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Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Marijuana!

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

The state Senate today voted 17-12 today to approve a bill that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and replace it will system of taxation and regulation. The vote today was the second Senate vote this week to approve the bill, which will now go to the House for consideration.

The measure, Senate Bill 241, would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, but not to grow it after some powerful lawmakers said that provision would be a deal-breaker. Instead, the bill now contains a provision to create a study commission to examine home cultivation and the issue of edibles, which are also not allowed.

The bill also envisions a system of tightly regulated commercial marijuana cultivation, testing, and distribution, which would include licensed retail marijuana outlets.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), who backs the bill, has not yet responded to today's vote, but congratulated lawmakers after Wednesday's preliminary vote to approve the bill.

"I want to thank the Senate for their courage in voting to end the failed War on Drugs policy of marijuana prohibition," Shumlin said in a statement. "When this debate began a month and a half ago, there were many who said it had no chance of passage in either chamber. Today it passed the Senate. This is a big moment for Vermont that should give Vermonters faith that our democracy still works," he said, noting that some 80,000 Vermonters use marijuana on a monthly basis.

"The shadows of prohibition have prevented our state from taking rational steps to address marijuana use in our state," the governor continued. "This bill will allow us to address those important issues by driving out illegal drug dealers, doing a better job than we currently do of keeping marijuana out of the hands of underage kids, dealing with the drugged drivers who are already driving on our roads, addressing treatment, and educating Vermonters to the harmful effects of consuming marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes."

"Now is the time to move forward with ending the failed policy of prohibition in Vermont. I am proud of the Senate for taking the lead and I look forward to working with the House to get a bill to my desk," Shumlin added.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which has been working closely with elected officials on the bill, also pronounced itself pleased.

"We applaud the Senate for advancing this important legislation," said Matt Simon, MPP's Montpelier-based New England political director. "Like most Vermonters, most members of the Senate recognize that prohibition is a failed policy. They voted to regulate marijuana because it will make our communities safer. We are confident that House members who take an objective look at the evidence will arrive at the same conclusion as their colleagues in the Senate."

Political pressure is mounting on the House to do just that. In addition to support from the governor, and now, the Senate, but also from sitting state Attorney General William Sorrell and two of his predecessors, as well as clergy and faith leaders. And on Monday, Vermont Public Radio released poll results showing that 55% of Vermonters support the bill, with only 32% opposed.

New England is a real hotbed of marijuana reform this year, with bills also under serious consideration in Connecticut and Rhode Island and with Maine and Massachusetts poised to vote on legalization initiative in November. But it's starting to look like Vermont could be the first state in the region to make it to the finish line, and the first in 2016.

Montpelier, VT
United States

Chronicle AM: VT Senate Gives First Approval of Legalization Bill, CT MedMJ Expansion, More... (2/24/16)

Marijuana legalization advances in Vermont; medical marijuana advances in Connecticut, Australia, and Canada; Eric Holder says it's time to reschedule marijuana, Obama says restricting pain pills won't solve the opioid crisis, and more.

Busy, busy in New England. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Another Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has again rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, citing ambiguities in the text. The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment, filed by Mary Berry, was rejected the first time earlier this month.

Vermont Senate Approves Legalization in Preliminary Vote. The Senate voted 16-13 to approve Senate Bill 241, which would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana. The bill, which is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), faces one more Senate vote before heading to the House. That vote is expected to come tomorrow.

Minneapolis City Council Takes Up Decriminalization. The council will decide this week whether small-time marijuana possession should be a misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor under city ordinance. The current ordinance makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, jail time, and a criminal record. That's tougher than state law, which makes it a petty misdemeanor, which is punishable only by a fine and carries to criminal record.

Medical Marijuana

Former Attorney General Eric Holder Now Supports Rescheduling Marijuana. In an interview with PBS, Holder signaled newfound support for rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana. It's not something he acted on while in office, but he now says: "I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

Connecticut Legislators Expand Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana. The legislature's regulation review committee Tuesday approved expanding the state's program by adding six new qualifying conditions: ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease; ulcerative colitis; sickle cell disease; severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis; complex regional pain syndrome; and post-laminectomy syndrome with chronic radiculopathy, which is recurring back pain after surgery. No other approval is required since these were regulatory, not legislative, changes. The changes will go into effect in 30 days.

Heroin and Opiates

Obama Says Restricting Opiate Prescriptions Won't Solve Crisis. At the National Governors' Conference last weekend, the governors recommended limiting the number of opioid pain relievers doctors can prescribe, but President Obama wasn't buying that. "If we go to doctors right now and say 'Don't overprescribe' without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we're not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real, the mental illness is real," Obama said in a meeting with governors Monday. "In some cases, addiction is already there."

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Unveils Comprehensive Drug Policy Plan. At a press conference today, Ithaca officials unveiled a comprehensive plan to deal with drug use from a public health perspective with a strong harm reduction component. The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy, calls for the creation of a Vancouver-style Four Pillars (prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement) approach to the city's problems, particularly with heroin and opioid drug use. The plan recommends allowing supervised injection facilities and heroin maintenance, among other proposals.

International

Canadian Federal Judge Throws Out Ban on Patient Medical Marijuana Grows. A Vancouver-based federal judge ruled Wednesday that Health Canada regulations restricting patient medical marijuana grows violating charter rights and thus have no force and effect. But Judge Michael Phelan also gave the government six months to come up with new rules. In the meantime, an injunction allowing thousands of patients to grow their own remains in effect.

Australian Parliament Approves Medical Marijuana. Medical marijuana cleared the upper house Wednesday, clearing the way for its use Down Under. But several steps remain to be taken before a program gets up and running.

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor, Burma Opium Vigilantes, More... (2/23/16)

Marijuana legalization should get a vote in the Vermont Senate this week, a Utah medical marijuana bill advances, a West Virginia medical marijuana bill is filed, Christian anti-drug vigilantes threaten Burmese opium crops, and more.

Medical marijuana legislation advances in Utah, is introduced in West Virginia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Vermont Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. The measure, Senate Bill 241, was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday. It has already passed the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and now heads for a Senate floor vote. If it passes the Senate, it must still get through the House.

Vermont Faith Leaders Express Support for Legalization Bill. In a letter sent today, a diverse group of more than a dozen local clergy and faith leaders from across Vermont said they have "a moral obligation to support change" because the state's current marijuana prohibition laws "have caused more harm than good for the people of Vermont." The marijuana laws are "disproportionately enforced against the poor and people of color," the religious leaders added.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill's Cultivation Provision Gutted. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted Monday to cut a provision allowing for the in-state cultivation of marijuana for CBD cannabis oil production from House Bill 722, which was filed to allow for in-state cultivation. "I can't come before you today without saying how disappointed I am that we're not moving forward with cultivation in this bill," said bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon). "That was the heart of the bill." Although the state approved CBD cannabis oil last year, there is no way for Georgia patients to legally procure their medicine.

Utah Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Monday narrowly approved Senate Bill 73, which would allow patients to use marijuana in edible, extract, and oil form. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), overcome opposition from the Mormon Church.

West Virginia Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A bipartisan group of Senate leaders has introduced a bill that would make medical marijuana legal. The bill, Senate Bill 640, is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Kessler (D-Glen Dale), Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Ripley), and three other senators. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources. The bill would allow qualifying patients to cultivate up to 12 mature plants and possess up to six ounces. It would also allow state-regulated dispensaries that would supply patients with medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Killed. A bill to overhaul the state's civil asset forfeiture program has died after the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to include it on its agenda as a Thursday deadline for committee reports looms. Instead, the committee advanced another, less far-reaching asset forfeiture reform bill that would require compensation for attorney fees, court costs and interest on properly determined to be unlawfully seized.

International

Canadian MP Will Propose Federal 911 Good Samaritan Bill. Liberal MP Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, BC) says he will introduce a bill granting protection from prosecution for people who call 911 during a drug overdose. The "Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act" was expected to be filed in the House of Commons this week.

Burmese Anti-Drug Vigilantes Face Off With Security Forces, Opium Farmers. As many as 3,000 Christian anti-drug vigilantes are camped at a military roadblock in Kachin state, blocked by security forces from pursuing their goal of destroying poppy production in the area. The group is called Pat Jasan and was set up by local Baptist elders two years to counter the influence of drug traffickers. They claim to have already destroyed up to 3,500 acres of poppy fields at a time when the harvest is in full swing. One vigilante has been killed in violence with farmers, and the military and police are now blocking the vigilantes amid threats of further attacks from farmers. Burma is the world's second largest opium producer.

Chronicle AM: VT Poll Has Majority for Legalization, OH Poll Has Supermajority for MedMJ, More... (2/22/16)

NORML gets on board with California's AUMA, New England continues to progress on pot legalization, the mayor of Ithaca, New York, unveils a comprehensive drug strategy that includes supervised injection sites, and more.

Marijuana Policy

NORML Endorses California AUMA Legalization Initiative. The nation's largest marijuana consumers' group has formally endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. "The Board took this action aware there are other proposed initiatives in California that include provisions that are even more consumer-friendly, but those alternatives have little chance of qualifying for the ballot or being approved by a majority of the state's voters," the group said. The AUMA is backed by tech billionaire Sean Parker, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, and other reform organizations.

Key Rhode Island Politico Now Supports Legalization. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero (D-North Providence) is now supporting marijuana legalization in his state. He has become a cosponsor of the legalization bill, Senate Bill 2420, filed by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston). Companion legislation in the House is sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence).

New Vermont Poll Has Majority for Legalization. A new Vermont Public Radio poll has support for marijuana legalization at 55%. The poll comes as a legalization bill supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is making its way through the state legislature. The measure is Senate Bill 241.

Medical Marijuana

New Ohio Poll Has Strong Majority for Medical Marijuana Initiative. A new Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, which plans to put a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the November ballot, has support for the notion at 74%, with only 22% opposed. This was not a generic question. The poll asked specifically if voters favored or opposed "making it a constitutional right for patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions to possess and consume marijuana if their doctors recommend it."

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Bill Becomes CBD Cannabis Oil Bill. A bill that would have allowed full-plant access for medical marijuana patients was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last Friday, but only after it was amended to only allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil. The measure is Senate Bill 171. The bill is expected to be heard on the Senate floor this week.

Utah CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Passes Senate; Medical Marijuana Bill Still Alive. The Senate last Friday approved Senate Bill 89, which would allow for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but which patient advocates say does not go far enough. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, that appeared doomed after the Mormon Church came out in opposition, remains alive and is picking up support. Patient advocates have threatened an initiative campaign if the bill does not pass.

Asset Forfeiture

Second Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee voted last Thursday to approve a bill that would create a civil court procedure to weigh the state's claims when it attempts to seize private property. The bill is Senate File 46. Unlike ending civil asset forfeiture, which Gov. Matt Mead (R) vetoed last year, this bill has the support of the administration.

Harm Reduction

Ithaca, New York, Mayor Calls for Supervised Injection Sites. Mayor Svante Myrick this week will roll out a comprehensive new drug policy approach, "the Ithaca Plan," which relies on the Four Pillars harm reduction strategy, including a call for supervised injection sites.

International

Belize Moving Toward Marijuana Decriminalization. The Attorney General's office has begun working on amendments to the country's criminal code that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of weed. The move comes after the cabinet approved policy recommendations made by a study group last year.

Chronicle AM: Supreme Court Takes Up CO Legalization, DEA Can't Keep Track of Evidence, More... (2/19/16)

The Supreme Court will decide if the case against Colorado can go forward, Ohio pot legalizers call it quits for now, Detroit dispensaries are facing a crackdown, a New Jersey bill would criminalize pregnant women who use drugs, and more.

Where did the drugs go? (justice.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Supreme Court Hears Case Against Colorado Legalization Today. The nation's highest court is deciding whether to take up a challenge against the state's legal marijuana law from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia last weekend could alter the balance. If the court splits conservative vs. liberal, that would mean a 4-4 vote on the case. In regular cases that would mean that lower court rulings would hold. But the Supreme Court has "original jurisdiction" when states sue each other, meaning that there are no lower court rulings, raising the question of what would happen next.

Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Calls It Quits. The group, Legalize Ohio 2016, says it has put its signature gathering drive on hold because it doesn't have any money. The group's political action committee, Ohioans to End Prohibition, had only $268 in the bank. The group has some 80,000 signatures, but needs more than 300,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It says it will instead concentrate on supporting the Marijuana Policy Project's medical marijuana initiative.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit Dispensary Boom Faces Looming Crackdown. The Motor City is now home to more than 200 dispensaries, but an ordinance that goes into effect March 1 is likely to put some of them out of business. The new ordinance insists that dispensaries must be at least a thousand feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries, and other dispensaries, and an unknown number are not going to be in compliance. Don't expect immediate raids, though; dispensary owners will have a chance to apply for licenses, and police said they would give dispensaries some time to comply before moving against them.

Asset Forfeiture

Illinois County Sued for Asset Forfeiture "Racketeering." Three people have filed a federal lawsuit against the Kane County Sheriff's Office alleging it is running a racketeering enterprise by stopping drivers, falsely arresting and searching them, and seizing their cash and cars for the benefit of the county. The suit also names three deputies, including one -- Sgt. Hain -- who is also employed by a private company, Desert Snow, that trains police to prolong traffic stops, conduct searches without warrants or consent, and aggressively seize assets. The plaintiffs allege they were stopped, searched, and had several thousand dollars in cash seized, and that they were booked into the county jail overnight, but never charged with a crime. They were released the next day. Police found no drugs or other suspicious items. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Inspector General Rips DEA Over Evidence Handling Procedures. The DEA isn't properly documenting, tracking, and relocating the drugs it seizes, compromising the security of the drugs and undermining their usefulness as evidence in court, the inspector general said in findings released Thursday. In nearly one out of every 10 cases, DEA could not even find the tracking documents that are supposed to account for the drugs. "Gaps in the formal documentation of the chain of custody for drug exhibits can compromise the security of the drugs and jeopardize the government's ability to use the evidence in court proceedings," the IG said. The IG also found that more than half of all seizures, DEA forms did not list the amount of drugs seized, making it impossible to know if they had been tampered with. The inspector general made nine recommendations in total to improve the oversight of DEA drug seizures, all of which the agency agreed to address.

New Jersey Bill Would Criminalize Drug Use By Pregnant Women. A trio of Democratic Assembly members have introduced Assembly Bill 774, which would make using drug while pregnant a felony crime. Advocates for pregnant women called the bill "blatantly discriminatory" and said it will deter pregnant women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment. They also said it was aimed at poor women.

International

Report Criticizes Use of Private Contractors in Colombia Aerial Coca Fumigation. A new report from the United Kingdom's Swansea University analyzes the role of private contractors and finds their primary benefit to the governments involved -- Colombia and the US -- are "secrecy and lack of accountability." "The ineffective policy is of dubious legality, causes damage to people and the environment, and would, if carried out by US military forces, imply the direct involvement of the US in Colombia's civil war, thereby triggering the application of international law as it applies to armed conflict," the report found. Still, aerial fumigation achieved "strategic objectives" of the two governments by displacing rural populations from areas of insurgent influence.

Chronicle AM: WA Drug Task to Disband, Cites Legalization; Harm Reduction Bills Advance in FL, NM, More... (2/18/16)

Even South Carolinians want drug policy reform, a Washington state drug task force calls it quits after marijuana legalization, harm reduction measures advance in Florida and New Mexico, and more.

With marijuana legal, drug task forces are having to reassess. (Darrin Frisby Harris/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon House Passes Marijuana Fine-Tuning Bill. The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve House Bill 4014, one of three bills this session aimed at fine tuning the state's marijuana legalization program. The bill removes residency restrictions for owning cannabusinesses, reduces some penalties for marijuana offenses, and adjusts licensing requirements to fit the needs of small farms, among other provisions.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Attorney General Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has certified the popular name and title of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. Now, initiative backers can begin the process of gathering some 85,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Legislature Punts on Asset Forfeiture Reform. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday took up Senate File 2166, which would have ended civil asset forfeiture in the state, but after a contentious hearing, the subcommittee voted to simply study the issue and develop recommendations for addressing it next year.

Drug Policy

Poll Finds South Carolinians Surprisingly Open to Drug Reforms. According to a a new poll released by the Drug Policy Alliance, a large majority of South Carolina's notably conservative primary voters supports ending mass incarceration, even across party lines. A substantial majority, furthermore, supports decriminalizing drug possession. Some 70% said they considered reducing incarceration rates an important issue and 59% said they favored decriminalizing drug possession.

Drug Testing

Maine Moves to Make It Easier for Employers to Do Drug Testing. The Department of Labor is calling on lawmakers to streamline the approval process for employee drug testing policies and to implement a program to train managers to spot drug-related impairment in the workplace. The proposal comes as an amendment to LD 1384, which is the subject of a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee work session today.

Harm Reduction

Florida Needle Exchange Bill Advances. The House Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday unanimously approved House Bill 81, which would create a pilot program to establish needle exchange programs in Miami-Dade County. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. Companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 242, also awaits a floor vote.

New Mexico Legislature Approves Overdose Prevention Bills. A pair of bills that would allow individuals and organizations to possess and distribute the opioid reversal drug naloxone (Narcan®) have passed out of the legislature and are headed for the governor's desk. The measures are House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 262.

Law Enforcement

Washington State Drug Task Force to Disband, Cites Marijuana Legalization, Funding Cuts. The East Side Narcotics Task Force is going out of business in June after a quarter-century of fighting drug offenses. "The member agencies did an evaluation of the task force and its mission, and what we decided was that the task force had run its course and that due to a variety of challenges, it was time to sunset the task force and look at other options," Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett explained. One of those challenges was marijuana legalization: "When the state law changed, it made us pause and take a look at our mission," Mylett said. "When I arrived in Bellevue (in April 2015), the police chiefs were already discussing how marijuana laws were changing the whole drug trade landscape." He also complained that federal grants to fund such task forces were declining.

International

Saudis Execute Two Yemenis for Smuggling Hash. Yemeni citizens Ahmed Mubarek and Abdul Salam al-Jamali were executed in the Saudi border city of Jazan Wednesday after being convicted of smuggling hashish into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has already executed 62 people this year, putting it on a pace to exceed last year's 153 executions, the highest number in two decades. It's not clear how many people have been executed for drug offenses.

Chronicle AM: Facebook Goes After Marijuana Businesses, WY Forfeiture Bill Advances, More... (2/17/16)

Facebook is making life hard for marijuana businesses, marijuana and medical marijuana are on the agenda at statehouses across the land, a South Dakota welfare drug testing bill is back in "kinder, gentler" form, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Facebook Shutting Down Marijuana Business Pages. The social media application has recently deleted or suspended dozens of accounts operated by marijuana businesses, without even a warning about possibly offensive material. It's not just businesses that actually deal in marijuana; Facebook has been typically unresponsive, saying only that "These pages have been removed for violating our community standards, which outline what is and is not allowed on Facebook."

Maryland Lawmakers Reject Effort to Increase Penalties for Public Marijuana Smoking. The House of Delegates Wednesday turned back GOP efforts to make it a misdemeanor offense to smoke pot on the Ocean City boardwalk, in state parks, or other public spaces. The move was a proposed amendment to a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to smoke pot in a vehicle. The bill treats in-car pot smoking like an open container violation, with fines, but no jail time.

Oregon House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The House has passed House Bill 4094, which protects banks and credit unions from any state liability for dealing with state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill passed on a 56-3 vote and now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona GOP Lawmakers Seek to Bar Use of Welfare EBT Cards in Dispensaries. Rep. Kate Brophy (R-Phoenix) has filed a bill, House Bill 2261, that would add dispensaries to the list of locations where EBT cards that deliver cash cannot be used. Other banned locations include liquor stores, race tracks, casinos, and strip clubs. The bill got a hearing Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, but was criticized by Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson), a physician. "I have a little trouble just saying you can get your prescription medications but not your medical marijuana," said Friese. "Medical marijuana is used for a variety of things that help people with chronic pain, glaucoma, anorexia, intractable nausea."

Oregon Bill to Let Pot Shops Sell Tax-Free Medical Marijuana Advances. A joint legislative committee Tuesday approved the bill that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to produce, process, and sell medical marijuana products. Senate Bill 1511 now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Utah Poll Finds Nearly Two-Thirds Want Medical Marijuana. Some 64% of Utahns support medical marijuana, up from 61% just two months ago, according to a new Utah Policy poll. The poll comes as progress on a full-blown medical marijuana bill in the legislature appears blocked and as patient activists say they are about to embark on an initiative campaign to get around legislative inaction.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Senate Approves Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The Senate Wednesday approved Senate File 46, which would require a judge to find probable cause property was used or intended to be used in drug trafficking before it could be seized. The bill does not end civil asset forfeiture, but does raise the bar for the state. A measure pending in the House would end civil asset forfeiture, but faces a veto from Gov. Matt Mead (R), who vetoed similar legislation last year. The Senate bill now goes to the House.

Drug Testing

South Dakota Welfare Drug Testing Bill Returns in "Kinder, Gentler" Form. After an earlier bill that would have required drug testing for all welfare recipients was killed, Sen. Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) has introduced Senate Bill 153, which would randomly drug test 2% of welfare applicants. The bill was set for a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee today.

New England 2016 is a Marijuana Legalization Hotbed [FEATURE]

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

No state east of the Mississippi has legalized marijuana, but that's very likely to change this year, and New England will be leading the way. Two of the six New England states will likely let the voters make the call in November, while the others all have legalization bills pending.

New England pastoral (wikimedia.org)
So far, with the exception of Washington, DC, where voters elected to legalize the possession and cultivation, but not the sale of marijuana in 2014, all of the legalization action has been in the West. The four states that have legalized it so far -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington -- are all Western states.

More Western states will likely legalize it this year, including the nation's most populous, California, as well as Arizona and Nevada. The Nevada Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act has already qualified for the November ballot, while the Arizona campaign behind that's state's Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act is well-advanced in signature gathering and appears poised to easily qualify for the ballot as well.

Meanwhile, California's Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is late out of the gate, but well-financed and broadly supported. It, too, should be on the ballot in November.

Another possible legalization state this year is Michigan, where the campaign behind the Michigan Marihuana Legalization, Regulation and Economic Stimulus Act just last week announced that it has 240,000 raw signatures and is aiming for 300,000 by March 15. But it needs 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and with the rule of thumb for petition campaigns being that between 20% and 30% of raw signatures are likely to be invalidated, whether the Michigan initiative will qualify remains to be seen.

But it's Yankee country that will see the most concentrated regional push toward marijuana legalization this year. Initiatives that make the ballot will go before New England populations that are showing majority support for legalization this year, and, while progress toward legalization though the legislative process can be achingly difficult, the region also appears poised to produce the first state to free the weed through the legislature, not the popular vote.

Here's the rundown on New England legalization efforts this year. Chances are good that legalization will happen in two of them -- the initiative states -- and possibly in one or more of the other states:

Connecticut. Earlier this month, Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. "I'm going to be pushing very hard," Candelaria said. "I'm going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing." Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. "That's as far as I'm comfortable going," the governor said.

Maine. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is poised to. On February 1, the campaign turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures from its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and should have a sufficient cushion to do so. The most recent of Mainers' attitudes toward marijuana legalization, from the spring of 2015, had support at 65%.

Massachusetts. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already qualified for the ballot, but under Massachusetts law, the legislature must first take up the issue. If, as expected, it fails to adopt legalization, the campaign must then collect another 10,000 signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. It should be able to do that easily, and if it gets on the ballot, it should win, although perhaps not as handily as Maine. There are no hot-off-the-press polls, but a 2014 poll had support at 53% and a Boston Globe poll from last year had a dead heat, with 48% in favor, 47% opposed. Numbers this tight means it's not a done deal, but given expected high voter turnout this election year, the Bay State should be able to pull it off.

Fall in New Hampshire (wikimedia.org)
New Hampshire. The House actually passed a legalization bill in 2014, only to see it die in the Senate. This year, there are already three legalization bills filed, but two of them have already been deemed "inexpedient to legislate" in committee. The remaining legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Even if the bill were to pass the House, it faces a tough battle in the Senate. In addition to killing legalization in 2014, the Senate has at least twice killed decriminalization bills that passed the House.

Rhode Island. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) said he will file a marijuana legalization bill in the General Assembly last week, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) will file companion legislation in the Senate. As of Saturday, the bills have not yet been posted on the legislative website, but they are definitely coming. This marks the fifth consecutive year legalization bills have been filed in Providence, and they have previously been stifled, but there are signs progress could be made this year. The Senate bill has 17 cosponsors (out of 38 senators), and the House bill has more than 30 cosponsors. Republican House Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) supports it, and House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-Cranston), who has long opposed legalization, is now becoming "more open-minded" as eyes tax revenues from pot in the already legal states.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State is the most likely to actually pass a legalization bill this year. Senate Bill 241, backed by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), has already passed the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and is moving toward a Senate floor vote. But the committees have amended the bill to kill home cultivation and to reduce the legalized amount from an ounce to a half ounce. And if and when the bill gets out of the Senate, it still faces a tough battle in the House.

This could well be the year New England goes green. Winning in three states -- Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont -- would be a big victory; winning in more would be a very pleasant surprise. Not winning in any of them would be a huge setback for the marijuana reform movement, but at this point, that looks extremely unlikely.

Chronicle AM: CA Init Has Big Bucks, Afghan Government Complicit in Opium Trade, More... (2/16/16)

The California legalization initiative has enough money in the bank to easily pay for signature gathering, a Wyoming bill would make possession of three ounces of edibles a felony, Utah medical marijuana patients say they will go the initiative route after the Mormon Church says no to a Senate bill, the New York Times looks at government complicity in Afghan opium production, and more.

In Afghanistan fields the poppies grow, and it's not like the government doesn't know. (unodc.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Legalization Initiative Has $2.25 Million in the Bank. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is financially well-prepared to get the several hundred thousand voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. With a new $500,000 donation from tech entrepreneur Sean Parker, who earlier kicked in another $500,000, the campaign is sitting on $2.25 million. Other major contributors include Weed Maps ($500,000), the Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm ($500,000), and a PAC funded by the heirs of Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis ($250,000). That's enough money to pay for signature gathering and then some.

After South Dakota Vote to Kill Internal Pot Possession Law Fails, Tribe Again Moves Forward With Marijuana Facility Plan. After the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 11-1 Tuesday to kill a bill to end the state's unique law making "internal possession" of marijuana a crime, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe announced it will work with federal officials in an effort to get its marijuana production facility back on track. The tribe last year began production and planned a New Year's Eve bash with legal marijuana, but destroyed its crop in November in the face of uncertainty about the federal response and a hostile response from state officials, who warned that anyone coming off the reservation who had used marijuana could be charged with internal possession.

Wyoming Senate Panel Advances Bill That Makes Possession of Three Ounces of Edibles a Felony. The Senate Judiciary Committee Monday approved Senate File 96, which closes a legal loophole around the legality of edible marijuana products. At least two state judges had ruled that the state law was unclear on edibles. The bill originally made possession of more than a pound of edibles a felony, but under urging from state officials, lawmakers approved an amendment lowering the amount that triggers felony charges to three ounces. The panel ignored complaints from Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) that it was criminalizing the weight of edibles rather than THC content.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Medical Marijuana Bill Gets House Committee Hearing. The House Emerging Issues Committee heard testimony Monday night on the Compassionate Care Act (House Bill 2213), which would allow up to 30 dispensaries and 30 cultivation operations statewide. The committee took no action and no further hearings are currently scheduled.

Utah Patients Resort to Ballot Initiative After Mormon Church Warns Legislature on Medical Marijuana. Last week, the LDS Church came out against Senate Bill 73, a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, severely damaging its prospects in the legislature. That has prompted patient advocates to announce today that they plan to pursue a medical marijuana initiative. They will face a ticking clock: They have less than 60 days to gather 101,744 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Virginia CBD Cannabis Oil Bill Advances. In a last-minute reprieve, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee Monday night approved a bill that would allow state residents to more easily obtain CBD cannabis oils to treat epilepsy. The state last year approved a CBD cannabis oil bill, but it has no provisions for legally obtaining the medicine. The bill still awaits floor votes in both the House and the Senate.

International

Afghan Government Profiting Off Poppy Trade. The US has spent more than $7 billion trying to wipe out the Afghan opium poppy industry, but the government the US supports in Kabul is deeply involved in the trade, the New York Times reports: "More than ever, Afghan government officials have become directly involved in the opium trade, expanding their competition with the Taliban beyond politics and into a struggle for control of the drug traffic and revenue. At the local level, the fight itself can often look like a turf war between drug gangs, even as American troops are being pulled back into the battle on the government's behalf, particularly in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan." The Times also quotes researcher David Mansield: "There are phases of government complicity, starting with accommodation of the farmers and then on to cooperation with them," said David Mansfield, a researcher who conducted more than 15 years of fieldwork on Afghan opium. "The last is predation, where the government essentially takes over the business entirely."

Chronicle AM: NH, NM Legalization Bills Killed, FL & WY Forfeiture Reform Advances, More... (2/15/16)

A pair of state marijuana legalization bills get defeated, a pair of state asset forfeiture reform bills advance; House Republicans want states to be able to drug test food stamp recipients, Senate Democrats want $600 million in anti-heroin funding, Mexico cartel mayhem continues, and more.

Senate Democrats want $600 million to fight the heroin and pain pill epidemic. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Kills Legalization Bill. The House voted last Thursday to kill House Bill 1694, which would have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. The House has previously passed legalization, only to see if die in the Senate. Another legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

New Mexico Senate Kills Legalization Initiative Bill. The state Senate last Friday voted 24-17 to kill SJR 5, which would have placed a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the November ballot. Six Senate Democrats voted "no" along with all the Republican members.

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Needs Redo. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said last Thursday that a legalization petition submitted the day before was flawed because it used a list of Schedule I substances that was not current. Eric Olson, who heads the sponsoring committee for the initiative, said the committee will resubmit the petition. The group has until July 11 to come up with some 13,000 valid voter signatures.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Lawmakers Ponder Bill That Would Allow Outdoor, Greenhouse Grows. Under the state's medical marijuana law, the Department of Health has decided that all cultivation must take place in an enclosed structure, but lawmakers say that wasn't their intent, and they are preparing a bill that would clarify that medical marijuana could be grown in the open air, in greenhouses, or in shade houses.

Massachusetts Doubles Amount of Medical Marijuana Patients Can Purchase. The Department of Public Health last Friday more than doubled the amount of medicine patients can possess after regulators said laboratories can ensure the safety of the drug. Now, patients will be able to buy up to 10 ounces of medical marijuana every two months.

Asset Forfeiture

Florida Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice last Thursday. The measure is Senate Bill 1044, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday. The measure is House Bill 14. It is nearly identical to a bill that easily passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Matt Meade (R). It looks like another veto showdown could be coming.

Drug Policy

London School of Economics Issues "After the Drug Wars" Report. A new report from the London School of Economics, After the Drug Wars, calls for the war on drugs to be replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs). The report is endorsed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and five Nobel Prize recipients. "The question now is not, whether to end the 'war on drugs', but what to replace its failed policies with," said Dr John Collins, coordinator of LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and editor of the report. "The path to drug peace becomes clearer if we look to the SDGs as the way to address the root causes of many socioeconomic problems, one of which is problematic drug use. It is also the way to tackle the systemic causes of illicit market violence, which is often a product of and worsened by hard-line prohibitionist policies. The global priorities should be -- develop first, manage drug issues second. If states pursue prohibitionist policies in the absence of development and political integration, the result is usually instability, violence and failures on drug control goals. To be successful states must recognise that policies need to be properly sequenced. Focusing on the SDGs over counterproductive drug control goals is the way to do this."

Democrats Seek $600 Million for Emergency Heroin Bill. Just after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (Senate Bill 524), Senate Democrats announced they will try to add a $600 million funding measure authored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the bill. The measure includes funding for treatment, prevention, and recovery at the state level, as well as funding for treatment and law enforcement programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to bring the Recovery Act to the Senate floor shortly.

Drug Testing

House Republicans Pushing Measure to Allow States to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, last Thursday unveiled a measure that would allow states the option of drug testing people who apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. The Agriculture Department, which administers the program, currently says states cannot impose new requirements, such as drug testing, under the program.

Harm Reduction

Alaska Naloxone Bill One Vote Away From Passage. A bill to increase access to opioid overdose reversal drugs passed its final House committee vote last Friday and now heads for a House floor vote. The measure, Senate Bill 23, has already passed the Senate. It grants immunity for those prescribing or administering naloxone (Narcan) and allows pharmacies to legally dispense the drugs to members of the public without a prescription.

Law Enforcement

Maine Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Out of State Drug Dealers Advances. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted mainly along party lines last Wednesday to approve LD 1541, which would increase the sentences for out of state drug dealers. The measure advanced despite criticism that it would be difficult to prove drug importation in court and that the state already sufficiently punishes drug dealers. It is being championed by Gov. Paul Le Page, who was called for the use of the guillotine to execute drug dealers, called for vigilantes to shoot drug dealers, and accused black drug dealers from New Year of impregnating white Maine girls.

International

Four Swiss Cities to Create Cannabis Club Pilot Projects. Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich have agreed to launch a pilot project for cannabis clubs where consumers could use the drug. The projects are to be run over four years and will be scientifically evaluated. But they must first be approved by canton governments and the federal office of public health.

Mexican Cartel Prison Battle Leaves 49 Dead. A battle last Wednesday between Zetas cartel members and rivals from other drug gangs left 49 people dead at the Topo Chico prison near Monterrey. One inmate was killed by gunfire; the rest by being stabbed with bottles or blades or by being hit with objects. The prison has long housed Zetas, who dominate much of its interior.

Upstart Mexican Cartel Makes a Move on Tijuana. After five years of relative peace in the border town, killings are on the increase, with many of the victims described as low-level members of the city's drug trade. The uptick in violence is being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has been leaving messages with mutilated corpses on city streets or hanging from bridges. People were being killed at a rate of more than two a day in January, making it the most violent January since 2010. Jalisco New Generation is believed to be challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which currently dominates the Tijuana drug trade.

Drug War Issues

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