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Federal Marijuana Justice Act Filed in House [FEATURE]

Attorney General Sessions' announcement last week that he was rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors to generally leave law-abiding marijuana operations alone in states where it is legal has paradoxically had the effect of energizing the movement to legalize marijuana at the federal level. The latest evidence of the reaction came Wednesday, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a legalization bill in the House.

Oakland's Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee (Wikimedia)
And it's not just any legalization bill. Their Marijuana Justice Act would help correct decades of injustice surrounding the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization laws in the United States.

"We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that," said Lee at press conference rolling out the bill. "It's a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrests and incarceration."

In addition to ending federal marijuana prohibition by removing the drug from the DEA's list of controlled substances, the bill would allow anyone currently serving a sentence for drug possession to appeal for judicial review of his or her sentence. It would also use federal spending to incentivize states to reform their marijuana laws "if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people and/or people of color."

That last provision is especially striking given that nearly every state disproportionately arrests and imprisons blacks for marijuana. With this language, the federal government could become an engine for state-level marijuana legalization instead of an impediment to it.

"This would force states with records of racial bias in arrests and sentencing to clean up their acts by cutting funds to the worst offenders," said Lee.

But even that would only begin to repair the damage done by the drug war, the Oakland congresswoman explained.

"It's not enough to just expunge records and end over-incarceration," Lee said. "Restorative justice is extremely important, and these victims of our failed policies deserve our support during the reentry process, too."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
For bill cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), it's the economics, but not just in the traditional sense of increased economic activity and tax revenues. While he pointed to the potential economic gains of legalization, he also highlighted the opportunity costs of pot prohibition and underlined provisions in the bill that would spend federal funds to invest in communities ravaged by the drug war.

"The estimates are that legalization would lead to a $40 billion a year industry, with a million jobs and $7 billion tax revenues, which would more than offset the $500 million in the bill to help invest in communities of color. It's a net gain for government and for job creation," Khanna noted.

"But the economic impact is so much broader," he pointed out. "How many people of color got arrested at 19, 20, or 25? That represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential. With this bill, we're not just talking about legalization, but about giving people a second chance.

The Marijuana Justice Act is the House version of the bill introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senate Bill 1689. Booker was at Wednesday's press conference for the House version.

"There is a rush of enthusiasm for legalization," he said, "but it seems like hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize it but don't ty to undo the damage of the war on drugs. You can't get a Pell grant or a business or professional license for doing something three out of our last four presidents have admitted doing. The war on drugs is one of the greatest assaults on people of color since Jim Crow, and that's why this is a very happy day for me. We're trying to make this nation live up to is promise of liberty and justice, not just for the privileged few, but for all.

Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed the Senate version of the bill last August.
"I think we are seeing momentum growing," Booker continued. "People who were skeptics are being converted. A lot of people are aware of how unjust this has been, and now there is more confidence from seeing early state like Colorado be so successful."

Indeed. One of the most politically striking moments since the Sessions announcement was Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner -- not a supporter of legalization -- taking to the Senate floor to excoriate Sessions over the move and vow to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions reverses himself.

"More than 30 states have passed marijuana reforms," said Lee. "The grassroots and democracy is working. You will see members of the House and Senate move forward because the public supports this. It can't be stopped."

"We are at a tipping point, with nearly two-thirds supporting marijuana legalization and an overwhelming 91% supporting medical marijuana, said Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working closely with Booker and Lee on the bills. "Eight states have already legalized it, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the cusp. Yet, Attorney General Sessions continues to threaten the states. It's time to legalize marijuana, protect patients, and end federal marijuana prohibition."

While momentum is building, the bills both face an uphill battle in their respective chambers. The Booker bill, introduced last August, still has only one cosponsor, Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, and there is no indication it will get even a committee hearing this session. Lee and Khanna's House version of the bill already had a dozen cosponsors on day one, but again, it is unlikely to get a hearing under the House Republican leadership.

But the legalization bills could fare better next year if the Democrats manage to take back the House and/or the Senate. And Jeff Sessions' war on weed could help them to do just that.

(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: Trump Again Proposes Slashing Drug Czar's Office, More... (1/19/18)

Trump once again proposes radically slashing the drug czar's office, senators want answers on federal drug policy appointments (and the lack thereof), Vermont's governor will sign the legal pot bill this weekend, and more.

From marijuana to the opioid crisis, drug policy is getting attention in Congress these days. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

House Budget Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana Dies. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), coauthor of the McClintock-Polis amendment protecting state-legal marijuana programs, has pulled the amendment from the continuing budget resolution, citing lack of support from the Republican leadership. The amendment would have protected both medical marijuana and adult use marijuana by barring the use of Justice Department funds to go after them.

Trump Administration Reviewing Guidance for Banks Dealing With Legal Marijuana. A top Treasury Department official told Congress Wednesday that the administration is reviewing whether to keep Obama-era guidance providing a route for banks to serve marijuana businesses without getting in trouble with federal regulators. "We are reviewing the guidance in light of the attorney general's recent decision to revoke a Justice Department memorandum on this issue, Sigal Mandelker, the department's deputy secretary, said at a Senate hearing in remarks reported by Marijuana Moment.

Vermont Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill This Weekend. Gov. Phil Scott (R) said Thursday he will sign the marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 511, sometime this weekend. The bill legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not commercial activity. Scott said he will sign the bill without ceremony out of respect for those who oppose the measure. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana through the state legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Congressman Files Federal Medical Marijuana Research Bill. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) filed a House version of a bill aiming at encouraging medical marijuana research on Thursday. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) filed the Senate version of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act, Senate Bill 1803, in the Senate in September.

Pennsylvania's First Dispensary Opens for Business. Keystone Canna Remedies had its grand opening in Bethlehem on Wednesday -- but it doesn't actually have any product to sell. The dispensary said it will be doing educational workshops until it gets its first shipments of medical marijuana next month.

Tennessee CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A pair of Republican lawmakers have filed the Medical Cannabis Only Act, which would legalize the use of cannabis oil products, but not edibles or raw marijuana. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Drug Policy

Trump Administration Again Plans Deep Cuts to Drug Czar's Office. The administration is once again planning to slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). According to a report in Politico, the plan is to shift ONDCP's two main grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grants and the Drug Free Communities grants to the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, respectively. That would shift ONDCP's budget by about $340 million, or 95%. The move comes as the nation confronts a severe opioid crisis, lending fuel to claims the Trump administration isn't doing enough on the issue.

Senators Call on Trump Administration to Explain Drug Policy Appointments. Driven by revelations that a 24-year-old former campaign worker is playing a key role in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), as well as the administration's failure to fill key drug policy positions, a group of senators sent a letter Thursday calling on the administration to provide information on all political appointees serving in drug policy positions. The letter also called on the administration to identify, nominate, and confirm qualified leaders for the drug czar's office and the DEA. "You have claimed that that the opioid epidemic is a top priority for your administration, but the personnel you have staffing these key agencies -- and the lack of nominees to head them -- is cause for deep concern," the letter said. "This crisis knows no bounds, and we are committed to working across party lines with anyone who is serious about addressing this devastating epidemic."

Chronicle AM: Govs Seek Fed Help for Opioid Crisis, KY GOP Leader Files Legal MJ Bill, More... (1/18/18)

Governors call for more help with the opioid crisis from the federal government, a Kentucky GOP leader files a marijuana legalization bill, the ACLU of Montana warns an overzealous prosecutor, and more.

The nation's governors want Trump and the Congress to step up on dealing with the opioid crisis. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Congressmen Reintroduce Bill to Protect Marijuana from Civil Asset Forfeiture. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) reintroduced the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act on Wednesday. The bill would block seized funds from being used to in the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression program. This year's version of the bill is not yet available on the congressional website, but the 2015 version is available here.

Kentucky Republican Leader Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale), a member of the Republican leadership team, filed a marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday. The bill would allow people 21 and over to legally use marijuana, and it would also legalize the production and sales of pot. The measure is Senate Bill 80.

New Jersey Legalization Bid Must Overcome Democratic Wavering. Newly seated Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office, but he's going to have to whip some Democratic senators into shape first. At least a half dozen Democratic senators say they plan to vote against any legalization bill. The state Senate has 40 seats; the Democrats hold 25 of them. If all six Democrats actually vote no, that means passage would depend on at least two Republicans voting yes. There are two GOP senators, Chris Brown of Atlantic and Dawn Addiego of Burlington, who have said they are leaning toward supporting the bill.

Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Would Pardon Marijuana Offenders. A leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn, said Wednesday he would pardon all low-level, non-violent marijuana offenders if elected. Flynn has repeatedly called for marijuana legalization in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Voters Ready for Full-Fledged Medical Marijuana Program, Poll Finds. A new poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution finds that more than three-quarters of those surveyed want to see the state's limited medical marijuana program expanded. Some 77% said they want greater access to medical marijuana. The poll comes as the legislature considers a measure, House Bill 645, that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. The poll also found that support for recreational marijuana was at an all-time high in the state, with 50% saying legalize it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Governors Call on Trump, Congress to Do More to Solve Opioid Crisis. In its first coordinated response to the opioid crisis, the National Governors Association called Thursday for the administration and Congress to provide more money and coordination to fight against it. "While progress has been made, the consequences of opioid addiction continue reverberating throughout society, devastating families and overwhelming health care providers, law enforcement and social services," the governors said as they released a set of 22 recommendations. Among other suggestions, the governors are calling for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, increased efforts to block illicit fentanyl shipments into the country, and a requirement that drug prescribers undergo substance abuse training and register to use state prescription monitoring databases.

Law Enforcement

Montana ACLU Vows to Challenge County DA's Crackdown on Pregnant Drug and Alcohol Users The ACLU of Montana said Wednesday it will fight any action by Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris to arrest or incarcerate pregnant women based on alleged harm to the fetus. Harris announced last week that he would seek protection orders barring pregnant women from using any non-prescribed drugs or alcohol and seek contempt orders and jail for any woman who violates them. The ACLU called Harris's move "an egregious abuse of power" and noted that a similar effort in Ravalli County in 2014 was killed in the courts. "If these reports are accurate, then Big Horn County's 'crackdown' on pregnant women is not only counterproductive, paternalistic and cruel, it is also illegal. If your office actively attempts to enforce such a policy, ACLU is prepared to challenge those actions in Court," the group said in a letter sent to Harris.

Sentencing

New Jersey Enacts Law to Examine Racial and Ethnic Impact of Sentencing Changes. On his last day in office, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed racial and ethnic impact statement legislation this week that will provide an opportunity for lawmakers to address the state's high rate of racial disparity in incarceration. Similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements, racial impact statements provide legislators with a statistical analysis of the projected impact of criminal justice policy changes prior to enactment. Armed with the data analysis, policymakers can make more informed decisions about public safety issues without aggravating existing racial disparities. Four other states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oregon -- have similar policies.

Medical Marijuana Update

The VA rejects pleas to study marijuana for PTSD, Illinois gets a couple of court rulings, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill is filed in Kentucky, and more.

National

On Tuesday, news came that the VA won't study marijuana's effects on PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs will not begin a study into marijuana's effects on PTSD despite pleas from congressman, veterans, and the nation's largest veterans' service organization. The news came in a letter to House Democrats from VA Secretary David Shulkin. The letter was actually written in late December, but only released Tuesday. "VA is committed to research and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions," Shulkin wrote. "However, federal law restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects." The letter said a review of existing research found a link between marijuana use and increased risk of suicide, as well as mania and psychotic symptoms, a response Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), a signer of the letter, called "disappointing" and "unacceptable."

Illinois

Last Wednesday, the parents of a sick child sued over medical marijuana access at school. The parents of an 11-year-old suffering from leukemia have sued the state and a suburban Chicago school district over a state law that bars her from taking her medicine at school. The medical marijuana law the state passed in 2014 prohibits the possession or use of marijuana on public school property. The family argues that provision of the law denies their child due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school district involved is School District 54 in Schaumburg.

Last Friday, a federal judge okayed medical marijuana use at school for the sick girl. Two days after her parents filed a lawsuit against a school district and the state of Illinois over her school's refusal to allow her to use her medicine on school grounds, a federal judge ruled in her favor. The quick move came after the judge heard from the school district, which had concerns its employees could be subject to legal penalties for helping the 11-year-old. Lawyers for the state and the school district will meet with the judge next week to come up with a long-term solution.

On Tuesday, a state judge ordered the state to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition. Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell has ordered the Department of Public Health to add intractable pain as qualifying condition for medical marijuana use. The decision comes after the department declined to add it, and the department says it will appeal the ruling. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended added the condition in January 2016, but the health department demurred, saying there was "a lack of high quality data" from clinical trials to establish that the benefits outweighed the risks.

Indiana

As of last Friday, the state saw a bevy of CBD bills, but only a restrictive one was set for a hearing. Responding to an attorney general's opinion last November that restricted the use of CBD to epileptics on a state registry, lawmakers have filed a number of bills to ease access to the substance, but the only one yet set for a hearing, Senate Bill 294, would actually make access even more restrictive. That bill, filed by Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), would mandate bar-coded cards for people on the registry and limit sales to card holders.

Kentucky

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. Secretary of State Allison Grimes announced that a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, House Bill 166, has been filed. The bill would allow people suffering from a qualifying list of conditions to use medical marijuana. It would also allow patients to grow up to 12 plants in a locked and closed facility.

Maryland

On Monday, the General Assembly took up racial justice in the marijuana industry. The General Assembly ran into controversy Monday as it took up the contentious issue of including marijuana companies led by African-Americans in the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. Under a compromise negotiated by legislative and industry leaders since last spring, the state would create five new growing licenses but also put a moratorium on further industry expansion for up to 10 years. But lawmakers worried that regulators could move fast enough to get minority firms off the ground and competitive with current growers. Another issue of concern was whether the 10-year moratorium gave too much protection to current growers. The Senate will hold a hearing on the proposal next week.

North Dakota

Last Thursday, the state set medical marijuana dispensary regions. The state Department of Health has established eight regions for where dispensaries can be located. State law allows for up to eight dispensaries, with more to be added if necessary. As of now, the eight regions include the state's largest cities and a 50-mile radius around them.

Pennsylvania

Last Friday, the state backed away from going after medical marijuana patients' guns. The state Health Department announced it will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. The move came after newspapers in the state reported that patients would not be able to buy firearms. Under state regulations, the department was required to post a database of patient names to an online portal accessed by law enforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

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

Chronicle AM: NJ Governor Says Legalize It, Canada Liberals Want Drug Decrim, More... (1/17/18)

Incoming New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) becomes the first to call for marijuana legalization in his inauguration speech, the VA rejects calls to study marijuana for PTSD, Canada's Liberals push for drug decriminalization, and more.

Incoming New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) calls for marijuana legalization in his inaugural address. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

State Attorneys General Support Marijuana Banking Access Bill. Some 19 state attorneys general signed onto a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders urging them to move on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 2215), which would "provide a safe harbor" for banks and other financial institutions that provide services to state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill was filed by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). The bill has been stuck in the House Finances Committee and the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Maine Legislators Vote to Delay Social Marijuana Clubs Until 2023. In a concession to Gov. Paul LePage (R), the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee voted 5-1 Tuesday to delay the licensing of social use clubs for five years. The move is aimed at winning support for an implementation bill after opposition last year stopped progress. A final vote on implementation legislation isn't expected until next month.

New Jersey's New Governor Vows to Legalize Marijuana. Incoming New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) made history yesterday as the first elected governor to commit to legalizing recreational marijuana in an inauguration speech. "A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces criminal justice reform comprehensively, and that includes a process to legalize marijuana," Murphy pledged shortly after being sworn in as New Jersey's 56th governor.

Medical Marijuana

VA Won't Study Marijuana's Effects on PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs will not begin a study into marijuana's effects on PTSD despite pleas from congressman, veterans, and the nation's largest veterans' service organization. The news came in a letter to House Democrats from VA Secretary David Shulkin. The letter was actually written in late December, but only released Tuesday. "VA is committed to research and developing effective ways to help veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions," Shulkin wrote. "However, federal law restricts VA&#=39;s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects." The letter said a review of existing research found a link between marijuana use and increased risk of suicide, as well as mania and psychotic symptoms, a response Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), a signer of the letter, called "disappointing" and "unacceptable."

Illinois Judge Orders State to Add Intractable Pain as Qualifying Condition. Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell has ordered the Department of Public Health to add intractable pain as qualifying condition for medical marijuana use. The decision comes after the department declined to add it, and the department says it will appeal the ruling. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had recommended added the condition in January 2016, but the health department demurred, saying there was "a lack of high quality data" from clinical trials to establish that the benefits outweighed the risks.

International

Canada Liberals Push for Drug Decriminalization. A resolution developed for the ruling Liberal Party's national convention in April calls for decriminalizing the use and possession of all illicit drugs. The Liberal caucus resolution calls on the government to adopt the model instituted in Portugal in 2001, where criminal penalties for personal use and possession of drugs were eliminated and treatment and harm reduction services ramped up.

Thailand Prepares for Medical Marijuana. The government has announced that it is pondering the nation's first legal marijuana cultivation facility, a move that presages changes to the country's drug laws that will soon allow the medicinal use of marijuana. "For medical purposes, they will be able to get the marijuana, but only on a doctor's orders. They can't grow it on their own," Narcotics Control Board director Sirinya Sitdhichai said Tuesday Sirinya. "This is what we have put in the draft."

Chronicle AM: NY Gubernatorial Marijuana Politics Heats Up, Los Angeles Legal Sales Coming Soon, More... (1/16/18)

A would-be Republican New York governor calls for marijana legalization, the sitting Democratic New York governor announces he will appoint a panel to study legalization, Los Angeles legal recreational marijuana sales will begin soon, and more.

Marijuana Policy

New York GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Former Erie County executive Joel Giambra, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Giambra cited tax revenues from legal weed, which he said could be used for transportation infrastructure, including the New York City subway system.

New York Governor Will Appoint Panel to Study Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will appoint a panel to study marijuana legalization, he said during his budget address in Albany Tuesday. Last year, Cuomo said he opposed legalization, saying marijuana was a "gateway drug," but he is now signaling a new openness to the idea.

Los Angeles Legal Weed Sales to Begin Soon. A medical marijuana dispensary in Studio City is set to be the first shop selling legal recreational marijuana in Los Angeles. WHTC has received the first recreational sales license from the city, but is still awaiting final approval from the state. WHTC said it hopes to be open for recreational sales "in the near future."

Medical Marijuana

Maryland Legislature Takes Up Racial Justice in the Marijuana Industry. The General Assembly ran into controversy Monday as it took up the contentious issue of including marijuana companies led by African-Americans in the state's nascent medical marijuana industry. Under a compromise negotiated by legislative and industry leaders since last spring, the state would create five new growing licenses but also put a moratorium on further industry expansion for up to 10 years. But lawmakers worried that regulators could move fast enough to get minority firms off the ground and competitive with current growers. Another issue of concern was whether the 10-year moratorium gave too much protection to current growers. The Senate will hold a hearing on the proposal next week.

(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: Fed Bill to Protect State-Legal MJ, PA Protects MedMJ Gun Rights, More... (12/15/18)

Members of Congress moved in two different ways to protect state-legal marijuana, a leading Illinois gubernatorial candidate doubles down on support for legalization, Pennsylvania moves to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana patients, and more.

Efforts to protect state-legal marijuana heat up on Capitol Hill. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nearly 70 Congress Members Sign Letter Supporting Amendment to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. A letter sent last Friday to the House leadership asking it to include an amendment blocking the Justice Department from spending funds to go after state-legal marijuana came with the signatures of 69 US representatives. They want the McClintock-Polis Amendment included in "any forthcoming appropriations or funding bill."

Oakland Congresswoman Files Bill to Protect State-Legal Marijuana. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act of 2018 (HR 4779) last Friday. It would bar federal agencies from spending money to "detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business or property, that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or use of cannabis" when those actions comply with state law or local regulations.

Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Will Make Marijuana Legalization Centerpiece of Campaign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker signaled last Friday that he intends to make marijuana legalization central to his campaign. At a press conference, the businessman said he would "intentionally include black and brown entrepreneurs" in the state's legal marijuana business as a way of addressing "historically systemic racism." Embracing legalization helps draw a distinction between Pritzker and both one of his main Democratic competitor, Chris Kennedy, who more cautiously embraces decriminalization, and incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Federal Judge Okays Medical Marijuana at School for Sick Girl. Two days after her parents filed a lawsuit against a school district and the state of Illinois over her school's refusal to allow her to use her medicine on school grounds, a federal judge ruled in her favor. The quick move came after the judge heard from the school district, which had concerns its employees could be subject to legal penalties for helping the 11-year-old. Lawyers for the state and the school district will meet with the judge next week to come up with a long-term solution.

Pennsylvania Moves to Protect Patients' Gun Rights. The state Health Department announced last Friday it will no longer provide the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. The move came after newspapers in the state reported that patients would not be able to buy firearms. Under state regulations, the department was required to post a database of patient names to an online portal accessed by law benforcement, but providing that information would have stopped a patient from buying a gun under federal gun control laws.

Drug Policy

Pennsylvania Sued Over Taking Drivers' Licenses for Drug Offenses. Two men convicted only of minor drug offenses filed suit last Wednesday in Philadelphia against the state for its law mandating drivers' license suspensions for non-driving-related offenses. "Drug convictions are the only crimes for which the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's licenses of adults over 21," the complaint says. The state "thus punish[es] people found in possession of a small amount of marijuana (unrelated to driving) as harshly as those who have been convicted of aggravated assault while driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter, or any other dangerous activity that results in the loss of one's ability to drive." Such laws were once the norm, but have now been abolished in 38 states.

International

Greece Moves Toward Allowing Medical Marijuana. A Greek government official said Sunday that the parliament is expected to approve a medical marijuana bill in coming weeks. "In a few weeks' time, an amendment will be brought to parliament to define the legislative framework for the cultivation and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products based on medical cannabis, which will open the way for Greek and foreign investments," deputy agricultural development minister Yannis Tsironis told AFP. Last year, the government authorized the import of several medical marijuana products; now it appears ready to take the next step.

(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: VT Governor Will Sign Legalization Bill, IL MedMJ at School Lawsuit, AZ Syringe Access Bill, More... (1/12/18)

Vermont is set to become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, New York gets a hearing on legalization, Arizona's legislature gets a Republican-sponsored syringe access bill, the parents of an Illinois child sue over access to medical marijuana at school, and more.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will sign a marijuana legalization bill. (vermont.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The Assembly Health Committee took up the topic of marijuana legalization at a hearing Thursday. Committee Chair Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) said he called the hearing because the state needed to take a serious look at its antiquated drug laws. The committee heard from medical professionals, nonprofit groups, and individuals, most of whom said the state would benefit from legalization. A representative of the State Sheriff's Association, though, worried about drugged driving and voiced concern that legal marijuana could add to the state's opioid epidemic, although he didn't say precisely how. [Ed: Multiple studies, including this recent one, have found that legal marijuana availability reduces opioid overdose deaths.]

Vermont Governor Says He Will Sign Legalization Bill. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) said he plans to sign House Bill 511, which legalizes the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, but not sales. Scott said once he receives the bill from the legislature, his staff will review it to make sure it is "technically" correct. "Then I'll sign the bill," he said. Once he does, Vermont will become the first state to have legalized marijuana via the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Parents Sue Over Medical Marijuana Access at School. The parents of an 11-year-old suffering from leukemia have sued the state and a suburban Chicago school district over a state law that bars her from taking her medicine at school. The medical marijuana law the state passed in 2014 prohibits the possession or use of marijuana on public school property. The family argues that provision of the law denies their child due process and violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school district involved is School District 54 in Schaumburg.

Indiana Sees Bevy of CBD Bills, But Only a Restrictive One Gets a Hearing. Responding to an attorney general's opinion last November that restricted the use of CBD to epileptics on a state registry, lawmakers have filed a number of bills to ease access to the substance, but the only one yet set for a hearing, Senate Bill 294, would actually make access even more restrictive. That bill, filed by Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), would mandate bar-coded cards for people on the registry and limit sales to card holders.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Needle Exchange Bill Filed. Rep. Tony Rivero (D-Peoria) has filed a needle exchange bill, House Bill 2389. The bill would allow a city, town, or nonprofit organization to establish and operate "a needle and hypodermic syringe access program." The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

International

Portugal Moves Toward Legalizing Medical Marijuana. Portugal is on the cutting edge when it comes to drug reform, having decriminalized the possession of any drug in 2001, but it lags behind other European countries when it comes to medical marijuana. Perhaps for not much longer, though: The parliament has now begun considering a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, and it is debating a draft bill that allows for personal cultivation. But that provision could be excised from the final bill, as the bill's sponsor, the Left Bloc, ponders concessions to make it more palatable to other parties.

Chronicle AM: Major Iran Drug Death Penalty Reform, NJ Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (1/11/18)

Iran moves to put the brakes on drug executions, another national poll has strong support for marijuana legalization, a legalization bill gets filed in New Jersey, a medical marijuana bill gets filed in Kentucky, and more.

Iran drug executions. We will see many fewer after the Islamic Republic approved reforms. (Hands Off Cain)
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization, Opposition to Sessions Move. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday had support for marijuana legalization at 58% nationwide, roughly in line with recent polls from the Pew Trust (61%) and Gallup (64%). The only demographic groups not embracing legalization were Republicans (33%) and people over 65 (41%). Hispanics were evenly divided with 48% opposed and 48% in favor. But every group said they opposed the push to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal, with 70% opposing such a move. Marijuana "is here to stay, either for fun or to provide medical comfort," said pollster Tim Malloy in a statement. "And the message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hands off."

Study: Legal Marijuana Could Create a Million Jobs, More Than $100 Billion in Federal Taxes. A study from New Frontier Data, an analytics firm focused on the marijuana industry, estimates that if marijuana were legal nationwide, it would generate federal tax revenues of nearly $132 billion over the next eight years. The study also calculated that nationwide legalization would create nearly 800,000 jobs, with that number rising to more than 1.1. million by 2025.

Sessions, Gardner Meet Over DOJ's War on Weed: No Progress. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) met Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding their conflict over marijuana policy, but Gardner reported no progress. "Nobody changed their mind in today's meeting," he said. Gardner, who represents a legal marijuana state, has vowed to block Justice Department nominees until Sessions backs away from his order last week rescinding Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors that law-abiding pot operations in legal marijuana states should be largely left alone.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Middlesex) filed a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday. The bill would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of weed, 16 ounces of infused pot products, and 72 ounces of liquid infused products, but would not allow for home cultivation. It would also allow for the licensing of commercial grows and pot shops within a year of the bill's passage. Incoming Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has said he supports legalization. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Norfolk, Virginia, Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. The city council in Virginia's second largest city passed a resolution Tuesday calling on state lawmakers to decriminalize pot possession. The resolution also called on the legislature to expand the list of medical conditions for which doctors can recommend the use of CBD cannabis oil Incoming Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made decriminalization a centerpiece of his compaign, often describing the issue in racial justice terms.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Secretary of State Allison Grimes announced Tuesday that a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, House Bill 166, has been filed. The bill would allow people suffering from a qualifying list of conditions to use medical marijuana. It would also allow patients to grow up to 12 plants in a locked and closed facility.

North Dakota Sets Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regions. The state Department of Health has established eight regions for where dispensaries can be located. State law allows for up to eight dispensaries, with more to be added if necessary. As of now, the eight regions include the state's largest cities and a 50-mile radius around them. The state is no yet taking applications for dispensaries or grow operations.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Pennsylvania Governor Declares Opioid Epidemic a Statewide Disaster. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed a statewide disaster declaration Tuesday regarding the state's opioid and heroin crisis. "While we have made progress in combating the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and drastically expanded Pennsylvania's response, we are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians," Wolf said in a statement. "I am taking this step to protect Pennsylvanians from this looming public health crisis, and I am using every tool at my disposal to get those suffering from substance use disorders into treatment, save more lives, and improve response coordination." The disaster declaration includes 13 initial initiatives in three broad areas: enhancing coordination and data collection to bolster state and local response, improving tools for families and first responders to save lives, and speeding up and expanding access to treatment.

International

Iran Reforms Death Penalty for Drug Offenses; Could Spare 5,000 Death Row Prisoners. The head of the Iranian judiciary on Tuesday made it official: Iran has reformed its death penalty statutes and will radically reduce the number of people facing execution for drug offenses. It does so by raising the weight threshold for a death sentence. Under the earlier law, possession of 5 kilograms of opium of 30 grams of heroin merited the death sentence; under the new law, it will take 50 kilos of opium or 2 kilos of heroin. The new thresholds are to be applied retroactively, potentially saving the lives of thousands on death row.

Paraguay Legalizes Medical Marijuana. Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes signed into law a medical marijuana bill on Wednesday. The measure legalizes the medicinal use of marijuana and cannabis oils, allows for local production of medical marijuana, and allows for the import of cannabis oil. Paraguay now joins Mexico and the South American countries of Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in allowing medical marijuana. Uruguay has legalized marijuana for all uses.

Medical Marijuana Update

An effort to undo racial inequities faces a challenge in Ohio, Oklahomans will go to the polls to vote for medical marijuana in June, three members of the Kettle Falls Five win a major court victory, and more.

Ohio

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenged "racial quotas" in the medical marijuana program. A company that failed to win a slot in the state's medical marijuana program has filed a lawsuit claiming it lost out because of "an unconstitutional racial quota." PharmaCann Ohio Inc. said it finished 12th out of more than a hundred applicants for 12 cultivation licenses on the state's application ranking system, but that it lost out because a state quota system requires 15% of those licenses to go to minority-owned groups. That requirement gave an unfair boost to companies that scored lower in the rankings, the company argued, saying the racial requirement violates the Constitution's 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

Oklahoma

Last Thursday, an election date was set for the medical marijuana initiative. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that a medical marijuana initiative will go before the voters during the June 26 primary election. The initiative will be Question 788 on the June ballot. It would create a full-fledged state medical marijuana system, and patients would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants themselves.

Pennsylvania

Last Thursday, the state okayed its first dispensary. State regulators announced they had approved the state's first dispensary to begin selling medical marijuana once it becomes available from a licensed grow. The Keystone Canna Remedies dispensary in Bethlehem was the first out of the gate. The dispensary will open later this month for educational workshops and registration assistance, but doesn't expect to have product on hand until mid-February. Regulators said they expected more dispensaries to open in coming weeks.

Washington

Last Wednesday, three Kettle Falls Five members saw their convictions vacated and charges dismissed. Three members of a Washington state family prosecuted for growing medical marijuana for themselves have seen their convictions vacated at the request of federal prosecutors. The feds said congressional bans on using Justice Department funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs made it impossible for them to continue with an appeal.

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

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