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Chronicle AM: Federal Pot Banking Bill, OK Okays CBD Oil, IN Needle Exchange Approved, More (4/30/15)

Seventeen congressmembers introduced a federal marijuana banking bill, CBD cannabis oil gets approved in Oklahoma, medical marijuana advances in Louisiana, Indiana approves needle exchange programs, and more.

Facing an HIV outbreak in one county, Indiana has approved statewide needle exchange programs. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Banking Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and 16 bipartisan cosponsors yesterday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act (HR 7076), which would allow marijuana businesses to open bank accounts. The bill would provide banks with a "safe harbor" so they can offer accounts to such businesses without fear of federal retaliation.

Rhode Island House Committee Hears Testimony on Legalization Bill. The House Judiciary Committee yesterday heard testimony on House Bill 5777, the marijuana regulation, taxation, and legalization bill from Rep. Thomas Slater. No vote was taken; the bill was held for further study. Click on the title link for more hearing details.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) today signed into law House Bill 2154, also known as Katie and Cayman's Law. It allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil by children suffering from epileptic seizures and sets up a study program.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. Only a year after overwhelmingly rejecting a similar bill, the Senate Health Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (R-Parks). The bill is set for a Senate floor vote next week. The bill does not allow for smoked marijuana; only marijuana processed into oils.

New Synthetic Drugs

North Carolina House Votes to Ban New Synthetics. The House voted unanimously today to add more compounds to the state's list of illegal drugs. House Bill 341 adds the NBOMe (N-bomb) compounds to the list. The drugs are described as similar to LSD. The bill now heads before the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.

Texas House Approves Bill Giving Cops More Power to Move Against Synthetics. With no debate and on a voice vote, the House Wednesday approved House Bill 1212, which would give law enforcement greater ability to move against synthetic drug manufacturers. A final vote of approval was expected today, and then the bill moves to the Senate. Similar legislation is already moving in that chamber.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Legislature Approves Needle Exchange Programs. Faced with an HIV outbreak in one southwestern county, the legislature last night approved a bill allowing for the establishment of needle exchange programs throughout the state. Gov. Mike Pence (R) says he will sign SEA 461.

International

Canada Supreme Court to Take Up Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing. The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear an appeal of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses in the case of R v. Lloyd. Lloyd was arrested carrying small amounts of heroin, crack, and meth, and was subject to a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, but the Provincial Court found that sentence to be cruel and unusual. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the Provincial Court and increased his sentence. Now, the Supreme Court will decide if the sentence violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Write and Call Congress TODAY for Vets' Access to Medical Marijuana!

Late this afternoon or this evening (Wednesday, April 29), the House of Representatives is expected to vote on an amendment to allow Veterans Administration physicians to recommend and sign off on medical marijuana for their patients, helping qualified patients obtain state-legal marijuana in the more than 20 states that have medical marijuana laws. This amendment failed on a close vote last year, and stands a great chance of passing this year, with your help!

Please click here to write to your US Representative, and please click here to CALL your Representative TODAY!

Although this amendment stops short of legalizing medical marijuana federally, every positive vote that Congress takes brings us closer to the day when they'll be ready to finally get the federal government out of the way of patients and their doctors, and it will help veterans who use VA facilities in the meanwhile. And that's why we hope you'll step up today and help.

If you are a US voter, please call your US Representative today to voice your support for the Veterans Equal Access Amendment to H.R. 2029, the FY 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Thank you for taking a stand! Click here for information on the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, click here to read the current VA policy, and click here for information on H.R. 2209.

Medical Marijuana Update

Busy, busy at the statehouse, there's news out of Washington, DC, too, a Wyoming medical marijuana initiative gears up, and more.

National

On Sunday, Obama suggested support for the Senate medical marijuana bill. In an interview aired Sunday night on CNN's Weed 3 special with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gupta asked the president if he would get behind the CARERS Act, which would reschedule marijuana and allow states with medical marijuana laws to proceed without threat of federal punishment. "You know, I think I'd have to take a look at the details," Obama replied, "but I'm on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I'm also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we're going to be."

On Tuesday, six House Republicans filed the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. Led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a half-dozen GOP congressmen today filed the act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to clarify that anyone acting in compliance with a state marijuana law would be immune from federal prosecution. The act would apply to both medical and recreational marijuana laws. It is not yet available on the congressional web site.

California

Last Wednesday, a 2016 medical marijuana initiative was filed. A group of medical marijuana activists have filed the Compassionate and Sensible Access Act, which is designed to protect a doctor's right to recommend medical marijuana and limit officials' ability to regulate cultivation, distribution, and transportation of the plant. To make the ballot, the language must first be approved by state officials, then campaigners will have to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures within 180 days of starting.

Also last Wednesday, the Riverside County planning commission recommended approval of an ordinance that would clarify that growing marijuana is illegal. The move is laying the groundwork for a crackdown on grows in unincorporated parts of the county. An ordinance pending before the Board of Supervisors would impose both civil and criminal penalties for such grows, with only a limited exemption for patients and caregivers.

Last Thursday, an Orange County Superior Court judge denied a motion to force Costa Mesa to hold a special election this year about whether to allow dispensaries in the city. The city council had refused to hold a special election even though a petition had been submitted and certified, instead opting to put the issue on the general election ballot in November.

Also last Thursday, the Assembly Agriculture Committee approved AB 243, which would require all medical cannabis grows to follow existing environmental laws and be permitted by the state. The bill was supported by a broad coalition of environmental and governmental interests, as well as by some growers. But California NORML, Americans for Safe Access, and Crusaders for Patients' Rights are opposing the bill unless it is amended to delete a requirement that individual patients get permits to grow, which the groups see as an unconstitutional infringement on Prop 215 patients' rights.

Last Friday, Yuba County advocates sought a state Supreme Court order asking local officials to accept petitions for a voter referendum challenging the county's new marijuana grow ordinance. The motion also seeks to stay enforcement of the ordinance, which limits indoor grows to 12 plants in a qualifying accessory structure. The move comes after the 3rd District Court of Appeals a week earlier denied an emergency writ that would have allowed for referendum petitions to move forward.

On Tuesday, the El Centro city council killed a medical marijuana ordinance that would have allowed for dispensaries in the city. The move reverses a 2011 decision to allow them. The city never actually had any permitted dispensaries, though; it kept passing moratoria while it sought to sort out legal issues.

Also on Tuesday, a medical marijuana regulation bill won a Senate committee vote. The Senate Business and Professions Committee approved Senate Bill 643, which would establish a comprehensive, statewide licensing system for medical marijuana commerce.

Georgia

Last Thursday, the governor signed the CBD cannabis oil bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) today signed into law House Bill 1, which allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil for a list of specified diseases and medical conditions. The bill allows patients to possess the oil, but has no provision for obtaining it in the state.

Hawaii

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a 25% tax on medical marijuana sales. The bill is House Bill 321. It was approved by the House without the tax provision, which was added by a Senate committee without any public hearing. The bill now goes to conference committee, where advocates hope the tax can be reduced or eliminated. There is no tax on prescription medications.

Idaho

Last Thursday, the governor vetoed the CBD cannabis oil bill. Gov. "Butch" Otter vetoed a bill that would have allowed the use of CBD cannabis oil to treat children suffering from epileptic seizures. Senate Bill 1146 had passed the House 39-30 and the Senate 22-12. Otter said the bill asked the state to ignore the potential for abuse and misuse, even though the oils don't contain enough THC for anyone to get high.

Illinois

On Tuesday, the House approved a bill extending the medical marijuana program. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would extend the program beyond January 1, 2018, when it is set to expire as a pilot program. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Oklahoma

Last Wednesday, a CBD cannabis oil bill won final approval in the legislature. The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 124, which would allow for the use of the oil to treat seizure disorders in children. The bill passed the House in February and now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, the medical marijuana bill won a committee vote. The Senate State Government Committee has approved Senate Bill 3, but will hold further hearings on it next month. The sponsor, Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) says it may be modified to address concerns raised in the House.

Wyoming

On Monday, plans for a medical marijuana initiative get underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

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

Chronicle AM: New Federal Pot Bill Filed, MO Hemp Bill Moves, PA MedMJ Bill Moves, More (4/22/15)

Another federal bill to get DC out of state marijuana laws is filed, a Hawaii bill would inflict a 25% on medical marijuana purchases, a Pennsylvania medical marijuana bill moves, a Missouri hemp bill moves, and more.

Will the sun rise on hemp in Missouri? (votehemp.org)
Marijuana Policy

Six Republicans File Federal Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. Led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a half-dozen GOP congressmen today filed the act, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to clarify that anyone acting in compliance with a state marijuana law would be immune from federal prosecution. The act would apply to both medical and recreational marijuana laws. It is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Senate Approves 25% Tax on Medical Marijuana Sales. The bill is House Bill 321. It was approved by the House without the tax provision, which was added by a Senate committee without any public hearing. The bill now goes to conference committee, where advocates hope the tax can be reduced or eliminated. There is no tax on prescription medications.

Illinois House Approves Bill Extending Medical Marijuana Program. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would extend the program beyond January 1, 2018, when it is set to expire as a pilot program. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The Senate State Government Committee has approved Senate Bill 3, but will hold further hearings on it next month. The sponsor, Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon County) says it may be modified to address concerns raised in the House.

Hemp

Missouri House Approves Hemp Bill. The House Tuesday approved House Bill 830, which would license and regulate hemp production in the state. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Kratom

Louisiana Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. The House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday approved a bill that would add the leaves of the Southeast Asian tree to the state's controlled substances list. The bill is House Bill 174.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Nixes Roadside Waits for Drug Dogs, DEA Head to Resign, More (4/21/15)

The DEA head is on her way out, the Supreme Court rules on making motorists wait for drug dogs to arrive, Indiana's governor extends an emergency needle exchange, a new report on asset forfeiture abuses in California is out, and more.

The US Supreme Court rules that detaining motorists on the side of the road to wait for drug dogs is illegal. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State Legal Pot Price Declines to $12 a Gram. Pot prices averaged nearly $30 a gram—well above black market prices—when the state's first marijuana retail outlets opened, but that has changed dramatically, according to the State Liquor Control Board. Now, the average retail price of a gram is about $12, as supply expands to meet demand. That's still $336 an ounce, though.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Getting Underway. Activists with Wyoming NORML submitted their initiative application with the secretary of state's office Monday. If and when the application is approved, organizers will have until next February to gather 25,673 valid voter signatures to place it on the 2016 general election ballot. A recent poll had support for marijuana at 72% in the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

New Report Details California Asset Forfeiture Abuses. The Drug Policy Alliance today released a new report, Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in the state that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. The report finds that a handful of LA County cities lead the state in per capita seizures, that some departments rely on asset forfeiture for funding themselves, and that some departments were providing false or incomplete reports to the Justice Department.

Drug Testing

Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Dead. The legislator who unexpectedly proposed adding a welfare drug testing proposal to a social services spending bill has withdrawn it after learning how few people would be tested and how little support there is for it. Rep. Terry Goodin (D-Crawfordsville) said today he would instead seek a study committee to examine how best to fight drug abuse.

Florida Governor Settles on State Employee Drug Testing. Gov. Rick Scott (R) has formally given up on his effort to subject state employees to random, suspicionless drug testing. He reached an agreement Monday with the employees' union that will only allow drug testing in a relative handful of safety-sensitive positions. Of the 1,400 job classifications Scott originally wanted covered, only 267 will be covered.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Extends Emergency Needle Exchange Program. Gov. Mike Pence (R) Monday extended an emergency needle exchange program in Scott County for another 30 days in a bid to get a handle on an injection drug-related HIV outbreak there. The move comes as the legislature heard testimony supporting a bill that would allow similar exchanges elsewhere in the state.

Law Enforcement

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart Set to Resign. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, a unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate. Click on the link to read our feature story on this.

Supreme Court Says Detaining Motorists to Wait for Drug Dogs to Arrive is Not OK. In a 6-3 decision today, the US Supreme Court held that detaining motorists on the side of the highway to await the arrival of a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unlawful searches and seizures. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that police may request drivers licenses, vehicle registrations, proof of insurance, and check for outstanding warrants because all those investigatory actions are aimed at enforcing traffic laws and ensuring that vehicles are operating safely—the ostensible reason for the stops. "A dog sniff, unlike those stock inquiries, lacks the same tie to roadway safety," she said. Prolonging the stop, even for a few minutes, to allow for the arrival of a drug dog was improper, Ginsburg wrote. "A traffic stop becomes unlawful if prolonged beyond the time in fact needed to complete all traffic-based inquiries," Ginsburg said. Click on the link to read our newsbrief and view the ruling itself.

International

Mexicans Capture Gulf Cartel Leader. Mexican authorities confirmed over the weekend that they had captured Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who they described as a Gulf Cartel leader responsible for much of the recent violence in the border city of Reynosa. He was caught despite a shootout between Mexican soldiers and police and around 60 cartel gunmen who tried to rescue him. The Mexicans caught a key Juarez Cartel leader just a day earlier. 

Head of Scandal-Plagued DEA to Resign [FEATURE]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is expected to resign soon, an unnamed "senior administration official" told CBS News this morning. The embattled DEA head has been under fire for years over her leadership of the scandal-ridden agency, but it was her performance at a Capitol Hill hearing last week that sealed her fate.

[It's now official: Attorney General Holder announced Leonhart's retirement in a statement late this afternoon.]

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart is on her way out the door. (justice.gov/dea)
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pronounced themselves agog over recent reports of DEA agents in Colombia partying with prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer dollars, sometimes paid for by Colombian drug traffickers. Those revelations came in a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report issued last month.

Members were infuriated by the DEA's handling of the case, in which 10 DEA agents were accused of wrongdoing. Only seven of them were disciplined, and the punishment was extremely light: they were suspended for periods of one to 10 days. Leonhart drew the wrath of committee members when she claimed she was unable to discipline the agents more severely.

"What would it take to get fired at the DEA?" asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who said he was "stunned" that no one had been fired in the wake of the revelations. "What the hell do you have to do?"

Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) told Leonhart that as agency head she carried much of the responsibility for what he called "a cultural problem" at the agency stretching back years.

"You get called before this committee and say 'Oh, it's terrible, it's awful,'" Chaffetz said at the conclusion of the hearing. "But you personally have been responsible for this for more than a decade and you didn't do anything about it."

Immediately after last Tuesday's hearing, 22 members of the committee signed a joint statement saying they had "no confidence" in Leonhart's continued leadership.

And now word leaks from the White House that Leonhart is about to become history.

It's been a long time coming. The veteran DEA administrator and her agency have been embroiled in scandal throughout her tenure. And she and the DEA have been increasingly out of step with an administration that has shown an interest in rolling back drug war excesses, from major sentencing reforms to largely (if belatedly) adopting a laissez-faire attitude toward medical marijuana and even marijuana legalization in the states.

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • A series of recent investigations by USA Today found that the DEA has been tracking billions of U.S. phone calls without warrants or even suspicion of wrong-doing, an operation copied by the NSA and other agencies after 9/11. The DEA built the modern surveillance state.
  • DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, The DEA created a political firestorm this week when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana. In a bizarre 2012 debate with members of Congress Leonhart refused repeatedly to acknowledge that marijuana is safer than cocaine and heroin.

Drug reform groups, such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), both of which had been calling for Leonhart's head for some time, were elated, but urged the Obama administration to use this as an opportunity not to just put a new face in charge of DEA, but to change the agency's direction.

"Leonhart's DEA reflects an outdated, disastrous approach that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind,” said Bill Piper, DPA director of national affairs. "If she leaves, he has an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the DEA and support drug policy reform. The DEA is a large, expensive, scandal-prone bureaucracy that has failed to reduce drug-related problems. Drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue; with states legalizing marijuana and adopting other drug policy reforms it is time to ask if the agency is even needed anymore," he said.

"Ms. Leonhart consistently and recklessly undermined President Obama's mandate that public policy be guided by science instead of ideology. Her resignation will allow the president to appoint an administrator who will rely on the facts rather than ignore them," said Dan Riffle, MPP director of federal policies.

"Most Americans, including President Obama, recognize the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yet, Ms. Leonhart was unwilling to even acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm than heroin and methamphetamine," Riffle continued. "While most of the country has been progressing in its views on marijuana policy, Ms. Leonhart has maintained a mindset straight out of the 1930s. Hopefully her resignation will mark the end of the ‘Reefer Madness’ era at the DEA."

Chronicle AM: Obama on MedMJ; Chicago, NYC Drug Policy Reform Moves, CA Legalization Funds Begin to Flow, More (4/20/15)

The president suggests he could get behind congressional medical marijuana efforts, a second California legalization initiative has been filed, Weedmaps puts up $2 million for legalization, two of the nation's largest cities are moving toward drug reform, and more. 

President Obama has some encouraging words about medical marijuana. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Marijuana Control Board Bill Passes. The state Senate last Saturday approved House Bill 123, which would create a Marijuana Control Board. It had already passed the House, but now needs to go back for a concurrence vote after the Senate made changes in the bill. But House Bill 75, which would allow for municipal regulation got stalled on a tie vote. Senate Majority Leader John Coghill (R-North Pole) has asked that the bill be held for reconsideration, and the Senate will again take it up before the session ends.

Weedmaps Kicks In $2 Million for California Legalization Efforts. The marijuana store locator app company has donated $1 million to Californians for Sensible Reform, a campaign committee that says it will back the strongest legalization initiative next year. And it's matched that with another $1 million to Californians for Sensible Reform PAC, which says it will support marijuana-friendly candidates.

Second California Legalization Initiative Filed. Proponents of an open-source legalization initiative, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2016 (MCLR), filed the effort with state officials in Sacramento today. The effort is being spearheaded by Americans for Policy Reform, which includes San Jose dispensary operator Dave Hodges and Sebastopol marijuana attorney Omar Figueroa, among others. Figueroa is also one of two proponents for another legalization initiative, the California Craft Cannabis Act, filed last week. More proposed initiatives are expected to follow. The recommended deadline for beginning signature-gathering is in early July. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana

Obama Suggests Support for Senate Medical Marijuana Bill. In an interview aired Sunday night on CNN's Weed 3 special with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gupta asked the president if he would get behind the CARERS Act, which would reschedule marijuana and allow states with medical marijuana laws to proceed without threat of federal punishment. "You know, I think I’d have to take a look at the details," Obama replied, "but I’m on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may  in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I’m also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we’re going to be."

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Legislative Committee Studies Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed an asset forfeiture reform bill earlier this year, but the legislature isn't giving up. The Joint Judiciary Committee met in Riverton last week and has directed staff to draft bills for next year's legislative session.

Drug Policy

Chicago Prosecutor Will Stop Prosecuting Simple Drug Possession. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said today she intends to quit prosecuting people arrested for simple drug possession and instead link them to social agencies "for treatment rather than pursuing criminal penalties." Those drug possession felonies accounted for one-quarter of all felonies in the county last year. She also said she is not going to bother to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, either.

New York City Legislation Would Create New Office of Drug Strategy. A proposal just offered by New York City council members would create the new office to coordinate official, expert, and community responses to drug use. It would enhance evidence-based drug education and public health interventions and simplify access to medical, social, and psychological services to drug users seeking help. The idea is to reduce the morbidity, mortality, crime, and racial disparities in law enforcement created by a one-sided law enforcement approach to the issue.

Harm Reduction

Indiana Governor Signs Bill to Ease Access to Overdose Reversal Drug. Last Friday, Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed into law SEA 406, which allows family members and friends of drug users to obtain the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone. Previously, only health professionals could administer the drug.

International

Two More Big Australian States Announce Medical Marijuana Trials. Victoria and Queensland have now joined New South Wales in a clinical trial for medical marijuana. The three most populous states will hold clinical trials of cannabis oil for the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea, severe epilepsy, and in palliative care.

Mexico Captures Top Juarez Cartel Leader. Federal troops last Friday captured Juarez Cartel head Jesus Aguayo in the town of Villa Ahumada in Chihuahua state. Aguayo took over leadership of the organization after authorities captured his predecessor, Vicente Carillo in October. 

Chronicle AM: Jamaica Decrim Now in Effect, First CA 2016 Legalization Init Filed, GA Gov Signs CBD Bill, More (4/16/15)

A Northern California attorney is first out of the gate with a 2016 legalization initiative, a CBD cannabis oil bill becomes law in Georgia, and another awaits the governor's signature in Oklahoma, congressmen say they have "no confidence" in DEA head Leonhart, decrim is now in effect in Jamaica, and more. 

This Rastaman has reason to smile. Decrim has come to Jamaica. (wikimedia.,org)
Marijuana Policy

First 2016 California Legalization Initiative Filed.  Sebastopol marijuana attorney Omar Figueroa and attorney Heather Burke have filed the California Craft Cannabis Initiative, the first of what are expected to be several measures seeking to legalize marijuana in the state next year. Proponents say it is an inclusive effort designed to protect the state's legacy of artisanal marijuana growers. To make the ballot, initiatives must see their language approved by the state Attorney General's office, and then they have 180 days to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures.

Frustrated Vermont Legislators Propose Treating Alcohol Like Marijuana. A pair of House members Wednesday filed a bill that would ban alcohol and treat it like marijuana. The move was a frustrated reaction to stalled efforts to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol.  The bill is House Bill 502, and lead sponsor Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) said he doesn't really want to ban alcohol, but that the bill is a symbolic step "recognize recent scientific studies that demonstrate that alcohol use is significantly more dangerous than marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

2016 California Medical Marijuana Initiative Filed. A group of medical marijuana activists have filed the Compassionate and Sensible Access Act, which is designed to protect a doctor's right to recommend medical marijuana and limit officials' ability to regulate cultivation, distribution, and transportation of the plant. To make the ballot, the language must first be approved by state officials, then campaigners will have to gather more than half a million valid voter signatures within 180 days of starting.

Georgia Governor Signs CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) today signed into law House Bill 1, which allows for the use of CBD cannabis oil for a list of specified diseases and medical conditions. The bill allows patients to possess the oil, but has no provision for obtaining it in the state.

Oklahoma Legislature Approves CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 124, which would allow for the use of the oil to treat seizure disorders in children. The bill passed the House in February and now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa House Committee Hearing on Asset Forfeiture Reform Gets Heated. Law enforcement squared off against civil libertarians in a House Government Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday. No bill was on the agenda, but committee Chair Rep. Bobby Kaufman (R-Wilton) said after the hearing he planned to author reform legislation next year. Click on the link for more detail.

Drug Policy

Federal Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Bill Filed. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) has reintroduced the bill, HR 1812. It's been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Law Enforcement

House Oversight Committee Has "No Confidence" in DEA Head Leonhart. Fed up with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart over a long litany of scandals in the drug-fighting agency she heads, 22 members of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee issued a statement yesterday saying they had "no confidence" in her leadership. "After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," the statement said. "From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency."

Sordid Philadelphia Police Drug War Corruption Trial Underway. This one is a doozy! A trial now in its third week is ripping the lid off scandalously criminal behavior by the police department's dope squad. Stolen drug money, planted evidence, perjured testimony, beaten suspects, it's got it all. Click on the link for more detail.

International

Jah Herb is Now Decriminalized in Jamaica. Marijuana decriminalization went into effect Wednesday in the island nation. Anyone, including foreign tourists, can now possess up to two ounces of ganja and face only a $5 fine. And any household can now grow up to five plants. And adult Rastafarians can now use the herb for religious purposes. Irie.

Elite Texas Cops "Spied on Mexico," Report Says. Department of Public Safety documents show that an elite reconnaissance team formed by Gov. Rick Perry did aerial surveillance of Mexican drug cartel targets on the Mexican side of the border. Aircraft were used to track suspected Zeta cartel members and passed that information on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which in turn worked with Mexican military forces to target them. 

Key Congressional Committee Has "No Confidence" in DEA Head Leonhart [FEATURE]

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

Fed up with DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart over a long litany of scandals in the drug-fighting agency she heads, 22 members of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee issued a statement yesterday saying they had "no confidence" in her leadership.

Update: Leonhart is retiring.

DEA Michele Leonhart is losing favor on Capitol Hill. (justice.gov)
"After over a decade of serving in top leadership positions at DEA, Administrator Leonhart has been woefully unable to change or positively influence the pervasive 'good old boy' culture that exists throughout the agency," the statement said. "From her testimony, it is clear that she lacks the authority and will to make the tough decisions required to hold those accountable who compromise national security and bring disgrace to their position. Ms. Leonhart has lost the confidence of this Committee to initiate the necessary reforms to restore the reputation of a vital agency."

The statement came in the immediate wake of a committee hearing yesterday over a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on sexual misconduct by department employees that found DEA agents in Colombia had been partying with prostitutes, with the tab being picked up by US taxpayers -- or sometimes by drug cartels.

At the hearing, Leonhart was excoriated by members over her failure to adequately discipline the agents involved -- the most serious punishments were short-term suspensions -- and her insistence that agency personnel rules tied her hands.

But committee members were having none of it.

"Do you think you're the right person for this job?" asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the committee.

"You're protecting people who solicited prostitutes, who had 15 to 20 sex parties," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA). "This is a very serious issue and you've done nothing... I actually feel your system is protecting these people."

If the representatives' frustration was palpable, it was because they have been down this path of scandal too many times before with Leonhart at the helm. Here's just a selection of the controversies surrounding the agency since she took over in 2008, or which involve her own long history with the agency:

  • The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General currently has six open investigations into numerous DEA scandals, including the massacre of civilians in Honduras, the use of NSA data to both spy on virtually all Americans and to systematically fabricate evidence, and controversial uses of confidential informants.
  • Leonhart herself has been at the center of several scandals, including the House of Death scandal in which the DEA may have turned a blind eye to torture and murder, and the Andrew Chambers scandal, in which the DEA rehired a confidential informant with a history of lying.
  • DEA conflicts with Obama administration policy. Last year, Leonhart publicly rebuked President Obama for admitting that marijuana is as safe as alcohol, told members of Congress that the DEA will continue to go after marijuana even in states where it is legal despite DOJ guidance stating otherwise, and spoke out against bipartisan drug sentencing reform in Congress that the Obama administration is supporting.
  • Last May, the DEA created a political firestorm when it seized seeds bound for a Kentucky hemp research program that was approved by Congress. Then Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the incident "an outrage" and the Kentucky Agriculture Department sued the DEA.
  • The DEA's refusal to acknowledge science. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has on several occasions ignored science and overruled the DEA's own administrative law judges on medical issues relating to marijuana.

Cartagena, Colombia, a playground for sex-starved DEA agents. (wikimedia.org)
]Drug reformers, who have long criticized Leonhart's last-century attitudes and approach to drug policy, were calling for her head.

"This ought to be the final nail in the Leonhart coffin," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "I cannot see how President Obama and AG Holder allow her to continue in her role. It's hard to think of a more incompetent and out of touch federal official than the current DEA chief. Her time is up. Leonhart has clashed with Republicans, Democrats, the White House, and civil society leaders. She reflects an outdated approach to the drug war that President Obama claims he wants to leave behind."

"There's simply no excuse for the outrageous behavior of the DEA's so-called leadership," said Major Neill Franklin (Ret'd.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to end the drug war. "Leonhart just helps us add to the list of reasons of why we need to rethink our entire approach to drug policy."

Will the scorching rebuke from Congress be enough to force Leonhart out the door or to convince her superiors to give her a nudge? Time will tell, but it appears her days are numbered.

Medical Marijuana Update

There's action on Capitol Hill, Tennessee passes a CBD cannabis oil bill, a Hawaii dispensary bill moves, Washington sends a medical marijuana overhaul bill to the governor, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the DEA recommended that the government triple the amount of marijuana it grows for research. The DEA recommended that the government produce nearly 900 pounds of marijuana for research this year, more than three times the amount the agency had estimated it would need. The increase is because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the agency said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

On Monday, came notice of the 9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

On Tuesday, a federal bill to allow children access to medical marijuana was filed. Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Tuesday filed the Compassionate Access Act, which would "allow the states to provide appropriate access to patients needing these legitimate, medical treatments under the supervision of their physician," the congressmen said in a statement. The bill is not yet available on the congressional website.

As of Tuesday, a federal medical marijuana bill had picked up new supporters. The CARERS Act, H.R. 1538, which would end federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, has picked up new sponsors over the recess. The latest are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Joseph Heck (R-NV). The bill now has 12 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click the link for more bill information.

As of Tuesday, a federal CBD cannabis oil bill had picked up new sponsors. The Charlotte's Web Medical Access Act, H.R. 1635, which would remove cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD-rich marijuana plants from the Controlled Substances Act, has picked up new cosponsors. The latest are Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). The bill now has 20 cosponsors, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Click on the link for more bill information.

9th Annual Clinical Cannabis Conference Next Month in Florida. The medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time is hosting this premier event. Click on the link for all the details and registration information.

California

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles city attorney said 500 unpermitted dispensaries had been shut down. City Attorney Mike Feuer said Thursday that his office has closed down 500 unpermitted dispensaries since the city voted two years ago to cap their number at about 130. But he conceded that hundreds more still operate.

Colorado

Last Thursday, a bill to allow parolees and probationers use medical marijuana advanced. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow people on probation or parole use medical marijuana. The change wouldn't apply, however, to people whose crimes were related to marijuana. The measure is House Bill 1267.

Florida

On Monday, a CBD cannabis oil regulation bill won a committee vote. The bill, Senate Bill 7066, would expand the number of businesses that could participate from five to 20. It was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, but without addressing complaints from black farmers that they had been shut out of the process. It now goes to the Senate floor.

Hawaii

On Tuesday, the Senate approved a dispensary bill. The bill that would establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state's 13,000 medical marijuana patients. The measure is House Bill 321. The bill now has to go back to the House for reconciliation.

Iowa

On Wednesday, the Senate approved a medical marijuana expansion bill. The Senate voted to approve Senate File 484, which allow the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The bill would allow for up to a dozen independent dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Tennessee

Last week, a medical marijuana bill died in the legislature. Both the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee voted to kill pending medical marijuana bills. Both committees, however, agreed to create summer study committees to look at the legislation.

On Monday, the legislature approved a CBD cannabis oil bill. Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved a bill to allow the use of CBD cannabis oil for the treatment of seizures in children. House Bill 197 now awaits the signatures of Gov. Bill Haslam (R).

Washington

On Tuesday, the legislature approved an overhaul of the medical marijuana system. A bill that seeks to end unregulated medical marijuana dispensary sales and fold medical marijuana into the recreational marijuana system is now headed for the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Senate Bill 5052 would create a database of patients (voluntary, but patients won't get tax-free medicine unless they sign up), allow patients to possess three times more marijuana than recreational users, and eliminate the current collective garden structure, replacing it with cooperatives limited to four patients.

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

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