong. And while things will doubtless continue to evolve over the long term, as the industry matures, prices possibly drop, regulations change, and familiarity with legal marijuana grows, so far things are looking pretty encouraging. A report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, From Prohibition to Progress, takes a long look at what has happened in the states have legalized it:

1. Marijuana arrests plummeted.

Well, of course. If there's one thing you could predict about legalizing marijuana, this is it. The decline in the number of pot arrests is dramatic: 98% in Washington, 96% in Oregon, 93% in Alaska, 81% in Colorado, 76% in DC. That means tens of thousands of people not being cuffed, hauled away, and branded with lifelong criminal records, with all the consequences those bring.

The savings in human dignity, liberty and potential are inestimable, but the savings to state criminal justice and correctional systems are not: The report puts them at hundreds of millions of dollars.

2. …But the racial disparities in marijuana arrests have not ended.

While marijuana legalization dramatically reduces the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, it clearly does not end racially disparate policing. The vast disparities in marijuana arrests remain, even in legal states. Black and Latino people remain far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, despite similar rates of use and sales across racial groups. There is work to be done here.

3. A tide of teenage weed heads is not unleashed upon the nation.

High school kids in the earliest legalization states smoke pot at rates similar to kids in states that haven't legalized it, and those rates have remained stable. In the later legalization states, rates of teen use vary widely, but have mostly stabilized or declined in the years leading up to legalization. And in those latest states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, California -- regulatory programs are either not yet in place or so new they're unlikely to have effected youth use rates.

4. The highways remain safe.

In the earliest legalization states, Colorado and Washington, the total number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs is down, and the crash rates in both states are statistically similar to states that haven't legalized it. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between legalization and crash rates.

5. States with legal marijuana have lower rates of opioid-related harms.

In Colorado, an upward trend in overdoses began to decline after 2014, the first year of retail pot sales in the state. Other positive indicia come from medical marijuana states, which report a nearly 25% drop in overdose death rates, a 23% reduction in opioid addiction-related hospitalizations and a 15% reduction in opioid treatment admissions.

6. Marijuana tax revenues are big -- and bigger than predicted.

Legalization states have collected more than a billion dollars in pot tax revenues -- and that's not counting the monster market in California, where recreational sales just began this month. Likewise, slow rollouts of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce in Maine and Massachusetts, mean no tax dollars have yet been generated there. In the states that do have legal pot sales, overall sales and tax revenues quickly exceeded initial estimates.

7. Marijuana tax dollars are going for good things.

Like $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education in two years to fund school construction, early literacy, school health, and bullying prevention programs. Likewise, schools in Oregon get 40% of the pot taxes and schools in Nevada will get $56 million in wholesale pot tax revenues. Oregon also allocates 20% of pot taxes for alcohol and drug treatment, while Washington kicks in 25%. In Washington state, 55% of pot tax revenues fund basic health plans.

8. Legal marijuana is a job creation engine.

The legal marijuana industry has already created an estimated 200,000 full- and part-time jobs, and that's before California, Maine, and Massachusetts come online. As marijuana moves from the black market to legal markets, weed looks like a growth industry and job generator for years to come.

"Marijuana criminalization has been a massive waste of money and has unequally harmed black and Latino communities," said Jolene Forrman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance and author of the report. "This report shows that marijuana legalization is working. States are effectively protecting public health and safety through comprehensive regulations. Now more states should build on the successes of marijuana legalization and advance policies to repair the racially disparate harms of the war on drugs."

In addition to reforming police practices to reduce racial disparities, the report also says there is more work to be done on fostering equity within the marijuana industry and points to models for doing so, such as the California provision that having a prior drug conviction can't be the sole basis for denying a marijuana license.

Having places where people can actually smoke legal marijuana also remains an issue, the report noted. Public consumption is not allowed in any of the legal states. It's a ticketable offense in some and a misdemeanor in others. Public use violations are also disproportionately enforced against people of color, and the imposition of fines could lead to jail time for poor people unable to pay for the crime of using a legal substance.

And what about the kids? The report notes that while legalization has generally resulted in reducing historically high numbers of young people being stopped and arrested for pot offenses, these reductions are inconsistent, and in some circumstances, young people now comprise a growing percentage of marijuana arrests. A model could be California, where kids under 18 can only be charged with civil infractions.

Legalizing marijuana may be necessary for achieving social justice goals, but it's not sufficient for achieving them. As this report makes clear, how we legalize marijuana matters, and that's still a work in progress. But so far, it's looking pretty good.

Chronicle AM: RI MedMJ Expansion Proposed, Trump's Junior Drug Czar to Step Down, More... (1/25/18)

It's the time of year for marijuana to start popping up in state legislatures, Rhode Island's governor proposes expanding the state's medical marijuana system, Trump's wet-behind-the-ears deputy drug czar is stepping down, a new poll finds support for criminal justice reforms, and more.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) wants to quadruple the number of dispensaries in the state. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

US Senators and Reps Send Trump Letter Urging Respect for State Marijuana Laws. Some 54 US senators and representatives sent a letter Thursday to President Trump expressing their "urgent concern" about threats to legal marijuana states and urging him to uphold his campaign pledge to respect state marijuana laws.

Iowa Senate Subcommittee Advances Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill. A Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee has approved Senate File 342, which would reduce possession of five grams of marijuana or less from a serious misdemeanor to a simple misdemeanor. That would reduce possible jail time from a year to no more than 30 days and reduce fines from up to $1,000 to $65. The bill now goes before the committee as a whole.

New Mexico Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill Filed. Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) has filed Senate Bill 141, which would reduce the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under the bill, people caught with less than an ounce would be subject to a fine of no more than $50 for a first offense and up to 15 days in jail. Possession would remain a misdemeanor. The Senate approved a similar bill last year, but it was never taken up in the House. Cervantes is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana House Calls for Study of Medical Marijuana. The House voted unanimously Thursday in support of a resolution calling for a legislative committee to study medical marijuana. If the Senate concurs, a special council comprised of lawmakers from both parties would do the study over the summer.

Kentucky House Calls for Feds to Remove Roadblocks to Marijuana Research. The House voted 73-5 Wednesday to approve a resolution calling on the DEA and the FDA to "expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of the use of marijuana for certain health purposes."

Rhode Island Governor Proposes Medical Marijuana Expansion. As part of her 2018-2019 budget plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) is proposing quadrupling the number of dispensaries in the state from three to 12, adding "acute pain" to the list of qualifying conditions, and allowing Connecticut and Massachusetts cardholders to buy medical marijuana in the state.

Drug Policy

Trump's 24-Year-Old Deputy Drug Czar to Step Down. Taylor Weyeneth, the 24-year-old former Trump campaigner who was given a senior post in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), will step down at the end of this month. Weyeneth's high-ranking position without any apparent qualifications for it, as well as the revelation that he had a habit of not showing up for work at a law firm where has was previously employed, aroused controversy earlier this month.

Sentencing

Poll Finds Broad Support for Reforming Criminal Justice System. A new Public Opinion Strategies poll finds that fully three-quarters of the American public believe the criminal justice system needs "significant improvements," with strong majorities in both parties in agreement on the issue. Similarly, strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans don't want to spend money locking up nonviolent offenders and that the primary goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation. Mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders are "toxic with voters across the political spectrum," the poll found, with 87% strongly supporting replacing them with a system that allows more judicial discretion.

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