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Chronicle Daily News--October 31, 2013

Here's our first try at altering our format to continue to bring you comprehensive coverage of what's going on in the war on drugs and the world of drug reform. Look for this or something similar on a daily basis from now on. Let's get to it:

Marijuana

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies in Committee. House Bill 492, which would have taxed and regulated marijuana like alcohol was defeated in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Wednesday on an 11-7 vote. The action came just a week after a state poll showed 60% supported the bill.

Federal Judge Cuts Marijuana Sentences. Maryland US District Court Judge James Bredar Monday handed down sentences lighter than called for in federal guidelines in a major marijuana smuggling case, saying such offenses are "not regarded with the same seriousness" as they were just a few decades ago. Bredar also noted that the federal government's decision to largely leave marijuana sales in legalization states raised "equal justice" concerns.

Amendments Filed to California Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Americans for Policy Reform, the people behind the 2014 Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act initiative, Wednesday filed amendments to the proposed law. They include strengthening some penalties and clarifying medical marijuana patient ID card requirements. This is one of two initiatives aiming at 2014 in California, neither of which have big donor support.

Portland, Maine, Marijuana Legalization Initiative Draws Late Opposition. Small signs urging Portlanders to "Vote No on Question 1, NO to POTland" have begun popping up just days before the city votes on legalization next week. Who put them up is a mystery; no group has filed paperwork at city hall opposing the initiative. The initiative would not legalize marijuana per se, but would allow people 21 and over to "engage in activities for the purposes of ascertaining the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia."

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel Tuesday rejected the ballot title for a proposed legalization initiative, saying the language was ambiguous. This is the second time he has rejected the measure, which can still be rewritten and resubmitted.  

Drug Testing

Michigan Governor Signs Unemployment Drug Testing Law. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Tuesday signed a bill that denies unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail employer drug tests. The law is in effect for one year as a pilot program.

Psychedelics

New Group Formed to Assure Sustainability of Psychedelic Plants. The Ethnobotanical Stewardship Council was launched at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last weekend. It will concentrate on "assuring the sustainability and safe use of traditional plants," and prominently mentioned ayahuasca in its formation announcement.

Sentencing Reform

Bipartisan Mandatory Minimum Reform Bill Introduced in US House. On Wednesday, Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would significantly reform mandatory minimum drug sentencing policies. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 1410, was introduced in July. The bills would halve mandatory minimum sentence lengths and expand safety valve access, as well as extend retroactivity under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Study Shows Way to Louisiana Sentencing Reform. A study released Tuesday by the Reason Foundation, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation details how Louisiana can reduce its prison population and corrections spending without lessening public safety by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and reforming its habitual offender law. The study, "Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: Reforming Louisiana's Determinate Sentencing Laws," is available online here and here.

International

At Least Five Dead in Mexico Vigilante vs. Cartel Clashes. Attacks in the Western Mexican state of Michoacan, home of the Knights Templar cartel, between anti-cartel vigilantes and cartel members left at least five dead and thousands without electric power last weekend. The fighting erupted after anti-cartel "self defense forces" marched Friday in the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan and accelerated over the weekend. Vigilantes said they saw the bodies of at least 12 cartel members. 

UNODC Head Says Afghan Opium Crop is Thriving, Spreading. In remarks in advance of the release of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's annual Afghan opium survey early in November, UNODC head Yury Fedotov warned that the poppy crop will increase for the third straight year and that cultivation had spread into formerly poppy-free areas under central government control. Afghanistan accounts for about 90% of the global illicit opium supply.

The Next States to Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

After last weekend's International Drug Reform Conference in Denver, a clear picture is emerging of which states are likely to be the first to follow Colorado and Washington down the path of marijuana legalization. And while some recent polls suggest the American public is getting ahead of even the leading marijuana reform honchos, well-laid plans already in place point to the possibility of a 2014 trifecta, with Oregon following Alaska to legalization through the initiative process and Rhode Island becoming the first state to legalize through the legislature.

Reformers hit the 16th Street Mall in Denver last weekend. (Phil Smith)
While activists in a number of other states -- including Arizona, California, and Wyoming -- are already working on legalization initiatives for next year, reform leaders cautioned that 2016 remains a better prospect. But they also acknowledged that recent favorable shifts in public opinion, most notably last week's Gallup poll showing an historic 58% in favor of legalization, could accelerate matters.

"We've been saying wait for 2016, but we seem to be changing our minds, at least a little," said Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) executive director (and key funding conduit) Ethan Nadelmann.

"I keep getting surprised," agreed Graham Boyd, counsel to Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis (and key funding conduit). "Activists in any number of states are saying they can win now, and we're hearing this from multiple states, and polls in multiple states are also coming in much more favorable."

While groups like DPA and the Marijuana Policy Project (another key funding conduit) have a game plan for the next few years that largely emphasizes 2016 for initiative states, the movement needs to be flexible enough to take advantage of emerging opportunities, Boyd warned.

"The main thing is growing public support. I think you can look at the list of 2016 states and argue that any of them could go in 2014," he said. "If the public is ready in 2014 and something happens before 2016 and that lift tails off, we may find ourselves saying we missed the wave."

Among those initiative states where the plan had been to wait for 2016 are Arizona, California, Maine, and Montana. In Arizona, a signature gathering campaign for 2014 is underway, but appears to be running up against the clock, while in California, two separate initiatives have been filed for 2014, but so far lack the access to big money required to actually make the ballot.

Major marijuana reform players in California led by the ACLU of California also recently attempted to set the stage for a 2016 initiative (and perhaps smother the 2014 efforts, some activists feel) with the formation of a blue ribbon panel to study policy issues around marijuana regulation, taxation and legalization. The panel would study and deliberate for the next two years, meaning their recommendations would not be ready by 2014.

"We put together a panel of experts headed up by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the highest-ranking official to come out in support of taxing and regulating marijuana," explained ACLU of California criminal justice and drug policy director Allen Hopper. "We tried to bring together a group of experts who right now may not advocate for legalization -- including doctors, an elected sheriff, and the California Society of Addiction Medicine -- to begin to tackle some of the policy issues that need to be resolved in California. We haven't asked people to write ballot language, but we have a range of folks who can talk to their communities. We support legalizing, but in terms of how we talk about it and how a ballot initiative campaign would be run, you have to meet the people where they are."

While even the reform movement leaders concede that things could move faster than they think, the three surest bets for a legalization effort next year are Alaska, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

In Alaska, a tax and regulate marijuana initiative that would also allow adults to grow up to six plants has been certified and is now in the signature-gathering process. Proponents have until next June to gather 30,169 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Alaska already allows for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions. If the initiative makes the ballot and passes, Alaska will be the next state to legalize through the ballot box simply because under state law, ballot initiatives are voted on during primary -- not general -- elections, and thus will be a done deal before Oregon gets a chance to vote.

In Oregon, the oft-fractious marijuana reform community appears to have largely coalesced around a control, regulate, and tax initiative from New Approach Oregon filed with secretary of state's office last Friday. As important as a unified movement is financial support from big funders, and the Oregon effort appears to have it. The campaign has already collected more than $120,000 in early funding from DPA's political action arm, Drug Policy Action; Peter Lewis; and the Oregon-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit American Victory Coalition.

"New Approach Oregon is doing a legalization campaign in 2014, and based on the polling data, we think this is viable and there is a really good chance of this happening, and we've secured some funding. so I think Oregon is the next state to legalize," predicted New Approach founder Travis Maurer.

Back east in Rhode Island, initiatives aren't an option, so activists there are looking to make it the first state to legalize via the legislative process. And they're getting some help from MPP, which thinks the prospects are good.

"I think Rhode Island will be next, followed by Alaska next year and Oregon soon after," said MPP director of state policies Karen O'Keefe.

"We've had medical marijuana for seven years and got decrim in 2012," explained Rebecca McGoldrick, executive director of the Providence-based Protect Families First, which has stepped in to do drug reform advocacy in the state. "Last year was the first year we focused exclusively on regulation, and the conversation is changing; even our opponents are coming around, and we believe the governor is likely to sign a bill if it's done in the right way."

Those are the three states reform leaders deem most likely to legalize next year, although, as noted above, the situation remains fluid -- especially if public opinion continues to shift as dramatically as it has been doing in the last couple of years, and particularly since the victories in Colorado and Washington last year.

One long-shot is Missouri, where Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has been building the marijuana reform movement for the past two years. Show-Me activists are busily holding educational meetings across the state this year, and have plans in the state legislature, but they're also eyeing the initiative process.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Missouri," said Boyd. "There is a lot of belief there that they are in striking range."

"People say 'Missouri…really?' but Missouri is in the middle of the country, and the country is ready," said Show-Me's Amber Langston. "There's a slight possibility for 2014. We have the language pretty much wrapped up and ready; we'll see what the poll numbers look like. If not 2014, we'll do it in 2016."

The race to legalize is on. The early favorites are set, but there's still time for other entrants to join the race, and there may be some surprises. It's going to be an interesting next 12 months.

Denver, CO
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

A Michigan couple get their child back, New Jersey gets its second dispensary, and Washington regulators get an earful over moves to do away with patient home grows under I-502 legalization. And much, much more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Tuesday, a judge allowed a medical marijuana patient to continue to use while on probation, even though her plea agreement strictly forbade it. The county attorney in the case had added a blanket condition to plea agreements prohibiting offenders from using marijuana regardless of whether they hold medical marijuana cards, but the woman's attorneys argued that the clause violated state law and that prosecutors could not legally prohibit probationers from using medical marijuana. The judge agreed. The county prosecutor is expected to appeal.

On Tuesday, advocates and doctors urged the state to add PTSD as a condition treatable with medical marijuana. The occasion was a public hearing at the Arizona Department of Health Services. The state currently allows marijuana for eight specified medical conditions. The department will make its decision by January.

Also on Tuesday, the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit requesting that the courts officially rule that extracts are covered under the state's medical marijuana law. The suit was filed in a bid to protect the parents of a 5-year-old boy suffering from epilepsy from criminal prosecution for treating him with marijuana-derived oil. Extracts are currently in a legal gray area in Arizona, where police and some prosecutors say they are illegal and the Department of Health Services is still "developing guidance to clarify these issues," even though that guidance was supposed to be completed this month.

California

On October 16, Mendocino County announced it had released more records to the federal government related to the former marijuana grow permitting program that allowed growers to have up to 99 plants per parcel. The county was responding to a second set of federal subpoenas, this one for a "limited number" of records concerning the program. An earlier subpoena was much broader, but was fought by the county. The county and the feds reached an agreement in April to release some records, but with the names of participants redacted.

Also on October 16, the Selma city council banned dispensaries and imposed tight restrictions on medical marijuana grows. The Fresno County community will require growers to register, get building permits, and stay 1,500 from sensitive uses, and no outdoor grows are allowed. The new ordinance is a slight improvement on a 2010 ordinance that banned all medical marijuana uses in the city.

Also on October 16, word came that the Justice Department has abandoned some asset forfeiture proceedings against medical marijuana landlords. The US Attorney for the Central District of California, Andre Birotte, dropped at least four cases in October. But other US Attorneys in the state continue to pursue asset forfeiture cases, including pending cases against landlords for Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Groups.

On October 17, medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow prevailed in a civil trial against anti-drug crusader Paul Chabot. Swerdlow had alleged false arrest and malicious prosecution after a 2007 incident at a Rancho Cucamonga meeting. The jury found for the false arrest, but not the malicious prosecution, and awarded Swerdlow $5,000 for past losses. They will meet again to determine punitive damages.

On October 18, the owners of a former Vallejo dispensary filed suit against the city alleging abuse of power, excessive force, and retaliation after it was raided by police last year. Daniel and Rhonda Chadwick, owners of Homegrown Holistic Cooperative, Inc., claim the city retaliated against them after Daniel Chadwick spoke out at a contentious city council meeting after a series of dispensary raids. Police in Vallejo raided at least six dispensaries there in 2012 even though the city had voted the year before to tax dispensaries -- not shut them down. All of those cases fell apart, but the damage had been done.

Connecticut

On October 17, the Westport planning and zoning commission approved a moratorium on dispensaries and producers. The moratorium would last for a year, while the community has a chance to wrap its head around "the newness" of recently issued state regulations.

On Monday, the Farmington planning and zoning commission passed a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities. The commission wants town staff to have adequate time to research the new state regulations.

Delaware

On October 22, the Marijuana Policy Project criticized Gov. Markell's dispensary plan. State law calls for three dispensaries, but Markell had delayed opening any dispensaries for the last two years after receiving a threat letter from federal prosecutors. Markell has now moved forward, but said he will support opening only one dispensary next year.

Florida

Last Thursday, state Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The attorney general is required by state law to send initiatives to the state Supreme Court for review, but Bondi also attacked the initiative, saying if it passed, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations" and warning that it conflicted with federal law. The court will hear arguments on December 5.

Guam

Last Friday, Sen. Tina Muna-Barnes filed a medical marijuana bill. The bill would require that all medical marijuana come from Guam itself. Last month, Muna-Barnes introduced a resolution to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes that won broad support at a public hearing.

On Sunday, the Guam Medical Association complained it hadn't been consulted. The association didn't take a position for or against, but said it thought it should.

Massachusetts

On October 16, a Bolton town meeting decided to approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations. The moratorium would prevent such facilities until June 30, 2014.

Last Wednesday, a Saugus town meeting voted to approve a moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will stay in effect until September 30, 2014, or until local zoning bylaws are adopted.

On Monday, Wareham voters approved a zoning law that allows medical marijuana treatment centers. The law replaces a temporary moratorium on such businesses that was voted in at the spring town meeting. The centers will be allowed in an "institutional district."

On Tuesday, Framingham selectmen gave the go-ahead for staff to take dispensary applications.There are at least a dozen proposals pending for dispensaries or grow operations in the city. A Special Town Meeting last week rejected a zoning bylaw and proposed overlay district that would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities. The town is developing a ranking system to rate applicants.

Michigan

Last Friday, an Ingham County judge ordered an infant child returned to her medical marijuana using parents. Steve and Maria Green's daughter Bree had been removed by Child Protective Services last month, but the judge found no evidence of abuse or neglect. The parents agreed not to medicate around their children, but said that's how they've handled things all along.

New Jersey

On Monday, the state's second medical marijuana dispensary opened. The Compassionate Care Foundation opened in Egg Harbor, making it the first in South Jersey. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but the Christie administration has made the roll-out excruciatingly slow. Now, though, things are starting to roll. A third dispensary is slated to open in a couple of weeks in Woodbridge Township, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.

North Dakota

Last Tuesday, two Dickinson residents entered conditional guilty pleas to marijuana possession, enabling them to appeal to the state Supreme Court that their out-of-state medical marijuana guards should have allowed them to possess marijuana in North Dakota. Their lawyers will argue that the medical marijuana recommendations should be a valid defense.

Oregon

Last Friday, the panel charged with crafting rules for dispensaries met again. The legislature this year passed a bill to regulate the medical marijuana system statewide, and this was the panel's second meeting. It is expected to finish its work by December 1.

Virginia

Last Tuesday, a poll found support for medical marijuana at 71%. The state has taken no action to approve the medical use of the plant, but perhaps some legislators will take heed.

Washington

On Sunday, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles warned that the battle for homegrown medical marijuana is not over. State agencies charged with implementing marijuana legalization under the I-502 initiative have proposed eliminating patient grows under the state's medical marijuana program, but that effort has ignited a firestorm of criticism from patients. Now, they have at least one prominent supporter in the legislature.

Wisconsin

Last Tuesday, 18 legislators cosponsored a medical marijuana bill. The bill, Senate Bill 363, would allow for dispensaries and home cultivation. Patients or caregivers could grow up to 12 plants and possess up to three ounces at a time. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Leah Vukmir, but has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

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

Two-Thirds of Californians Say Legalize Marijuana

Will California wait until 2016 to vote on legalizing marijuana? A poll released Thursday strongly suggests voters in the Golden State are ready to legalize it right now.

Should marijuana be legal? California says "yes."
The new Tulchin Research poll has support for legalizing marijuana at just under two-thirds (65%), with only 32% opposed. It shows majority support for legalization among every demographic except one -- Republican Party members. Even among Republicans, support for legalization (47%) trailed opposition (50%) by only three points.

And this was not a generic legalization question. The poll asked: "There may be a measure on the ballot in the future to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults. It would still be illegal for minors, there would be penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and it could only be sold in state regulated stores. The measure would tax marijuana and generate an estimated one billion dollars a year to fund schools, public safety and other essential services and there would be annual audits to ensure the money is spent as intended. Based on this, would you support or oppose this proposal?"

Geographically, support was strongest in the Bay Area (73%), followed by San Diego (67%), Los Angeles County and the Central Valley at 65%, Sacramento/North (63%), the Los Angeles Area (59%), and the Inland Empire (58%).

Among racial groups, support was strongest among blacks (74%), followed by whites (69%) and Asians (68%), with Hispanics lagging at 53%. Both men (66%) and women (65%) strongly supported legalization. So did all age groups, with the lowest level of support being 54% among 40-49-year-olds.

"In sum, voters strongly support a marijuana legalization and regulation measure for adults that includes penalties for DUI and collects revenues to fund public services," Tulchin said. "Furthermore, such a reform is supported by nearly all demographic subgroups across the state."

The poll comes as one 2014 marijuana legalization initiative is in the signature-gathering phase and a second is awaiting approval of title and ballot summary at the state attorney general's office. The conventional wisdom among deep-pocketed drug reformers is that California should wait until 2016, when a presidential election year generates higher voter turnout, which in turn favors liberal voting groups, but poll numbers like these are going to increase the pressure to get something done next year.

The poll was conducted on behalf of the ACLU of California, which also announced that it is putting together a high-octane panel to study marijuana legalization for the next two years, implicitly precluding a 2014 effort.

The Tulchin Research poll was conducted doing live landline and cell phone interviews with 1,200 November 2016 voters between September 26 and October 6. The margin of error is +/-3.1%.

CA
United States

Second 2014 California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

And then there were two. Proponents of a second 2014 marijuana legalization initiative filed the measure with the California secretary of state's office last Friday. An earlier 2014 legalization initiative has already entered the signature-gathering phase.

The measure filed last Friday, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales. It would also allow adults to grow up to 100 square feet of marijuana each -- provided they have the permission of the property owner and the grow is fenced.

The measure explicitly protects the rights of medical marijuana users, stating that it "shall not affect the individual and group medical rights and protection afforded" under Proposition 215 and subsequent legislation.

It would create a California Cannabis Commission with enumerated powers to regulate and control commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. Commission members could not include people currently holding state or local elected office or people who have been involved with a marijuana business in the past two years. The commission must include an attorney, an accountant, a member of law enforcement, a small business owner, and a member of the public at large.

The initiative touts itself as the first "open source" California legalization initiative and was largely drafted through an online consultative process by veteran activists. It must now have its title and ballot summary approved by the state attorney general's office, which has 60 days to do so, and if approved, signature-gathering can then commence.

Under California initiative law, measures approved for signature-gathering then have 150 days to collect signatures. This year, they need 504,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

The Hererite perennial California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which would also legalize marijuana in the state, has already entered the signature-gathering phase and has until February to come up with sufficient signatures.

The conventional wisdom among initiative experts and marijuana reform backers is that the huge number of signatures required to make the ballot in California necessitates paid signature gatherers and a budget of at least a million dollars. And that's just to make the ballot. Actually winning an election would likely cost several million dollars more.

The conventional wisdom is also calling for California to hold off until the 2016 presidential year, when expected higher turnout is believed to boost prospects for victory. But some Californians clearly aren't waiting. The question is whether this will turn out to be a repeat of 2012, when multiple legalization initiatives sought to make the ballot, but, lacking funds and unity, none did.

Sacramento, CA
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

The feds back off in some Southern California asset forfeiture cases, an Iowa newspaper tells local authorities to back off from prosecuting a cancer patient, and several states move forward with implementing their medical marijuana laws. And more. Let's get to it:

Arizona

Last Thursday, Navajo County sheriff's deputies raided a dispensary in Pinetop. They hit the Beyond Compassion dispensary, owned by Mike Lytle. Lytle also owned the Mountain Meds dispensary in Lakeside that was raided earlier this year. He was charged with five drug-related felonies in that case, which is still pending. He racked up two more felony possession of marijuana for sale charges Thursday.

Arkansas

Last Thursday, the state attorney general approved the wording of a medical marijuana initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved an initiative submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care that would allow patients to grow their own or buy it from a dispensary. McDaniel earlier approved another medical marijuana initiative that would not allow patients to grow their own.

California

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped their case against an Anaheim landlord whose property they tried to seize over a $37 medical marijuana sale. Under federal pressure, Tony Jalali had already evicted a dispensary he had rented to when the feds brought their asset forfeiture action. Prosecutors had been seeking to drop the case for months, but had insisted that he agree to surprise inspections and promise never to rent to another dispensary. They didn't get that, but Jalali did agree not to demand that the US government pay his attorney fees. The feds dropped the case with prejudice, meaning they cannot threaten to seize his property again. They also dropped two other asset forfeiture cases, but those agreements have been finalized with the courts.

Last Thursday, a Riverside County dispensary sued the city of Murrieta over its decision to ban dispensaries and medical marijuana delivery services. Compassionate Care Beneficiaries seeks a peremptory writ of mandate to set aside the city's decision. It alleges that Murrieta violated state environmental laws by failing to evaluate the potential air pollution and traffic impacts of barring dispensaries and forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors moved closer to new medical marijuana regulations. The board is considering rules that would prohibit dispensaries within 600 feet of schools or each other, restricts hours and signage, and could require background checks of dispensary managers or dispensary board members. They would also limit home grows to 100 square feet indoors and 1,000 square feet outdoors. The ordinance will have a final vote on October 22.

Connecticut

Late last month, the state began accepting cultivation and dispensary applications. Patients have been able to sign up for the medical marijuana registry for the past year, but no one has yet been authorized to cultivate marijuana. Now, the state is finally moving forward.

Iowa

On Sunday, the Quad-City Times editorialized against prosecuting a cancer patient for growing medical marijuana. The newspaper accused the Scott County justice system of enforcing "the letter of a law that is doing much more harm than good" in the case of Benton Mackenzie, who was arrested along with his wife, son, and parents for growing marijuana he used to alleviate his cancer treatments. Mackenzie was jailed for two months until authorities realized they might be stuck with his medical bills, and is now free awaiting trial. "Iowa is overdue for marijuana law reform in response to growing clinical evidence of its medicinal value," the paper concluded. "Iowa and Illinois are overdue for decriminalizing a substance readily available despite decades of targeted enforcement." The Quad Cities are a trans-Mississippi River metropolitan area consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois (and East Moline, too).

Kansas

Last Friday, the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana. The group focuses on legislation affecting Kansas senior citizens and said in a resolution that medical marijuana brings relief for numerous conditions "often found among senior citizens" as well as slowing the progress of two conditions common to senior citizens -- Alzheimer's Disease and glaucoma. Medical marijuana has gained virtually no traction in the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Michigan

Last Thursday, a Lansing couple whose medical marijuana use resulted in the state seizing their infant daughter saw felony drug charges against them dropped. Steve and Maria Green were arrested on marijuana manufacturing charges in 2011, but the Oakland County prosecutor dropped the charges after it was proven that Steve Green was a patient and his wife a caregiver. But the filing of those charges played a role in the state's decision last month to remove their daughter from their home. It's unclear how the dropping of charges will affect their battle to regain custody of their daughter, who is currently living with Maria Green's mother.

Nevada

On Friday, state officials released their 80-page draft medical marijuana dispensary regulations. The move comes after the legislature this year passed a dispensary bill, which is set to go into effect in April. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the draft, which sets broad guidelines for growers, dispensaries and test labs. The draft has already excited numerous concerns and comments, and is subject to revision.

New Jersey

Last Friday, a second dispensary won approval to start selling marijuana to patients. The Health Department announced that the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township can open for business. It has been growing marijuana since June, but has not announced an exact opening date. The state has authorized six dispensaries, but so far, only one has opened.

Vermont

On Tuesday, the Rockingham Selectboard approved an ordinance banning dispensaries. The vote came after the police chief said he didn't want a dispensary in the city and a village resident said the town already faced drug abuse issues. The ordinance can be overturned by a majority of voters at the next town meeting.

Washington

On Sunday, a medical marijuana farmers' market reopened in Seattle. While providing candies, lotions, and dried buds to patients, the market is also part of an ongoing fight by the state's patients and medical marijuana industry to ensure that their rights are kept in mind as the state moves toward legally regulated marijuana for all adults.

Wisconsin

Last Thursday, two Democratic legislators announced they would file a medical marijuana bill in the state legislature. Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton held a news conference Thursday to announce a new bill, saying marijuana can provide pain relief other medication doesn't. A similar measure in 2010 got a hearing, but went nowhere after that under Democratic leadership. In 2011, a similar bill got nowhere at all under a Republican-controlled legislature. The Republicans still control both houses.

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

Polls Find Maryland, Florida Ready for Marijuana Reform

Polls from two more states this week show an increasing acceptance of the need to reform marijuana laws. In a Florida poll, Sunshine State voters said they were ready to back medical marijuana, while in a Maryland poll, Old Line State voters said they were ready to decriminalize and/or legalize the weed.

Voters in the two states are joining a growing cavalcade of marijuana reform supporters in state polls, some of them in places where the support seemed unlikely. Just in the month of September, different polls showed majority support for marijuana legalization in Louisiana, majority support for decriminalization and a near majority (47%) for legalization in Michigan, majority support for decriminalization and medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and majority support for legalization in California.

In Florida, where the Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative signature-gathering campaign is underway, a Public Policy Polling survey found support for a medical marijuana ballot measure at 62%, with only 26% opposed and 12% undecided.

That poll found strong support for medical marijuana among Democrats (68%) and independents (74%). And while there wasn't majority support among Republicans, more Republicans supported medical marijuana (46%) than opposed it (41%).

In Maryland, a Public Policy Polling survey found nearly three-quarters (72%) support for medical marijuana, more than two-thirds (68%) for decriminalization, and a slight majority (53%) for legalization. (The legalization question asked: "Would you support or oppose changing Maryland law to make marijuana legal for adults 21 and over, and regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol?")

The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project and the ACLU of Maryland, both of which have been working with the state legislature in Annapolis to loosen pot penalties. This year, the legislature approved a medical marijuana program, but rejected efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.

"Most Maryland voters recognize that marijuana prohibition has failed and believe it is time to adopt a more sensible approach," said Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst for MPP. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol we can take marijuana sales out of the underground market and put them behind the counters of legitimate, tax-paying businesses. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time to treat it that way."

"Our current marijuana prohibition policies are grossly ineffective," said Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland. "It's time to take a commonsense approach to public safety and criminal justice. We should not be wasting resources arresting people simply for possessing marijuana. Enforcement of these misguided marijuana laws is having a disproportionate and detrimental impact on communities of color. A majority of voters agree it is time for a change."

Elected officials are supposed to lead, but when it comes to marijuana law reform, it is becoming increasingly clear that the public is going to have to lead the elected officials by their noses.

Majority Favor Marijuana Legalization in California, Poll Finds

Support for marijuana legalization is above 50% among Californians, and even higher among likely voters, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll released Thursday. While other pollsters have reported majority support for legalization in the past, especially in the run-up to the failed 2010 Proposition 19 effort, Thursday's poll marks the first time PPIC has recorded majority support for legalization.

PPIC polling in September 2011 had support for legalization at 46%, and that figure dropped to 45% in a March 2012 PPIC poll. Now, the numbers have flipped.

The poll found support for marijuana legalization at 52% among all respondents and 60% among likely voters. Conversely, 45% of all respondents and 38% of likely voters opposed legalization, with undecideds accounting for only 2% to 3% of respondents.

Democrats (64%), independents (60%), and men (57%) are more likely than Republicans (45%) and women (47%) to favor legalization. About six in 10 whites (63%) and blacks (61%) are in favor, Asians are divided (48% legal, 45% not legal), and about six in 10 Latinos are opposed (62%). About half across age groups think marijuana use should be legal.

The question asked was "In general, do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?"

The question was asked of 1,703 Californians, including 1,429 registered voters, between September 10 and 17. Among those likely voters responding, 46% were Democrats, 31% Republicans, and 17% independents. That generally follows current voter registration statistics. The racial makeup of likely voters was 61% white, 15% Latino, 12% Asian and 8% black. The poll has a margin of error of between 3.7% and 4.5% depending on the subgroup polled.

The poll results are likely to encourage efforts by California activists to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot, even though many major drug reform players have cautioned that the state should wait for the higher voter turnout expected in the 2016 presidential election year. A divided activist community threw up several initiative proposals in 2012, but none of them managed to make the ballot.

One measure, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014, has already been cleared for circulation this year, and at least one more is in the works. Organizers face a daunting task, however; they need to gather more than half a million registered voter signatures, a process that typically requires at least a million-dollar investment. Whether the big money can be convinced that 2014 is both doable and winnable remains to be seen.

The poll also found that more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal.

CA
United States

Oregon 2014 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Likely

Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon will try to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November 2014 ballot, the leader of the group told the Willamette Week this week. The move comes after an effort in the legislature to put the issue before voters didn't bear fruit.

"Our coalition is moving forward with a legalization measure to end cannabis prohibition in Oregon in the 2014 election," said New Approach Oregon director Anthony Johnson.

Johnson said the Oregonians were working with Drug Policy Alliance(DPA), a move that should help with funding. Fundraising was a key shortcoming of the failed 2012 marijuana legalization Measure 80 initiative campaign headed by Paul Stanford.

Stanford filed two new initiatives in June, but it's not clear if he's going to move forward with them.

"DPA will help us draft the measure that we'll move forward in 2014," Johnson said.

The move comes after New Approach Oregon, DPA and a group of Oregon political insiders were unable to move House Bill 3371. Lawmakers could have referred that marijuana legalization bill to the voters, but declined to do so.

OR
United States

Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Gear Up in Three States

The race to be the next state to legalize marijuana at the ballot box is on. Activists in three states -- Alaska, Arizona, and Oregon -- have taken initial steps to get the issue before the voters during the 2014 general election.

In Alaska, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell last Friday certified a ballot initiative application that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the initiative would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Adults could grow up to six marijuana plants for their personal use.

Proponents will have one year to gather 30,169 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. But they have to wait a week or so for the state elections division to begin printing the petition booklets.

Alaska already allows for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions.

In Arizona, Safer Arizona is sponsoring an initiative to amend the state constitution to allow for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana use and commerce. The group filed the measure last week with the secretary of state. It now must gather 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

Organizers there said it would be a grassroots campaign relying on volunteers. The conventional wisdom for initiatives in high signature-count states is that they require paid signature-gathering efforts to succeed at a rough cost of a dollar or more per signature obtained.

Arizona voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2010, but that initiative squeaked through with barely more than 50% of the vote.

In Oregon, Paul Stanford, the controversial proponent of last year's failed marijuana legalization campaign, is back with two more measures, and other activists could file yet a third. Stanford's Oregon Marijuana Tax Act initiative largely echoes the language of last year's underfunded initiative, which picked up 47% of the popular vote, but reworks a contentious provision relating to a commission to regulate marijuana and hemp commerce. Stanford's second initiative would simply legalize the possession and production of pot by adults 21 and over with a proviso that the state could impose regulations.

Stanford's move has inspired other Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon to say that they will likely have a better alternative initiative. "Something will be on the ballot," the group's Anthony Johnson told The Oregonian. "Either it's going to be a responsible measure or something not as well-vetted."

Stanford said he will conduct polling on the various measures before moving forward.

If legislators can't get around to legalizing marijuana, activists in initiative states want to let the voters do it for them. That's three states aiming at 2014 so far, and we're still a year and half out from election day.

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