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Medical Marijuana Update

Members of Congress urge the VA to get out of the way on medical marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project eyes an Ohio initiative this year, Florida will vote on an initiative this year, California legislature is trying to fix a mess of its own making, and more.

National

On Wednesday, federal lawmakers called on the Veterans Administration to let doctors recommend medical marijuna to vets. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

On Thursday, Americans for Safe Access released a report on state medical marijuana programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded toughhly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

Arizona

On Monday, a GOP politician withdrew a bill that would have crippled the medical marijuana program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

California

On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to slow medical marijuana bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, the Assembly approved the bill. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida

On Wednesday,the Florida medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot The group behind the effort, United for Care, said the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a state representative admitted breaking the law to help families obtain CBD cannabis oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii

On Monday, a bill to ban patients from growing their own was filed. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illinois

This week, a petition is seeking to prod the governor to expand qualifying medical conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 signatures and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Indiana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana bills were pronounced dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced plans for Ohio. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Last Friday, the attorney general rejected the wording on a medical marijuana initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Utah

Last Wednesday, a "whole plant" medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Last Thursday, the Republican governor signaled support for medical marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

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

Chronicle AM: DC MJ Club Ban Moving, Fed Lawmakers Want MedMJ Allowed for Vets, More... (1/27/16)

State legislators are getting busy, the DC city council resorts to sneakery to try to kill pot clubs, federal representatives ask the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans, and more.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was among those calling on the VA to let doctors recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
Marijuana Policy

Arizonans Rally to Support Legalization Bill. Marijuana reform advocates rallied at the state capitol Wednesday to support a bill that would legalize marijuana. Carrying signs that red "Cannabis Reduces Opiate Overdose" and "Cannabis is a Natural Alternative to Harmful Pharma," the ralliers urged passage of House Bill 2006, introduced by Rep. Mark Cardenas (D).

Vermont Legalization Bill Sees Tussles Ahead of Vote Tomorrow. The powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Burlington) has said he won't vote for his own committee's legalization bill if it allows for home cultivation, and he's also asking the committee to make additional changes, including moving some of the tax proceeds to the general fund and increasing penalties for adults who sell pot to minors. The measure is Senate Bill 137.

Washington State Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. A bill to allow for home cultivation of up to six plants has been introduced with bipartisan support in the legislature. Washington's version of legalization does not allow for home cultivation, but House Bill 2629 would change that, bringing Washington in line with other legalization states.

In Sneak Move, DC Council Moves to Ban Pot Social Clubs. With the public notified only moments before markup, the DC Council's Committee on the Judiciary voted today to permanently ban marijuana consumption in private clubs. A temporary ban was set to expire April 15, and advocates had hoped the Council would let it lapse. The bill approved by the committee bars entities from providing adults with private spaces other than a residence to consume marijuana, and requires the Mayor's office to revoke a business' license after only one instance of a patron consuming marijuana on the premises.

Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers Call on VA to Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to VA Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

Industrial Hemp

Hawaii Industrial Hemp Production Bill Filed. Reps. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) and Cynthia Thielen (R-Oahu) have introduced House Bill 2555, which would allow for industrial hemp production for research purposes. The bill is backed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Asset Forfeiture

Wisconsin Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Gets Committee Hearing. The Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform Tuesday took up Senate Bill 521, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. Speaking in support were the Wisconsin ACLU and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty; speaking against were -- you guessed it -- representatives of law enforcement. No vote was taken.

Drug Testing

Virginia Welfare Drug Testing Bills Killed. The Health, Welfare and Institutions Subcommittee #1 narrowly defeated a combined pair of bills, House Bill 468 and House Bill 86, that would have required welfare applicants to undergo drug tests before receiving benefits. "VIEW recipients are no more likely statistically to be drug users than any other group and to target them would be unfair," Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said. "I am proud to have agreed with my colleagues across the aisle that there was a lack of evidence to warrant this practice. We would be better served, instead of this practice, to continue to invest money into the tangible obstacles to employment. Rightly, partisan politics did not stand in the way of doing what is right for our Commonwealth."

Sentencing

Maine Bill to More Harshly Punish Outsiders Bringing Drugs to State Gets Hearing. The legislature's Criminal Justice Committee heard conflicting testimony Monday on LD 1541, which creates the crime of "aggravated importation of scheduled drugs." The bill doesn't specify, but the measure is clearly aimed at heroin traffickers bringing the drug into the state. Not everyone was gung-ho, though: Tougher sentences are "just not the most effective tool against this scourge," said John Pelletier, a member of the Maine Criminal Advisory Commission. The measure would double prison sentences for importing heroin into the state from five to 10 years, and up to 30 years in some cases.

International

Mexico's National Marijuana Legalization Debate is Underway. Lawmakers met in Cancun Tuesday to open the first batch of debates on marijuana legalization. President Enrique Pena Nieto is opposed, but called for national debate after court rulings appeared to open cracks in the country's prohibition.

Chronicle AM: Top Cops Call for Sentencing Reform, GOP Senators Split On Reform, More... (1/20/16)

GOP legislators are busy filing retrograde drug bills across the land, from chipping away at medical marijuana in Arizona to public benefits drug testing bills in several states. Meanwhile, a battle looms over federal sentencing reform.

The fight is heating up over a federal sentencing reform bill. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Legislators Face Plethora of Marijuana Bills. The legislative session has barely started, but lawmakers in Jefferson City have already filed nearly 20 bills aiming at reforming marijuana policy. The bills range from legalization and medical marijuana to barring asset forfeiture in pot cases and expunging the record of nonviolent offenses, including marijuana offenses. Click on the link to see the whole list.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Legislators Try to Chip Away at Medical Marijuana Access. Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) has filed House Bill 2061, which would bar pregnant women from qualifying for the medical marijuana program, and Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale) has filed House Concurrent Resolution 2019, which removes homeopaths and naturopaths from the list of doctors who can issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Fix in the Works for California's Medical Marijuana Local Regulation Deadline. Legislators are working to fix a provision of the medical marijuana regulation law that requires localities to pass their own rules by March 1 or face loss of regulatory control to the state. The provision has caused a stampede of cities and counties seeking to get measures in place by that date, with most of them resorting to simple bans. The Senate Finance Committee last week passed a bill to remove the date.

Drug Testing

Indiana Unemployment Benefits Drug Testing Bill Filed. State Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute) has filed Senate Bill 245, which would require people applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing if they were fired for drug use or if they work in an occupation the federal Bureau of Labor has determined is one where drug testing is common. The bill had a hearing set for today.

West Virginia Food Stamp Drug Testing Bill Advances. A bill that would require drug testing of food stamp recipients passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would only require testing of those for whom state officials had a "reasonable suspicion" were drug users. The measure is Senate Bill 6.

Sentencing

Police Chiefs, Prosecutors Urge Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform. More than 70 top police chiefs and prosecutors organized as Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration today called on Congress to pass sentencing reform. They are urging support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (Senate Bill 2123). The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform. "Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country's high levels of incarceration are not making us safer," said the letter they sent out today.

GOP Split on Mandatory Minimums Threatens Sentencing Reform Bill. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is keeping mum about how he plans to proceed on the bill, which is cosponsored by several Republicans. GOP hardliners are balking, threatening passage of the measure. "I don't think it’s a healthy thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a fervent opponent of the justice bill. "If we lay off drug prosecutions, we're going to see even more murders and crimes, deaths and destruction. I think we need to slow down, be careful about this." The bill had appeared to be one of the few areas where bipartisan support could ensure passage, but now GOP support looks to be eroding.

International

Indian Has a Booming Industry Manufacturing New Psychoactive Substances. Recent raids by drug police have uncovered a domestic party drug manufacturing industry cranking out drugs by the ton. Police busted more than 1,200 pounds of mephedrone in one bust, 750 pounds in another, and more than 2500 pounds of ketamine in yet another. The drug makers are behaving like legitimate drug manufacturers, finding factories, chemists, and workers, then obtaining licenses to manufacture legitimate drugs, then cranking out party drugs.

Costa Rica Court Clears Activist of Marijuana Cultivation Charges. In a case that could be a step down the path to decriminalization, a court refused to convict Cerdas Salazar on drug trafficking charges for growing his own marijuana. Police contended he grew for sale, but provided no evidence of that. "Yes, marijuana cultivation is illegal; nonetheless, it is not a crime if it is not utilized for sale," the judge hearing the case, Carolina Leitón, said.

Chronicle AM: Seattle Shrinks MJ Buffer Zones, 2nd Chance Reauth Heads for House Floor, More... (1/14/16)

Seattle moves to ease zoning restrictions on pot businesses, Ohio GOP lawmakers form medical marijuana task force, Mexico creates marijuana debate website, and more.

Will there be justice for Troy Goode? (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Lawmakers Propose Tweaks to Legal Marijuana Market. The joint committee on marijuana implementation has rolled out its "base bill" containing a number of modifications they hope to get passed during the 35-day short session that starts February 1. One change would end the requirement that would-be pot entrepreneurs prove they lived in the state for the past two years; another would reduce sentences for many marijuana-related offenses. The bill is not yet available on the legislative web site.

Seattle Dramatically Reduces MJ Business Buffer Zones.The city council Monday night agreed to reduce the minimum distance between marijuana businesses and sensitive areas, such as schools, public parks, and day care centers, from 1000 feet to 500 feet in most areas, and down to 250 feet in the downtown core. The new city rules could mean up to 21 more pot shops for the city.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Lawmakers to Form Medical Marijuana Task Force. Ohio House Republicans will later today unveil details on a new task force on medical marijuana. In November, voters rejected Issue 3, which would have included medical marijuana in a broader legalization initiative, but there is broad popular support for medical marijuana in the state. Recent public opinion polls show 85% support medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Lawmakers File Bill to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. Members of the House Judiciary Committee have filed a bill that would require a criminal conviction before assets could be seized, effectively ending civil asset forfeiture in the state. The measure, House Bill 14, is sponsored by Reps. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) and Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan). Republican Gov. Matt Mead vetoed similar legislation last year.

Drug Testing

South Carolina Lawmaker Wants to Drug Test Food Stamp Beneficiaries. Rep. Chris Corley (R-Graniteville) has filed four bills designed to tighten the screws on food stamp recipients, including one that would require them to submit to drug testing. The measure is House Bill 4412.

Law Enforcement

Family of Memphis Man Killed By Police Hogtie After Freaking Out on LSD Files Lawsuit. The family of Troy Goode has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Southhaven, Mississippi, and the Southhaven Police Department over his death after being hogtied by police when he freaked out after ingesting LSD before a Widespread Panic concert. The official autopsy report blamed his death on "LSD toxicity" (Ed: a fictional notion at least in this context), but an independent autopsy ordered by his family found that his death was caused by being hogtied, which led to breathing problems that sent his heart into cardiac arrest.

Sentencing

Second Chance Reauthorization Act Heads for House Floor. The bill was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday and now awaits a House floor vote. Its companion measure, Senate Bill 1513 awaits a floor vote in the Senate.

International

Jodie Emery Calls for Moratorium on Marijuana Arrests in Canada. There is no reason for Canadians to any longer face arrest for pot crimes, said Vancouver-based activist Jodie Emery, the wife of Canada's "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery. "Our movement is asking the Liberals to stop all marijuana arrests. We need a moratorium on marijuana arrests because money is being wasted going after people for pot and the longer we wait to really move forward on this file, the more lives will be negatively impacted."

Mexican Government Unveils Marijuana Website Ahead of National Debate. The government has launched a new Marijuana Debate web site as it prepares for a national conversation on marijuana policy later this month. The site seeks to promote "a broad and inclusive" discussion and will include links to information about marijuana legislation in 14 countries and three US states, as well as academic research and articles on all aspects of marijuana policy. The first debate will be in Cancun this month, to be followed by forums each month through April.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2015 [FEATURE]

As the year winds down, we look back on the big stories in drug policy, from marijuana reform to climbing fatal overdose levels to sentencing reforms and beyond.

Marijuana remained a major story this year. (wikimedia.org)
The Sky Hasn't Fallen on Legal Marijuana States. The great social experiment with marijuana legalization appears to be going off without a serious hitch, and that's great news for people in states where it will likely be an issue next year. No outbreaks of reefer-induced mass criminality have taken place, no hordes of zombie school kids have appeared. In fact, very little at all seems to have happened, except that in Washington state, marijuana arrests are way down, tax revenues are flowing in, and, and ditto for Colorado, where legal pot has created 16,000 jobs (not to mention thousands more in weed-related industries) and, in Denver at least, a real estate boom is going on. Evaluating the impacts of a policy shift like ending state-level marijuana prohibition is a complicated and long-term affair, but so far it we're not seeing any signs of major social policy disaster.

The Marijuana Majority Solidifies. Marijuana legalization is now consistently winning majority support in national polls. An April CBS News poll (released on 4/20) reported support at "an all-time high" at 53%, while a Pew Research poll that some month also came in at 53%. An October Gallup poll had support at 58%, a November Morning Consult poll had it at 55%. This is really quite remarkable: Less than a decade ago, fewer than a third of people were ready to legalize it. Beginning in 2012 or 2013, public opinion reached the tipping point, and now we've clearly tipped.

Groundwork Well Laid for Marijuana Legalization Efforts Next Year. Efforts are well-advanced in a half-dozen states states to put legalization initiatives on the ballot next year. A Nevada initiative has already qualified for the November ballot and a Massachusetts initiative has also met its initial signature gathering hurdle (but must let the legislature have a chance to act before gathering a token amount of additional signatures to qualify for November). Initiative signature gathering campaigns are also well-advanced in Arizona, Maine, and Michigan, and while the California effort lags behind, an initiative backed by some deep-pocketed funders should qualify for November as well. State polls in those states show majorities for legalization, but support numbers only in the 50s suggests that victories are by no means inevitable. Those numbers tend to get pushed down in the course of an actual campaign, especially if there's well-funded opposition. And serious efforts are underway in two states, Rhode Island and Vermont, to pass legalization at the state house next year.

Monopoly Marijuana Gets Rejected in the Heartland. In a clear signal that marijuana legalization is not inevitable, a well-funded, but equally well-loathed legalization initiative went down in flames in November. The ResponsibleOhio initiative would have enshrined within the state constitution a "monopoly" under which pot would be legalized, but only 10 growers could produce commercial pot crops. The effort was opposed by the state's Republican political establishment, as well as the usual suspects in law enforcement, but also by most of the state's marijuana legalization activists. Concerns about the role of industry money in the movement are on the rise, but ResponsibleOhio wasn't even industry money -- it was just a set of wealth investors hoping to cash in with their privileged positions in a newly legal and high lucrative industry.

Black Lives Matter's Policing Critique Implicates the Drug War. The most energetic mass movement since 2011's Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is taking direct aim at policing abuses that have festered for a generation -- and the war on drugs is deeply implicated in them. BLM's Campaign Zero manifesto to end police violence includes numerous drug war-related reform targets. From the militarization of policing to mass incarceration, from stop-and-frisk to "policing for profit," the objects of BLM's ire are key components of the drug war, and the movement is raising the racial justice imperative in the loudest fashion possible.

Heroin overdoses are still on the increase. (New Jersey State Police)
Overdoses Kill Tens of Thousands, Harm Reduction Responses Emerge. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US, claiming some 44,000 lives a year. Heroin is involved in more than 8,000 of those deaths, but prescription opiates are involved in twice that number. Deaths related to prescription opiates are actually leveling off in line with a decrease in prescribing beginning in 2012, but heroin deaths, which quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, are not, especially as people who once had access to pain pills resort to the black market. With the rising death toll -- and the changing demographics of users; younger, whiter, less "urban" -- has come a new openness toward harm reduction measures that can actually save lives, especially the wider availability of the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan). Access to the drug is being increased around the country, thousands of lives are being saved, even the drug czar is for it. It's not like having supervised injection facilities, where users can inject under medical supervision, and which are proven to practically eliminate overdoses (Vancouver's InSite points to exactly zero fatal overdoses in nearly 16,000 injections), but it's a start.

Asset Forfeiture Reform Picks Up Steam. The use of asset forfeiture has been a favorite drug war tactic of police and prosecutors for years, and has grown to the point where federal law enforcement seized more from citizens than burglars did last year. It's been 15 years since the last round of federal asset forfeiture reform, and the pressure is building in Washington. The year started off with then Attorney General Holder abruptly limiting federal seizure sharing with state and local cops, which cut off a main conduit for local cops to get around state asset forfeiture laws (the federal equitable sharing program allowed seizing law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of seizures, while state laws often required seizures to go into general funds). That was followed by the filing of a Rand Paul bill to end federal civil asset forfeiture with a House panel signaling support. The practice is also under fire in the states, where more than a dozen took up bills this year. In two states, Maryland and Wyoming, bills passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governors, but new asset forfeiture reform laws went into effect July 1 in Montana and New Mexico and passed in Michigan in the fall. Look for more asset forfeiture reform battles next year, both in Congress and at the statehouse.

Some 6,000 drug war prisoners got out in one fell swoop at the beginning of November. (nadcp.org)
6,000 Federal Drug War Prisoners Come Home. At the end of October, the largest prisoner release in recent US history took place, with some 6,000 prisoners set free after their drug sentences were cut thanks to policy changes by the US Sentencing Commission. Another 8,000 are set to be released the same time next year. Along with other sentencing reforms enacted in the past few years, the move has resulted in the federal prison population declining for the first time since Ronald Reagan unleashed the modern drug war in the early 1980s.

Obama Commutes Drug Sentences. President Obama commuted the sentences of 68 drug offenders earlier this year, and just last week he commuted the sentences of nearly a hundred more. Obama has now issued more commutations (which actually free people still behind bars, as opposed to pardons, which are granted after the fact) than the last five presidents combined, and with some 35,000 having petitioned for commutations at the invitation of the Justice Department, we could well see another big batch next year before he leaves office.

Drug Policy Becomes a Presidential Election Issue. In a good way. On the issue of marijuana policy, Bernie Sanders has become the first serious mainstream presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization, and, as this Marijuana Policy Project report card on the presidential candidates shows, many of the others -- from both parties -- support medical marijuana, decriminalization, and/or a states' rights approach to legalization. Not all of them do, of course, but supporting marijuana reform is now a thoroughly mainstream position in presidential politics. Similarly, the candidates have been addressing high rates of prescription opiate and heroin use, with even some GOP candidates talking about treating addiction as a health and public health issue, not a criminal justice one. Democratic contenders have also been addressing the problem as a public health issue, most recently in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. We've come a long way from competing to see who can be the "toughest" on drugs.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

Congress again blocks the Justice Department from messing with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, California localities scurry to regulate or face losing that authority to the state, Maryland patients find out they face more delays, and more.

National

Last Friday, Congress passed a budget bill barring the DOJ from interfering in medical marijuana states. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

On Wednesday, the DEA eased requirements for natural marijuana-derived research. The DEA eased some restrictions on research evaluating cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal use. The changes will relax some requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act on use of CBD in specific US Food and Drug Administration-approved research protocols. The changes are in effect immediately.

California

For the past few weeks, localities across the state have been acting to ban or regulate medical marijuana before the state assumes the power to regulate it itself. Once the three bills that comprise the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act go into effect March 1, cities or counties that do not have a land use regulation or ordinance governing cultivation and delivery in place will lose control and the state will become "the sole licensing authority" for those enterprises. There are getting to be too many of them for us to list them all.

Florida

Last Friday, the Supreme Court okayed medical marijuana initiative ballot language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supports collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Hawaii

Last Tuesday, the Health Department issued dispensary rules. The Health Department released detailed rules for dispensaries. The rules cover the application process, security, quality control, and auditing of records and operations for commercial grows and dispensaries. Earlier this year, the legislature and the governor approved opening up eight dispensaries.

Maryland

On Monday, patients got news they will have to wait until 2017 to get their medicine. The state Medical Cannabis Commission announced that it will not award cultivation and processing licenses until sometime next summer, pushing back the date when patients can get to be able to obtain their medicine to sometime in 2017. The state passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, but has faced several delays. Now, one more.

Michigan

Last Thursday, the Detroit city council approved a restrictive dispensary ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

New Hampshire

On Wednesday, officials announced they will begin issuing medical marijuana ID cards. State officials said that they will begin issuing the cards to registered medical marijuana patients beginning Monday. While dispensaries in the state won't open until the spring, people with the ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana in neighboring states that have reciprocity.

New Jersey

On Monday, a Senate panel approved employment protections for patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 6-0 to approve a bill that would bar employers from firing people because they are medical marijuana patients. The bill, Senate Bill 3162, now heads for the Senate floor. "It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who sponsored by the medical marijuana law and this workplace bill said in a statement before the hearing. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."

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

Chronicle AM: Obama to Free 93 Drug War Prisoners, Budget Deal Includes Drug Reforms, More (12/18/15)

The omnibus budget bill approved by Congress today includes several drug policy provisions, the president commutes the sentences of 93 drug war prisoners, Iranian parliamentarians move to end the death penalty for non-violent drug smuggling offenses, and more.

There will be a bit less overcrowding in federal prisons next spring. (nadcp.org)
Marijuana Policy

US Postal Service Doubles Down on Marijuana Advertising Mailing Ban. What started as a one-off letter to a small Washington state newspaper has now become official USPS policy nationwide. The agency's general counsel has penned a new letter directing postal carriers across the country to report marijuana ads to law enforcement, and now, Oregon federal representatives are trying to get to the bottom of it. "We are working as a delegation to quickly find the best option to address this agency's intransigence," said Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer in a statement. "We want federal authorities to respect decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state. Unfortunately, the outdated federal approach to marijuana as described in the response from the Postal Service undermines and threatens news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana business in Oregon and other states where voters have also freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Oregon Indian Tribe Votes to Approve Marijuana. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow for the growing, processing, and selling of marijuana. The referendum passed with 86% of the vote.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Okays Medical Marijuana Initiative Language. The state's high court determined that the initiative is limited to a single subject and its ballot wording informs voters fairly. That means if supporters collect enough valid voter signatures, the measure will appear on the November 2016 ballot.

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Bars DOJ From Interfering in Medical Marijuana States. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects and it also lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

Hemp

Key Hemp Provision Added to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2016. The budget bill that passed Congress today protects the transportation, processing, and sale of hemp that is from Farm Bill-compliant pilot programs. The provision was added to the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Harm Reduction

Congress Passes Budget Bill That Includes End to Ban on Federal Needle Exchange Funds. The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning lifts a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs. The ban had been put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988 and was repealed in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding.

Sentencing

Obama Commutes Sentences for Nearly a Hundred Federal Drug Prisoners. President Obama today commuted the federal prison sentences of 95 men and women, all but two of them drug offenders serving draconian sentences. He also issued pardons for two people who have already served their sentences. This single step nearly doubles the number of sentence commutations the president has issued in his seven years in office, bringing the total to 184. While that is a tiny fraction of the hundred thousand drug offenders serving federal time, the number of commutations is more than the previous five presidents combined.

International

Move to End Death Penalty for Drug Smuggling in Iran. At least 70 members of the Iranian parliament are supporting an effort to end the death penalty in nonviolent drug smuggling cases. The country is most likely the world's leading drugs executioner, with one UN official estimating that it will hang a thousand people for drug crimes this year. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to present to the parliament.

Spending Bill Just Passed By Congress Includes Important Drug Reforms

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this morning includes several drug reform provisions, although reformers didn't get everything they wanted. The bill includes language blocking the Justice Department and DEA from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects, and it also softens a freeze on federal funding for needle exchange programs.

But Congress failed to approve amendments to allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses or to allow veterans to have access to medical marijuana, despite the Senate having approved both. And the Congress again included provisions that block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating marijuana.

The language blocking the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana where it is legal also came in the form of an amendment from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was passed last year, but had to be renewed this year. In the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sponsored the amendment.

Drug and criminal justice reformers welcomed the progress on Capitol Hill.

"The renewal of this amendment should bring relief for medical marijuana patients and business owners," said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For decades Congress has been responsible for passing disastrous drug laws. It's encouraging to see them starting to roll back the war on drugs by allowing states to set their own medical marijuana policies."

"Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. "It's very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state's rights and the rights of patients."

Reformers also cheered the softening of a ban on states and localities spending federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs. The ban was put in place in the midst of drug war and AIDS hysteria in 1988, and repealed in 2009 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but reinstated by congressional Republicans after they regained control of the House in 2011.

Since then, outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C in southwestern Indiana and the impact of rising heroin use in states like Kentucky and West Virginia have weakened Republican opposition to restoring the funding, but not completely. There is still a ban on federal funding of syringes for the programs, but funds can be used for other program expenses such as staff, if a local or state authority has issued an emergency finding.

"Syringe access programs are a sound public health intervention, rooted in science, and proven to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C," said DPA's Collins. "Lifting this archaic ban will save thousands of lives."

"Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity," said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. "This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles."

Needle exchange programs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, Hep C, and other blood-borne diseases and are supported by every major medical and public health organization, including the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, and US Conference of Mayors, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Red Cross-Red Crescent Society.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: Ireland to Allow SIF, Congress Renews DEA Funding Ban in MedMJ States, More (12/16/15)

Congress continues to block DEA harassment in medical marijuana states, Washington state could see a lot more pot shops, it looks like Florida will vote again on medical marijuana, Ireland is moving toward setting up a supervised injection site in Dublin, and more.

A supervised injection site is coming to Dublin next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Congress to Continue Blocking DEA Interference With Medical Marijuana States. Lawmakers have extended a ban on funding for the DEA and Justice Department to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. They also extended protections for hemp research, but failed to include provisions that would have allowed pot businesses to use the financial system and would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana.

Washington Could Allow Lots More Marijuana Stores. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) today heard a staff recommendation to increase the number of retail marijuana outlets from 334 to 556. The move is expected to be finalized in emergency rules to be announced January 6.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Already Has 900,000 Signatures. The United for Care initiative campaign says it already has 900,000 signatures, but is aiming for more than one million. These are raw signatures. The initiative will need 683,149 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. A similar initiative won 58% of the vote last year, but failed because, as a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% to pass.

Illinois to Consider Adding New Qualifying Conditions. State residents hoping to add a new disease or medical condition to the state's list of qualifying conditions will be able to do so during the month of January, state health officials said Wednesday. They can submit petitions to the state Department of Public Health through January 31.

Methamphetamine

Indiana Legislators Compete Over How to Restrict Access to Cold Medications. Faced with a bill that would require a doctor's prescription to obtain cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, two lawmakers have come up with an alternative measure that would instead allow pharmacists to decide whether or not customers could buy the cold medications.

Drug Treatment

Most People in Treatment for Marijuana Are Sent There By Courts. A report this month from the US Department of Health and Human Services finds that between 2003 and 2013 52% of people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred by the criminal justice system. Only 18% were in treatment because they sought it themselves.

International

Irish Cabinet Approves Supervised Injection Site in Dublin. The cabinet has approved a pilot plan for a medically supervised injection facility in the nation's capital. The move came yesterday and was at the behest of Aodhan O'Riordain, the minister in charge of the National Drug Strategy. The country's drug law must first be amended to allow for such facilities, which should happen early next year.

Chronicle AM: Activists Block Bad MI MedMJ Bills, Jeb Bush Now Open to Decrim, More (12/14/15)

San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization, a Kentucky state senator wants it there too, Ohio legalizers spent millions losing last month, a federal drug and mental health treatment bill passes the Senate, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Jeb Bush Now Supports Decriminalization, But Still Calls Pot a "Gateway Drug." GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush last Friday said he could live with decriminalization. "It's one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that," he said in an interview with Joe Mathieu of Boston' WBZ NewsRadio. While that is an advance for the former Florida governor, he added that he rejected legalization and brought out the discredited gateway theory for support. "Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug," Bush continued. "Of course it is, every study shows that."

Kentucky Senator Files Marijuana Legalization Bill. Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) announced last Friday that he has pre-filed the Cannabis Freedom Act, which would repeal pot prohibition and replace it with a regulatory framework that would "promote public safety and responsible cannabis consumption by persons over 21 years of age." The bill will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts January 5.

Michigan Supreme Court Okays Grand Rapids Decriminalization Ordinance. The state high court has rejected a challenge to the ordinance's legality from Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth. The ordinance, approved by voters in 2012, makes possession or sharing marijuana a civil infraction, punishable only by fines. Forsyth had argued that the ordinance was an illegal restriction on his power to enforce state drug laws, but he lost in circuit court and the Court of Appeals. And he lost again, and finally, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Ohio Legalizers Spent Nearly $22 Million in Failed Initiative Campaign. Ouch, that's gotta hurt! ResponsibleOhio and its deep-pocketed backers, who hoped to win monopolistic marijuana concessions, spent more than $21 million in their campaign, only to get trounced last month. The campaign spent $12 million between July and October and had burned through nearly another $10 million just getting on the ballot.

Eyeing Looming Legalization, San Francisco Creates Marijuana Task Force. Last week, the Board of Supervisors' Rules Committee voted to appoint 11 people to a task force aimed at helping to guide the city's policies in the face of seemingly inevitable marijuana legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Activists Stop Dispensary Bills. Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has given up on moving his medical marijuana dispensary bills in the face of strong opposition by activists. The link has all the juicy details.

Utah Poll Has Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Some 61% of Utahns support legalizing medical marijuana, according to a new poll from Dan Jones and Associates. The poll comes as Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) says he will reintroduce a medical marijuana in the coming session. His bill last session failed by one vote in the Senate.

Heroin

New Hampshire Attorney General Will Seek Murder Charges in Heroin Overdoses. Attorney General Joe Foster (D) says he plans to aggressively seek murder charges against dealers of drugs involved in overdose deaths. "The message to dealers is: If you sell this stuff here and we can (figure) the facts out, you will be going to jail for a very, very long time," Attorney General Joe Foster said. Overdose deaths are expected to top 400 in the state this. Foster also said he is seeking $115,000 for a new prosecutor for drug cases and exploring a federal grant to hire another drug prosecutor.

Drug Policy

Federal Synthetic Drugs Bill Filed. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) has filed HR 4229, which seeks to "address the continued threat posed by dangerous synthetic drugs by amending the Controlled Substance Act" to make it easier to go after drug analogs. It also calls on the US Sentencing Commission to ensure that sentences for violations are "appropriately severe."

Drug Treatment

Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act Passes Senate. The act, S 993, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), passed the Senate last Thursday. It is aimed at facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, veterans treatment services, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Colombian Senate Approves Medical Marijuana. In a plenary session last Friday, the Colombian Senate approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana. President Santos had said he would do it through an executive order, but the Senate decided not to wait. The bill now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, where it will be debated early next year.

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

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