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By Month's End, Oklahoma Should Be the Newest Medical Marijuana State

This article was written in collaboration with Alternet, and was originally published here.

One of the reddest of red states is set to go green later this month. Voters in Oklahoma will go to the polls on the 26th to decide whether to support the Question 778 medical marijuana initiative, and all indications are that it will win.

Medical marijuana -- coming soon to the Sooner State? (Saundra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
The state's Sooner Poll showed support for the initiative at 57.5% last week. That's down slightly from January when the same poll had support at 61%, but still enough to pull off a victory at the polls later this month, especially given the limited organized opposition to it so far.

One opposition group, Oklahomans Against 788, has a Facebook page, but according to state campaign finance reports, has only collected a paltry $755 -- and from only two donors. The two political action committees supporting the initiative,  Oklahomans for Health and Yes on 778, on the other hand, have raised more than $31,000 and have more than $9,000 in the bank for media buys this month. (Oklahoma isn't a huge media market.)

Newly emerging opposition from conservative religious figures is probably too late to make a difference, but a group calling itself Oklahoma Faith Leaders, whose head is a former consultant to Oklahoma Republican US Senator James Lankford, enlisted Lankford to issue a press release last week warning that the initiative would be "harmful to the social fabric of Oklahoma."

Lankford went on to blame outside agitators with hidden agendas: "This state question is being sold to Oklahomans as a compassionate medical marijuana bill by outside groups that actually want access to recreational marijuana," Lankford added. "Most of us have seen first-hand the damage done to families and our communities from recreational marijuana use."

It's unclear just what "damage done" Lankford was referring to, but the initiative does not legalize recreational marijuana, and if any "outside groups" are involved, it is certainly not evident from the campaign finance reports.

Instead of sending Oklahoma on the path to perdition, passing the initiative would bring the state up to speed with most of the rest of the country. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, while another 15 states have laws allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes.

The Oklahoma initiative is a full-fledged medical marijuana measure, which would allow patients to grow their own medicine, create a system of licensed dispensaries, cultivation, and processing facilities; set taxes at a relatively low 7%, and bar localities from using zoning laws to block dispensaries (although they wouldn't be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school).

It's the culmination of a long, arduous effort to legalize medical marijuana in the Sooner state. For years, the Republican-dominated state legislature has refused to move on the issue, instead grudgingly approving only clinical trials of CBD cannabis oil for minors suffering from epilepsy in 2015. The following year the legislature removed the age cap and expanded the trials to include other diseases and conditions.  But it has refused to go any further, including this year, when a much more limited medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1120, died in March for lack of support.

The initiative itself has faced a similarly arduous path. Originally aimed at the November 2016 ballot, the measure successfully gathered the required signatures in the summer of 2016, and they were verified in September 2016. But the date of signature submission, a rewrite of the ballot title required by state officials, and the court battle that followed meant the measure didn't make the 2016 ballot. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oklahomans for Health in March 2017, and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) nine months later proclaimed that the initiative would appear on the June 2018 primary election ballot.

That's the first time since 2005 that an Oklahoma governor selected a date different from the general election for an initiative. Now, despite it being an off-off-year primary election, Oklahomans will finally have a chance to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states. But they're going to have to actually go out and vote to make it happen.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Whoa! It's prison and jail guards gone wild, plus some New York state cops get themselves in trouble. Let's get to it:

In Wewahitchka, Florida, a state prison guard was arrested last Monday after being caught smuggling drugs in her bra and tampon. Officer Julia Eagerton voluntarily surrendered nine bundles of synthetic cannabinoids weighing 334 grams when confronted by security staff at the prison. She is charged with introducing contraband into a state correctional institution, possession of narcotics and unlawful compensation.

In Pendleton, Indiana, a county jail guard was arrested last Tuesday after being caught with drug contraband on him when he reported to work. Guard Joshua Myers faces a misdemeanor charge of trafficking with an inmate and a felony charge of official misconduct.

In Jonesborough, Tennessee, a Washington County jail guard was arrested last Friday after officers intercepted a package he carried with him as he went to work. Randy Burke was carrying methamphetamine, suboxone, and subutec. It's not clear what charges he faces.

In Snow Hill, North Carolina, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday on multiple drug charges after he was found with drug contraband on him. Antwan Hamilton, 23, is charged with six counts of Possession of Schedule III Controlled Substance, one count of Possession with Intent to Sell/Deliver Controlled Substance, and one count of Possession of Controlled Substance on Prison Premises.

In Mineola, New York, two Nassau County police officers were arrested Tuesday on unspecified drug charges. Officers Erik Skoglund and Karen Ernst were among nine people arrested on drug charges following a grand jury investigation. They were given desk appearance tickets and released.

In Buffalo, New York, a former Niagara Falls police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to three years' probation for letting her boyfriend stash cocaine at her home and accompanying him as he went about his cocaine selling business. Former Officer Stephanie Costanzo, 29. She pleaded guilty in February to managing a drug-involved premise. Her maximum recommended sentence was six months in prison.

Medical Marijuana Update

The City of Brotherly Love gets its first dispensary, a Florida judge has blocked a state ban on patients smoking medical marijuana, Colorado's governor signs a medical marijuana in school bill, but vetoes a medical marijuana for autism one, and more.

Colorado

Colorado Governor Signs Medical Marijuana at School Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has signed into law House Bill 18-1286, which will allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana to students with medical marijuana patient cards. Hickenlooper said that bill would expand current law to "allow school personnel to administer medical marijuana in a non-smokable form to students qualifying for medical marijuana use."

Colorado Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for Autism, Wants More Study. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) on Tuesday vetoed House Bill 18-1263, which would have allowed people with autism spectrum disorders to qualify as medical marijuana patients. "While we are very sympathetic with families advocating medical marijuana (MMJ) as a safer and more effective treatment for their children, we cannot ignore such overwhelming concerns from the medical community," Hickenlooper said in the veto letter. He went on to say, "In vetoing this bill, we do so on sole concern that medical efficacy on MMJ to treat ASD has yet to be fully studied by medical professionals and scientific experts entrusted to this role at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)." Hickenlooper then signed an executive order directing CDPHE to study the efficacy of medical marijuana for children with autism.

Florida

Florida Judge Halts State's Effort to Block Patients Smoking Their Medicine. A Leon County circuit court judge on Tuesday lifted an automatic stay on her ruling that the state's ban on patient access to the smokable form of medical marijuana is unconstitutional. The state has until Monday to begin moving to make smokable medical marijuana available to patients.

Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Signs Second Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law House Bill 579, which adds Parkinson's, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the 10 conditions currently qualifying for medical marijuana. Days earlier, he signed into law a second bill that added autism to the list of qualifying disorders.

Michigan

Michigan Extends Deadline for Dispensaries to Get Licensed. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced last Wednesday that a June 15 deadline for operating dispensaries to get licensed under the state's new medical marijuana law will be extended to September 15. "This 92-day extension will allow the bureau and the board enough time to investigate and authorize facility operator licenses in order to make sure that access to medical marihuana is maintained," the agency said.

New York

New York Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil to Be Used Instead of Opioids for Pain. State Sen. George Amedore (R) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 8820, which would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil in place of opioids. Amedore is co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Opioid and Heroin Addiction and said that the evidence is clear marijuana is less harmful and addictive than opioid painkillers.

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Gets First Dispensary. The City of Brotherly Love has seen its first medical marijuana dispensary open its doors. The Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Frankford opened last Wednesday.

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

Chronicle AM: Bangladesh Drug War Killings Draw UN Rebuke, Fed Pot Busts Way Down, More... (6/6/18)

The president commutes the life sentence of a drug offender, Michigan voters will decide whether to legalize weed in November, the UN's human rights head criticizes Bangladeshi drug war killings, and more.

There has been less of this going on in recent years, the USSC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Cases Are Way Down. Federal marijuana cases have declined by nearly half (45.8%) since fiscal year 2013, falling 25% between 2015 and 2016, according to a new report from the US Sentencing Commission (USSC). There were 3,854 federal marijuana cases in 2016, the USSC said. But 2016 was still the Obama administration; there are no figures yet on whether federal pot busts went up last year under the Trump administration.

Michigan GOP Punts on Pot Vote, Voters Will Decide at the Polls. Republican lawmakers did not take the opportunity to pass a marijuana legalization initiative by Tuesday night's legislative deadline, even though there had been serious discussion of doing so in a bid to depress voter turnout in November. Now, the measure will go directly to the voters.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana for Autism, Wants More Study. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) on Tuesday vetoed House Bill 18-1263, which would have allowed people with autism spectrum disorders to qualify as medical marijuana patients. "While we are very sympathetic with families advocating medical marijuana (MMJ) as a safer and more effective treatment for their children, we cannot ignore such overwhelming concerns from the medical community," Hickenlooper said in the veto letter. He went on to say, "In vetoing this bill, we do so on sole concern that medical efficacy on MMJ to treat ASD has yet to be fully studied by medical professionals and scientific experts entrusted to this role at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)." Hickenlooper then signed an executive order directing CDPHE to study the efficacy of medical marijuana for children with autism.

Florida Judge Halts State's Effort to Block Patients Smoking Their Medicine. A Leon County circuit court judge on Tuesday lifted an automatic stay on her ruling that the state's ban on patient access to the smokable form of medical marijuana is unconstitutional. The state has until Monday to begin moving to make smokable medical marijuana available to patients.

Hemp

US Senate Unanimously Approves Hemp Resolution. For the third year in a row, the Senate has approved a resolution recognizing "the growing economic potential of industrial hemp" as well as its "historical relevance." The resolution is non-binding, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing an actual hemp legalization bill this year. He has said he intends to attach it to the larger farm bill expected to soon be taken up by Congress.

Pardons and Commutations

Trump Commutes Life Sentence of Grandma Whose Cause Was Championed By Kim Kardashian. President Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who has already served 21 years of a life sentence for a first-time drug trafficking offense. The move came after reality TV star Kim Kardashian met with Trump to plead for Johnson's release.

International

UN Human Rights Head Says Bangladesh Drug War Killings Must Stop UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Wednesday condemned the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug offenders and urged Bangladeshi authorities to immediately halt such human rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice. The death toll has now risen to at least 130 since the government's crackdown began on May 15. "I am gravely concerned that such a large number of people have been killed, and that the Government reaction has been to assure the public that none of these individuals were "innocent" but that mistakes can occur in an anti-narcotics drive,"High Commissioner Zeid said. "Such statements are dangerous and indicative of a total disregard for the rule of law. Every person has the right to life. People do not lose their human rights because they use or sell drugs. The presumption of innocence and the right to due process must be at the forefront of any efforts to tackle crimes." Meanwhile, some 175 non-governmental organizations have signed onto a petition from the International Drug Policy Consortium urging two other UN entities, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to condemn the killings.

 

Chronicle AM: CO Gov. Vetoes Pot Tasting Rooms, WV First Responders Get Naloxone, More... (6/5/18)

Colorado's governor vetoes a pot tasting room bill and signs a medical marijuana in schools bill, Canada's legalization bill overcomes a last-ditch attempt to block it, and more.

West Virginia first responders will now be carrying the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. (PA Health Dept.)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Vetoes Marijuana "Tasting Rooms" Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has vetoed House Bill 18-1258, which would have allowed customers at marijuana retailers to consume edibles or vape on premises. Hickenlooper said the bill violated Amendment 64, which said marijuana consumption could not be done "openly" or "publicly." Hickenlooper also cited fears of stoned driving.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Governor Signs Medical Marijuana at School Bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has signed into law House Bill 18-1286, which will allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana to students with medical marijuana patient cards. Hickenlooper said that bill would expand current law to "allow school personnel to administer medical marijuana in a non-smokable form to students qualifying for medical marijuana use."

Harm Reduction

West Virginia Begins Statewide Distribution of Naloxone to First Responders. The state Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that it is beginning the distribution of the opioid overdose reversal drug to first responders. Naloxone is going out to the state police, the fire marshal's office, and emergency medical service providers, with eight high priority counties also being allocated additional doses.

 

 

 

 

International

Canada's Conservatives Thwarted in Bid to Block Legalization Bill. An attempt by Conservative senators to slow down the marijuana legalization bill failed on Monday night on 50-29 vote. Sen. Leo Housakos (C) had filed an amendment to delay passage until the government releases a report on how it will deal with marijuana-related border issues. Now, the bill is set for a final Senate vote Thursday.

 

 

Chronicle AM: Gallup: Pot Use "Morally Acceptable," Bangladeshi Drug War Killings, More... (6/4/18)

Two polls illustrate the rising social acceptability of marijuana, Louisiana's medical marijuana program expands, the Bangladeshi drug war could be a cover for political assassinations, and more.

Most people don't think people who smoke pot are moral lepers, a new Gallup poll finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Two-Thirds Say Consuming Marijuana "Morally Acceptable." A large majority of Americans -- 65% -- say consuming marijuana is "morally acceptable." An even larger majority -- 78% -- say drinking alcohol is "morally acceptable." This is the first time Gallup has asked the question.

Youth Support for Marijuana Legalization at All-Time High, Poll Finds. The annual Monitoring the Future survey of secondary school students finds that 49% of 12th graders supported marijuana legalization last year, a figure the survey called a "historic high." Just a decade earlier, only 29% favored legalization, but support has grown every year since then, except for a one-point downward blip in 2015.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Governor Signs Second Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has signed into law House Bill 579, which adds Parkinson's, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the 10 conditions currently qualifying for medical marijuana. Days earlier, he signed into law a second bill that added autism to the list of qualifying disorders.

International

Bangladeshi Drug War Used to Hide Political Assassinations. The death toll from the Bangladeshi government's bloody drug crackdown has risen to 120, and claims are coming that some of the victims are not drug users or dealers at all, but political opponents of the government. One case is that of Habibur Rahman, who police said had been killed in a gunfight with officers, but his family said Rahman, an activist with the leading opposition party, was last seen being taken away from a local mosque by men thought to be plainclothes police officers. "He was neither a drug seller nor a drug addict. It was because he was involved in politics against the government and protested about land affairs," said a relative who declined to be named for fear of retaliation.

British Home Office Scotches Plans for Glasgow Safe Injection Site. The British Home Office has refused to approve a safe injection site in Glasgow -- even though it acknowledges they are an effective harm reduction intervention. The Home Office said there is no legal framework for setting up safe injection sites and there are no plans to amend the law to do so.

You'll Never Believe What Country Just Enacted a Massive, Meaningful Drug Reform

For years, Iran has been one of the world's leading executioners of drug offenders, with hundreds of people hung from the gallows annually for drug smuggling and trafficking. But in a remarkable turnabout, that is no longer the case.

Executions for drug offenses have come to an almost total halt in Iran. (IHR)
After the Iranian parliament amended the country's drug laws in November 2017, drug executions have all but halted, according to a new report from Iran Human Rights (IHR). The non-profit group found that only one person had been executed for a drug offense this year in Iran, compared to 112 during the same period last year and nearly 500 for all of 2017.

That's a 99% reduction in the resort to the death penalty for drugs in the Islamic Republic.

The changes to Iran's drug laws didn't remove the death penalty from the books -- it remains one of 33 countries, including the United States, that mete out the ultimate punishment for drug offenses -- but it dramatically raised the quantities of drugs needed to merit the death penalty.

Under the old law, being caught with a little more than an ounce (30 grams) of drugs such as cocaine or heroin could bring a death sentence. Now, it takes nearly 4 ½ pounds (2 kilograms). Similarly, for plant-based drugs such as cannabis and opium, the death penalty threshold has increased ten-fold, from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) to 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The death penalty can also be imposed for certain other drug offenses where quantity is not the issue, for example, the use of a minor in a drug trafficking operations, carrying or using firearms while committing drug-related crimes, having a prior death penalty or prison sentence longer than 15 years, or being the "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

The one man executed for drug offenses in Iran this year, identified as Kiomars Nosuhi, was convicted of being a "leader" of a drug trafficking group.

Bordering Afghanistan, the world's primary supplier of raw opium and heroin, Iran has for decades waged war on drug smugglers, with thousands of police and soldiers killed in the struggle. While opium smoking was a traditional Iranian pastime, the country now has one of the world's highest addiction rates, with heroin largely replacing opium. In recognition of that reality, in the past decade, Iranian officials have switched from harsh punishments of drug users to emphasizing drug treatment and harm reduction. The end of the reflexive resort to the death penalty for drugs marks another step in the country's march toward a more progressive policy response.

While human rights groups applaud the dramatic decline in drug executions, they continue to express concern over the way the Iranian judicial system responds to drugs.

"We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition," said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. "However, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process."

And then there are the tens of thousands of drug offenders filling Iran's prisons. The country has more than 250,000 people behind bars, 50% to 70% for drug offenses. The Islamic Republic may not be running the gallows at full tilt anymore for drugs, but incarceration remains a key element of Iranian drug policy. Still, Iran has taken an important step forward.

Chronicle AM: CA Pays for Fentanyl Test Strips, CA Marijuana Banking Bill Advances, More... (6/1/18)

The California Senate approves a bill to create financial services for the pot industry, the California public health department is paying needle exchanges to hand out fentanyl test strips, a New York bill would allow the use of CBD oil instead of opioids to treat pain, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Marijuana Banking Bill Passes Senate. The state Senate voted 29-6 Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 930, which would allow financial institutions to offer limited banking services to legal marijuana businesses. The bill would create limited-charter licenses for banks and credit unions allowing them to issue special checks that could be used by the industry. The measure now goes to the Assembly.

Three Out of Four Florida Democratic Gubernatorial Contenders Support Legalization. Florida Democrats are seeing a near consensus for marijuana legalization among the current crop of gubernatorial candidates. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine all back legalization. Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham is the outlier; she only backs decriminalization.

Medical Marijuana

New York Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil to Be Used Instead of Opioids for Pain. State Sen. George Amedore (R) on Thursday filed Senate Bill 8820, which would allow the use of CBD cannabis oil in place of opioids. Amedore is co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Opioid and Heroin Addiction and said that the evidence is clear marijuana is less harmful and addictive than opioid painkillers.

Harm Reduction

California Paying Needle Exchanges to Provide Fentanyl Test Strips. For a year now, the state public health department has been paying needle exchanges to distribute fentanyl test strips to their clients in a bid to lower overdose deaths. The tests cost $1 each. Users mix a bit of their drugs in water and then dip the strip in for a few seconds and they get results back within five minutes. About half of the state's 45 needle exchanges are distributing the strips. The state has spent $57,000 on the project so far.

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

Chronicle AM: Trump, Kardashian Talk Prison Reform; Desaparecidos in Nuevo Laredo, More... (5/31/18)

Philadelphia sees its first medical marijuana dispensary, a new report says drugged driving fatalities are up dramatically, the UN is concerned about forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and more.

Kim Kardashian and President Trump met at the White House Wednesday to talk prison reform and pardons. (Twitter)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan GOP Lawmakers Split on Passing Legalization Initiative. State Republican lawmakers are split on a plan for the legislature to just pass the pending marijuana legalization initiative. Under state law, the legislature has until Tuesday to adopt the initiative, which would enable lawmakers to later amend it -- and would also, the Republicans hope, lessen voter turnout at the polls in November. The move has support in the Senate, but House Republicans have yet to embrace it.

New Hampshire Democrats Won't Make Legalization a Platform Plank. A bid to get the state Democratic Party to embrace marijuana legalization has failed. A pro-legalization resolution did not get enough votes in the state party's platform committee to take it to the party's convention next month.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Extends Deadline for Dispensaries to Get Licensed. The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Wednesday that a June 15 deadline for operating dispensaries to get licensed under the state's new medical marijuana law will be extended to September 15. "This 92-day extension will allow the bureau and the board enough time to investigate and authorize facility operator licenses in order to make sure that access to medical marihuana is maintained," the agency said.

Philadelphia Gets First Dispensary. The City of Brotherly Love has seen its first medical marijuana dispensary open its doors. The Restore Integrative Wellness Center in Frankford opened Wednesday.

Driving

Number of Drugged Drivers Killed in Car Crashes Rising Dramatically, Report Finds. The number of drugged drivers killed in car wrecks is rising dramatically, according to a new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The study found that 44% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016, up more than 50% over a decade ago. The study pointed to spreading marijuana legalization and the opiate epidemic as contributing factors. "These are big-deal drugs. They are used a lot," said Jim Hedlund, an Ithaca, New York-based traffic safety consultant who conducted the highway safety group's study. "People should not be driving while they're impaired by anything and these two drugs can impair you." The study also found that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for drugs had more than one substance in them and that half of the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

Sentencing

Trump, Kim Kardashian Talk Prison and Sentencing Reform. The two reality TV stars met in the White House Wednesday to discuss prison reforms and sentencing policy. Kardashian is advocating for a pardon for low-level drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who has served more than 20 years in prison on a first offense. White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has prison reform in his portfolio, was also in the meeting. Half of Trump's previous commutations have been for rightist political figures including Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza. He also shortened the sentences of a sailor who had taken photos in a classified area, and of the former executive of a meatpacking plant who committed loan fraud; and he pardoned the long-dead black boxer, Jack Johnson.

California Sentencing Reform Bill Passes Senate. A bill that would repeal a one-year sentencing enhancement for people who have prior felonies passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 1392 now heads for the Assembly.

International

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Calls on Mexico to Investigate Forced Disappearances in Nuevo Laredo. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called Wednesday on the Mexican government "take urgent measures to stop the wave of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo and surrounding areas" and said "there are strong indications" that they were committed "by a federal security force." The UN office documented at least 23 disappearances since the beginning of February, while the local Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee said it had documented 56 forced disappearances since January 20. The disappearances come as the city confronts violence among competing cartels and between the cartels and police and the military. "Many of these people would have been detained arbitrarily and disappeared while going about their daily lives," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. "It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims were minors, three of them very young, only 14 years old. These crimes, perpetrated during four months in only one municipality, are outrageous."

Why Are California's Legal Marijuana Sales So Low?

California is on track to generate $1.9 billion in legal marijuana sales this year, according to new data from a financial analysis firm tracking the market. That's a lot of weed, but it's only half the amount the same firm previously estimated the state would rake in.

The estimates are from New Frontier Data, which crunches cannabis industry numbers, and are based on tax revenues from pot sales, which so far have fallen dramatically short of projections. According to New Frontier, the state collected $33.6 million in pot taxes between January 1 and March 31, which makes it extremely unlikely that tax revenues will meet original expectations of hitting $175 million in the first half of the year.

New Frontier had earlier estimated that the state would see $3.8 billion in marijuana sales this year, and this latest estimate slashes that number by a whopping 50%. The company also slashed its projections for the size of the legal industry by 2025. Instead of the $6.7 billion in sales it earlier estimated, it now says it thinks sales will only hit $4.7 billion, a hefty one-third reduction.

That's bad news not only for state tax revenues but also for an industry that is supposed to be coming in out of the cold. What happened? New Frontier has an idea.

"It is quite clear that the new adult use regulations have made it more difficult than anticipated for the legal market to get established and for consumers to transition to from the illicit market. Given the number of local government bans on cannabis businesses, we are not seeing the same kind of conversion rates that we have seen in other legal markets," said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, New Frontier Data founder, and CEO.

State and local licensing fees for marijuana businesses can range from $5,000 to $120,000 per year, depending on the type and scope of the business. And complying with regulatory mandates, such as those around zoning, water usage, and lab testing, costs even more.

It's not just onerous -- and expensive -- regulation for those who want state licenses to grow, distribute, and sell marijuana that's the problem. There's also a serious lack of buy-in by a good portion of the state's cities and counties, and that means that a big hunk of the state has no access to local legal marijuana.

"If there's (no governmental support) locally, then there's no option for a state license, and that's why most people are being shut out at this point in time," California Cannabis Industry Association executive director Lindsay Robinson told the Marijuana Business Daily. "The process gave local authorities an option to kind of sit on their hands, and that's the biggest barrier that we're seeing."

According to CCIA spokeswoman Amy Jenkins, only about a third of the state's 540 local governmental entities have approved commercial marijuana activity. Lack of legal access is "forcing consumers to turn to the illicit market," she told the Los Angeles Times this week.

Or return to it. Or stay in it, if they never left. Humboldt State University economics professor Erick Eschker pegged the size of the state's pot market -- legal and illegal -- at about $7.8 billion. Of that, about $2.3 billion came from the medical marijuana market, leaving about $5.5 billion for legal, grey market, and black market pot sales. If the legal market is only accounting for $1.9 billion in sales, that suggests that grey and black market sales are still about twice the size of legal sales. These consumers don't get hit with stiff sales and excise taxes, and if they can still get it from the guy down the street, why pay those high, state-legal prices?

If California wants to eliminate the black market in marijuana, it's got a whole lot of work to do. And no matter what steps the state takes to deal with its internal black market, there's still the export black market to the non-legal states in the rest of the US. Ultimately, the only way to end the black market is to legalize it nationwide, but we're not quite there yet. In the meantime, California's transition to a legal marijuana regime is facing some unhappy realities.

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