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Alaska Marijuana Legalization Initiative Poised to Make Ballot

Alaska appears to be well-placed to become the third state to legalize marijuana after supporters of a proposed marijuana legalization initiative Wednesday handed in 50% more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot. Some 30,000 valid voter signatures are required to qualify for the ballot; organizers handed in more than 46,000.

Initiative and referendum experts assume that a certain percentage of gathered signatures will be deemed invalid, with a common metric being that 25% to 30% will be thrown out. But even if 30% of the signatures gathered in Alaska were thrown out, that would still have the initiative qualifying by a couple of thousand votes.

Still, it's not official until it's official. State election officials have 60 days to verify the signatures. If it indeed qualifies, it will appear on the state's August 19 election ballot.

The initiative is sponsored by the local group Campaign to Regulate Marijuana, which is working with the national Marijuana Policy Project.

The Act to tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana would allow adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and six plants (three flowering). Adults would be allowed to possess the harvest of their plants even in excess of one ounce as long as it remains on the premises where it was grown. The measure would also legalize the production, sale, and possession of paraphernalia.

The measure would allow for marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, infused product manufacturers, and testing facilities. It charges the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board with regulating marijuana commerce, but gives the legislature the authority to supersede it by creating a Marijuana Control Board. A $50 an ounce wholesale transfer tax would be imposed.

The measure does not change existing state laws banning public consumption, driving while impaired, or allowing employers to restrict marijuana use by workers.

It's an idea whose time has come, said proponents.

"It's not that the initiative would bring marijuana to Alaska," said Bill Parker, a former Department of Corrections deputy commissioner and one of the initiative's sponsors. "Marijuana is already in Alaska. It would legalize, regulate and tax it. It would treat it like alcohol," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

The possession of small amounts of marijuana in the privacy of one's home is already legal in Alaska under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions. But voters have been loath to go further. A broadly-written 2000 legalization initiative got 41% of the vote, and a less expansive 2004 initiative got 44% of the vote.

Times have changed, said Parker.

"I think Alaska and the country are coming to grips with the fact that what we have isn't working," he said.

Juneau, AK
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Regulated dispensaries are coming to Oregon, it's looking increasingly likely that a medical marijuana initiative is coming to Florida, New York's governor sticks a toe in the water, and California battles continue. Let's get to it:

California

Last Thursday, a superior court judge upheld Los Angeles' medical marijuana ordinance limiting the number of dispensaries that can operate in the city. Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock ruled that Proposition D, which was approved by voters in May, does not violate the due process or equal protection rights of dispensary owners being forced out of business.

Last Friday, advocates asked the state Supreme Court to review a ruling that allows cities to ban all marijuana growing within in their boundaries. The court is being asked to review an appeals court decision in Maral v. City of Live Oak allowing the ban on personal patient grows. Advocates acknowledge that the Supreme Court decided in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Incthat localities can ban dispensaries, but argue that cultivation for personal medicinal use is specifically protected by statute.

On Tuesday, the Santa Rosa city council eased the rules on dispensaries. The changes, which included elimination of patient caps, expansion of hours of operation, and allowing dispensaries to sell pipes and other devices used to ingest marijuana, were approved by the council unanimously. Dispensaries had labored under a 500-patient cap that only served to lead competitors to open up shop outside the city limits. The number of dispensaries remains capped at two, but now the city manager has discretion to increase that number in the future.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council approved putting a dispensary sales tax on the ballot. The tax would start at 6% and could increase up to 10%. The measure also includes a tax of $15 to $50 per square foot for grow areas in dispensaries. The measure will go to votes on April 8.

Also on Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors banned all marijuana cultivation in the county's unincorporated areas beginning next month. The move came over the strenuous objections of medical marijuana users. The unanimous vote includes fines of $1,000 per plant and $100 per plant per day for each day the plants remain after being discovered. Fresno becomes the first county to ban all medical marijuana cultivation.

Florida

On Tuesday, medical marijuana initiative backers said they were near to a million signatures. It's starting to look like People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may actually qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would institute a limited medical marijuana program. The plan would allow a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana, but relies on the cooperation of federal agencies not known for cooperating with efforts to expand medical marijuana -- the DEA, the FDA, and NIDA. Advocates complained that Cuomo did not call for the passage of comprehensive legislation, which is pending in Albany.

Oregon

On Tuesday, state officials said draft dispensary rules would be posted within a week. The rules, which will be the basis of a statewide dispensary regulations system approved by the legislature, will next undergo public hearings and could be revised before being finalized. In the meantime, dispensary operators can seek temporary operating licenses under the draft rules beginning March 3.

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

Chronicle AM -- January 8, 2014

East Coast governors speak against marijuana legalization, but DC voters may get a chance to have their own voices heard; a new report on Obamacare's implications for drug reform is out; the DEA is reported to have talked to the Sinaloa Cartel; and details of a Mexico City marijuana legalization bill emerge. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Activists to File Marijuana Legalization Initiative This Week.The nation's capital could vote on marijuana legalization this year. Activists there plan to submit a legalization initiative to city officials by week's end. Because of quirks in District law, the initiative will not seek to allow retail marijuana sales -- that would require action by the DC city council -- but would allow adults to possess and consume marijuana and grow up to six plants.

DOJ Will Reportedly Issue Guidance on Marijuana Banking Soon. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department will soon issue a memo with guidelines for financial institutions dealing with legal marijuana businesses. Insiders said the current draft document emphasizes that federal enforcement priorities will be directed toward those who use legal marijuana sales as a front for other criminal activity, funnel it across state lines, or sell it as part of a broader drug dealing conspiracy. But how financial institutions are supposed to know which of their marijuana customers are drawing federal interest remains unclear, suggesting that, as it stands, the draft memo will not satisfy banks.

Rhode Island Governor Calls Marijuana Legalization "Premature." Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said Tuesday Rhode Island should wait to see how legalization plays out in Colorado and Washington before trying it there. He added that it was premature to consider legalization before seeing how the state's 2013 decriminalization law is working out.

Maryland Governor Opposes Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday that while he was open to expanding access to medical marijuana, he opposed general legalization. "I'm not much in favor of it," he said. "We've seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city."

Oregon Legislature Could Discuss Legalization Next Month. With plans afoot to field a marijuana legalization initiative in Oregon this year, legislators are hinting they may want to take a crack at it first. Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) told a local meeting she expects legislators to take up the issue in the session that begins February 3.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Due in Days. State officials said Tuesday that draft rules for the state's newly-regulated dispensary industry should be posted within a week. Then will come a series of public hearings before the rules are finalized. In the meantime, dispensaries will be able to operate under temporary rules, with applications accepted beginning March 3.

New York Governor's Medical Marijuana Plan "Unworkable," MPP Says. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to announce an executive order allowing limited medical marijuana availability today, but the Marijuana Policy Project called Cuomo's proposal "unworkable," saying it would require the cooperation of the DEA, NIDA, and the FDA, none of which have been amenable to such projects. MPP says the solution is for the legislature to pass pending medical marijuana legalization.

Obamacare and Drug Policy

New DPA/ACLU Issue Brief Discusses Affordable Care Act's Impact on Drug Policy. A new issue brief from the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union reviews provisions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to drug policy, as well as how the ACA can help recast the drug policy debate. The brief is Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform.

International

DEA Met With Sinaloa Cartel Leaders, Mexican Newspaper Says. Members of the DEA and the Justice Department met secretly with leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel to gain information about rival cartels, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Monday. The meetings took place without the knowledge of Mexican officials, although US authorities on some occasions provided Mexican authorities with information derived from the meetings. The newspaper identified the DEA or Justice Department employees present at the meetings as Steve Fraga, Manuel Castañon, David Herrad and Carlos Mitchem.

CuPIHD Publishes Study of Mexico City Drug Markets. Mexico's Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy (CuPIHD) has published a quantitative and qualitative analysis of Mexico City illicit drug markets, describing the size and characteristics of the drug markets, as well as how drug users perceive and interact with their legal, economic, institutional, and social environments. The English-language version of the study is Drugs DF: The Illegal Drug Markets of Mexico City.

Draft Reveals Details of Mexico City Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Mexico City web site Animal Politico has obtained a draft of a bill being worked on by a team of leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to advance marijuana reform in the federal district. The bill would completely decriminalize the possession of marijuana, make marijuana possession and distribution "zero priority" offenses for law enforcement, and create a system of dispensaries to sell marijuana for therapeutic reasons. The proposed bill would require changes in, or, at least, exemptions from, some existing federal laws.

Chronicle AM -- January 7, 2014

Another poll shows solid majority support for marijuana legalization, Florida's medical marijuana initiative appears to be within reach of qualifying for the ballot (if the state Supreme Court doesn't block it), Sweden's justice minister falls for a pot deaths hoax, and a UN official has a grim warning on Afghanistan. And more. Let's get to it:

Letting New Hampshire legislators know... (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

CNN Poll Has Support for Legalization at 55% Nationwide. A new CNN/ORC International poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55% nationwide, up 12 points in two years. The poll also shows a dramatic decline in the number of people who think using marijuana is immoral.

Rally Called as New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow. Supporters of House Bill 492, the marijuana legalization bill, are rallying tomorrow morning at the state house as the House prepares to vote on it. Click on the link for more details.

Galesburg, Illinois, Semi-Decriminalization Ordinance Passes. The Galesburg city council Monday night approved an ordinance that gives police the option of ticketing instead of arresting people caught with less than 2.5 grams of marijuana. The city had 68 pot possession arrests last year, costing about $1,100 each to process through the courts.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Initiative Backers Closing in on One Million Signature Mark. It's starting to look like the People United for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative may qualify for the ballot. Organizers need just over 683,000 valid signatures by February 1 and now say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week. If organizers succeed in coming up with enough valid signatures, they still have to wait for the state Supreme Court to rule on whether the initiative's ballot title and summary meet legal requirements. It has been challenged by Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).

New York Governor to Establish Medical Marijuana Program by Executive Action. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will announce at his State of the State address tomorrow that he will use his executive powers to implement a limited medical marijuana program.

Drug Testing

Sisters Sue Chicago Housing Authority over Drug Testing Policies. A pair of sisters who live in a mixed-income development owned by the Chicago Housing Authority have filed suit in federal court over the CHA's policy of requiring suspicionless drug testing of residents. DeAnn and Jessica Steubenfield filed the suit in the fall. It is at least the second lawsuit filed against the CHA over the practice; the ACLU of Illinois filed its own lawsuit earlier. The two cases will get a joint hearing in May. CHA is the only housing authority in the country to require suspicionless drug testing.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force Pays $375,000 in Snitch's Murder. Four law enforcement agencies that make up Washington's Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force have agreed to pay the parents of a murdered snitch $375,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging that the cops failed to protect the man after using him to arrest a heroin dealer. Jeremy McLean, 26, agreed to snitch in a bid to avoid charges of his own, and was killed by one of the people he ratted out. The killer is now doing life in prison.

International

Afghanistan Could Become "Fragmented Criminal State," UN Drug Expert Warns. Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production, a senior UN official has warned. Opium farming hit a record high this year, and Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan office, said production would likely continue to soar before it falls. "If we are not careful, then Afghanistan has a real risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state," he said.

Uruguay Could Become Medical Marijuana Research Hub. Uruguayan presidential spokesman Diego Canepa told the Associated Press Monday that foreign laboratories have told the government they want to set up labs there to study the potential medicinal uses of marijuana. "Uruguay will become a hub for biotechnology," he said. One report said that Canada is discussing the possibility of importing Uruguayan weed for its medical marijuana program.

Swedish Justice Minister Bites on Colorado Marijuana Overdose Hoax. Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask is facing ridicule for posting on her Facebook page a spoof article that claimed 37 people died of marijuana overdoses the day Colorado legalized the weed. She accompanied her post with comments about her zero-tolerance views on drugs. "Stupid and sad," she wrote above the hoax article. "My first bill in the youth wing was called Outfight the Drugs! In this matter I haven't changed opinion at all." After criticism emerged in social media, her press minister tried to explain that she knew the article was fake and was trying to criticize its publisher for joking about a serious matter.

Kyrgyzstan Addiction Doctor, Politician Says Legalize Marijuana. Addiction specialist and former Kyrgyz presidential candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev is calling for marijuana to be legalized to reduce drug addiction, fight street crime, and increase tax revenues. He is calling on the government to create a pilot program for legal production near Lake Issyk-Kul, where two-thirds of families are already growing marijuana for the black market. But Kyrgyzstan's State Drug Control Service disagrees.

The Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2013 [FEATURE]

Last year is receding in the rear view mirror, but before looking forward to the battles of 2014, let us take a moment to savor what was, overall, a pretty big year for drug reform on the domestic front. Unsurprisingly, marijuana makes up a lot of the news, but there were also signs that America's decades-long incarceration fever is breaking, and even though the impulse to scapegoat the downtrodden through public benefits drug testing remains strong, it doesn't really seem to be picking up much traction, and the year ended with suspicionless public benefits drug testing slapped down by a federal judge. Here are the highlights of 2013:

October Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on state marijuana legalization
#1 The Obama Administration Doesn't Try to Block State Marijuana Legalization

While the truly historic moments in US marijuana legalization -- the November 2012 election victories in Colorado and Washington and the commencement of legal marijuana sales in Colorado on Wednesday -- neatly bracketed 2013, history was being made by the Obama administration as well. The first presidency to deal with states voting to legalize marijuana for adults in direct contravention of federal law did so in a remarkably reasonable fashion: by largely getting out of the way. In August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a three-page memorandum affirming that the US Justice Department would allow the two states to move forward with statewide efforts to license and regulate the adult marijuana market. Cole later reaffirmed the agency's position in testimony before the US Senate, stating, "We will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives."

#2 State Officials Don't Try to Block Marijuana Legalization Where Voters Approved It

Kudos are also due to legislators, elected officials, and functionaries in Colorado and Washington, who accepted the voters' choice to legalize marijuana with apparent good faith. The Washington state Liquor Control Board and Colorado legislators both came up with workable ways of implementing the will of the voters, while being careful to also heed the concerns of those worried about problems legalization could bring with it. Colorado's system rolled out this week and Washington's will come in a matter of months.

#3 Public Support for Marijuana Legalization in the US Reaches All-Time Highs

If 2012 was the year public opinion in favor of marijuana legalization reaching the tipping point, 2013 was the year it went over it. An October Gallup Poll had support for legalization a record-breaking 58% nationwide. That was in line with a number of other polls since the 2012 elections that showed support either above or just below 50%, depending on the pollster. The on-going sea change in public opinion has also been apparent in polls showing majority support not just where it might be expected, like California, but also where it isn't, like Louisiana and Texas, both of which reported late year majorities for legalization.

Capital City Care medical marijuana dispensary, Washington, DC
#4 The Advance of Medical Marijuana Continues

Bills legalizing medical marijuana passed in Illinois and New Hampshire, bringing the number of states that allow it to 20, along with the District of Columbia. Dispensaries opened for the first time in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. And bills that will allow dispensaries to open this year passed in Nevada and Oregon. About two dozen states saw medical marijuana legislation filed last year; expect a similar level of activity this year.

#5 The Number of State, But Not Federal, Prisoners in America Keeps On Declining

For the third year in a row, the number of people in prison in the US declined, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in July. (The figures are actually for year's end 2012, but the report came out in 2013, so here we are.). The figures do not include jail inmates. At the end of 2012, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in America, down 1.7% (or 27,770 inmates) from the previous year. Breaking down the numbers, that means that somewhere north of 330,000 people were serving time for drug crimes in US prisons at the end of last year, down from a record high of nearly half a million at the beginning of the century. The decline is because of shifts in sentencing policies in the states; the federal prison population kept expanding, although at a lower rate than over the past decade.

#6 Momentum for Sentencing Reform Grows in Washington

The clamor to do something about drug sentencing reverberated throughout the nation's capital in 2013. In August, Attorney General Holder announced an administration package of sentencing reforms, some of which could be enacted administratively, such as prosecutors not routinely resorting to mandatory minimum charging decisions, but others of which require congressional action. And while Congress didn't actually pass anything, it laid the groundwork for action next year. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), an increasingly loud critic of mandatory minimums, allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House. In another sign of interest in sentencing reform, 10 members of the House Judiciary Committee formed an "over-criminalization" task force in May. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing in September to whip up support for their legislation and other sentencing reform bills, and the committee held a mark-up session on the bills in December. The stage appears set for real movement this year.

#7 "Defelonization" Emerges as a Sentencing Policy Option for States

Although, over the years, 13 states and the District of Columbia have moved to reduce incarceration burdens by treating simple drug possession offenses as misdemeanors instead felonies -- defelonization -- the idea got renewed impetus in 2013, especially on the West Coast. In California, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors the option of charging felony possession cases passed the legislature, and in Washington state, legislators and activists announced late last year that they would try to move a similar bill there this year. Unfortunately, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the defelonization bill, but as a result of that veto, the San Francisco DA and the San Diego police chief have filed a defelonization initiative. While 2013 was a building year for defelonization efforts, they could well bear fruit this year.

#8 A Tough Year for Public Benefits Drug Testing Bills

Legislation seeking to make public benefits beneficiaries pass drug tests continued to popular in Republican-dominated state legislatures in 2013, with bills introduced in at least 30 states, but by year's end, only a handful had actually passed, and all of those were "reasonable suspicion" bills instead of bills requiring mandatory, suspicionless drug testing. Drug testing bills passed in Kansas (welfare, unemployment), North Carolina (welfare, passed over the Republican governor's veto), Michigan (unemployment), and Texas (unemployment). But as the year went on, there was rising criticism of the cost of enforcing such legislation and the small number of actual drug users found in states that had previously passed similar bills, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah. And the last day of 2013 saw a federal judge throw out Florida's suspicionless welfare drug testing law as unconstitutional. The up side is that that ought to drive a stake through the heart of any more suspicionless drug testing bills; the down side is that legislators elsewhere have already figured that out, which is why all of the 2013 bills that passed were "reasonable suspicion" bills.

#9 Historic Firsts for Hemp

Not only were industrial hemp bills filed in both houses of Congress last year, but for the first time ever, the House passed a hemp production measure. The measure was an amendment to the farm bill, but unfortunately, the entire bill was defeated after Republicans attempted to attach drug testing provisions for food stamp recipients. A later version of the bill passed without the hemp amendment. Still, there is hope that the hemp amendment, which also had Republican support, will reemerge whenever the Senate and House meet in conference committee. Meanwhile, more states took up hemp legislation, with a bill passing Kentucky and another one passing in Colorado (as part of the implementation of Amendment 64). Hemp bills were also filed in California (approved in the state Senate), Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont (as part of a broader legalization bill). And in November, a Colorado farmer oversaw the first hemp crop harvest since World War II., even though it remains illegal under federal law.

#10 Obama Exercises Clemency Power, Commutes Sentences of Clarence Aaron, Seven Others

Just before year's end, President Obama granted clemency to eight crack cocaine offenders, bringing an early Christmas present to poster boy for drug war sentencing excess Clarence Aaron and seven other crack cocaine offenders. Aaron has served more than 20 years for his peripheral role in a cocaine conspiracy, and the others were serving equally onerous sentences. The commutations were a departure for the Obama administration, which has been the stingiest in recent presidential history when it comes to the pardon power. Before the pre-Christmas commutations, Obama had issued only one commutation, where someone currently serving a sentence is actually released from prison, and 39 pardons of people who had already been released, some of them decades ago.

Chronicle AM -- January 6, 2014

Marijuana continues to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to drug policy, with news on the legalization, medical, and international fronts. The only non-marijuana-related item we have today is the murder of a confidential informant. Let's get to it:

Maryland Senate President Ready to Legalize Marijuana. Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller Jr. said Friday he would support legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. "I favor the legalization and taxation of marijuana, with restrictions," Miller said. "I know where people are going to be a generation or two from now."

Arizona Activists Aim at 2016 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A drive to put a marijuana legalization on the ballot this year in Arizona is going nowhere. Supporters have gathered only 10,000 of the 259,200 signatures needed by July 3 to qualify for the ballot, and have no money to fund signature gathering, so they are now looking to 2016, when big bucks are more likely to be available.

Rasmussen Low-Ball Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at Only 41%. A new poll from the conservative pollster Rasmussen has support for legalization at only 41%, with 50% opposed. That's down three points from a Rasmussen poll last August. The Rasmussen polls are low end outliers; most other polls show support for legalization at or above 50%.

Medical Marijuana

New York Governor to Move on Medical Marijuana. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will issue an executive order allowing a small number of hospitals in the state to recommend medical marijuana to patients. He is expected to make the formal announcement during his state of the state address Wednesday.

West Virginians Rally for Medical Marijuana As Polls Finds Support. Small numbers of people rallied in Huntington Sunday in support of medical marijuana. They also set up shop over the weekend in front of the Cabell County Courthouse, holding signs and educating passersby. Lawmakers are preparing to reintroduce legislation there, and a new poll finds that 56% of West Viriginians support legalizing medical marijuana, up three points from last year.

Tennessee Legislator Files Medical Marijuana Bill. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has filed a bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana under limited conditions. The last effort to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee went nowhere in 2012.

Guam Senator Wants Medical Marijuana Bill Discussed This Month. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes (D-Mangilao) said she is working on amendments to her pending medical marijuana legislation, Bill 215, and wants it discussed this month. If that doesn't happen, the bill should go to the floor sometime in the first quarter of the year, she said.

Law Enforcement

Oregon Snitch Killed. An Oregon man was working as an informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) when he was killed by the people he was trying to set up last month, according to a police affidavit unsealed last Thursday. James Hawkes IV was beaten, shocked with a stun gun, hogtied, and gagged before his disfigured body was left near a cemetery. Two men now face murder charges in his death.

International

Peru Should Consider Marijuana Legalization, Former Drug Head Says. Former head of DEVIDA, the Peruvian drug agency, Ricardo Soberon, has called on the government there to open a dialogue on marijuana legalization. "We must open the debate with Carmen Masias, the President of DEVIDA, and the Peruvian Medical School. Let's open a forum that deals, first and foremost, with the health issues and secondly with safety and the implications of [marijuana] use," Soberon said. "The possibility of removing the criminal element from the cannabis trade -- a drug that is a lot less dangerous than others -- is the answer to 50 years of repeating the same strategies with no results."

New Zealand Cannabis Party Wants Marijuana Treated Like Legal Highs. The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party is calling on the government to amend the Psychoactive Substances Act to include marijuana. The groundbreaking act seeks to deal with new synthetic drugs by regulating them instead of banning them. The party notes that the government has already approved several synthetic cannabinoids, so why not the real thing?

Medical Marijuana Update

The dispensary and cultivation wars continue in California, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, a bill moves in New Jersey, and more. Let's get to it:

California

On December 15, the Palm Springs city council set the dispensary tax at 10%. That's for legal dispensaries. Unapproved dispensaries will have to pay 15%. The council also approved issuance of a fourth dispensary license for the city.

Also on December 15, the Indio city council revisited regulating dispensaries. The city currently bans them, and got on an update on developments from the city attorney meant to get the council thinking about whether they want to continue the current ban in their city or consider allowing them down the line. No action was taken.

On December 17, the Yucca Valley town council heard advocates call for it to reopen the area's only dispensary. Alternative Medicinal Solutions was forced to close its doors last month after a sunset clause kicked in. It had been permitted in 2008, but the town council voted in 2010 to ban dispensaries. It gave Alternative Medicinal Solutions until last month to close its doors. An attempt at a reprieve failed on a 3-2 vote in November. Since the topic wasn't on the agenda, the council didn't debate it and took no action.

On December 18, activists in Riverside began collecting signatures for a ballot measure allowing a limited number of dispensaries. They need 12,000 signatures to qualify for the June 2015 election or 18,000 to get a special election called sooner. The "Riverside medical marijuana restriction and limitation act" would create a process to allow about 10 or fewer dispensaries to open in commercial and industrial zones and would set out rules for how they would operate.

On December 19, Napa activists announced a referendum to overturn the city council's repeal of the city's medical marijuana ordinance. Napa's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance provided for the operation of one dispensary -- and possibly one additional dispensary after one year, with the dispensaries to be selected based upon merit following a rigorous selection process. But the city council voted to repeal it on December 3.

On December 20, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said a draft ordinance on dispensaries will go before the city council in February. The City Council passed regulations in 2011 that allowed dispensaries to open legally, but medical marijuana advocates considered them too restrictive and gathered enough signatures to get the ordinance rescinded. The result, however, was that storefront dispensaries were illegal once again, and city officials have been enforcing current laws to drive them out.

Last Tuesday, Lake County activists began signature gathering effort to force a popular vote on a marijuana cultivation ordinance recently passed by the board of supervisors. It bans outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries; limits indoor grows to 100 square feet or less; keeps outdoor cultivation 1,000 feet from schools, parks or other facilities serving children; and 100 feet from water bodie; offers quicker abatement and makes the Lake County Sheriff's Office responsible for enforcement. The activists are organized as the Community Alliance to Ban Illegal Cannabis Cultivation (CABICC), which includes the United Food and Commercial Workers, CANORML, Americans for Safe Access, Patients Rights Coalition, Emerald Growers and California Cannabis Industry Association.

Florida

Last Friday, medical marijuana initiative organizers said they had gathered 700,000 signatures. United for Care needs some 683,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, so organizers are hoping to have gathered 900,000 by the end of this month to provide a cushion for rejected signatures. The initiative still must be approved the state Supreme Court.

Maine

Last Thursday, Maine officials denied a request to use medical marijuana for Tourette's syndrome. The Department of Health and Human Services denied a request to add the disease to the list of qualifying medical conditions. The patient and his doctor had testified that medical marijuana helped the muscular tics caused by Tourette's, to no avail.

Nevada

Last Monday, a state official said dispensaries would not open until months after April 1, when a law allowing them goes into effect. Marla McDade Williams, deputy administrator of the state Division of Public and Behavioral Health, said the agency needs to hire more staff and that it could take up to four months to accept, review and approve license applications.

New Jersey

Last Monday, the Assembly passed a bill to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The bill would allow patients to obtain medical marijuana products outside the state and use them in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has vowed to veto it.

Oregon

On December 18, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a medical marijuana patients whose hash was seized by police can have it back. Local prosecutors convinced a judge that hash wasn't covered under the state's law, but the appeals court disagreed.

Washington

On December 18, the state liquor control board recommended that patients be allowed to keep their personal marijuana grows. The recommendation reverses an earlier recommendation by regulators that the grows be eliminated under the state's marijuana legalization law, which does not allow home cultivation. But that earlier recommendation raised a real ruckus among patients and supporters, and the liquor control board has now changed its tune.

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

Colorado Makes History with First Legal Retail Marijuana Sales [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

For many people New Year's Eve means going to bars and celebrating with a night of drinking and carousing with their friends. For Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham, the night was a little different. The duo flew into Denver from Jacksonville, Florida, in order to be first in line for Colorado's historic legal retail marijuana sales. Hartle and Hasham came prepared with a tent, and set up camp in front of 3D, Denver's Discrete Dispensary at 6:00pm on New Year's Eve. They were the first to arrive, making it even before the news cameras.

Adam Hartle and Anthony Hasham made the pilgrimage from Jacksonville, FL, to be first in line. (Rebecca Chavez)
While there are quite a few retail marijuana stores opening to the public on January 1, 3D was the place to be for those interested in being a part of history. The Marijuana Policy Project sent out a December 27 press release stating that they were recognizing the first sale at 3D as the first sale. With a press conference planned, and an Iraq war veteran slated to be the first retail customer, 3D was buzzing with excitement in the early hours of the new year.

There were over a dozen people standing around outside, eager to get their hands on some of the first retail marijuana sold in the country, but the majority of the crowd had a more professional purpose. News crews and industry insiders sat in the lobby of 3D, while owner Toni Fox rushed around talking to press and making last minute adjustments.

For Fox, the opening of 3D for retail sales has been a long process that is "the culmination of everything we've been working towards." Many dispensary owners planned to make the switch when they found out about Amendment 64, but Fox started planning in 2009. When she started looking for space for her dispensary, she did it with a retail location in mind. This early decision paid off in a big way when it came time to hand out marijuana licenses for the city of Denver. The retail space is large and well lit.

Denver's Discreet Dispensary (3D) is now open for sales to adults 21 and over. (Rebecca Chavez)
Unlike many other dispensaries, this retail location is completely separate from the medical area. Before sales start, the area is set up to help people find exactly what they need. Fox expects that a lot of people won't know what to do when they get to a retail marijuana facility, so she's tried to make purchasing easy for someone experiencing a dispensary for the first time.

She even made the decision to limit the retail edibles that she offers early on to only those from Dixie Elixer, one of the few edible companies set up for retail sales. This choice keeps people who want to try an edible for the first time from having to sift through a multitude of options.

The publicity of being the first marijuana store is a great boost for 3D, but Fox knows that there are some risks involved, especially regarding the much buzzed-about marijuana shortage. Though the limit for Colorado residents is higher, Fox decided that she wouldn't make any sales of more than the non-resident limit of seven grams. Still she is concerned.

The sign says it all. Welcome to a new era. (Rebecca Chavez)
When asked whether there is going to be enough product, she states that 3D should have enough to last until February. "Or Monday," she said, sharing a laugh with one of her employees while acknowledging that the truth about retail marijuana is that no one knows the extent of the demand just yet.

Judging from the size of the crowd inside the building right before the press conference began, the novelty of marijuana is going to drive a lot of people to businesses like 3D. Media sources from around the world jockeyed to get the best view of a small podium where the directors behind the Amendment 64 campaign prepared to say a few words about what retail sales mean for marijuana, and what the future brings.

This is business as usual for Mason Tvert, Betty Aldworth, and Brian Vicente, the organizers of the successful Amendment 64 campaign that made marijuana legal in Colorado and who have all been doing press conferences about it for years now. This one is a little more chaotic than usual, and that's because the message is so unique. Aldworth sums it up when she says that this moment is a shift, and that "marijuana sales will be a boon instead of a burden" on our communities and our economy.

From left: Toni Fox, Betty Aldworth, Mason Tvert, Sean Azzariti, Brian Vicente (Rebecca Chavez)
The first proof of this occurs with the very first sale. Sean Azzariti is a veteran who uses marijuana to treat his post traumatic stress disorder, but who cannot get medication because the state doesn't recognize PTSD as one of the ailments that allows for medical marijuana use.

For the first time, he will be able to legally purchase the marijuana that has helped him get through the years since he fought in the Iraq War. This sale will provide the city and state with valuable tax dollars, while also boosting the local economy and providing jobs for people who want to work in marijuana.

Cameras and reporters flooded into the retail sale room to document the moment of the first sale. Outside the building, the dozens of people lined up to purchasse legal marijuana kept multiplying. The line stretched across the length of the building and, despite the falling snow, people were all smiles as they awaited their chance to be a part of history.

As Tvert pointed out during the press conference, "Today there will be people around the nation buying marijuana," but only in Colorado is it legal and regulated.

Colorado has initiated a new era in marijuana policy in the United States, and Washington state will be joining later this year. With Alaska and Oregon both well-placed to legalize it this year via the initiative process, and with other states about to consider marijuana legalization bills in their legislatures, the beginning of the end of US marijuana prohibition has commenced.

Denver, CO
United States

Legal Marijuana No Simple Matter for Colorado Retailers [FEATURE]

special to the Chronicle by Denver-based journalist Rebecca Chavez

Starting January 1, any person in Colorado over the age of 21 can walk into a retail marijuana facility and purchase marijuana with just a show of ID. While the process should be simple for those who choose to imbibe legally, things have not been so simple for the dispensary owners who have made the choice to sell retail marijuana. Luke Ramirez is one of these owners. His store, Walking Raven, sits on one of Denver's busiest streets.

For Ramirez, planning for retail marijuana sales began in February of 2012, when Walking Raven officially endorsed Amendment 64, the legalization initiative that won at the ballot that November. Even with almost two years of planning behind him, he finds that there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. It wasn't until May of 2013 that Ramirez and other dispensary owners knew what would be expected of them by the state. Even with state legislation settled, Amendment 64 allows for municipalities to come up with even stricter rules for retail marijuana stores.

Denver started working on its own regulations in September, and wasn't done when the Chronicle spoke with Ramirez in late December. Though he was only the seventh person in the city of Denver to apply for a license, the constant changes mean that he won't be able to open until about January 10, over a week beyond the official start of recreational marijuana sales. In late December Ramirez was still getting calls about changes to marijuana laws at the city level.

The process has been similar for dispensary owners all over Denver, which means it might be one of the few places where a legal retail marijuana shortage will happen right away. The licensing for retail locations and retail grows is happening at the same time. This would be a problem for those trying to open on January 1, except that the state has allowed a one-time transfer of medical marijuana to retail. This transfer is how all stores will start, and it gives a little something extra to the consumer as well.

The edible companies have to go through the same process as other marijuana facilities, but some are opting out in the early stages. During the one time transfer, marijuana stores can make some edibles retail that otherwise wouldn't be available. This means some store owners are stockpiling certain items that they feel will be popular with retail consumers.

Ramirez has opted out of stockpiling because he simply can't afford it. The cost of selling retail marijuana is incredibly high, which prices smaller dispensaries out of an immediate switch. All told, Ramirez has spent $60,000 dollars going through the process of getting licensed and prepared to make the switch. Before he actually gets his license he expects to spend about $10,000 more.

Inside Walking Raven (Rebecca Chavez)
Money is a huge concern for retail marijuana dispensaries, and Ramirez is unsure of whether they will be able to make it all back during the first few months of retail sales. He acknowledges that the supply for retail just won't meet the demand, and worries that owners will see the same marijuana shortage that caused some of them to temporarily close their doors in 2012. This, of course, affects the people who work behind the counter. Ramirez wants to make sure that all of his employees are well-taken care of, but he acknowledges that he may have to cut back on hours at some point.

The marijuana shortage has another effect on the market. With marijuana prices possibly going as high as $70 for an eighth, Ramirez says that retail marijuana "won't get rid of the black market until supply meets demand."

In the meantime, his store and many others will have to compete with the grey market that has sprung up on Craigslist since the passage of Amendment 64.

Despite the many difficulties in his way, and the five inspections that he has to go through, Ramirez is confident that he is making the right choice. While he cannot sell retail marijuana at present, he is concerned to ensure that marijuana is still available for his current customers: medical marijuana patients.

"Patients definitely still need medicine," he says, and that's why he's sure to always have some on hand, segregated from retail marijuana for non-patients.

Retail and medical marijuana are sold in the same store, but they have to be kept in separate containers. Medicinal users can purchase retail, but retail consumers cannot get any of the medical marijuana regardless of a possible shortage. Despite eventual plans to sell only 10% of his product as medicinal, Ramirez is determined to always be able to take care of the patients.

They are, after all, the ones that supported him before the end of prohibition in Colorado.

Denver, CO
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 24, 2013

The first business licenses for legal marijuana shops have been issued in Colorado, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, hemp is on the agenda in Kentucky, and Uruguay's legalization example is causing reflection in the region. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

In Historic Move, Colorado Issues First General Marijuana Business Licenses. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Monday issued 348 approved licenses for marijuana growers, processors, and retailers, making it the first state to issue such licenses. Some 136 of the licenses are for retail outlets. The marijuana business goes legit on January 1, although it's unclear how many pot shops will be open on day one.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording of Legalization Initiative (Again). For the second time, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana. He said there were ambiguities in the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Marjorie LeClair. McDaniel has approved the language of two other marijuana initiatives, both relating to medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dispensaries Delayed in Nevada. Although the law allowing dispensaries to operate in Nevada goes into effect April 1, don't expect to see any then. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health says it needs to hire more staff and that it could be four months after April 1 before licenses are accepted, reviewed, and approved.

Hemp

Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to Meet Monday. The state's Industrial Hemp Commission will meet Monday, December 30, at 1:00pm at the office of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to discuss the status of talks with the US Justice Department, hear reports from various committees, and present drafts of clean-up legislation and the annual commission report.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Prompting Neighbors to Rethink. Look out, it could be contagious! Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana is having a ripple effect in the region. Argentina' drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, has now called for a public debate there about following Uruguay's footsteps, and said his boss, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, wants a new approach, too. There are signs that Chile, too, may head down that path. Newly reelected socialist President Michelle Bachelet campaigned on reviewing marijuana's classification as a hard drug.

English-Language Details on Raided Belgian Cannabis Club. We reported last week on the harassment by police of the Mambo Cannabis Social Club in Hasselt, Belgium, and the arrest of its founder, Michel Degens, but the only link we had was in Dutch. Here, thanks to the folks at NORML UK, is an English language backgrounder and update on the situation. Click on the link.

Ban on Non-Dutch in Cannabis Cafes Not Illegal Nor Discriminatory, Advocate General Says. Leen Keus, the advocate general for the Council of State, said Tuesday that banning non-residents from cannabis cafes is not illegal nor discriminatory. The ban is not against Dutch, European, or international law, Keus said. His comments come as the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, prepares a ruling on whether the government was correct in closing two Maastricht cannabis cafes because they refused to implement the ban. Among other things, the advocate general is charged with issuing legal opinions on matters before the court.

New Zealand Synthetic Cannabis Shop Draws Crowds, Controversy, Vandalism. New Zealand this year chose to regulate synthetic drugs instead of banning them, but that doesn't mean controversy and problems have gone away. The U njo Y shop in East Hamilton is drawing both large crowds of people who want to get high on synthetic cannabinoids and scathing criticism from some members of the community for the "anti-social behavior" it is accused of generating. And speaking of anti-social behavior, the shop is now the target of vandals, who have glued its doors shut and hurled marbles at its windows.

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