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White House Weighs in on DC Marijuana Reform Battle [FEATURE]

The city of Washington, DC, is a marijuana policy hothouse these days. It's expanding its medical marijuana program, it has a new decriminalization bill set to go into effect Thursday with House Republicans trying to stop it, it has a marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative poised to make the November ballot, and it has legislation that would allow for the taxation and regulation of marijuana commerce already pending before the city council. Now, the White House is weighing in too.

The "Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014," adopted by the council in April, replaces criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 civil fine for possession as well as forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia used to consume or carry it.

DC's decriminalization effort has clearly caught the attention of House Republicans -- one of whom, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), introduced an amendment to the DC appropriations bill to block its implementation. That amendment has already won a House committee vote.

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee adopted Harris's amendment. If included in the 2015 federal budget, the rider would block the District from carrying out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.

That has sparked irate reactions from both DC elected officials and advocates alike.

"These Members violated their own principles of limited government by using the power of the federal government to dictate to a local government how it can use its own local funds," DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a statement after the vote. "They apparently could not keep their own states from decriminalizing marijuana, so they have turned to a district where they are not accountable to the citizens to do what they couldn't convince their own states to do. Their constituents may be surprised to learn that their Members are spending their time interfering with the local laws of another district instead of devoting their time to issues affecting their districts and the nation."

"That Congressman Andy Harris would try to kill DC's efforts to stop arresting people for marijuana possession is beyond disturbing," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DC policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "This amendment is an affront to the District's right to home rule, while ensuring that thousands of District residents continue to be arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. Congress should be following DC's example and end racist marijuana arrest policies, instead of defying the will of the people and reversing their decision."

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sticks up for her constitutents. (house.gov)
District residents have begun organizing a boycott of Ocean City, MD, part of Rep. Harris's congressional district, as a show of their disapproval his intervention in District affairs. That was an idea that came from none other than Washington, DC, Mayor Vincent Gray.

"It's become a sad tradition that members of Congress with no ties to the District use their outdated, undemocratic and unjust authority over the District's budget to further their own political and personal agenda," Gray said in a pre-4th of July statement.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate David Catania even stormed Harris's DC office after the vote demanding to discuss his efforts to block the District from implementing decrim. Harris wasn't there.

"I'm here to address what has become a congressional pastime, which is interfering in the local affairs of the District of Columbia," Catania said at the time.

And now, the effort to block the District from implementing decrim -- or any other marijuana reforms -- has caught the attention of the White House, which yesterday slammed it in no uncertain terms.

"[T]he Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule," the White House said in a statement of administration policy on the Financial Services and General Government Administration Act of 2015, which contains appropriations for DC. "Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District."

(The statement of administration policy also criticized Congress for including a ban on the funding of needle exchanges in the District, as well as language restricting the District's ability to provide abortion services.)

"It is great to see the White House accepting that a majority of Americans want marijuana law reform and defending the right of DC and states to set their own marijuana policy," said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "The tide has clearly shifted against the failed war on drugs and it's only a matter of time before federal law is changed."

The White House wasn't the only group trying to send a signal to Congress yesterday. The DC city council passed a pair of emergency resolutions opposing Rep. Harris's effort to use congressional oversight to block the District from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform.

Harris's amendment would, if passed by the Congress, also block the District from enacting the results of the looming marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative, which is all but certain to make the November ballot after organizers handed in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify. And it would block the District from implementing the putative legislative follow-up to the initiative, which would allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce in the District.

But that amendment still has not passed the House, let alone the Senate, and now, the Obama administration has made clear that it does not approve of it, either. That puts the administration on the side of the District, its voters (who consistently approve of marijuana legalization in polls), and its elected officials. House and Senate Republicans would be up against a city united against their interference in the District's domestic affairs, backed by a president who agrees with the District. While the Republicans are always eager to pick a fight with the president, this could be one fight they think twice about.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 15, 2014

The Obama administration comes out against congressional interference with the District of Columbia's decriminalization law, Dana Rohrabacher comes out as the first Republican congressman to support marijuana legalization, the Smarter Sentencing Act picks up more sponsors, and more. Let's get to it:

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the first sitting Republican congressman to endorse marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

White House Comes Out Against Congress Blocking DC Decriminalization Law. In a statement of administration policy on pending appropriations bills, the White House Monday came out "strongly" against a congressional move to bar the District from spending money to implement its new decriminalization law. "The Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States' rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department's enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District," the statement said.

DC City Council Passes Emergency Resolutions Condemning Congressional Interference. The council Monday approved two emergency resolutions opposing a recent effort led by US House Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) to use congressional oversight to block the District of Columbia from spending any of its locally-raised revenues to enact marijuana reform. Read more on DC marijuana politics in a feature article here later today.

Dana Rohrabacher, First Republican Congressman to Back Marijuana Legalization. California Republican US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Christian Science Monitor Monday that he supports legalizing marijuana and would "probably" endorse a 2016 California legalization initiative if it qualifies for the ballot. Rohrabacher is the first sitting Republican congressman to explicitly endorse legalization. About 40 congressional Democrats have expressed support for legalization.

National Press Club Newsmakers Event Next Week Centers on Marijuana Policy. The National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC, will host a news conference next Thursday on medical and recreational marijuana legalization. The news conference will feature Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Dr. Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart About Marijuana). The event is open to all credentialed journalists and National Press Club members. Click on the link for event details.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Jay Nixon (R) yesterday signed into law a bill allowing Missourians with epilepsy that cannot be treated by conventional means to use low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil. Patients will have to register for the state and have a neurologist aver that conventional treatments have not worked.

Los Angeles Moves to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Farmers' Market. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has said he will today seek a restraining order to block a Boyle Heights medical marijuana farmers' market from doing it again. The farmers' market occurred two weekends ago. It isn't clear if there are plans to do it again.

Prescription Opiates

University of Wisconsin Pain Policy Study Group Releases Two Reports. The reports are Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card (CY 2013) and Achieving Balance in State and Federal Pain Policies: A Guide to Evaluation (CY 2013). The first report contains a grade for each state and the District of Columbia, which represents the extent that state policies can support pain management and patient care. The second report explains PPSG's evaluation method and criteria as well as its "principle of balance," which says that "efforts to prevent drug diversion and abuse are essential and should avoid interfering with healthcare practice and patient care."

Law Enforcement

Oklahoma Narcs on the Lookout for Kratom. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is worried about kratom, a Southeast Asian shrub whose leaves are mildly psychoactive and who some users claim is useful as a means of breaking opiate addictions. The OBN says it is not a "major problem" yet, but that it has received worried phone calls from a half-dozen parents. Kratom is on the DEA's list of drugs to watch, but the federal agency has made no move to ban it.

Sentencing

Smarter Sentencing Act Picks Up Two More Cosponsors. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) are the latest to sign onto the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce some federal drug sentences by retroactively adjusting crack and powder cocaine sentences and allowing judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in some cases. The act now has 44 cosponsors -- 30 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Similar legislation has been filed in the Senate.

International

Dutch Senate Wants Justice Minister to Explain What He's Doing About Illegal Marijuana Production. The Senate has summoned Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to explain what he is doing about "the backdoor problem" -- the fact that while cannabis coffee shops can sell marijuana without legal penalty, there is no legal source for the marijuana they sell. Opstelten and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk will appear before the Senate in September. Despite the pleas of numerous mayors, Opstelten has refused to allow experiments with regulated marijuana production.

Chronicle AM -- July 8, 2014

There are now two states where marijuana can be legally sold to adults, Marc Emery's time in America's drug war gulag comes to an end, two senators file the REDEEM Act for ex-offenders, there may be magic in those mushrooms, and more. Let's get to it:

Marc Emery is about to leave the land of the living dead and rejoin his wife, Jodi, back home in Canada. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Retail Marijuana Sales Began This Morning. The first legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington occurred shortly after 8:00am today, when a visitor from Kansas bought two grams of pot for $26.50 at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham. The state has authorized up to 344 retail marijuana outlets, but only a handful are open today, and there are worries about legal marijuana shortages as well. Stay tuned as Washington treads down the path of pot legalization.

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery Gets Out of US Prison Tomorrow. The five-year legal martyrdom of Canadian marijuana legalization gadfly Marc Emery is about to come to an end. Emery will leave federal prison tomorrow after serving a sentence for selling marijuana seeds to customers in the US. He won't get back home to Canada immediately; there is some red tape involved that will keep him in the US for several more weeks, but we fully expect Emery to take up where he left off in terms of relentless activism -- once he has had a chance to reunite with his stalwart wife, Jodi.

New York Fairness and Equity Act Seeks to End Marijuana Arrests, Fix Loopholes in State Law. Elected officials, community groups, and activists will rally Wednesday at New York City Hall to announce the introduction of the Fairness and Equity Act. The bill is designed to end mass, racially-biased marijuana possession arrests by fixing the state's decriminalization law to eliminate the difference between private and public possession, creating a process for those arrested under the current law to clear their records, and reducing the harms of collateral consequences of pot possession arrests. The bill is not yet available on the state legislative web site. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

San Jose Collectives, Dispensaries Fight Looming Shut-Downs With Referendum Effort, Thursday Protest. The city of San Jose has recently passed an ordinance that will result in the forced closure of more than 70 collectives and dispensaries, and the industry is fighting back. There is a petition drive underway to stop the city from shuttering the businesses, and there will be a rally throughout Thursday afternoon at city hall. Stay tuned.

San Diego Sheriff's Office Returns Marijuana to Raided Dispensary. Sheriff's office officials have handed back 20 pounds of marijuana, as well as grow equipment, seized in a raid last year from the SoCal Pure Collective in North County. The legal case against the collective was dropped in April, and a judge ordered all the confiscated goods returned. But collective operator Laura Sharp still fumes over the raid itself, a paramilitarized exercise of police power aimed at patients and providers. "I don't think that we needed to have assault rifles held to our heads. I think we could have been served paperwork," she said.

Psychedelics

Study Finds Magic Mushrooms Open Strange Brain State, Could Unlock Permanent Shifts in Perspective. A study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping has found that psychedelic mushroom compounds may be opening brain states usually experienced only in dreams and suggests that their use may have permanent positive effects on the brain. This could open the door for more research on the use of psychedelics as a treatment for disorders such as depression and anxiety. Click the study link for more details.

Reentry and Rehabilitation

Senate Odd Couple Introduce REDEEM Act to Assist Ex-Cons with Re-Entry. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul will today introduce the REDEEM Act, which aims to assist formerly incarcerated people with reentering society in a productive manner. The bill would, among other things, help seal conviction records and eliminate barriers to reentry, employment, and public assistance. The bill is not yet up on the congressional web site.

International

Applicants Sought for Two-Week London Fellowship on West Africa Drug Policy Reform. The Open Society Foundation is seeking applicants for a West African fellowship on drug policy reform. The two-week program is set to take place in London in October, 2014, and will be hosted by the drug policy organization, Release. Those interested in the program are encouraged to apply by visiting the link here for more details. You have until July 31 to apply.

Conference on Marijuana Regulation in London Later This Month. A Cannabis Conference will be held July 23 at the House of Lords in London. It is supported and sponsored by Baroness Meacher, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Reform Policy. Click on the link for more details.

Dominican Prime Minister Wants Review of Marijuana Laws. Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told a press conference Tuesday that the time has come to review the country's marijuana laws. "We believe the time has come for us to look at the laws relating to marijuana, for example someone with a very small quantity of marijuana, we will send him to prison, and the question is, if a man has five grams of marijuana should this person be sent to prison for that small amount and that person would have a criminal record for the rest of his life," Skerrit said. His remarks come as CARICOM convenes a commission to study marijuana law reform in the region.

An Industry Emerges: The NCIA Cannabis Business Summit in Denver [FEATURE]

The exhibition hall in the Denver Convention Center last week was a wonder to behold. Automated, high-capacity marijuana trimming machines. Industrial strength cannabis oil extraction devices. Marijuana real estate specialists. Marijuana accountants. Marijuana attorneys -- real estate, intellectual property, contracts. Marijuana consultants. Marijuana investment advisers. Point-of-sale marijuana sales tracking systems. Chemical testing companies. Vaporizer sellers. Odor-proof bag producers. Automated rolling machine makers. Anything and everything to do with the business of legal marijuana. All in a high-gloss trade show environment.

It was the National Cannabis Industry Association's (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit, which brought more than 1,200 registrants to the state capital that for now at least is also the capital of legal marijuana. And it represents a new phase in the evolution of marijuana policy.

This is not your father's marijuana movement. There were lots of men in dark suits and ties, lots of women in snappy professional attire. A few dreadlocks here and there, but only a few. And nary a tie-dye to be found. There wasn't a whole lot of talk about how "We have to free the weed, man;" although social justice including ending prohibition came. up. There was a whole lot of talk about business opportunities, investment strategies, and how to profit from crumbling pot prohibition, as well as the dangers and pitfalls facing would-be entrepreneurs in an industry still illegal under federal law.

The legal marijuana industry has been bubbling up for awhile now, building from the quasi-legalization that is medical marijuana in Wild West California and the more regulated, but still thriving medical marijuana industry in states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In the past decade or so, the High Times Cannabis Cup has evolved from a November trip to Amsterdam to a virtual traveling circus of all things pot-related. And marijuana trade expos have drawn crowds in the tens of thousands.

But one can reasonably argue that last week's Cannabusiness Summit represents the maturation of marijuana as an All-American business opportunity. With Colorado this week beginning to accept applications from people who don't represent medical marijuana dispensaries (for the first six months of commercial legalization, only operating dispensaries could apply) and Washington state set to see its first retail marijuana operations next week, the era of legal marijuana is truly upon us. And it's likely to continue to expand, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, poised to join the ranks of the legalizers after elections later this year.

Talking up the product in the exhibition hall.
The Cannabis Business Summit was, unsurprisingly, mainly about the nuts and bolts of operating a legal marijuana business. It could have been any industrial trade show and conference, except this was about weed. Panels covered topics such as "Grow 101: Cultivation Facility Build-Out and Management Best Practices," "Advanced Cultivation: Scalability, Sustainability, and Growth Management," "Protecting Your Investment: Risk Management and Insurance for the Cannabis Industry," and "International CannaBusiness Opportunities." And that was just session one of day one.

Marijuana is an industry on a roll, and the NCIA can point to its own success as exhibit one.

"We now have over 600 marijuana business members, and that has doubled since January," said NCIA founder and executive director Aaron Smith in a keynote speech. "When Steve Fox and I started the NCIA in 2010, we had 20 members. Investors and entrepreneurs are rushing into this new space."

That, in turn, is allowing NCIA to expand its operations, Smith said.

"We're seeing more experienced business people because they understand what a trade association is," Smith explained. "So we've been able to staff up, we have a full-time DC lobbyist, which is a first for the industry, and we've already contacted every congressional office on the Hill and had sit-down meetings with half the House offices and 30 Senate offices. We're also attending campaign fundraisers on behalf of the NCIA."

Although the conference was all about business, Smith made clear that the NCIA had not forgotten that these business opportunities have come about because of a decades-long movement for social justice and human liberation around marijuana policy.

"We have to acknowledge those who came before us," he told his audience of businesspeople. "Before we were an industry, we were a movement, and we are still a social movement. The growth of this new industry will drive the final nail in the coffin of marijuana prohibition, so that no one is put in a cage for using a beneficial, extremely therapeutic herbal product ever again."

NCIA executive director Aaron Smith gives a keynote address.
The industry has to put its best face forward, Smith said.

"We are still under scrutiny, the world is watching Colorado and Washington, as well as the medical marijuana states, and we have to lead by example," he said. "Be a good neighbor and corporate citizen. Reach out to neighborhood associations and work with them. Contribute to the community. Be a model citizen. Be professional. Don't use marketing you wouldn't want your mother to see."

Smith wasn't the only NCIA officer to warn the industry it needed to watch its step. NCIA deputy director Taylor West had more words of wisdom in a session on marketing and communications.

"This is a cultural movement in the midst of an enormous wave, and we have the opportunity to define an idea on the rise, to be responsible, and to do the education around that," she said. "We are building an industry from scratch, and we have to take this opportunity to make this an industry that's not like every other industry."

That requires some maturity within the industry, the communications specialist said as she displayed tacky advertising images of scantily clad women covered in marijuana buds.

"Responsible branding is important," West noted. "Don't screw it up for everybody. We don't have a rock-solid foundation, and we're still very vulnerable from a public opinion and policy standpoint. Don't market to children and don't market like children," she said. "We're like the wine industry or craft beers or wellness. No one is ever drunk in a wine commercial. And," she said, pointing to the tacky ads, "don't alienate half the population."

fundraiser for the Florida medical marijuana initiative, at the Vicente-Sederberg law firm following the summit
There are many issues facing the nascent marijuana industry, but both the conference agenda and the talk in the corridors made it clear that the federal tax issue takes center stage. Under current federal law, marijuana remains illegal, and that means marijuana businesses cannot take standard business tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provision known as 280E.

"This law must be changed, and this law can be changed. If Obama won't do it, we will do it for them," said marijuana tax attorney Henry Wykowski before heading deep into the weeds in a discussion of the intricacies of dealing with 280E.

"There is legislation to address this," said NCIA Capitol Hill lobbyist Mike Correia, pointing to Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D-OR) House Resolution 2240, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2013.

But it's unlikely to go anywhere anytime time soon, Correia said. The congressional bill tracking service GovTrack.us agrees, giving the bill zero percent chance of passage this session.

"This is sitting in Ways and Means," Correia explained. "It's a Democratic bill in a Republican-controlled House, and the committee chairman is not a fan."

There is one back-door possibility for moving the bill, though, the lobbyist said.

"Every few years, the Congress addresses aspiring tax breaks," he noted. "They usually pass it in the middle of the night when no one is watching. I hope to have 280E provisions inserted into a bigger tax bill, but we need to get Republicans to support it. The Ways and Means members are not from marijuana-friendly states, so it's hard to get traction, but next year, Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be chair, and he could be more responsive."

The nascent marijuana industry has other issues, of course, but the Denver conference was a strong signal that the marijuana movement is indeed mutating into a marijuana industry. The power of American entrepreneurialism is very strong, and it looks like it's about to run right over the remnants of marijuana prohibition.

But the industry needs to remember that while we now have legal marijuana in two states, there are still 48 states to go. For people in Alabama or South Dakota or Utah, for example, the issue is not how much money you can make selling marijuana (or marijuana-related products or services), but the criminal -- and other -- consequences of getting caught with even small amounts. If the industry is indeed the movement, it needs to be putting its money where its mouth is to finish the work that remains to be done.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- July 1, 2014

July 1 sees new drug-related laws and regulations going into effect in various places, a University of Arizona researcher falls victim to anti-medical marijuana politics, Massachusetts is cracking down on caregivers, Ohio activists give up on a medical marijuana (and hemp) initiative this year, and more. Let's get to it:

Legal marijuana purchaser eyes the products on offer. (Sandra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Legalization Enters New, Expansive Phase. As of today, any state resident can apply to open a marijuana retail outlet in Colorado. Until now, only owners of already existing medical marijuana dispensaries could apply. It is expected that this new phase of the state's marijuana legalization experience will add hundreds of new marijuana-related businesses in the state.

Berkley, Michigan, Decriminalization Petitioners Hand in Signatures Today. Campaigners for a municipal decriminalization initiative in Berkley plan to turn in 700 signatures today. Berkley is one of about 20 Michigan towns where Safer Michigan is working to get similar initiatives on the ballot for either the August or November elections. Local ordinances that ease penalties for possessing marijuna already are on the books in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Flint, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Ypsilanti.

Medical Marijuana

University of Arizona Fires Medical Marijuana Researcher. The University of Arizona has abruptly fired Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who months earlier had received approval from the federal government to study the effects of medical marijuana on people suffering from PTSD. Now, her research is in jeopardy, and she is blaming state legislators who threatened university funding after her research plans made the news. "This is a clear political retaliation for the advocacy and education I have been providing the public and lawmakers," Sisley said. "I pulled all my evaluations and this is not about my job performance."

Massachusetts Crackdown on Caregivers. The state Department of Public Health has sent letters to more than 1,300 patients and 17 caregivers warning that state regulations bar caregivers from selling marijuana to more than one patient. Caregivers are the only legal avenue for patients to buy medical marijuana until dispensaries open, and that won't happen until November at the earliest. The move has forced Bill Downing, the operator of Yankee Care Givers, which supplies an estimated 1,000 patients to quit selling medical marijuana. He is urging patients to join him in a lawsuit challenging the state's interpretation of the law. "DPH is more concerned with their regulations than they are with the well-being of the citizens of Massachusetts," Downing said.

Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana Laws Go into Effect in Iowa, Utah. At least two of the states that passed limited, low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws this year see those laws go into effect today. Those states are Iowa and Utah. It is unclear what impact those laws will have or how many people they will help.

Vermont Medical Marijuana Improvements Go into Effect Today. A medical marijuana improvement bill, Senate Bill 247, goes into effect today. The new law eliminates the cap of 1,000 patients who may access dispensaries, allows naturopaths to certify patients, and allows dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients. It also authorizes a study of whether PTSD should be added as a qualifying condition.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Gives Up on 2014. Medical marijuana won't be on the ballot in the Buckeye State this year. The campaign by the Ohio Rights Group needed 385,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot this year, but had only 100,000. The good news is that those gathered signatures are still good in future years and can supply a starting point for a new campaign down the road. The initiative would also have legalized hemp production.

Drug Testing

Tennessee Food Stamp Drug Testing Law Goes into Effect. A law passed in 2012 that mandates drug testing for food stamp applicants if state workers have reason to believe they are using drugs goes into effect today. The ACLU of Tennessee is not happy: "This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet," said Hedy Weinberg, state director for the ACLU. "Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing." The ACLU of Tennessee also has a web page for those who need help dealing with the law.

Sentencing

Rep. Keith Ellison is Latest Cosponsor of Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act (House Resolution 3382) has picked up another cosponsor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). The measure now has 42 cosponsors -- 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The bill remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, where it has been sitting since October.

International

Mexican Soldiers Kill 22 Cartel Members in Michoacan Confrontation. The Mexican Army reported that it killed 22 members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel after soldiers on patrol in Tlatlaya, Michoacan, came under fire from cartel gunmen.

Another Mexican Town Tries to Ban Narcocorridos. Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in northwest Mexico has banned the playing or performing of narcocorridos, the border ballads that glorify drug traffickers and recount their adventures. The ban follows the killing in the city of a narcocorrido singer from Phoenix, Tomas Tovar Rascon. But more than a year ago, the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a similar ban in the state of Sinaloa, so it is unlikely this ban could withstand a legal challenge -- if anyone brings one.

Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki Talks Drug Reform [FEATURE]

In a conference call Monday morning, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki discussed the impact of his award-winning drug war documentary The House I Live In and where we go from here in the fight to end the drug war and mass incarceration.

Eugene Jarcecki (wikimedia.org)
The call was the second in a series of discussions planned and organized by the Drug Policy Alliance as part of its campaign to deepen and broaden the drug reform movement. The first discussion featured Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. Hear that conversation here.

Jarecki won the Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize for The House I Live In in 2012. The film made a shattering case against the drug war. Since its release, it has been used as a primer in faith institutions, schools and community-based organizations across the nation.

The drug reform landscape has been undergoing tectonic shifts in the two years since The House I Live In was released. It is possible, Jarecki said, that his film has played a role in shifting public opinion.

"One of the great lies that pervades the public imagination is the Hollywood lie that its movies don't shape the violence in this country," he said. "For Hollywood to pretend that movies have no role in shaping behavior is laughable. There are books that start revolutions. While Hollywood should bristle at the notion that movies create violence -- the violence comes in a society where we don't have health service and the roots of unwantedness can lead to violent behavior -- movies do shape public activity," he said.

"My movie is shaping public activity, and I am reminded by friends that this matters," the filmmaker continued. "A lot of young people will look at Michelle Alexander and say 'I want to be like that,' and that kind of example is extremely precious."

The recognition that the film would be an instrument of social change even influenced the title, Jarecki said.

"The making and handling of the film as a tool for public change and discussion" was important, he said. "We called it House over sexier titles, such as Kill the Poor or just Ghetto. I couldn't get it in a church or prison with a title like Kill the Poor. We had to choose a softer title; we weren't just thinking about the most poetic title, but really, how do we make sure this thing has legs where people all across the country can use it? We didn't want to alienate groups on the ground, and I wanted to make sure there were many groups on the ground doing this important work."

It worked. The film is now standard viewing in all the prisons in at least 11 states, and in New York, a viewing serves as an alternate punishment for juvenile offenders. And, Jarecki said, churches have been a key partner in getting the message out.

"We've found churches very welcoming, in large part because of our partnership with the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference," he said. "They've helped get churches across the country seeing the film, and it stretches far beyond the black church community. It's been very useful and robust. We also live stream the showings themselves to other churches. When we broadcast out of Shiloh Baptist Church, 180 other congregations also watched it."

But while Jarecki intended the film to serve polemic purposes, even he was surprised at the rapidity of the changes coming in the drug policy realm.

"The most significant surprise has been seeing the entire climate of the war on drugs change in the public imagination," he said. "When we started out, it was impossible to imagine any systemic shifts from the top. We see that the entrenched bureaucracies and corrupt interests are never open to negotiation, but the combination of the moral bankruptcy of the war on drugs and its economic bankruptcy -- 45 million drug arrests over 40 years, and what do we have to show for it? -- the catastrophic cycle of waste without achieving goals, unifies the left and the right like no other issue. The left sees a monster that preys on human rights for profit, and the right sees a bloated government program."

The policies of the war on drugs are now vulnerable, Jarecki said.

"Community groups see how it brings unfairness to communities and ravages society, so now, Washington is trying to appeal to the public by being more sensible," he argued. "This policy is vulnerable. While we've joined forces with the Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations to fight at the ground level, we're also seeing shreds of leadership from Obama, Holder, and Rand Paul. This is a moment of enormous vitality for us."

With a few exceptions, as mentioned just above, "the political class is isolated and orphaned as supporting something that doesn't make any sense," Jarecki said. "I thought I was choosing a very tough enemy, but it doesn't seem like much of a worthy adversary. The gross expenditures are hard to defend, they don't have the national security card to play anymore, the drug war has worn itself thin. 'Just Say No' and 'This is Your Brain on Drugs' hasn't worked. Instead, people just see family members with damaged lives."

It's not just in the realm of marijuana policy that the landscape is shifting in a favorable direction. The issue of the racial disparity in the drug war is also gaining traction.

"The condition of understanding the black American crisis of the drug war has moved light years in the last two years," Jarecki said. "Black folks are bizarrely and disproportionately targeted by the drug war, and that's become a common discussion. It's not a rare thing."

Still shot from The House I Live In
That understanding is extending to an acknowledgement that the war on drugs has been a brutal attack on the gains of the civil rights era, Jarecki argued.

"In the black American story, there is an argument to be made that the new Jim Crow established with the war on drugs was the final nail in the coffin of the civil rights movement," he said. "Black people are worse off economically than before the civil rights movement, and this critical viewpoint has become more widely understood."

But it's not just race. The unspeakable word in American political discourse -- class -- plays a role as well, Jarecki suggested.

"We've seen a shift from a drug war that could be described as predominantly racist to one that also has elements of class in it," he argued. "Poor whites, Latinos, women -- those are the growth areas for the war on drugs now. But let's not forget that black America is still essentially the leading link. We haven't shifted the drug war from race to class; it has diversified, it preserves its racism, but has seized market share by broadening into other class populations."

Racism and the war on drugs are only a part of a much larger problem, the filmmaker argued.

"We have to invite the country to begin seriously asking itself what kind of country it wants to be," he said. "What we are really looking at is a society that has bought into the notion that we can entrust the public good to private gain. We have industrial complexes that grip American policymaking in almost every sphere of public life, and the prison industrial complex is one of them. It is simply a crass illustration that you can feed a human being into the machine, and out comes dollar signs. This is a country without compassion, a town without pity."

And while change will come from the top, it will be impelled only by pressure from the bottom up, he said.

"Change comes from groups working together, and you start going down that road by getting out and starting walking," Jarecki advised. "It's an illusion to think we're supposed to be rescued by the government."

We have to do it ourselves.

Chronicle AM -- June 26, 2014

It's UN anti-drug day, and protests to mark it are going on in at least 80 cities around the world, House Republicans move to block DC decrim, the Oregon legalization initiative looks set to make the ballot, the ACLU has a strong new report out on SWAT teams, and more. Let's get to it:

fundraiser for the Florida medical marijuana initiative, at the Vicente-Sederberg law firm following the NCIA summit
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis Business Summit Draws Big Crowd in Denver. More than 1,200 people attended the Cannabis Business Summit sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Association in Denver this week. Look for a Chronicle report on it in coming days.

Oregon Legalization Initiative to Hand in Signatures Today. It looks like Oregonians will vote on marijuana legalization this November. The New Approach Oregon initiative campaign will hand in 145,000 signatures to state officials today; they only need some 87,000 valid ones to qualify for the ballot.

House Committee Votes to Block Decriminalization in DC. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday passed an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill intended to prevent the District of Columbia from implementing its recently passed law decriminalizing the possession of marijuana. It also has the potential to end the District's medical marijuana program. The amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), passed by a vote of 28-21. Reform advocates will seek a floor vote to remove this amendment from the bill when it proceeds to the House floor.

No Vote on Legalization in the Rhode Island Legislature. The 2014 legislative session has ended without the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act never coming up for a vote. Maybe next year.

Oakland Shuts Down a Trio of Measure Z Speakeasies. For the past decade, recreational marijuana retail outlets have quietly operated in Oakland, protected by Measure Z, which makes the private use of marijuana by adults law enforcement's lowest priority. But in recent weeks, Oakland police have raided and shut down three of the speakeasies. The police say their enforcement actions are driven by complaints.

Sentencing

Two More Cosponsors for the Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act has picked up two more cosponsors, bringing the total to 41, 27 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The latest cosponsors are Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA).

Senate State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill to Include Sentencing Reform Language. Advocates working with Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy's (D-VT) office report that the Senate committee report on the issue will include language making sentencing reform part of US foreign policy and an issue the State Department promotes when working on police training and judicial reform in other countries. Click the link to read the language.

Law Enforcement

ACLU Issues Report on Militarization of American Policing. The American Civil Liberties Union has released a new report on the excessive militarization of American policing, War Comes Home. The report concentrates on the use of SWAT teams, and fnds that 80% of SWAT deployments were not hostage rescue or other dangerous missions, but to serve search warrants, mainly for drugs. The report also examines the abuses associated with SWAT teams. This is strong stuff.

International

Global Demonstrations Against Drug War Today Mark UN Anti-Drug Day. Protestors in at least 80 cities around the world are taking the opportunity of UN anti-drug day to call not for more drug war, but for less. Click on the link for more details.

British Khat Ban Now in Effect. The British ban on the East African herbal stimulant plant khat has now gone into effect. There are fears the Somali community will be targeted and that a black market will now emerge.

British Doctors Reject Marijuana Legalization, Urge Cigarette Ban for Those Born After 2000. Meeting at their annual conference, members of the British Medical Association rejected a proposal to call for legalizing marijuana, but voted in favor of a ban on cigarettes for people born after 2000. The BMA's rejection of legalization was "both unscientific and unethical," said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

Uruguay's First Grower's Club Begins Registration Process. The Association of Cannabis Studies of Uruguay has registered to become the first officially recognized marijuana growing club in the country. The club headed by Laura Blanco will have 40 members. Joining a club and enjoying the fruits of collective grows is one of three ways to legally obtain marijuana under Uruguay's new law. The other options are registering to buy it from pharmacies or growing your own individually.

Mexico Wants More Black Hawk Choppers for Anti-Drug Activities. Mexico has formally requested to purchase five UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for it war on drugs. The choppers are to be equipped with GPS/inertial navigation systems, forward-looking radar systems, and 10 7.62mm machine guns each. The proposed deal would be worth an estimated $225 million

Medical Marijuana Update

A Senate companion to the successful House DEA defunding amendment has been filed, New York becomes the 23rd medical marijuana state, a CBD bill is moving in North Carolina, Rhode Island retrenches, and more. Let's get to it:

National

Last Thursday, US Sens. Rand Paul and Cory Booker cosponsored a DEA defunding amendment in the Senate. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have cosponsored an amendment to the Justice Department funding bill that would shield medical marijuana patients and providers from the attention of the DEA in states where it is legal. The House passed such an amendment at the end of last month. While an early vote was expected, conflicts between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have caused the overall appropriation bill to be delayed.

California

Last Tuesday, the Berkeley city council moved toward permitting a fourth dispensary. The council voted to adopt regulations promulgated by the Medical Cannabis Commission that will set up a process to select a fourth dispensary for the East Bay city of 115,000. This more than three years after voters approved Measure T in 2010, which called for allowing a fourth dispensary. The commission had recommended six dispensaries, but that was too much for the council, which approved one new one in principle and said it would review the situation in a year.

On Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance strongly criticized the statewide medical marijuana regulation bill. Senate Bill 1262, which was set to go before the Assembly Public Safety Committee the same day, would leave thousands of patients without access to their medicine, fails to establish effective statewide regulation, and doesn't deal with edibles, the group said in an analysis posted on the California legislature's web site. The bill has already passed the Senate, but still must get through the Assembly.

Also on Tuesday, Desert Hot Springs city leaders expressed support for allowing dispensaries and were quite frank in saying it was all about the tax revenues. The city has an existing moratorium that will have to be removed. Leaders set no timeline at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Also on Tuesday, Lake County supervisors placed a restrictive cultivation measure on the November ballot. The measure would ban collective gardens and limit outdoor parcels to four plants. It is being backed by a group called the Emerald Unity Alliance.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Clara County supervisors voted for a temporary moratorium on dispensaries. The move was in response to San Jose's new regulations on dispensaries and cultivation, which supervisors fear would push them out into the county. Supervisors want time to see how to respond and will revisit the issue at an August 5 meeting.

New York

Last Friday, New York become the 23rd medical marijuana state. The state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) reached a last-minute compromise on medical marijuana, and the state Senate and Assembly approved the compromise bill, Program Bill 57. Gov. Cuomo says he will sign the bill into law, making New York the 23rd medical marijuana state. The bill is more limited than many patients and advocates would have preferred. It forbids smoking medical marijuana, although patients may vaporize or consume it in edibles. It also forbids using the raw plant. And it limits access to those with specified qualifying conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

North Carolina

Last Thursday, a limited CBD medical marijuana bill won House committee votes. A bill that would allow some patients to use a high-CBD cannabis oil was approved by the House Health Committee Wednesday and the House Finance Committee. The House approved the measure, House Bill 1220, in a floor vote on Friday.

On Wednesday, the limited CBD medical marijuana bill won a Senate committee vote. House Bill 1220 was approved by the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Rhode Island

Last Friday, the legislature amended the state's medical marijuana law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

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

House Committee Votes to Block DC Decrim

The GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee stuck a thumb in the eye of democratic governance in the nations capital this morning. The committee voted to prevent the District of Columbia from implementing marijuana decriminalization approved by the District government. 

The move came in the form of an amendment to the District appropriations bill by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). It passed on a vote of 28 to 21.

The amendment could also threaten the District's medical marijuana program.

Speaking of the District's medical marijuana program, this vote today brings back some bad memories. DC voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 1998, but, thanks to a measure similar to today's amendment, Congress blocked it for nearly a decade. It wasn't until 2009, with Democrats in control of the House, that the block was lifted. 

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) says it and other advocates will seek a floor vote to strip this amendment from the appropriations bill. It would seem to go against the spirit of a House that less than a month ago voted to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing federal marijuana laws against patients and providers in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

Here's what MPP director of federal policies Dan Riffle had to say:

“The District of Columbia wisely decided to use stop wasting its own resources enforcing ineffective and racially biased laws and to allow those with serious illnesses whose doctors recommend it to use medical marijuana. Unfortunately, unlike every state in America that gets to determine its own laws, Washington, D.C. laws are reviewed by Congress where Washington, DC residents have no voting representatives," he said.

“Marijuana is significantly less harmful than alcohol, and polls clearly show most Americans want to see it treated that way. We’ll do everything we can to restore democracy in D.C. and ensure this regressive amendment is rejected when it is considered by the full House. Mr. Harris’s antiquated, unscientific views on marijuana should be his constituents’ problem, not the District of Columbia’s,” he vowed.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM -- June 24, 2014

Your fearless reporter has been traveling, so the schedule is off, but the drug policy news continues. Paul Stanford calls it quits in Oregon, pot shops are coming within days in Washington, an Alabama drug task needs to reconsider its priorities (or maybe the people funding it need to reconsider theirs), and more. Let's get to it:

Coming soon to a store near you -- if you live in Washington state.
Marijuana Policy

Paul Stanford Pulls Plug on Oregon CRRH Initiative. Paul Stanford, the man behind the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp legalization initiatives, announced Friday that had given up the effort to qualify for the November ballot. That leaves the New Approach Oregon initiative, which is well over 100,000 signatures. It needs some 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and the campaign still has another week to get more signers.

Washington State Liquor Control Board Says First Marijuana Retail Stores Will Open July 8. The board, which is charge of legal marijuana commerce, said it will issue the first licenses July 7, but that the licensees would have to spend that first day getting their product into their store tracking programs.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Legislature Amends Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature has amended the state's medical marijuana law to require national criminal background checks on all caregiver applicants and the mandatory revocation of the caregiver registry ID cards for those convicted of a felony. The bill, House Bill 7610, won final approval by the Senate last Friday. It also allows landlords not to lease to cardholders who want to grow and imposes weight, plant, and seedling limits on growing co-ops.

Collateral Consequences

Missouri Governor Signs Bill to End Food Stamp Ban for Drug Felons -- With Conditions. Gov. Jay Nixon signed into a law a bill that would allow people with drug felonies to obtain food stamps, but only if they submit to drug tests and an assessment to see if they need drug treatment, which they must enroll in and complete if they are determined to need it. The bill is Senate Bill 680. The 1996 federal welfare reform law banned drug felons from obtaining food stamps, but allowed states to opt out. By now, more than 30 have.

Opiates

Federal Bill Targeting Heroin, Prescription Opiates Filed. US Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) have filed legislation that seeks to respond to rising levels of opiate use by creating a "Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force" to develop prescribing practices that aim to ensure "proper pain management for patients, while also preventing prescription opioid abuse." Along with federal agencies such as HHS, Defense, the VA, and the DEA, the task force would include treatment providers, people from pain advocacy groups and pain professional organization, and experts in pain research and addiction research. Pain advocates will be watching carefully. The bill, Senate Bill 2504, would also provide grants to expand prescription drug monitoring programs.

Law Enforcement

Texas to Spend $1.3 Million a Week on "Border Surge" Aimed at Immigrants, Drugs. Using the influx of underage immigrants across the US-Mexican border as a jumping off point, Texas authorities announced last week they plan to spend $30 million this year tightening border security, with a major emphasis on law enforcement and cutting drug flows. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has also asked President Obama to send a thousand National Guard troops, to be joined by hundreds of Texas troopers Perry is deploying to the border. What this will mean on the ground is more troopers patrolling the highways, more surveillance, more undercover operations -- in an area already sinking under the weight of the billions spent beefing up border security since 9/11.

Alabama Drug Task Force Gets Busy With Chump Change Drug Round-Up. The West Alabama Narcotics Task Force based in Tuscaloosa arrested 24 people last Friday in a round-up that "stemmed from multiple ongoing investigations." But they were almost entirely charges like "unlawful sale of marijuana within three miles of a school" ($30,000 bond), "unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia" ($5,000 bond), and "unlawful possession of marijuana" ($15,000 bond). Only five of the charges didn't involve marijuana, and of those, three were for possession of a controlled substance, two were "unlawful sale of cocaine within three miles of a school," and one was for "interfering with government operations."

International

Vietnam Upholds Death Sentences for 29 Drug Smugglers. A Vietnamese appellate court last Thursday upheld the death sentences for 29 people convicted. The court reduced one other death sentence in the case to life in prison. The sentences came in what is Vietnam's largest heroin case ever, with 89 defendants and 1.5 tons of heroin involved.

Bolivia Coca Cultivation Drops to 11-Year Low. Coca cultivation declined 9% in Bolivia last, reaching the lowest level since 2002, according to the annual Bolivian coca survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This is the third straight decline, in line with the Bolivian government's commitment to reduce production to 50,000 acres by 2015. The 2013 crop was about 55,000 acres.

British Medical Association to Debate Legalizing Marijuana. Britain's largest doctors' organization will debate a motion calling on it to legalize marijuana as its Annual Representatives Meeting continues this week after a weekend hiatus. "The current law isn't working and only by adopting a different approach can we regulate, educate and exert a level of quality control," the motion says. "Cannabis use should be treated primarily as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

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