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Chronicle AM: NY Gov Endorses Marijuana Legalization, States Ask Congress to Help on Banking, More... (8/2/18)

New York's governor gets behind marijuana legalization, the National Conference of State Legislatures wants Congress to fix the legal pot industry's banking problems, and more.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gets on board with marijuana legalization. (Pat Arnow/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

State Legislatures Ask Congress to Help Marijuana Businesses Access Financial Services. The National Council of State Legislatures approved a directive Wednesday calling on Congress to help legal marijuana businesses gain access to banking and financial services. The policy directive will help guide the council's lobbying activities in Washington.

New York Governor Endorses Marijuana Legalization, Forms Working Group. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Thursday that he has formed a working group to draft legislation to legalize marijuana. Cuomo said he hoped the legislature would consider a legalization bill in the next session. The legislation will be based on the findings of a multi-agency study headed by the state Health Department that was released last month. "As we work to implement the report's recommendations through legislation, we must consider all aspects of a regulated marijuana program, including its impact on public health, criminal justice, and state revenue, and mitigate any risks associated with it," he said.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Dispensaries Now Offering Buds. For the first time since state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in the state, patients can buy dried flowers from plants grown under the legal system. At least 16 dispensaries in the state were offering buds as of Wednesday, with more certain to follow as harvest season looms. But under state law, the buds cannot be smoked -- only vaped.

Why Marijuana Will Play a Major Role in the Next Two National Elections [FEATURE]

Last week, the San Jose Convention Center hosted the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) 2018 Cannabis Business Summit and Expo. More than 7,000 marijuana industry players and hopefuls crammed into exhibition halls and conference rooms for the three-day confab, located squarely in the heart of the world's largest legal marijuana market -- California.

The variety of stuff on display was mind-boggling: Armored cars, safes, "California compliant" marijuana delivery vans, multi-thousand-dollar extraction devices of gleaming metal and shining glass, lighting systems, cooling systems, myriad forms of packaging, business management systems, POS systems, cannabis industry talent headhunters, greenhouses, modular grow fixtures, insurance companies, law firms, real estate firms -- vegan CBD gummies -- and much, much more. And while a few tie-dyes could be spotted in the crowds, they were few and far between.

While for most attendees the expo was all about business, the legal marijuana business still has to ponder the specter of federal marijuana prohibition actually being enforced. And even at the state level -- where the industry can make money -- it is still constrained by the annoying fact that adult use marijuana is only legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. One panel of experienced marijuana watchers zoomed in on the politics of pot law reform to try to divine what the near future holds -- not so much for the industry, but in terms of consolidating the political victories that have already seen marijuana move from the back alleys to, well, shiny big city convention centers.

The discussion among panelists NCIA director of governmental relations Mike Correia; Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; and John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institute, covered a variety of topics and sketched the outlines of what pot politics could look like and achieve between now and the 2020 elections.

Federal Legislation

DPA attorney Forman pointed to three pieces of federal marijuana legislation:

  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, S. 3032, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with five Republican and four Democratic cosponsors. The bill would modify the Controlled Substances Act so that it would not apply to people acting in compliance with state laws in states where it is legal.
  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, S. 3174, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana by removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The Marijuana Justice Act, S. 1689, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by a virtual who's who of Democratic 2020 presidential contenders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for marijuana commerce.

While both the Schumer bill and the Booker bill would decriminalize marijuana, the STATES Act, which would only apply in places it's already legal, is more likely to gain traction, said Forman, a position seconded by Correia.

"The STATES Act is most likely to move," said Correia, who spends his days haunting the corridors of power on Capitol Hill as he lobbies for the industry. "Congress is incremental."

Movement could come faster if Democrats take the House or Senate, he said. "Maybe the Democrats will be more aggressive," Correia suggested, drawing a comparison with movement on gay and lesbian issues in recent years.

Not so fast, said Hudak, noting that key congressional committee chairs have bottled up marijuana bills so far. "Until both parties stop putting in foes of reform in leadership positions, there will be no progress," he said. "And it's not just the GOP." (Until a few months ago he might have been referring to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who represents the world's largest legal pot market but who only dropped her opposition to legalization last May in the face of a primary challenge and is only beginning to shed last century's prohibitionist ideology.)

There is no reason for Democrats to put enemies of reform in leadership positions, Hudak said. "Cannabis is already a Democratic core value."

"Marijuana legalization could pass Congress right now," Correia argued, "but it doesn't get any hearings; it doesn't get any votes."

If Congress Fails to Act

DPA's Forman explained that while it is now clear that states have the right to not criminalize marijuana and not enforce federal prohibition, a hostile Justice Department could still potentially wreak havoc.

"What is untested in the courts is whether federal preemption could block regulation," she said. In other words, it's possible that the Justice Department could blow up states' ability to tax and regulate the industry.

Forman noted that medical marijuana states are currently protected from Justice Department interference by the repeated passage of amendments to spending bills blocking the DOJ from using its funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal.

"We need the same for adult use," she said.

Without legislation protecting marijuana, "the executive branch can do things, it could be more aggressive," said Hudak. But he added that doing so would have a price. "That could affect the department's working relationship with the states," he warned.

Correia thought Justice Department meddling was unlikely, despite Jeff Sessions' druthers. "It makes zero sense politically to interfere," he argued, pointing to marijuana's popularity in opinion polls.

Hudak pointed out a possible flip side to a hostile executive power. "A reform-minded president could do a lot," he said, perhaps thinking of the Obama administration's Cole memo laying out how federal prosecutors would lay off legal marijuana in the states. Despite Sessions having nullified the Cole memo, it still seems to be largely the approach of the land.

The 2018 Midterms

"This is an exciting year for cannabis policy politics," said Hudak, pointing to the example of Texas, where progressive Democratic challenger and legalization advocate Rep. Beto O'Rourke is closing in on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

"Beto is getting close to Cruz, and the whole time, he's screaming about his support for cannabis reform. That's transformational," he said. "Politicians lag behind; they've been terrified of this issue. Now it's politically beneficial. If you're against cannabis, the best thing to do is shut up about it. Nobody is with you."

It's still an uphill battle in Texas, though. Cruz is leading O'Rourke by 8.4 points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. But that's only half as much as Cruz's 16-point victory in his 2012 Senate race, and O'Rourke has three more months to move up. And just today, a new Texas Lyceum poll had Cruz leading only 41% to 39%, well within the poll's margin of error.

According to Correia, trying to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill has led to lessons learned: "We see no point in trying to work with the GOP any longer," he said. "We'll be giving money to challengers in competitive races. The Democrats are thinking about this; they will run on marijuana."

The 2020 Election

It looks like marijuana is going to be a popular issue in 2020 -- or at least the people thinking about running for the Democratic presidential nomination seem to think so.

"Potential Democratic candidates are getting their names on big pot bills," Forman noted.

Marijuana is also likely to be on state ballots in 2020, and that will be good for Democrats, said Hudak.

"There will be more initiatives, and those drive Democratic turnout," he argued. "In 2012, Democrats in Colorado voted for cannabis -- and for president, too. Democratic politicians are seeing this."

But Correia said the current president could be a wild card here (as in so many other places): "Trump might just decide to steal the issue, to take it off the table."

Given that Trump has signaled support for the STATES Act, and given Trump's willingness to adopt any position if he thinks it brings him political gain, that's not impossible. And it would take some immeasurable oomph out of Democratic sails.

The Next States to Legalize

Michigan will vote on a legalization initiative in November, and there will be efforts in Arizona and Ohio in 2020, the panelists said. But grassroots initiatives could also bubble up in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, both of which saw serious efforts this year that will almost certainly not make the November ballot but do lay the groundwork for the next cycle.

Vermont became the first state to free the weed via the legislative process (although it does not allow retail sales), but Correia sketched out how the next couple of years could see Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island fall in line behind it. By the time November 2020 rolls around, most of New England and the mid-Atlantic states could be legal, with Illinois and Michigan creating a major toehold in the heart of the Midwest.

When it comes to marijuana policy and ending pot prohibition, it looks to be a very interesting and fruitful next couple of years.

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

Chronicle AM: PA Pot Bill Coming, Philippines Police Vow "Surgical, Chilling" Drug War, More... (7/31/18)

A Pennsylvania lawmaker will file a marijuana legalization bill, Canada moves toward roadside saliva drug testing, the Philippines police vow more drug war, and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war will continue.(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Lawmaker to File Legalization Bill. Citing a recent report from state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that legalizing marijuana could create more than half a billion annually in tax revenues for the state, Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) says he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. "States from coast to coast have embraced legalization and those states are reaping the economic and criminal justice benefits," Wheatley said in a statement. "It is time Pennsylvania joins with those states in leaving behind the ugly stigma of marijuana."

Dark Web

Imprisoned Silk Road Founder Sees Some Charges Dismissed. Federal prosecutors in Maryland have dismissed an indictment against imprisoned Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. The indictment contained the only charge that Ulbricht ever engaged in a murder-for-hire scheme. Despite the fact that those charges were never proven, or even tried, they were cited by his sentencing judge in handing down a draconian double life without parole sentence for online drug dealing. Ulbricht is currently appealing his sentence to the US Supreme Court.

International

Canada Set to Approve First Device for Testing Drivers' Saliva for Weed. The federal Justice Department has approved the first device designed to drug test drivers' saliva for the presence of marijuana. Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has now given a 30-day notice of a ministerial order to approve the Draeger DrugTest 5000, produced by a company based in Germany. The device is already approved in other countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany.

Philippines Police Vow "Surgical and Chilling" Drug War. Philippine police vowed Monday to revamp and ratchet up their fight against crime and drugs just a week after President Rodrigo Duterte promised to keep the bloody campaign going. "Surgical and chilling will be the trademark of the reinvigorated anti-illegal drugs and anti-criminality campaign," police chief Oscar Albayalde told a news conference. Tends of thousands of purported drug dealers and users have been killed in Duterte's crusade, which is now under preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court.

New Jersey Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions -- At Least Until Fall

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has shaken up New Jersey's marijuana politics with an announcement Tuesday that he has ordered county and municipal prosecutors to defer all marijuana-related cases until early September. The move was an unexpected response to a squabble over whether a city in the state could decriminalize pot possession on its own.

Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop moved to unilaterally decriminalize small-time pot possession in his city. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told him he couldn't do that. In a letter last Friday, Grewal declared that his office "takes no position" on marijuana legalization or decriminalization, by warned Fulop he was exceeding his authority.

"I write to advise that, as a municipal prosecutor, you do not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or otherwise refuse to criminally prosecute all marijuana-related offenses in the municipal courts of Jersey City," Grewal wrote. "Accordingly, I am instructing you that your memorandum is void and has no effect."

But by Monday, Grewal was singing a different tune -- one that will affect thousands of people currently facing marijuana charges in the state. According to Politico, Grewal met with Jersey City officials that day and then agreed to create a working group to set a statewide policy for prosecutors by the end of August. Both the Jersey City prosecutor and the Hudson County (home of Jersey City) prosecutor will be part of the group.

"In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court," Grewal wrote in a letter to prosecutors. "This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

The move comes as the legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), ponders a pair of legalization bills, S 2702 and S 2703, filed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland). On Monday, Sweeney announced he would combine the bills, tying legalization to an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Murphy had vowed to legalize marijuana within 100 days of his January inauguration, but that hasn't happened yet. That's due in part to opposition from the likes of state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), head of the Legislative Black Caucus, who favors decriminalization over legalization, and who just last week was warning that legalization could lead to "sex toys and oils with marijuana," among other horrible consequences.

On Tuesday, Gov. Murphy reiterated that decriminalization wasn't enough. "On the surface, [decriminalization] is intoxicating," Murphy told reporters at a joint appearance with Sweeney. "You think it's a step in the right direction but it actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys. Your kids are exposed, it's not regulated, it's not taxed. So I'll leave the specifics of that to the attorney general, but that's a conceptual answer."

Legalization is "the bigger lift," Murphy said. "The Senate president is leading that. I'm all in. I think the Assembly speaker... is all in."

Whether the governor and the legislative leadership can get it done this year remains to be seen. And so does whether the era of prosecuting people for pot in New Jersey is over once and for all, and not just for the next couple of months.

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

There’s a Surprising Obstacle to Ending Marijuana Prohibition in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on, among other things, a promise to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office. That didn't happen. It may not happen at all this year, and state Sen. Ronald Rice (D) is one major reason why.

New Jersey state Sen. Ronald Rice (NJSenDems via YouTube)
Marijuana legalization advocates led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Cumberland) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) filed a pair of bills this session, S 2702 and S 2703 that provide lawmakers a framework for legalization, but opposition from the likes of Rice has blunted forward momentum so far.

Rice represents part of Newark, a district more than half black, and is the head of the state's Legislative Black Caucus. He is also a major anti-marijuana legalization advocate, with an array of arguments from the depths of Reefer Madness.

He most recently made headlines last week with his hyperventilating warning that if pot is legalized, Garden Staters will be faced with the prospect of -- gasp! -- "sex toys and oils with marijuana," and it could be happening right in his face.

"If in fact we legalize recreational marijuana, right across the street from my office they're going to put up stores," Rice told NJTV. "They want to call them dispensaries, but they're going to be stores that do retail selling cupcakes with marijuana, candies with marijuana, sex toys and oils with marijuana, lipsticks with marijuana, all those kinds of products that kids can get and people can get."

It's not clear why Rice thinks "kids" will be able to get marijuana products, or get them more easily than they could before. When marijuana is legalized, it has only ever legalized for adults -- not kids.

He also made a muddled attempt to deploy the discredited gateway theory that marijuana use leads to hard drug use, arguing that, "When you legalize marijuana recreationally, the number of people who've never used any type of drugs goes up substantially in terms of drug use." Say what?

Rice recognizes the devastating impact that racially biased marijuana law enforcement has on the state's minority communities -- the New Jersey ACLU reported last year that between 2000 and 2013, black residents were arrested at a rate nearly three times that of whites, even though both groups used weed at similar rates -- but says the answer is decriminalization, not legalization.

He has even filed a bill this year that would decriminalize the possession of up to ten grams, but that would also enable the state to force some marijuana users into drug treatment.

"I still want to deter people from doing something that's bad for them," Rice explained to Gothamist back in April. "If you get too high, you die from it. It kills you directly if it's too potent."

Of course, there is no known case of anyone dying from a marijuana overdose, but somebody forgot to let Rose on the secret.

In that same Gothamist interview, Rice unleashed a Gish gallop of problems he claimed would be unleashed by legal (but not decriminalized?) marijuana: Babies born with THC in their brains, businesses desperate for workers who could pass drug tests, people cashing in food stamps to score weed, drug cartels getting in the legal pot businesses, an army of drug addicts as pot smokers escalate to harder drugs, and devastated inner cities, among other looming calamities.

Rice also took his anti-legalization views to Washington, DC -- on April 20th of all days -- along with Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark's Paradise Baptist Church and former Democratic US Rep. Patrick Kennedy to join up with the pot prohibitionist Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) at a press conference to blunt legalization moves.

The senator was in typical form there, warning that people already go hungry to buy drugs and that those numbers will only increase if it's easier to access legal marijuana. Rice also raised the specter of lethal violence if white college students from outside Newark come into the city in search of drugs or if blacks from the city go to white suburban towns to buy legal weed.

"Somebody's going to get killed," he said.

Rice has been in the state Senate since 1986, has won reelection easily in his heavily Democratic district, and didn't even face a primary challenger this year. He may be progressive on some issues, but on other issues, he displays the same reactionary tendencies he has displayed around marijuana. He was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against bills legalizing same-sex marriage in 2009 and 2012. It may be time for District 28 voters to start looking for a senator from this century.

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

Why Does the New York State Department of Health Want to Legalize Marijuana?

Acknowledging that his previous opposition to marijuana legalization was being undercut by popular opinion and the spread of legalization in nearby states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January called for an assessment of the possible impact of legalizing the herb in the state. The state Health Department was charged with the task.

It reviewed the possible health, public health, public safety, criminal justice, economic, and educational impacts of shifting from pot prohibition to a system allowing for the legal, regulated production, distribution, and use of marijuana. To do so, the department examined the experience of legalization in other states as well as conducted an extensive analysis of peer-reviewed literature on the subject. It also consulted with other state agencies and experts in the fields of public health, mental health, substance use disorders, public safety, transportation, and economics to help come up with a comprehensive review.

Last week, the Health Department released itsreport. Here is its bottom line:

"The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation."

In other words: Just legalize it.

So, how did the Health Department support this conclusion? The report's executive summary lays out its findings in the realms of health, the criminal justice system, economic impact, and the impact of legalization in nearby states. (Click on the summary for a full explanation of the logic behind the bullet points below.)

Health

  • Regulating marijuana reduces risk and improves quality control and consumer protection.

  • Marijuana may reduce opioid deaths and opioid prescribing.

  • Marijuana has intrinsic health benefits and risks.

  • Marijuana can have effects on mental health.

  • Regulation leads to little or no increase in adult use, and there is little evidence that regulation leads to an increase in use by youth.

  • Regulating marijuana may lead to a reduction in the use of synthetic cannabinoids/novel psychoactive substances.

Criminal Justice

  • Marijuana prohibition results in disproportionate criminalization of racial and ethnic minority groups.

  • Incarceration has a negative impact on families and communities.

  • Research is varied on the impact of regulated marijuana on motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Economics

  • Regulating marijuana will create jobs.

  • Market size and potential State revenues. The department estimated annual state marijuana sales revenues at between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion, with estimated state and local tax revenues at somewhere between $248 million and $677 million, depending on sales and tax rates.

  • Marijuana regulation could generate long-term cost savings.

Impact of Legalization in Surrounding Jurisdictions

  • Consumers are likely to cross borders to obtain marijuana, committing a federal felony in the process.

  • Legalization of marijuana causes a sharp increase in marijuana possession arrests in border counties of neighboring states.

  • Legalization in neighboring jurisdictions raises the likelihood of revenue flowing from New York into those jurisdictions.

In its conclusion, the report called for harm reduction principles to be an integral part of legalization and pointed out that legalization would allow regulation (which prohibition prevents) for "quality control and consumer protection." It also emphasized that tax revenues could "support community reinvestment" and that legalization would "reduce disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of racial and ethnic minority communities."

That last point is a fundamental justice issue. As the report notes, in the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people have been arrested just for pot possession in the state, the vast majority of them young people of color.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been advocating for marijuana legalization in the state (and elsewhere) for years, pronounced itself pleased with the report's conclusions and urged Albany to get moving. A legalization bill, theMarihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (S.3040), is currently under consideration by the legislature and should be acted on, the group said.

"We are pleased that the governor and the State Department of Health have fully studied the existing evidence and accurately concluded that legalizing marijuana for adult use is the right choice for New York. Marijuana prohibition has devastated our communities, saddled hundreds of thousands with criminal records, acted as an easily accessible tool for racially biased policing, and stunted the opportunities for entire generations of mostly New Yorkers of color," said DPA policy coordinator Chris Alexander.

"Now that the report has been released and its conclusions presented, we are hopeful that the Governor and the Legislature can fully shift to examining the 'how' and move on from the 'if.' Any movement to legalize marijuana must also include broad record clearing provisions, must create a diverse and inclusive industry, and guarantee significant community reinvestment to repair the harm that has been done. We look forward to engaging with the governor's office and the legislature on the ways to best move New York forward."

Will Albany act to make New York the next state to free the weed? It wouldn't take an act of political courage: Some 62 percent of New Yorkers support making marijuana use legal for adults over 21, and more than 60 percent support taxing and regulating marijuana as a way to address the state's looming budget deficit.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Michigan's Court of Appeals issues a strange ruling and the fight over what Oklahoma's medical marijuana program will look like continues.

Michigan

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Health Board to Reconsider Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health said last Wednesday it will meet "as soon as possible" to reconsider restrictive rules it imposed on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. The move comes after a storm of opposition arose in response to its rules requiring pharmacists to be present at dispensaries and banning the sale of smokable marijuana at dispensaries. "The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible," board president Jim Starkey said in a news release. "The Oklahoma State Health Department staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program."

Oklahoma Legislature Forms Bipartisan Group to Work on Medical Marijuana Implementation. Senate Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced last Thursday they would form the committee after the State Board of Health added two controversial amendments to the rules regulating marijuana. "Oklahoma voters made their choice, and the Senate will work to ensure State Question 788 is implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the voters' choice." Treat said.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Advocates Rally Against Emergency Rules. Medical marijuana supporters rallied Saturday at the state capitol amid frustration over emergency rules promulgated by the state Board of Health and said they would be back again Tuesday. The board on July 10 approved emergency rules that would, among other things, ban the sale of smokable marijuana products and require a pharmacist to be on site at dispensaries. Last week, Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) said the board overstepped its authority, and the board now says it will meet again soon to reevaluate the proposed rules.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ AG Suspends Pot Prosecutions, Denver Magic Mushroom Init Stalled, More... (7/25/18)

In a surprise move, New Jersey's attorney general suspends marijuana prosecutions, an Oklahoma industry trade group releases proposed draft medical marijuana regulations, a Denver initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms is delayed, and more.

No magic mushroom initiative for Denver this year. Maybe next year. (Flickr/Greenoid)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions Until September. State Attorney General Gurbur Gerwal announced Monday night that he had ordered county and municipal prosecutors to suspend marijuana-related cases at least until September. The surprise move came after Grewal met with Jersey City officials over that city's effort to decriminalize small-time possession. Grewal last week initially told the city it couldn't do that, but after the Monday meeting he announced that he was forming a working group to create a statewide policy for prosecutors and: "In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court. This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

Washington State Felony Marijuana Busts Plummet After Legalization. Felony pot busts have fallen by 90% since the state legalized marijuana in 2012, according to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council. More than 1,300 felony sentences were handed out in an 18-month period in 2008 and 2009, but only 147 such cases in an 18-month period following the opening of retail marijuana shops in 2014. "It's really heartening," said Alison Holcomb, the director of strategy for the ACLU of Washington who authored and sponsored the legalization initiative. "These are strong signs that this was the right policy choice for Washington state voters to make and we're really grateful that they had the courage to do it."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Won't Be on 2018 Ballot. A proposed initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms will not be on the ballot this year. Advocates were thwarted by the Denver elections division, which has yet to approve ballot language. That means the group has almost no time to gather signatures before the city's mid-August deadline for the November election. They will now aim for the city's May 2019 ballot.

Chronicle AM: Federal State-Legal Pot Reporting Bill Filed, Mexico Killings Still Rising, More... (7/24/18)

Prospects look iffy for a pair of Oklahoma marijuana initiatives, a federal bill requiring reporting on the impact of state-level legalization is filed, Canada's pot arrests shrink, Mexico's murders increase, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill to Require Report on State-Level Legalization Filed. Led by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a bipartisan group of representatives on Tuesday filed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to work with other agencies to study "the effects of state legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment." The measure has not yet been assigned a bill number.

Oklahoma Marijuana Initiatives Unlikely to Qualify in Time for November Ballot. Proponents of a pair of initiatives, State Question 796 to legalize medical marijuana via a constitutional amendment, and State Question 797 to do the same for recreational marijuana are up against a ticking clock and will likely not be able to get the measures on the ballot this year. Secretary of State James Williamson said Monday. Circulators have until August 8 to hand in signatures, but under state law, the initiatives must be approved no fewer than 70 days before the November election. It normally takes the state about 60 days to verify signatures, and that August 8 deadline means there are only 69 days before the election. Also, any challenges to the initiatives could delay them even further. If they don't make the November ballot, a special election is unlikely and they would then appear on the November 2020 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Rules Freshly Harvested Marijuana is Illegal Under State Medical Marijuana Law. In a bizarre ruling, the state Court of Appeals held Tuesday that marijuana harvested but not yet fully dried is not "usable" and thus not covered by the state's medical marijuana law. That means a person can be arrested for having it even if he or she is a licensed grower.

Oklahoma Lawmakers to Begin Working on Medical Marijuana Rules Wednesday. A bipartisan group of 13 legislators is set to begin working on recommendations for medical marijuana regulations on Wednesday. The group was formed after the state Health Board created an uproar by adding two controversial rules, one barring the sale of smokeable medical marijuana and the other requiring the presence of a pharmacist at dispensaries.

International

Canada Pot Arrests Drop to Record Low. The number of people charged with marijuana offenses has dropped to the lowest level this century. The 13,800 arrests in 2017 were less than half the 28,000 people arrested in 2011. Police said the reason was twofold: Police have been concentrating on the opioid crisis, and, as legalization nears, they have been exercising their discretion and not bothering to arrest people for pot anymore.

Mexico Murders Increased 16% in First Half of This Year. There were some 15,973 murders in Mexico in the first half of 2018, up from 13,751 during the same period last year. The number is the highest since comprehensive records began being kept in 1997. Still, the curve may be flattening out, analysts said, noting that the first half of 2018 saw only a 4% increase over the last half of 2017. But still&hellip<>

Chronicle AM: OK Health Board Retreats on MedMJ, UK ACMD Supports MedMJ, More... (7/20/18)

The battle over Oklahoma's new medical marijuana law continues, the British Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs calls for medical marijuana legalization, the Pennsylvania auditor calls for marijuana legalization, and more.

Medical marijuana is at issue in Oklahoma and Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Auditor, Pittsburgh Mayor Call for Legalization. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Thursday released a report saying marijuana could be a $1.7 billion industry in the state, generating more than $500 million in tax revenues. Joining DePasquale was Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "This issue not only has a revenue side to it, but it also has a personal side to it -- people whose lives are thrown out of balance because of the penalization of cannabis not being legal, people who are not able to have access to housing or access to jobs or access to an opportunity in life," Peduto said.

Jersey City Decriminalizes Possession. The city becomes the first in the state to decriminalize small-time pot possession. A decriminalization ordinance went into effect Thursday. Under the ordinance, the city's assistant prosecutors will have discretion in which cases to pursue.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Health Board to Reconsider Restrictive Rules on Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Health said Wednesday it will meet "as soon as possible" to reconsider restrictive rules it imposed on the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. The move comes after a storm of opposition arose in response to its rules requiring pharmacists to be present at dispensaries and banning the sale of smokeable marijuana at dispensaries. "The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible," board president Jim Starkey said in a news release. "The Oklahoma State Health Department staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program."

Oklahoma Legislature Forms Bipartisan Group to Work on Medical Marijuana Implementation. Senate Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced Thursday they would form the committee after the State Board of Health added two controversial amendments to the rules regulating marijuana."Oklahoma voters made their choice, and the Senate will work to ensure State Question 788 is implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the voters' choice." Treat said.

International

British Drug Advisory Committee Calls for Legal Medical Marijuana. The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has called for the legalization of medical marijuana. In a "short-term advice," the group said the plant had medicinal benefits and doctors should be able to prescribe it. The ACMD also called for marijuana to be down-scheduled in the country's drug classification scheme.

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