Defelonization

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Chronicle AM: Three of Four MJ Inits Win, Mexico Legal MJ Bill, FL Felony Disenfranchisement Repealed, More... (11/7/18)

Three out of four marijuana initiative pass, so does restoring the vote to ex-felons in Florida, but Ohio drug defelonization fails.

Marijuana Policy

 

Michigan Becomes First Midwest State to Legalize Marijuana. The Proposal 1 legalization initiative had 55.8 percent of the vote with 96 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning. The measure will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Michigan for adults aged 21 and older. It allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to 12 plants for personal use, while also establishing a legal framework for the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses and products.

North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Fails. The Measure 3 legalization initiative was decisively defeated. It managed to garner only 40.5 percent of the vote. Measure 3 was a grassroots effort with little outside support and strong and deep-pocketed opposition.

Ohio Towns and Cities Vote to Decriminalize Pot Possession. Five out of six Ohio localities that had decriminalization measures on their local ballots approved them. Decriminalization won overwhelmingly in Dayton, Fremont, Norwood, Oregon, and Windham. It lost in only one town: Garrettsville.

Wisconsin Voters Approve Non-Binding Marijuana Advisory Questions. Voters in localities across the state signaled their support for medical marijuana, marijuana legalization, and decriminalization in a series of local non-binding advisory questions. In all 10 counties one city where voters were asked if marijuana should be legal, they said yes, by margins of better than two-to-one. Medical marijuana got even stronger support, and in Racine, a question on decriminalization won by a margin of two-to-one.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Votes To Legalize Medical Marijuana. Two of three medical marijuana initiatives won. Amendment 3, which would have imposed a 15 percent tax and set up a research institute benefiting its author, was easily defeated, while Amendment 2 had 65.5 percent support, and Proposition C had 56.5 percent. Amendment 2 was backed by both the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana. Despite the machinations of the Mormon Church and the state's Republican political establishment, which sought to blunt support for Proposition 2 by promising to pass some sort of medical marijuana bill later this year, voters weren't willing to wait. Prop 2 had 53.2 percent of the votes, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. Even in Deep Red Utah, medical marijuana wins. Under this measure, people with designated qualifying conditions can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor, but patients whose conditions aren't listed have to go through a more rigorous process. Patients won't be allowed to smoke their medicine, either. It remains to be seen what will happen with medical marijuana in the legislature.

Sentencing

Ohio Drug Defelonization Initiative Defeated. Voters soundly rejected Issue 1, which would have made drug possession felonies into misdemeanors, by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. The move, aimed at reducing the state's prison population, was opposed by prosecutors, judges, coroners, and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Issue 1 had other proposals as well: reducing prison sentences by up to 25 percent for most prisoners if they complete educational, work or rehabilitative programs. Probation violations that weren't new crimes would not have resulted in prison.

Voting Rights

Florida Votes to Restore Voting Rights to Felons. There will be nearly 1.5 million potential new voters in the Sunshine State for the next election after voters Tuesday approved Amendment 4, which restores voting rights for people in the state convicted of felonies as long as they have completed their sentences, although anyone convicted of murder or felony sex offenses would be excluded. About 9.2 percent of the state voting-age population.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A key ally of incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday filed a bill to legalize marijuana cultivation and sales. Senator Olga Sanchez Cordero, who is expected to be named interior secretary, filed the General Law for the Regulation and Control of Marijuana. The move comes just days after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of marijuana for personal use is unconstitutional.

[Drug Policy Alliance is a publisher of the organization that publishes this newsletter.]

Chronicle AM: Weed on the Ballot in 4 States This Election Day, OH Sentencing Reform, Too, More... (11/6/18)

Marijuana policy initiatives are on the ballot in four states today, so is sentencing reform in Ohio, the FDA approves a powerful new opioid, El Chapo goes on trial in New York, and more.

Do your civic duty today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana on the Midterm Ballot Today. It's not just about control of the Congress. Four states are seeing statewide marijuana policy initiatives: In Michigan and North Dakota, legalization is on the ballot; in Missouri and Utah, medical marijuana in on the ballot. Also, a number of Ohio localities are voting on decriminalization, and in Wisconsin, a number of localities will be voting on non-binding referenda on whether to legalize marijuana. Come back tomorrow for results.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Approves Opioid Pain Reliever 1,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine. The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new opioid pain reliever that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than fentanyl. The new drug, Dsuvia, will be used as a fast-acting alternative to intravenously administered opioids in hospitals. Critics warned that the new drug could be abused, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that it will only be used with "very tight restrictions."

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Goes on Trial in New York City. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has gone on trial in New York City this week. El Chapo was extradited to the US in 2017 after escaping from a Mexican prison and being recaptured months later, and now faces a 17-count federal indictment for his role heading the cartel, including money laundering, firearms, and multiple murder charges. Although El Chapo has been out of circulation for more than a year, the Sinaloa Cartel remains arguably the most powerful of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing

Ohio Votes on Whether to Defelonize Drug Possession Today. Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance to approve the Issue 1 sentencing reform initiative. The initiative would move most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also allow some nonviolent offenders to receive 25% sentence reductions and would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for using or possessing drugs until the third offense within 24 months. Come back tomorrow for results.

International

Israeli Finance Minister Criticizes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon blamed the Public Security Ministry for foot-dragging on allowing exports of the herb, thus "harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," and called for the cabinet to act to approve exports and advance legislation. "For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet's agenda, thereby harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," Kahlon wrote in a memo Monday to the cabinet secretary. "During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis."

How This Red State's Cruel Meth Laws Are Putting Women Behind Bars in Record Numbers [FEATURE]

Like other Great Plains states, South Dakota has a methamphetamine problem. But it's becoming increasingly evident that South Dakota also has a problem with the way it deals with meth.

South Dakota women's prison in Pierre (KELO-TV screen grab)
Because of its strict drug laws, the state is seeing a dramatic spike in women being sent to prison for meth. According to a new report from the nonprofit South Dakota News Watch, the number of women in prison in the state has jumped 35 percent since 2013, while the male prison population has increased at only one-quarter of that rate. Nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners in the state are there for nonviolent drug offenses. The state now has the fourth-highest incarceration rate for women in the country, trailing only Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky.

Overall, about one-third of all inmates in the state are doing time for drug-related offenses, the majority of them for simple drug possession. That's a higher percentage than most other states, where drug offenders tend to make up somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population.

The high drug-related incarceration overall and for women in particular stems less from the prevalence of drug use than from the conservative, largely rural state's reaction to it. South Dakota has not responded to decades of failed war on drug policies by reforming them, but by doubling down on them.

The state has not moved toward the defelonization of drug possession, as at least 16 others have. Instead, it has moved in the opposite direction. South Dakota has mandatory sentencing laws that include prison for not only for the manufacture and distribution of meth but also for simple possession.

State lawmakers and cops have long favored tough drug laws, and they are still at it. This year, state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) guided bills through the legislature that heighten penalties for meth dealing and increase sentences for dealers whose clients overdose and die.

But the state's most notorious and contentious drug law -- bone that is sending hundreds of people to prison -- is the state's "possession by ingestion" statute. Otherwise known as an "internal possession" law, the statute allows for a felony conviction if a drug test reveals the presence of illicit drugs in a suspect's system. (The law also applies to marijuana, but the penalty for testing positive for pot is only a misdemeanor.)

The strictest in the nation, that law was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2004. Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a measure that would have slightly tweaked the law by removing marijuana, but that bill was killed by a unanimous vote in the first committee that heard it.

As of August, about nine percent of the male prison population and an astonishing 21 percent of the female prison population was doing time for unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. That's right: More than one out of five women prisoners in South Dakota is behind prison bars for nothing more than having used drugs.

South Dakota law enforcement and lawmakers may be happy with the status quo, but the man who actually runs the prison system isn't. State Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk told South Dakota News Watch that the cops' and courts' proclivity for busting and imprisoning women on drug charges is creating an expensive and ineffective cycle of imprisonment, release, and recidivism.

"We seem to think that locking individuals up is going to solve their addiction problem," said Kaemingk, a former drug officer. "They're coming to us in corrections and we're thinking that solves the problem, and I think in many cases it makes the problem worse."

Criminalizing addiction, especially among women who are mothers, Kraemingk said, creates a situation where the children are more likely to end up in prison themselves. He pointed to national studies showing that up to 80 percent of children who have parents behind bars will end up there themselves.

"Imprisonment in South Dakota is generational," Kaemingk said. "The females behind prison walls have experienced that as a child. The generation we have back there now as inmates experienced the same things when they were children."

Kraemingk and other relatively enlightened actors in the state are pushing for enhanced treatment opportunities and expanding drug courts, among other measures, to better deal with the situation, but nobody seems to be talking about not involving these women in the criminal justice system in the first place. A first step would be getting rid of that hideous "possession by ingestion" statute. The next step would be defelonization or outright decriminalization of drug possession in the state. Drug use absent harm to others should not be the state's business.

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

Ohio Initiative Would End Prison for Drug Possession [FEATURE]

Progressive voters in battleground Ohio will have one more reason to head to the polls next month. Not only do they have a chance to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion and reelect US Senator Sherrod Brown, but they also will have the opportunity to enact a dramatic sentencing reform that will keep thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison and help inmates currently serving time for drug possession get back into their communities sooner.

Issue 1, the smartly named Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment, would:

  • Reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanor crimes, except for drug possession or trafficking offenses currently categorized as first-, second- or third-degree felonies;
  • Prohibit jail sentences for drug possession until an individual's third offense within 24 months;
  • Allow inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to reduce their sentences up to 25 percent for completing rehabilitative, work or educational programming;
  • Apply cost savings from reduced prison expenses to drug treatment programs and crime victim services.

That's right, passage of Issue 1 would effectively defelonize drug possession in the Buckeye State. At least 16 states have already taken similar steps to ratchet down the drug war, including California, New York, and neighboring Pennsylvania. And now, thanks to local grassroots organizing backed by some big outside money, Ohio could be next.

It could use the help. The state's prison population has hovered around 50,000 for nearly two decades after rising dramatically during the height of drug war repression in the 1980s and 1990s, and nearly a quarter of inmates are doing time for drug offenses. Unsurprisingly, Ohio suffers the same sort of racial disparities as the rest of the country, with blacks more than five times as likely to be imprisoned as whites, and Latinos nearly twice as likely. The state's resort to mass incarceration costs it around $2 billion a year in corrections costs.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a coalition of 20 community organizations, faith institutions, labor unions, and policy groups across the state, and its Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities campaign. Its aim is to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system and increase access to drug treatment. Issue 1 would "invest in proven treatment for addiction instead of more spending on bloated prisons," explained campaign manager Amanda Hoyt.

While the initiative is homegrown, the funding for it is coming mainly from out-of-staters. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has kicked in $1 million, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz's Open Philanthropy Project ponied up another $1 million. George Soros's Open Society Policy Center provided $1.5 million, while California businessman Nicholas Pritzker and his wife Susan added another $60,000. Of the $4.8 million raised by the campaign, all but $19,000 came from out of state.

"Relying on incarceration to solve addiction and the conditions that drive lower-level crimes actually doesn't make communities safer, and it results in huge expenses to taxpayers with devastating impact to individuals, families, and entire communities," said Ana Zamora, criminal justice manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in a statement.

Issue 1 will "put taxpayer dollars to better use by reducing reliance on prisons to address certain nonviolent offenses, including drug use and possession," Zamora added.

The opposition to Issue 1 isn't nearly as deep-pocketed, but it represents much of the state's criminal justice and Republican political establishment. No opposition political action committees have reported donations, but groups such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Ohio Common Pleas Judges' Association, the Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police have all come out against Issue 1.

And while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray has endorsed Issue 1, current Republican Gov. John Kasich, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, all the Republicans running for statewide office, and the state Republican Party itself have all announced their opposition.

"Unfortunately, Issue 1 is a one-sided proposal that will weaken the tools available to our elected representatives, county prosecutors, and judges to make and enforce laws. It will eliminate important incentives to encourage drug treatment for the addicted, and allow the drug dealers who prey on addiction to freely roam the streets," said former secretary of state Ken Blackwell in rhetoric typical of the opposition.

Other opponents resorted to hyperbolic "sends the wrong message" arguments. "The message to children is that these drugs are not dangerous; the message to drug dealers is that doing business in Ohio is low-risk," warned Louis Tobin, executive director of the prosecutors' association, and Paul Pfeifer, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, in their official argument.

It must be noted that Issue 1 defelonizes only drug possession -- not drug distribution.

There has been no polling to determine what kind of support the measure has, at least none announced publicly. Will an energized Democratic base carry the day for Democrats and Issue 1 in a closely divided state on Election Day? That remains to be seen, but all those millions in campaign funds should help buy plenty of TV ads and influence voters in these final weeks. Stay tuned.

Chronicle AM: Good NJ, WI Pot Polls; OH Drug Defelonization Initiative, More... (8/24/18)

New polls in New Jersey and Wisconsin show solid support for marijuana legalization, Chicago harm reduction pioneer Dan Big has died too early, the FDA approves clinical trials of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, an Ohio drug defelonization initiative is on the November ballot, and more.

magic mushrooms (Flickr/Green)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislature Passes Bill to Overturn Old Marijuana Convictions. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 1793, which directs prosecutors throughout the state to overturn convictions for acts that are no longer illegal under the state's Prop 64 marijuana legalization initiative. The bill would also reduce many felony convictions for marijuana-related crimes to misdemeanors. It was approved by the Assembly in May and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Among respondents between 18 and 34, that figure was 90%. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders push to get a legalization bill passed next month.

Wisconsin Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette Law poll has support for legalization in the Dairy State at 61%. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is opposed to marijuana legalization, calling it a gateway drug. He's polling at 46% in the same poll.

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

Psychedelics

FDA Approves Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms Ingredient Psilocybin for Depression Trial. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of psilocybin for a drug trial in treatment-resistant depression. Compass Pathways, a life sciences firm, now has a green light to perform the clinical trials. The phase two trial with 216 patients will get underway next month.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Harm Reduction Pioneer Dan Bigg Dead at 59. Dan Bigg, a co-founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance and a long-time activist died Tuesday at his home. The cause of death remains undetermined pending further tests. He was a pioneering needle exchange worker in the 1990s and pushed for putting naloxone in the hands of drug users and their loved ones as opioid overdose deaths began to soar more than a decade ago. Friends and colleagues said that thousands of people who could have died from overdoses or infectious disease are alive today because of Bigg's stalwart activism. He will be missed.

Sentencing

Ohio Initiative Would Defelonize Drug Possession, Cut Sentences. Voters in the Buckeye State will vote on a constitutional amendment that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes by making drug use and possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Issue 1 also bars the jailing of probationers merely for drug use or possession and allows sentence reductions of up to 25% for inmates who participate in rehabilitation, work, or educational programming.

Chronicle AM: MI Init Signatures Coming Fast, OR Decriminalizes Drug Possession, More... (7/11/17)

Michigan legalizers are fast off the mark in their initiative signature-gathering campaign, the Drug Policy Alliance and 30 groups call for drug decriminalization, Oregon is set to defelonize drug possession, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Michigan Initiative Campaign Already Has 100,000 Raw Signatures. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which wants to put a legalization initiative on the November 2018 ballot, announced Monday that signature gathering was ahead of schedule and that the group had already passed the 100,000 mark. To qualify for the ballot, the group must collect 252,523 valid voter signatures within a six-month period. They began signature gathering in late May.

DC Public Use Marijuana Arrests Tripled Last Year. More than 400 people were arrested in the nation's capital last year for publicly using marijuana, a nearly three-fold jump over the 142 arrested in 2015. And this year so far the pace of arrests remains steady. Some advocates criticized the increase in arrests, with Adam Eidinger, the man behind DC's legalization law, saying the right to smoke marijuana in the District is effectively reserved for "those who own private property," with renters, residents of public housing, and visitors out of luck. "A lot of it is people not realizing they can't smoke in public," he said of the increase in arrests. "A lot of it is people who have no place else to go."

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill. Gov. Ricardo Rosello, a former biomedical engineer, on Sunday signed into law a bill that legalizes and regulates medical marijuana in the US territory. The move comes after Rossello criticized an earlier executive order allowing medical marijuana as insufficient. "As a scientist, I know firsthand the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on patients with various diseases," he said. "The time has come for Puerto Rico to join the flow of countries and states that have created similar legislation."

Drug Policy

Drug Policy Alliance Report Calls for US Drug Decriminalization. In a new report endorsed by more than 30 organizations, the Drug Policy Alliance is calling for the end of arresting people simply for using or possessing drugs. "Our current laws have branded tens of millions of people with a lifelong criminal record that makes it hard to get a job or an apartment," said Art Way, senior director of national criminal justice strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The experience of the last few decades shows that criminalization has been utterly ineffective in reducing problematic drug use."

Sentencing

Oregon Defelonizes Drug Possession. The state legislature has approved House Bill 2355, which makes simple possession of drugs such as heroin, MDMA, and meth a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in jail. Under current law, drug possession is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The bill also includes a provision aimed at reducing racial profiling by police. The legislature also approved House Bill 3079, which reduces penalties for property crimes often related to problematic drug use. Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign the bills into law shortly.

Chronicle AM: No More Petty MJ Busts in Houston, Battle of the Georgia CBD Bills, More... (3/2/17)

Houston decriminalizes -- sort of -- Colorado ponders social cannabis clubs, Georgia legislators have passed two different CBD bills, Oregonians are ready to defelonize drug possession, and more.

This won't get you arrested in Houston anymore, but the cops will still take your stash. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawmakers Take Up Pot Social Club Bills. The Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would let local governments allow private marijuana clubs. Under Senate Bill 184, tokers would likely pay a fee to become members of a club and consume it there. Another, broader measure, Senate Bill 63, which would have allowed consumption licenses to be issued to shops where pot could be both sold and consumed, was defeated on a 6-1 vote.

Georgia Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee gave its seal of approval to Senate Bill 105 Tuesday. The bill reduces the penalty for possession of less than a half ounce of weed from up to a year in jail to a fine of up to $300. Possession of more than a half ounce, but less than two ounces, would be worth up to a year in jail, while possession of more than two ounces would remain a felony.

Houston "Decriminalization" Now in Effect. As of Wednesday, police in America's fourth-largest city will no longer arrest people with up to four ounces of pot. Instead, they will seize the weed and make the person sign a contract promising to take a drug education class.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Bill to Ban Smoking, Edibles Advances. The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor has approved Senate Bill 357, which bans smoking medical marijuana and the selling of foods or drinks containing medical marijuana. The measure now heads to the Senate floor. That same committee rejected another bill, Senate Bill 238, that would have delayed implementation of the medical marijuana law under federal marijuana prohibition ends.

Georgia House Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Expansion Bill. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 65, which would expand the state's 2015 CBD cannabis oil law. The bill adds new qualifying conditions, removes a one-year residency requirement, and allows reciprocity with other CBD cannabis oil states. The House move comes two weeks after the Senate passed a more restrictive CBD expansion bill, Senate Bill 16, which would only add one new condition and would reduce the maximum allowable THC in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%. Medical marijuana advocates are not happy with the Senate bill.

Drug Policy

Oregon Poll Finds Strong Support for Reducing Drug Possession Felonies to Misdemeanors. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Oregonians support making small-time drug possession a misdemeanor, according to a new poll. Under current law, possession is a felony. The poll comes as a bill to do just that is about to be introduced.

Drug Testing

Florida Bill Would Require Welfare Drug Tests for Drug Offenders. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala (R) introduced Senate Bill 1392 Wednesday. The measure would force people who have any felony drug conviction or "a documented history of multiple arrests" for drug use within the past 10 years to undergo drug testing before receiving welfare benefits. People who test positive would be barred from benefits for two years, although they could reapply after six months if they have completed drug treatment. A companion bill was also introduce in the House.

International

International Legal, Drug Policy Groups Call for Release of Philippine Critic of Duterte's Drug War. Both the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the International Commission of Jurists have issued statements tdemanding the immediate release of Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested on drug charges after criticizing President Duterte's bloody crackdown on drugs. The charges against De Lima are "fabricated" and her prosecution is politically motivated, the ICJ said. "The ICJ calls on the Philippine government to immediately release Senator De Lima and immediately stop any further acts of harassment against her and other public critics of the government," the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a statement on Tuesday. The Global Commission also expressed concern about her arrest and called for her release: "We are hopeful that the presumption of innocence will be upheld and that Senator de Lima will soon be released from pre-trial detention," the GCDP said in a statement.

Chronicle AM: CA Legalization Results Begin, Anti-Sessions Protests Underway, More... (11/28/16)

Some California pot shops open their doors to all adults, some California defendants are starting to walk free, DC-based activists turn their ire on Trump attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Oklahoma (!) defelonizes drug possession, and more.

Trump's attorney general pick, Jeff Sessions, is the target of protests over his anti-marijuana positions. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

DC-Based Marijuana Activists Hold First of Five Anti-Sessions Protests. Activists led by DCMJ, the folks behind the District's 2014 legalization initiative, Monday held the first of five protests planned in response to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be attorney general in the incoming Trump administration. The "Smoke Sessions" protesters are demanding that "Senator Sessions evolve" on his anti-marijuana positions and that President-elect Trump makes "a clear and unequivocal statement that he supports the full legalization of cannabis in every state." It would be best if Trump came up with another nominee, said event organizer Adam Eidinger. "We’re saying, we don't want this guy, and if he is going to be the guy he's got to clarify his positions," Eidinger said. "But really, we don't want him. This is just an unacceptable pick."

Supreme Court Rejects Church's Appeal Over Marijuana Laws. The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Hawaii Native American church that sought an religious freedom exemption from federal marijuana laws. The Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii filed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act lawsuit in 2009, but lost in both trial court and on appeal. Now, it's lost again.

Some California Pot Shops Are Already Selling to Everyone. You don't need a medical marijuana card to buy pot in at least a handful of California dispensaries, even though adult non-medical pot sales won't be legal until 2018. At least three dispensaries are reportedly selling weed to all adult comers, including Mr. Nice Guy in downtown Los Angeles. "21 years and older may enter with no doctor's recommendation," the dispensary posted to its Weedmaps page. "However, those 21 and under are still required to have a rec."

California Marijuana Defendants Are Starting to Walk Free. California judges are now setting free scores of people whose pending cases are no longer cases at all since the passage of Prop 64 legalizing marijuana. Thousands more in jail or prison, or on probation or parole, are beginning to petition to reduce their sentences. And potentially tens of thousands of citizens with a rap sheet for pot can clear their names. Before November 8, illegally growing a single pot plant was a felony; now, it's no longer a crime. A dozen or so other marijuana offenses have either been deleted or downgraded as well.

Law Enforcement

Portland, Oregon, Prosecutors Now Require Field Drug Test Verification Before Accepting Guilty Pleas. In response to the Pro Publica investigative series "Busted," which detailed how people across the country are being jailed and accepting plea bargains for drug possession over faulty field drug tests that have been shown to regularly return false positive results, prosecutors in Portland say they will no longer accept guilty pleas for drug possession unless the field test results are confirmed by a lab test.

Oklahoma Quietly Passed Drug Defelonization on Election Day. Voters in the Sooner State passed a pair of measure on Election Day that reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies. State Question 780 also defelonized some other crime, mainly property crimes. State Question 781 allows counties to use the money saved from not imprisoning drug offenders to fund community rehabilitation services. State Question 780 passed with 57% of the vote; so did Question 781.

International

Australia Greens Embrace Drug Decriminalization. This past weekend, the Australian Greens abandoned their blanket opposition to drug legalization and instead a embraced the principle that the legal approach to drugs should be based on evidence about their harms. Saying that the law and order approach to drugs has failed, the Greens now call for drug decriminalization.

Chronicle AM: OR Top Cops Want Defelonization, SC County Wants to Jail Overdosers, More... (9/27/16)

NORML updates its congressional scorecard, Bay State legalizers cry foul over a misleading voter guide, the number of babies suffering from opioid withdrawals has jumped dramatically, Oregon top cops want to defelonize simple drug possession, and more.

Oregon sheriffs and police chiefs jointly call for defelonizing simple drug possession. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

NORML Releases Updated and Revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. To mark national Voter Registration Day, NORML has released its updated and revised guide to members of Congress. The guide gives letter grades to our representatives based on the comments and voting records. Only 22 of the 535 senators and congressmen got "A" grades, while 32 members got an "F" grade.

Massachusetts Legalizers Cry Foul Over State-Issued Voter Guide. Campaigners behind the Question 4 legalization initiative say a state-issued guide sent to voters across the state inaccurately describes the fiscal consequences of the measure. The guide says they are "difficult to project due to lack of reliable data" and cites a report from a committee headed by a top opponent of legalization to the effect that taxes and fee revenues from legal marijuana sales "may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs. The Yes on 4 campaign points out that there is "reliable data" from legal marijuana states and that those states have easily covered administrative and other expenses.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Study: Number of Babies Born Suffering Withdrawal Symptoms More Than Doubles in Four Years. Researchers studying neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results from withdrawal from opioids to which fetuses were exposed in utero, report that the incidence of the syndrome has jumped from 2.8 cases per thousand live births in 2009 to 7.3 cases in 2013. At least some of the surge may be a result of drug policies aimed at cracking down on prescription drug use. "The drug policies of the early 2000s were effective in reducing supply -- we have seen a decrease in methamphetamine abuse and there have been reductions in some aspects of prescription drug abuse," said lead study author Dr. Joshua Brown. "However, the indirect results, mainly the increase in heroin abuse, were likely not anticipated and we are just starting to see these." The researchers also noted wide variations by state, from 0.7 cases per thousand in Hawaii to 33.4 cases in West Virginia.

New Psychoactive Substances

Bill to Criminalize More New Synthetics Passes House. A bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-TX) to add several new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids to the Controlled Substances Act passed the House Monday. The measure, HR 3537, now goes to the Senate.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Law Enforcement Calls for Defelonizing Drug Possession. The Oregon Association of Police Chiefs and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association have jointly called for people caught with "user amounts" of illegal drugs to face misdemeanor charges -- not felonies -- and be sent to treatment. Elected officials and prosecutors should "craft a more thoughtful approach to drug possession when it is the only crime committed," the top cops said, because felony charges "include unintended and collateral consequences including barriers to housing and employment and a disparate impact on minority communities."

South Carolina County Ponders Mandatory Jail Time for People Who Overdose. The chairman of the county council in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, has inquired during a council meeting about whether to make people who suffer opioid overdoses spend three days in jail. Chairman Mark Lazarus would also like to see mandatory drug treatment required. He added that jailing people who overdose wouldn't discourage them from getting medical help because they're usually unconscious and someone else calls for emergency assistance.

California: What Will Marijuana Legalization Look Like? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it's already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.

Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country's legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.

It's not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 million collected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest poll showing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.

It's also that the surfer's paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the "normalization" of the pot business that emerged out of California's wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor's recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn't fall.

At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.

California isn't the only state riding the wave this year -- legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts -- but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.

But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let's look at what Prop 64 does:

  • Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
  • Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
  • Bars commercial "mega-grows" (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed "microbusinesses" (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
  • Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or "cannabis cafes."
  • Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
  • Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.

In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.

Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.

"The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9," said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.

California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.

"Those marijuana arrests will stop," said Lyman. "And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to file a petition, but like Prop 47 [the sentencing reform initiative passed in 2014], unless there is a compelling reason to deny it, the court must grant it. Similarly, all those people who have had marijuana offenses will be eligible to have their record reclassified."

To be clear, it will still be possible to be arrested for a marijuana offense in California after Prop 64. Possession of more than an ounce (or more than four grams of concentrate) will be a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and possession of less than an ounce can be a misdemeanor offense if it is on school grounds during school hours.

Similarly, cultivation of more than six plants without being a permitted medical marijuana patient or without a license is still a crime, but typically only a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail. There are some exceptions: Illegal growers could be charged with a felony if the person has prior violent offenses or violates state water or environmental laws.

Minors get special treatment. Kids under 18 who get caught with pot are hit with an infraction punishable by drug education, counseling, or community service, but no fines. People between 18 and 21 get an infraction with a maximum $100 fine. And while adults who possess pot on a school grounds during school hours get a misdemeanor, kids under 18 will only be hit with an infraction.

"We want to reduce the number of young people getting into the system, and this will really dial down the firehose into mass incarceration," said Lyman.

The state's largest marijuana consumer group, California NORML, certainly likes those provisions, but it only gives Prop 64 one thumb up and foresees some issues down the road.

"We're supporting the AUMA with reservations," said the group's long-time head Dale Gieringer. "It's not the best initiative ever written -- it has some problems that will have to be addressed -- but it is an important step. The huge thing it does is legalize adult possession of an ounce and adult cultivation of up to six plants. That's big. And it turns cultivation and possession with intent felonies into misdemeanors, or at worst, wobblers," meaning prosecutors could only in limited cases charge them as felonies.

"The AUMA is very long and complicated, with unnecessary hang-ups and restrictions," Gieringer complained, citing bans on public smoking and vaping as examples.

"In places where there are bans on smoking in apartments or residences, in public is about the only place you can smoke. If it's illegal to smoke pot in a public place, people will be hard-pressed to find any place," he said. "You can't even vaporize in a public place, and that's totally out of line with the existing science. They just caved in to the powerful anti-smoking lobby on that, and we can't endorse that."

The CaNORML membership also includes pot farmers, of which the group estimates there are some 30,000 in the state. They are nervous, Gieringer said.

"We have a lot of small growers and they have a lot of issues," he explained. "They are concerned about regulatory provisions they fear could quickly push small growers out of the business. AUMA requires you to be an in-state resident, and we're already growing more than we need, yet we have out-of-state sponsors lining up behind in-state sponsors."

Indeed, earlier this month, the state industry's largest membership group, the California Growers Association, voted to remain neutral on Prop 64 -- or least for now -- after its membership split almost down the middle on whether to support it. Growers, including association head Hezekiah Allen, worried that big-money investment and consolidation of the industry impelled by huge "mega-grows" could wipe out the now generations-old traditional pot farming scene in the stat's North Coast.

Allen warned in a report to the group's board that such consolidation could "result in a catastrophic economic collapse for huge swathes of California," including the North Coast's Emerald Triangle.

Stoners may have to fight for the right to toke and pot farmers for their place in the market, but some of the communities most buffeted by drug prohibition should see benefits. Prop 64 contains language that will direct revenues to minority communities, and also opens the door for localities themselves to take proactive steps toward racial justice.

"The AUMA has a community reinvestment fund with the first revenues available in 2019," said DPA's Lyman, adding that it will be $10 million the first year and up to $50 million a year in the futre. "This is going to communities most impacted by the drug war, black and brown communities, and will include everything from legal services, to public health and economic development. The communities will be able to decide."

Localities will also be deciding on how to implement regulation of the legal market, and that is another opportunity, Lyman said.

"Hopefully, we will see things like what happened in Oakland, where under the new regulations, 50% of the new licenses have to be from the community," she said. "We hope other cities will do that to mitigate racial discrimination and the injustice of the past by prioritizing people of color and women, so we don't end up white a bunch of white men getting rich off what black and brown people have endured. DPA will be very involved in this."

Somebody is going to be making money, though. The state's marijuana market, estimated at $2.7 billion for medical last year, could quickly hit $7 billion under legalization.

"I see tremendous potential for a blossoming of cannabis opportunities," said veteran California marijuana activist, author, and historian Chris Conrad, who has become a pro-Prop 64 spokesman under the rubric of Friends of Prop 64. "Of course, the size of the industry will be impacted by the need to limit the market to intra-state rather than national or international. Given that California is the world's sixth largest economy and has the largest appetite for cannabis in the world, the state's nonmedical market is going to be sizeable."

Legalization will bring changes from price reductions to changing product lines, he said.

"Overall marijuana production is expected to soar, prices to come down and probably a lot more cannabis will be converted into extracts and expand or open new markets for personal hygiene products, topical remedies and essential oils," Conrad predicted. "There will be large-scale cannabis production that is homogenized with relatively low to medium potency, but still of better quality than Mexican brick weed. But we will never replace the boutique markets any more than Budweiser has eliminated microbreweries or 'Big Wine' has wiped out California's family vintners."

And it's not just marijuana, but pot-related businesses that will boom, said DPA's Lyman.

"Formalizing regulations for the first time will expand the industry, and there will be lots of ancillary industries, such as marketing, packaging, and tracking, that should all thrive in post-legalization California," she said.

"There will be new ancillary markets for products such as locking stash boxes for people to carry their cannabis while driving, toking stations near entertainment venues and discrete, low-wattage, six-plant cultivation tents specialized for use in condos and apartments," added Conrad.

Conrad said he expected counties and cities will opt in to the revenues from allowing pot commerce instead of locking themselves out with bans.

"The distribution around the state will likely be porous, some areas more saturated and others with less access," he said. "Since towns will be licensing lawful businesses and no longer will be at the mercy of the county prosecutors' discretion, I expect to see a general spread of retail sites and onsite consumption shops around the state. Not in every town, not as obnoxious and omnipresent as liquor stores, but not too far away, either."

We shall see.

"You can't predict the future," said Gieringer. "It will be a new situation. Medical marijuana here evolved through several different stages, and I expect the same process to unfold here with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. On balance, the AUMA is an important step, but it's not the end game, and it leaves us with unresolved problems."

You may not be able to predict the future, said Lyman, but you can influence it.

"This will be a work in progress," she said. "The long-term work of implementation starts on November 8. We have to be there. To continue to be engaged will be critical."

But even under state level legalization in California, as long as there is pot prohibition somewhere in America, there will be Golden State growers ready to supply the market.

"The one thing everyone needs to recognize is that this does not end the problem of illegal marijuana growing in California," said Gieringer. "The industry has been well-entrenched for generations and is currently supplying the rest of the country, too. That market isn't going to disappear. The more expensive and difficult it is to become legal, the more people will likely participate in that black market."

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