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Chronicle AM: ND Gets First MMJ Dispensary, MI Asset Forfeiture Package Moving, More... (3/4/19)

No legal pakalolo for Hawaii this year, North Dakota sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan, and more.

The British Labor Party is calling for pilot safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Legalization Bill Dies. A legalization bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English (D) and cosponsored by half the Democrats in the Senate died last Friday after the Senate Health Committee did not schedule a meeting to hear any bills that day. Friday was the deadline for bills to be considered by the full Senate, so the inaction effectively killed the bill.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalizing Marijuana Sales. The state Senate last Friday approved S.54, which would establish a taxed and regulated market for legal marijuana sales. The bill now goes to the House. This is the sixth time the Senate has passed a tax and regulate proposal, only to see them die in the House. But this year, 40 House members are supporting H. 196, a separate legalization bill that is slightly different from the Senate bill.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Cleared for Signature-Gathering. The secretary of state's office last Friday approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature gathering. The initiative would "amend the Nebraska Constitution to provide the rights to use, possess, access, and safely produce cannabis, and cannabis products and materials, for serious medical conditions as recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner," according to the ballot title. To qualify for the ballot, 10% of registered voters must sign the petition. It must also have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in at least 38 out of the state's 93 counties.

North Dakota's First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The state's first dispensary opened last Friday in a mini-mall in Fargo. Voters approved medical marijuana in November 2016, but it took the state more than two years to create a regulatory structure.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Package. Two weeks after the state Senate passed an asset forfeiture reform package that would end civil forfeiture unless the assets are worth more than $50,000, the House has now passed a similar package. The two bodies will meet in conference committee to hash out minor differences before sending the legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Utah Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed in House Committee. A bill that would reform asset forfeiture practices in the state breezed through the Senate only to die last Friday in a House committee after the DEA and Utah narcotics officers blasted the bill. SB 109 would have required law enforcement to file cases only in state court to prevent police from giving cases to the feds to avoid state laws.

International

British Labor Party Calls for Safe Consumption Site Pilot Programs. The Labor Party has come out will a call for pilot programs for safe consumption sites. Calls for their introduction have grown louder as the United Kingdom grapples with its own overdose death crisis. Some 4,678 people died of drug overdoses in the kingdom last year.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's busy, busy in state legislatures, the Michigan Court of Appeals rules against workers' rights, and more.

Arizona

Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Protect Edibles, Extracts. The House Committee on Public Safety voted 5-2 Wednesday to approve HB 2149. The measure would specify that the 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law also includes any products made from its resins. In a case pending before state courts, the state has argued that edibles and hashish are not included in the law.

Florida

Florida Bill to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The Senate Rules Committee voted Wednesday to approve SB 182, which would end the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana. That means the measure will head for a Senate floor vote weeks ahead of a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has threatened litigation if the legislature doesn’t act.

Maryland

Maryland Medical Marijuana Normalization Bills Get Senate Hearing. A raft of bills authored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore) and aimed at normalizing medical marijuana usage in the state got a Senate hearing Tuesday. One bill says medical marijuana patients should not be denied the right to purchase or possess firearms, another would prohibit landlords from denying leases to medical marijuana patients, and yet another would restrict employers’ right to fire or not hire medical marijuana users. No votes were taken.

Michigan

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Against Worker Not Hired for Medical Marijuana Use. The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against a woman who had a job offer rescinded because she tested positive for marijuana—even though she had a medical marijuana card. The ruling is a boon for employers who apply zero-tolerance substance abuse policies.

Missouri

Missouri Publishes First Draft Medical Marijuana Rules. The state Department of Health and Human Services has posted its first draft rules for the state medical marijuana system approved by voters in November 2018. The first batch of draft rules deals with requirements for ID cards for the program. There will be public hearings before the rules are finalized. The state has until June 4 to begin taking applications for ID cards.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Medical Marijuana Home Grow Bill Advances. The House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee voted to approve HB 364, which would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own medicine. The bill called for allowing patients or caregivers to grow up to two mature plants and 12 seedlings but was amended in committee to allow up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: NM Legal Pot Bills Advance, Mexico Takes Another Big Step Toward Legal Weed, More... (2/25/19)

In New Mexico, a pair of competing marijuana legalization bills are advancing; meanwhile, in Old Mexico, the Supreme Court takes the country another step down the path to legalization, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Amy Klobuchar Joins the Democratic Pack in Supporting Legalization. The Minnesota senator has now joined most other Democratic presidential contenders in embracing marijuana legalization. Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT), Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala Harris (CA), and Kristen Gillibrand (NY) have also come out for legalization. Klobuchar joined them with this statement last Friday: "I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders."

Iowa Poll Has State Split Down the Middle on Legalization. A new Des Moines Register Iowa poll has Iowans evenly split on legalization, with 48% in favor and 48% opposed. That's a big jump in support from the previous Iowa Poll in January 2018, when only 38% supported legalization.

New Mexico Legalization Bills Advance. A legalization bill, HB 356, is headed for a House floor vote after the House Judiciary Committee approved it on a 7-3 vote Saturday. Meanwhile, another legalization bill, SB 577, passed out of the Senate Public Affairs Committee with no recommendation and must pass out of two more committees before heading for a floor vote. The Senate bill would have marijuana sold through state-run stores, while the House bill would leave it to private operators.

Oregon Social Consumption Bill Gets Hearing Tuesday. A bill that would legalize social consumption lounges and allow marijuana farm tours will get a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. SB 639 would bar temporary events and marijuana lounges from being within 1,000 feet of a school.  The hearing will be before the Senate Committee on Business and General Government.

International

Mexico Supreme Court Injunctions Trigger Ruling Marijuana Ban is Unconstitutional. The Supreme Court last Friday published eight rulings on the recreational use of marijuana that found prohibiting the drug was unconstitutional. The move means that as of now, all Mexican federal judges must grant injunctions to people who seek to use pot recreationally allowing them to grow and possess it for personal use. The court notified the Congress on February 13 that it had approved the rulings, triggering a 90-day window for lawmakers to try to come up with a marijuana legalization law.

Peru Approves Regulations for Medical Marijuana. Some 15 months after the legislature approved medical marijuana, regulations to cover its production and use were published in the official gazette on Saturday. The regulations cover guidelines and procedures for research, farming and production limits, importation, 

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: FL Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums, BC Plan for Heroin Buyers Clubs, More... (2/22/19)

The Philippines president vows even harsher drug war, the Mexican Senate approves a new national guard to fight drug crime, a Florida bill would end mandatory minimum drug sentences, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Could it be coming to heroin buyers clubs in Vancouver? (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Regulatory Bill Advances. The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to advance HB 2612, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act. The bill sets up an extensive medical marijuana framework and is moving with bipartisan support.

Asset Forfeiture

Missouri Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture Advances. The House Judiciary Committee has approved  HB 444, which would bar law enforcement from confiscating assets from someone unless and until that person is convicted of a criminal offense. The bill now heads to the House floor.

Sentencing

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Bill Would End Mandatory Minimums. A sweeping criminal justice reform bill that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses has been introduced in the Senate. SB 642, the Florida First Step Act must get past the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote.

International

British Columbia Plan for "Heroin Buyers Club" Unveiled. The BC Center of Substance Abuse Thursday unveiled a plan to create a heroin buyers club to sell pure, regulated heroin to people addicted to opioids.  The cooperative group would buy bulk medical grade heroin from Switzerland to sell to doctor-assessed club members. The plan is part of the effort to stem overdoses in Vancouver. Informal heroin buyers clubs are reportedly already operating in the city, but their supplies are iffy.

Mexican Senate Approves Plan for New National Guard to Fight Crime, Drugs. The Senate on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to create a new national guard, a key part of the government’s strategy to address drug gang violence. But the Senate amended the legislation to ensure that the new security force is headed by civilians, not the military, which has been linked to numerous human rights violations.

Philippines President Vows "Harsher" Drug War in Coming Days. President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to ramp up his bloody anti-drug campaign in a speech Wednesday. The war on drugs will be "harsher in the days to come," he said. When asked by reporters if the crackdown would be even bloodier, he said: "I think so." The remarks were condemned by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights: "With thousands that have already been killed because of this campaign, ‘harsh’ is an understatement and a trivialization of the lives that were lost—it is irreversible and the suffering of families of victims can be lifelong," Jacqueline De Guia, CHR spokesperson, said. "To say that it will be ‘harsher’ insults the victims and their families while the drug trade has not seemingly waned."

Thai King Signs Decree Legalizing Medical Marijuana and Kratom. Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has signed a royal decree formalizing the legalization of medical marijuana and kratom. The move comes some two months after the military government’s parliament unanimously approved it. 

Medical Marijuana Update

A veterans' medical marijuana bill gets filed in Congress, and statehouses around the country are taking up the topic, too. 

National

House, Senate Bills to Give Vets Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Legislators in both the House and Senate filed companion bills to make it legal under federal law for military veterans to "use, possess, or transport medical marijuana" in compliance with state laws. Sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the bill, known as The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, would block veterans who use medical marijuana under state laws from being harassed by federal officials and would clarify that VA doctors can recommend medical marijuana to their patients. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the text is available here.

Arkansas

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. A bill that would have added 13 qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana law was killed last Wednesday after state health officials maintained the drug causes harm. More than a dozen people spoke in favor of  HB 1150, to no avail.

Georgia

Georgia Bill Would Let Dispensaries Sell CBD Cannabis Oil. A bill filed last Thursday would fix the state's CBD cannabis oil law so that patients could actually obtain the drug. Under current state law, patients can use and possess it but have no legal means of obtaining it. HB 324 would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries.  

Missouri

Missouri Expungement Bill for Patients Advances. A bill that would let registered medical marijuana patients have their misdemeanor marijuana offenses expunged has been approved by the House Committee on Criminal Justice in a 7-2 vote. The measure, HB 341, has support in both chambers of the legislature and it is believed Gov. Mike Parsons (R) would sign it.

New Mexico

New Mexico Senate Passes Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools. A bill that allows medical marijuana to be given to students at public schools passed the Senate on Monday. SB 204 now heads to the House Human Services Committee.

North Dakota

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill Package. The House on Monday approved a package of four bills amending the state’s medical marijuana law, including one that would add 13 new conditions to the state’s list of approved medical conditions. Another bill would allow physician assistants to recommend medical marijuana, while yet another would allow a patient or caregiver to purchase “an enhanced amount” of medical marijuana beyond the 2.5 ounces every 30 days limit. The last bill would add marijuana edibles to the list of medical marijuana products available for purchase. The package now heads for the Senate.

West Virginia

West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Banking Bill. The House passed a medical marijuana banking bill with no debate and no floor speeches last Friday. The measure, HB 2538, creates two state funds, one to received license fees, penalties, and taxes associated with the medical marijuana program, and the other to receive all fees charged to the financial institution by the treasurer. The vote was 89-7. The bill now heads to the Senate.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Good MD, NJ Pot Polls; Bad Houston Drug Raid; WV MedMJ Banking Bill, More... (2/19/19)

Good pot polls from the Mid-Atlantic, New Jersey edges closer to passing a pot legalization bill, the West Virginia House passes a medical marijuana banking bill, asset forfeiture reform advances in Michigan, and more.

Maryland and New Jersey residents are ready to free the weed, new polls say. (ShantisFavorites/Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Goucher College poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization in the state at 57%. Only 37% were opposed.

New Jersey Poll Has Strong Support for Legalization. A new Monmouth University poll released Monday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. The poll comes as the governor and legislative leaders are reportedly on the verge of agreement on legalization legislation.

New Jersey Governor and Senate Leader Reach Agreement on Legalization Framework. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) have found a compromise that could see a legalization bill voted on this month. The compromise centers on a new means of taxing legal pot. Instead of just levying a sales tax on purchases, the state would impose a flat rate of $42 an ounce. The other agreement would strengthen the governor’s control over the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Wisconsin Governor Calls for Pot Decriminalization. Gov. Tony Evers (D) is proposing in his state budget to decriminalize the possession, cultivation, and distribution of up to 25 grams of marijuana, as well as creating a state-regulated medical marijuana program. The proposal would also expunge the convictions of people convicted of marijuana offenses involving 25 grams or less.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Expungement Bill for Medical Marijuana Patients Advances. The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice last Thursday approved HB341, which would provide for the expungement of past misdemeanor marijuana convictions from the records of registered medical marijuana patients. The legislation comes after voters last November approved medical marijuana.

North Dakota House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill Package. The House on Monday approved a package of four bills amending the state’s medical marijuana law, including one that would add 13 new conditions to the state’s list of approved medical conditions. Another bill would allow physician assistants to recommend medical marijuana, while yet another would allow a patient or caregiver to purchase “an enhanced amount” of medical marijuana beyond the 2.5 ounces every 30 days limit. The last bill would add marijuana edibles to the list of medical marijuana products available for purchase. The package now heads for the Senate.

West Virginia House Passes Medical Marijuana Banking Bill. The House passed a medical marijuana banking bill with no debate and no floor speeches last Friday. The measure, HB 2538, creates two state funds, one to received license fees, penalties, and taxes associated with the medical marijuana program, and the other to receive all fees charged to the financial institution by the treasurer. The vote was 89-7. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan Senate Passes Bill to End Most Civil Asset Forfeiture. The Senate last Friday approved a bill that would bar asset forfeiture in most cases unless there is also a criminal conviction. The bill, SB 0002, would require a criminal conviction before law enforcement could seize through forfeiture any amount of goods or money valued at less than $50,000. Similar asset forfeiture reform bills are still in committee in the House, but House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) supports civil asset forfeiture reform and introduced a bipartisan reform bill on the first day of the new session.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill to Criminalize Drug Test Cheating Passes House. The House voted 61-8 last Friday to approve HB 16, which would make it illegal to use synthetic urine to pass a drug test. Using either fake urine or someone else’s urine to pass a test would be an infraction. The state currently has no law against using such materials to pass drug tests.

Law Enforcement

Houston Narcotics Division Under Investigation After Officer’s Search Warrant Lies About Drug Dealing Got Two People Killed. The entire 175-person Houston Police Department Narcotics Division will be subjected to an “extensive audit” after a Houston couple and their pit bull were killed in a raid that was based on a fraudulent search warrant. A veteran narcotics officer, Detective Gerald Goines, is accused of lying about using two separate confidential informants to purchase heroin from the couple and will likely be charged with a crime, said Police Chief Art Acevedo. Another officer is accused of retrieving heroin from a police car and giving it to Goines, who claimed it matched heroin purchased during what turned out to be an imaginary drug buy. 

Chronicle AM: VT Legal Pot Sales Bill Advances, ID Gov. Signs Naloxone Access Bill, More... (2/15/19)

A marijuana sales bill is moving in Vermont, a bill to have state-run pot shops is filed in New Mexico, Idaho's governor signs a naloxone access expansion bill, the Sinaloa Cartel lives, and more.

Even in Idaho, there's a need for naloxone. Now, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug is expanded. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legal Marijuana Sales Bill Advances. A bill that would set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce in the state has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 54  would establish a Cannabis Control Board to issue licenses for cannabis manufacturers, retailers and testing facilities. Sales would be taxed at 10 percent, and local municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, which must approve it before it goes to the Senate floor.

New Mexico GOP Senator's Marijuana Legalization Bill Would Feature State-Run Pot Shops. Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) and three cosponsors filed SB 577 Thursday. Like another bill already filed, the measure would legalize marijuana in the state but would have the state operate retail marijuana shops. The measure is currently before the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Bill Would Let Dispensaries Sell CBD Cannabis Oil. A bill filed Thursday would fix the state's CBD cannabis oil law so that patients could actually obtain the drug. Under current state law, patients can use and possess it, but have no legal means of obtaining it. HB 324 would allow for the sale of CBD cannabis oil to patients through dispensaries.  

Missouri Expungement Bill for Patients Advances. A bill that would let registered medical marijuana patients have their misdemeanor marijuana offenses expunged has been approved by the House Committee on Criminal Justice in a 7-2 vote. The measure, HB 341, has support in both chambers of the legislature and it is believed Gov. Mike Parsons (R) would sign it.

Harm Reduction

Idaho Governor Signs Expansive Naloxone Access Bill into Law. Gov. Brad Little (R) has signed into law HB 12, which expands access to the opioid overdose reversal drug in the state. It will go into effect on July 1.

International

El Chapo May Be Gone, But the Sinaloa Cartel Carries On. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may be buried deep in the federal prison system, but the Sinaloa Cartel is still in business—and business is booming. The cartel, now under the leadership of second-in-command Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, continues to make massive drug shipments to the US, as recent huge, multi-drug busts at the border attest. "It’s still a major, major force in the Mexican criminal underworld," Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said. It still controls worldwide contacts that can ship Colombian cocaine around the world and import precursor drugs into Mexico to be cooked up and exported north. Zambada has overcome a succession fight after El Chapo's arrest and is now firmly in control. 

Chronicle AM: William Barr Confirmed as US AG, Congressional Marijuana Banking Hearing, More... (2/14/19)

The Senate has confirmed old drug warrior William Barr as attorney general, Congress holds a hearing on marijuana and banking, Ted Cruz wants El Chapo to pay for the wall, and more.

CA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is sending the National Guard after what are likely mythical cartel pot grows. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Urged to Open Banks to Marijuana Industry. At a House hearing Wednesday, bank officers and state officials urged Congress to fully open the US banking system to the legal marijuana industry. California Treasurer Fiona Ma said allowing access to banking was a critical step for the growth of the fledgling legal industry, while Gregory Deckard, speaking for the Independent Community Banks of America, said allowing financial access was a critical step.

California Governor Vows Crackdown on Illegal Pot Grows, Blames Cartels. In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vowed to crack down on cartel-grown black market marijuana, even though it's not clear how great a role the Mexican drug gangs have in the state's huge illicit pot market. Newsom said he would pull state National Guard troops from the Mexican border, and they will be "redeploying up north to go after all these illegal cannabis farms, many of which are run by the cartels that are devastating our pristine forests and increasingly themselves becoming fire hazards." Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML, scoffed at the cartel claims. "I don’t know about this old 'cartels' thing," he said. "Frankly we’ve seen very little at all about illegal activity in the way of growing in the wilderness the way we used to. Cartel involvement is a bugaboo they like to throw around."

North Carolina Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) filed a marijuana legalization bill, SB 58, on Wednesday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to three ounces, with possession of more than three ounces charged as a misdemeanor. Lowe introduced a similar measure last year, but it never made it out of the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Medical Marijuana

House, Senate Bills to Give Vets Access to Medical Marijuana Filed. Legislators in both the House and Senate filed companion bills to make it legal under federal law for military veterans to "use, possess, or transport medical marijuana" in compliance with state laws. Sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the bill, known as The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, would block veterans who use medical marijuana under state laws from being harassed by federal officials and would clarify that VA doctors can recommend medical marijuana to their patients. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the text is available here.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Dies. A bill that would have added 13 qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana law was killed Wednesday after state health officials maintained the drug causes harm. More than a dozen people spoke in favor of  HB 1150, to no avail.

Asset Forfeiture

Ted Cruz Wants El Chapo to Pay for the Border Wall. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is using the conviction of Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to flog a bill he introduced last month that would use assets seized from Mexican drug cartels to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. "America’s justice system prevailed today in convicting Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, on all 10 counts. U.S. prosecutors are seeking $14 billion in drug profits & other assets from El Chapo which should go towards funding our wall to #SecureTheBorder," Cruz wrote in a tweet. The bill is S. 25, cutely titled the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act or the EL CHAPO Act. Companion legislation has also been filed in the House.

Law Enforcement

Old Drug Warrior William Barr Confirmed as US Attorney General. The Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general Thursday on a 54-45 vote. Only three Democrats—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Doug Jones (AL), and Joe Manchin (WV) voted in favor of Barr, while Sen. Rand Paul was the only Republican to oppose his nomination. His nomination was opposed by drug reformers who cited his record as a drug war hardliner while serving as attorney general under President George HW Bush.

International

European Parliament Approves Resolution to Advance Medical Marijuana. The European Parliament voted Wednesday to approve a resolution aimed at advancing medical marijuana in countries that form the European Union. The non-binding resolution seeks to provide incentives to member states to increase access to medical marijuana and prioritize medical marijuana research and clinical studies.

Brazil Drug War "Shoot to Kill" Policy Bears First Fruit—13 Dead in Rio. Police engaged in drug raids under the aggressive policies of state Gov. Wilson Witzel, who campaigned on using "shoot to kill" tactics against armed drug gang members, killed at least 13 people in the Fallet/Fogueteiro favela in central Rio de Janeiro last Friday. But relatives of the dead and witnesses said some were gang members but had surrendered their weapons before being executed and two others were teenagers with no gang links who were tortured and executed in their own homes. The killings led to a heated public meeting to demand justice in the favela on Tuesday, but analysts said to expect more: "It’s a very symbolic operation," said Ignacio Cano, a professor of sociology at the State University of Rio, who said he expects police killings to rise: "Everything indicates there will be an increase because there is an open encouragement from both the federal and state government." Cano, compared the killings to the extrajudicial executions of drug users in the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte and said there were indications of "summary executions."

In Bid to Blunt Black Market, California Eyes Marijuana Tax Cuts [FEATURE]

Steve D’Angelo was prescient. As the era of legal recreational marijuana in California began just over a year ago, the East Bay medical marijuana maven expressed concerned that taxes on the newly legal industry were too high.

“It’s going to mean that a significant number of people, less affluent consumers are going to turn to the lower prices of the underground market,” he told KPIX 5 on January 1, 2018, the day it became legal in the state.

A year later D’Angelo’s concerns have been borne out. The state had estimated that retail marijuana sales would exceed the $3 billion in 2017 sales, which came solely from medical marijuana outlets, but instead legal sales actually declined to $2.5 billion.

As a result, tax revenues for the state are significantly lower than projected. The FY 2018 state budget estimated $185 million in marijuana sales taxes, but actually gathered only about $84 million. And based on January sales, the FY 2019 budget, which estimated tax revenues at $630 million, now looks to be overly optimistic. The latest projections have tax revenues for the fiscal year at $471 million.

In California, legal pot sales are saddled with a $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax paid by growers, as well as a 15 percent retail excise tax and a 7.25 percent retail sales tax paid by consumers. When you add in local taxes, pot buyers in some counties could be paying as much as 45 percent in aggregate tax on legal weed.

To be clear, high taxes aren’t the only things strangling the state’s legal marijuana market. Industry figures and analysts point to two other factors as well: The state’s onerous and costly regulatory requirements are keeping many growers and retailers from leaving the black market, and the refusal by many localities to allow legal marijuana sales in their jurisdictions has left broad swaths of the state with no alternative but the black market. (In a bid to boost the legal market, the state last month okayed plans for statewide deliveries no matter what localities say.)

Still, cutting the tax rate is something that could begin to make a dent in the black market. Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a pot tax cut bill last year that was defeated, but now, with a year’s worth of disappointing marijuana market news to provide momentum, he’s back again with another pot tax cut bill this year.

Late last month, with three cosponsors Bonta refiled Assembly Bill 286, which proposes eliminating the $148 per pound cultivation tax and reducing the 15 percent retail excise tax to 11 percent for three years. The bill also has the support of newly elected state Treasurer Fiona Ma.

 “The black market continues to undercut businesses that are complying with state regulations and doing things the right way,” Bonta said as he rolled out the bill. “AB 286 will temporarily reduce the tax burden on these licensed operators to keep customers at licensed businesses and help ensure the regulated market survives and thrives. This very strategy has been shown to actually increase overall tax revenue in other states.”

One of the cosponsors is Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who authored an identical bill last year. That bill made it through two committees, only to die in Assembly Appropriations.

“Right now, the illicit market is dominating California’s cannabis industry,” said Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “These are bad people who are making our communities unsafe.  We need to give the good guys a chance to succeed otherwise our one chance at creating a regulated industry will be compromised.”

Bonta and his colleagues pointed to the experience of legal marijuana states Oregon and Washington, which have successfully taken steps to reduce tax rates and encourage the growth of the legal market. Washington saw exponential growth in marijuana tax revenue after it simplified its tax structure and reduced its rates. Tax revenues there jumped from $13.4 million in the final month of the initial tax rate in June 2015 to more than $33 million in April 2017.

“By lowering the excise tax and postponing the cultivation tax it will lower the overall price for consumers at the register, which will also reduce the differential between illicit and legal prices. Reducing this gap is critical to making the legal market more competitive against the illicit market and more attractive for consumers,” said Beau Whitney, Senior Economist at New Frontier Data.

Fixing California’s pot taxes clearly won’t resolve all the issues the state faces as it makes the transition to the world’s largest legal marijuana market, but it’s a start. 

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Moves are underway in the minority of states that have not yet okayed medical marijuana to get it done, Arkansas medical marijuana cards are coming soon, Florida's ban on smoking medical marijuana heads for oblivion, and more.

Arkansas

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Cards Valid Beginning Next Week. If you're a registered medical marijuana patient, the card is in the mail. The state Department of Health says more than 7,000 patient ID cards are being sent out now and will be active beginning next Friday.

Colorado

Colorado Bill to Protect Patients' Gun Rights Killed. A bill intended to protect the ability of medical marijuana patients to obtain and maintain concealed carry weapons permits died on a party-line vote Wednesday. SB 93, sponsored by Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins), was killed in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. Marble said the Democrats' decision to kill the bill was unfair to medical marijuana users, but not unexpected. "They don’t want to pass a gun bill," Marble said of the committee, on which she also sits. "Anything to do with guns they’re not going to vote on."

Florida

Florida Legislature Advances Plan to Allow Smokable Medical Marijuana. Committees in both the House and the Senate approved bills that would allow patients to smoke their marijuana, although the House plan would limit it to pre-rolled joints with filters. A less restrictive Senate bill to allow smoking, SB 182, passed out of the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee Tuesday. Movement on the bills suggests lawmakers could pass the legislation before a March 15 deadline set by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Kansas

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A bipartisan group of legislators filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana Wednesday. The measure, HB 2163, would provide registration for patients and licenses for medical marijuana growers and distributors and medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill would also establish the cannabis regulatory commission and taxation of cannabis.

Kentucky

.Kentucky Senate Sees Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris) has filed SB 170 to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Companion legislation, HB 136, was introduced last month.

Texas

Texas Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. The legislature will grapple with at least four different medical marijuana bills this session. The state already allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil for epilepsy, but these bills would all expand on that. Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) has filed HB 122, which would legalize medical marijuana. Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) and Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) have proposed HB 209/SB 90. The bills would allow Texans with certain debilitating medical conditions to grow their own marijuana plants for personal use and would also create a licensing process for dispensaries and testing facilities. And Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) has filed HB 551. It would allow Texans who can currently use low-THC medical cannabis under the state's Compassionate Use Act to possess marijuana concentrate.

For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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