Defelonization

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Policy

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Drug Testing

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

New Psychoactive Substances

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

Law Enforcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall see.

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicle AM: House Passes Opioid Bill Without $$, CA Drug Felonies Plummet, More... (7/11/16)

California felony drug arrests are down, Colombian coca production is up, the Arizona marijuana legalization initiative is trailing in a new poll, Congress moves toward final passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but there's a fight over funding, and more.

The House passes the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, but spurns efforts to pay for it. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Legalization Initiative Trailing. A new poll from O.H. Predictive Insights has the legalization initiative sponsored by the Arizona Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol losing on election day. The poll found 52.5% opposed, with only 39% in favor. The initiative has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is expected to after supporters handed in 100,000 more signatures than needed, providing plenty of cushion for invalidated signatures. The campaign does have significant resources; it looks like it will need them to turn the numbers around.

Arizona Supreme Court Rules Mere Smell of Marijuana is Grounds for Search, Even Though It's a Medical Marijuana State. The state's high court ruled Monday that the mere smell of marijuana is sufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant, even though the state has legalized medical marijuana. But the court also held that the legal foundation for such a search can go up in smoke if police have evidence the suspected marijuana use or possession is legal under state law. The case is State v. Sisco.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short. North Dakotans will not be voting on marijuana legalization this fall. Sponsors of the initiative conceded Monday they only had about 10,000 signatures, and they needed 13,452 valid signatures to qualify. Monday was the deadline for turning in signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Sales Continue Climbing. The state saw $2.57 million in medical marijuana sales in June, up from $2.3 million in May, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture. Sales total $13.8 million since the first dispensaries started operating last November. The numbers should increase even further once two new qualifying conditions -- PTSD and terminal illness -- come on line. They've already been approved, but the Department of Health is in the midst of preparing new rules and application forms.

North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures. The North Dakotans for Compassionate Care campaign handed in some 15,500 raw signatures for its medical marijuana initiative Monday, the last day for handing them in. The campaign needs 13,452 valid voter signatures to qualify, so there is very little cushion for invalidated signatures. Stay tuned.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

House Approves Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, But Without Requested Funding. The House last Friday gave final approval to S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), but beat back Democratic efforts to provide additional funding for it. The Obama administration had asked for $1.1 billion, and House Democrats tried in vain last week to $925 million in funding. The White House has suggested it may veto the bill if no extra funding is attached. House Republicans said funding was available elsewhere. The measure is a conference committee compromise, with the Senate set to give final approval this week.

Sentencing

California Drug Felony Arrests Plummet in Wake of Prop 47. What happens when you change drug felonies to misdemeanors? Drug felonies plummet. Felony drug arrests in California dropped between 68% and 73% between 2014 and 2015 according to new data from the California Attorney General. Marijuana felonies followed a similar curve, dropping from 13,300 in 2014 to 8,856 last year. On the other hand, misdemeanor drug arrests nearly doubled, from 92,469 in 2014 to 163,073 last year.

International

Poll Finds Majority of British MPs Favor Medical Marijuana. Some 58% of British MPs back the use of medical marijuana, according to the polling firm Populus. Only 27% were opposed. Support was strongest among Scottish National Party MPs (88%), followed by Labor (60%), and even 55% of Tories were on board.

Colombia Coca Boom Underway. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported last Thursday that coca cultivation had increased by 39% last year and nearly doubled since 2013. Some observers speculate that it reflects coca growers' belief that this could be the last chance to grow the cash crop before a peace deal between the government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC takes hold. Colombia government officials said the largest increases in cultivation are in areas controlled by the FARC.

A Maryland Lawmaker's Paradigm-Shifting Approach to the Heroin and Pain Pill Crisis [FEATURE]

With nearly 47,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2014 -- more than from gunshots or car crashes -- the problem of heroin and prescription opioid (pain pill) addiction is getting well-deserved attention. From community town halls to state capitals, as well as in Congress and on the rival presidential campaigns, the crisis is spawning demands for solutions.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dan-morhaim-180px.jpg
Dan Morhaim
The response, in general, has been more sympathetic than to earlier waves of hard drug use, such as heroin in the 1960s or crack cocaine in the 1980s, which brought down the harsh drug war policies of Nixon and Reagan. Now, there are more calls for drug treatment than for further law enforcement crackdowns, police departments are carrying overdose reversal drugs, and public health agencies are taking on a more prominent role.

But addicts continue to be arrested, with all the deleterious consequences that entails, and, when it comes to policy, the problem of addiction remains largely in the realm of criminal justice. Harm reduction practices proven in other parts of the world improve both the lives of drug users and those of the communities they live in continue to be shunted aside in the US.

That could change in at least one state. Veteran Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) has just introduced a paradigm-shifting package of bills that would begin to move the state's posture toward drug use from prohibition to public health and harm reduction. Morhaim, a practicing physician with three decades of frontline hospital ERs, brings to his approach a vision formed by that experience.

If enacted, Morhaim's package would mark a radical, but commonsensical, humane, and scientifically-supported shift in Maryland's drug policies. Here's what it includes:

  • Emergency Room Treatment on Demand. House Bill 908 provides treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings. The bill requires acute care hospitals to have a counselor available or on-call at all times and specified arrangements for transferring patients to appropriate treatment settings. Addicted patients make up a large percentage of uninsured visits to ERs, making them an ideal place for initial therapeutic contact.
  • Safe Consumption Sites. House Bill 1212 allows individuals to use drugs in approved facilities while supervised by trained staff who also provide sterile equipment, monitor the person for overdose and offer treatment referrals. Similar on-going programs in Australia, Canada, and several European countries have eliminated overdose deaths, reduced the spread of disease, and provided points of accessto the most hard-to-reach drug users.
  • Drug Decriminalization. House Bill 1219 decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of drugs: one gram of meth or heroin, two grams of cocaine, 10 hits of MDMA, 150 micrograms of LSD. The object is to keep otherwise non-criminal drug users out of the criminal justice system, saving resources and avoiding saddling more residents with criminal records.
  • Heroin Maintenance. House Bill 1267 allows a four-year pilot study of "poly-morphone assisted treatment" with pharmaceutical grade opioids, including heroin, to treat under medical supervision a small number of hardcore users who have proven resistant to other forms of treatment. Ongoing heroin maintenance programs in several European countries have been shown to reduce illegal drug use, decrease crime, reduce the black market for heroin, and lead to less chaotic lives for their participants.

The package didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Morhaim's experiences in the ER, where he dealt not only with direct consequences of drug use -- overdoses, infections -- but also direct consequences of drug prohibition -- old women injured in muggings for black market drug money, the toll of dead and wounded in black market drug turf battles -- colored his approach.

"I'm a physician, not a prosecuting attorney," Morhaim told the Chronicle. "I come at this from a public health perspective. We talk about 'surges' to fight this and that, but what we haven't had in this country is a surge in the public health approach, real, substantive public health. This is different, and some will see it as controversial, but I'm comfortable with that. This is something that's really corroding the heart and soul of our society."

He wasn't alone.

"I've had a lot of conversations, and my district has generally been very supportive of these kind of innovative things. No negative feedback. There's a broad consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Morhaim said. "People are really cognizant of that. And I'm an Emergency Room physician at a Level II trauma center, I've also done healthcare for the homeless. I've been on the front lines, seen the carnage, the death, the violence, and the way this affects the families, and I'm speaking from true experience, and people respect that."

Not only did Morhaim have support in his community, he had support from a strong group of advocates and experts.

"As things were coming to a head, Delegate Morhaim reached out to us at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)," said DPA staff attorney Lindsay LaSalle, who was involved in developing the proposals. "He said he felt like he could offer progressive solutions to the crisis and he wanted our subject matter expertise to help develop those proposals."

DPA, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), whose executive director, Neill Franklin, is a former Baltimore police officer, and the Open Society Foundations joined with academics, lawyers, doctors, and harm reductionists to develop and refine the policy proposals that became the bill package. Local institutions of higher learning, including the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, had academics involved in the effort as well.

Passing the bills won't be easy, and it's not likely to happen this year, but Morhaim and his supporters are playing to win in the not-too-distant future.

"Dan is currently on the second year of a four year term," LaSalle said. "These bills were introduced strategically this term with the understanding that it would be a year of educating colleagues and generating positive media coverage. This is always a long game; we don't expect passage this year, but we hope to gain traction on one or more of these in the next two or three years."

"I've been in the legislature a long time, and I've learned you just have to be persistent, you listen and address concerns, maybe you accept an amendment to a bill," Morhaim said.

He pointed to the successful effort to get medical marijuana through the legislature.

"On that, people had suggestions, and we said let's fix it in the bill," he recalled. "Law enforcement didn't oppose it because I sat down and worked with them."

He also recalled legislative battles he had fought -- and won -- around smoking in restaurants and the use of safety seats for children.

"Banning smoking in restaurants seemed impossible in 1995, but now it's commonplace," he said. "The same with kids safety seats. Both of those were hard-fought on the political level, but when we talk to people, we can convince them. These things take time, but when you recognize what's not working, then you can explore what is. People are looking for answers."

Although Morhaim's package of bills is the most comprehensive, explicit harm reduction interventions are being considered in other places, too. California will see a safe consumption site bill introduced next week, and activists and officials in a number of cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle are laying the groundwork for such facilities at the local level.

"We're getting traction on these issues," said LaSalle. "Nevada was the first state with a heroin-assisted treatment bill, and while it didn't get out of committee, we had robust hearings, with international experts. And that California bill will be moving forward this session. Drug treatment and harm reduction don't always go hand in hand, but in this case the treatment community is cosponsoring or officially supporting safe consumption sites."

Meanwhile, some states are moving in the opposite direction. In Maine, the administration of Tea Party Gov. Paul Le Page (R) is seeking to reverse a law passed last year that defelonized drug possession. (The rambunctious Republican has also called for guillotining drug dealers, blamed black drug dealers for impregnating white Maine girls, and called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers.) And next door in New Hampshire, the attorney general wants to start charging heroin suppliers with murder in the event of fatal overdoses. Prosecutors in other states have also dusted off long-unused statutes to bring murder or manslaughter charges.

"We need to ask those people why they're doubling down on a failed policy," said LaSalle. "Why would this work now when it's just more of the same that's been in place for four decades, and now we have use and overdoses and Hep C increasing."

"I understand the impulse to 'Do Something!' in response, and because criminalization has been our go-to response, it seems logical that increasing penalties or prosecutions is a way to solve the problem, but we know, we have shown, that it is not. It's frustrating."

It can be worse than frustrating, too, LaSalle noted.

"Using murder charges as a whipping stick in the case of overdoses is really counterproductive," she said. "If the goal is to reduce overdoses, this is going to reduce the likelihood of anyone calling 911. Maybe they shared their stash, and if they could face murder charges, they now have a serious disincentive to call."

Clearly, the war on drugs is not over. But after half a century of relying predominantly on the forces of repression to deal with drug use, a new vision, both smarter and more humane, is emerging. Now comes the political fight to enact it.

Annapolis, MD
United States

Chronicle AM: MJ Arrests Plummet in NYC & Jamaica, ME May Refelonize Drug Possession, More... (1/4/16)

What a difference a policy change makes! After decrim in Jamaica and actually enforcing decrim in New York City, marijuana arrests plummet in both places, a bill to cut pot penalties advances in Kansas, a bill to refelonize hard drug possession is in play in Maine, and more.

Jamaican ganja decriminalization has seen marijuana arrests plummet. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Senate Approves Cutting Marijuana Penalties. The state Senate Wednesday voted 38-1 to approve House Bill 2049, which lowers marijuana possession penalties. The bill moves first time pot possession from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor and it moves second-time pot possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate rejected an effort by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) to decriminalize marijuana possession.

New York City Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet. Marijuana possession arrests in the city hit their lowest level in 20 years last year, according to new data released by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Some 16,590 people were arrested for pot possession last year, down 42% from the year before and down a whopping 67% from 2011, when more than 50,000 people were arrested. While the arrests are down dramatically, what has not changed is the racial disparity in arrests: 88% of those arrested were black or Latino.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill to Kill Medical Marijuana Decision Deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 21, which will give cities and counties more time to develop local rules for commercial medical marijuana cultivation. An error in last year's statewide medical marijuana regulation bill had imposed a March 1 deadline for localities to act or they would lose control over regulating the grows to the state. More than a hundred cities and counties banned commercial cultivation in recent months as the deadline loomed.

Sentencing

Maine Officials Argue for Refelonizing Drug Possession. State Attorney General Janet Mills Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill, LD 1554, that would refelonize the possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The legislature last year made first-time drug possession a misdemeanor when the defendant had no previous convictions, but Mills and other administration officials argued that without the threat of a felony conviction and sentence (up to five years)) hanging over their heads, drug users could not be forced into drug treatment. " A felony charge brings with it the possibility of a significant period of probation … along with a long sentence hanging over the person," Mills said. "That kind of potential sentence gives the person an incentive to get into treatment and to demonstrate their commitment to recovery." But Mills is getting pushback from lawmakers. Another working session on the bill is set for next week.

International

Marijuana Legalization Could Cut Mexican Cartel Revenues By One-Quarter, Report Says. Mexico supplies between 30% and 50% of the pot consumed in the US, with the drug cartels raking in between one and two billion dollars a year, but that figure could be cut by up to 26% if legalization proceeds apace in the US, according to a report from the Instituto Belisario Dominguez for the Mexican Senate as it debates marijuana policy this spring. Legalization in Mexico itself "could benefit Mexico because that would increase the financial damage to the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel."

Jamaica Ganja Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization. National Security Minister Peter Bunning said Tuesday that police have arrested 14,000 fewer people for marijuana possession since the government decriminalized it last year. He pointed out that arrests have serious consequences, including not being able to get a visa to visit the US and problems with finding employment.

Chronicle AM: OR Legalizes, Miami Decriminalizes, CT Defelonizes, More (7/1/15)

New laws went into effect today, legalizing pot in Oregon, legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota, legalizing CBD cannabis oil in Wyoming, Miami decriminalizes pot possession, and more. 

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana is Now Legal in Oregon. The Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative approved by Oregon voters last November went into effect as of 12:01 a.m Pacific Time today. That means that people 21 and over can now legally possess up to eight ounces of weed at home and grow up to four plants. Only one ounce may be possessed in public. Public consumption remains illegal. But you won't be able to go to the marijuana store just yet. Sales are currently set to begin next year, although there is a chance the legislature could act to move up that date. 

Washington Governor Signs Marijuana Reform Bill Into Law. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) Tuesday signed into law a bill that rejiggers parts of the state's marijuana legalization plan. The new law replaces the existing three-tier tax structure and replaces it with a 37% retail tax. The law also directs the state to share pot tax revenues only with cities and counties that allow sales in a bid to encourage them to do so.

Wyoming Governor Creates Marijuana Task Force. Gov. Matt Mead (R) announced Tuesday that he is creating a council to assess the impact of marijuana use. The move comes as Wyoming activists plan a legalization initiative that could go before voters next year.

Miami Decriminalizes. The Miami-Dade County commission Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing police to issue $100 civil citations to people possessing up to 20 grams of pot. Police could still arrest them, though. Police officials said they will have to develop a policy on when a ticket is appropriate.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Governor Will Sign Dispensary Bill. Gov. David Ige (D) has released a list of bills he intends to veto, and the dispensary bill is not on it. That bill, House Bill 321, will initially allow up to 16 dispensaries, to be operated by eight medical marijuana businesses. It comes 15 years after the state became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process.

Medical Marijuana Now Legal in Minnesota—But You Can't Smoke It. The state's new medical marijuana law went into effect Wednesday, with people lining up at the Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis as it opened its doors shortly after midnight. The state's law is very restrictive and highly regulated, and does not allow for use of smokeable marijuana as medicine.

Wyoming CBD Cannabis Oil Law Goes Into Effect. A new law allowing seizure patients to use CBD cannabis oil went into effect Wednesday. But the state health department hasn't yet created patient registration cards, leaving patients uncertain about their legal status. The department says it is working on it. The measure was House Bill 32.

New Synthetic Drugs

DC City Council Passes Measure Toughening Synthetic Drug Penalties. The council Tuesday approved emergency legislation that allows DC Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier to shutter for four days any business caught selling synthetic drugs. The businesses could also face a $10,000 fine for a first offense and loss of their business licenses for a second one.

Sentencing

Connecticut Drug Sentencing Reforms Pass Legislature. The legislature gave final approval Monday to a bill that reduces most drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Under current law, drug possession can garner up to seven years in prison. A mandatory minimum two-year sentence for drug possession in a school zone is also being eliminated. The law will go into effect October 1. 

Chronicle AM: AZ, CA Pot Polls; CA Forfeiture Bill Passes Senate, CT Defelonization Bill Moves, More (6/4/15)

New polls show majorities for marijuana legalization in Arizona and California, Wisconsin legalization bills get introduced, Maryland will start providing naltrexone to jailed addicts, the California Senate passes asset forfeiture reform, the Connecticut Senate passes drug defelonization, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has Support for Legalization at 53%. A new Behavior Research Center poll has 53% supporting legal marijuana, with 39% opposed. The poll comes as two different groups are in signature-gathering campaigns to get a legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot.

California Poll Has Support for Legalization at 54%. A new PPIC Statewide Survey poll has support for marijuana legalization at 54%, with 44% opposed. The poll is in line with other recent polls and comes as a number of legalization initiatives have already been filed, but with more still to come.

Wisconsin Legalization -- But No Sales -- Bills Introduced. Legislators in Madison last week filed legalization bills in both chambers. Assembly Bill 246, filed by Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee), and Senate Bill 167, filed by Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), would remove the possibility of criminal penalties for the possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis, and the personal cultivation of up to two plants. But they would not allow for regulated marijuana commerce.

Drug Treatment

Maryland Program Will Give Naltrexone to Jailed Heroin Addicts. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Tuesday that his administration plans to begin treating heroin addicts in eight county jails with the drug naltrexone, which blocks the euphoric effects of heroin and other opiates. Those eligible for the program will receive naltrexone injections before leaving jail and can get more from county public health offices. Participants will also have access to housing, mental health, education, and employment counseling services.

Harm Reduction

Florida Opiate Overdose Reversal Drug Bill Signed Into Law. Gov. Rick Scott (R) last week signed into law the Emergency Treatment and Recovery Act, which allows certain healthcare providers to prescribe and dispense the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. The drug could be prescribed not only to users, but also to parents, friends, or family members. Police officers will also be allowed to carry the drug under the new law.

Asset Forfeiture

California Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. The state Senate Thursday approved a civil asset forfeiture reform bill by a vote of 38-1. The bill, Senate Bill 443, filed by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would require law enforcement agencies to adhere to state laws regarding civil asset forfeiture, rather than transferring cases to federal prosecutors and courts where property rights and evidentiary standards are much lower. The bill also provides for counsel for indigent property owners and protects innocent spouses and family members from loss of property. It now heads to the Assembly.

Pennsylvania ACLU Targets Civil Asset Forfeiture in New Report. The ACLU of Pennsylvania Wednesday released a new report, Guilty Property: How Law Enforcement Takes $1 Million in Cash from Innocent Philadelphians Every Year -- and Gets Away with It. The report is harshly critical of the Philadelphia DA's Office, which files roughly 6,000 forfeiture cases each year, the majority of them against black residents of the city. The vast majority of those cases involve small amounts of cash, with over half involving $192 or less. But the city also takes about 100 homes, 150 vehicles, and $4 million in cash each year.

Sentencing

Connecticut Senate Approves Drug Defelonization Bill. The state Senate Wednesday approved a bill that makes drug possession a misdemeanor for the first two offenses, but which also maintains the state's 1,500-foot drug-free school zone provision and its call for jail time, but not mandatory minimum sentences. The bill is Senate Bill 952, the Second Chance Act.

International

European Drug Agency Says No Sign of Marijuana Legalization Coming Soon. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction said today as it issued its annual report that it saw no sign of progress toward marijuana legalization on the continent, unlike in the United States. "In Europe I do not know any government, or parliamentary majority backing a government, that is currently seriously discussing cannabis legalization or regulation in a different way," said agency chief Wolfgang Gotz. "I don't see a discussion coming up of the level as it is in the Americas."

Israeli Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Freshman Knesset Member Yinon Magal of the Jewish Home Party has introduced a bill that would allow people to grow and possess small amounts of pot for personal use. While similar bills have gone nowhere in the past, this one has support from across the political spectrum.

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