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Chronicle AM: Lebanon Ag Min Says Legalize Hash, NY MedMJ Regs, "Baby Bou Bou" Medical Bill, More (12/19/14)

New York officials have released draft medical marijuana regs, and advocates aren't too impressed, Lebanon's agriculture minister says it's time to legalize it, Bolivia's president criticizes Mexico's drug war, "Baby Bou Bou" has a million-dollar medical bill, and more. Let's get to it:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has some choice words about Mexico's "failed" drug policies. (www.wikimedia.org)

Marijuana Policy

Missouri KC NORML Legalization Petition Needs Editing to Get Official Approval. The KC NORML legalization initiative petition is in for a tune-up after the secretary of state's office rejected it for minor stylistic issues, including incorrect underling and brackets. Organizers say they will rework and resubmit shortly. There's also another Missouri legalization initiative in the works, courtesy of Show Me Cannabis, but the KC NORML initiative is less restrictive, and less restrictive than the legalization schemes in any of the states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

New York State Issues Medical Marijuana Regulations; Advocates Not Too Impressed. The Department of Health released draft medical marijuana regulations today, but advocates say they are too tight. "New York will be one of the more restrictive programs in the country, which could inhibit patients from getting the relief they need," the Drug Policy Alliance complained. Click on the title link for details on the draft regs.

Asset Forfeiture

Public Hearing Set for Orange County, NY, Misdemeanor Asset Forfeiture Ordinance. The public will have one last chance to voice objections to a local asset forfeiture already approved on a party-line vote by the county legislature. The ordinance would allow the county to confiscate assets from those convicted of even misdemeanor drug crimes. The ordinance has been criticized by defense attorneys and others not only for the misdemeanor provision, but also because it would allow for civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. A public hearing is set for December 29. Click on the link for meeting details.

Law Enforcement

Family of Infant Burned by Flash-Bang Grenade in Botched Drug Raid Faces A Million Dollar Medical Bill. It has cost a million dollars so far to undo the damage done to toddler Bounkham Phonesavanh when a Georgia SWAT team member tossed a flash-bang grenade into his crib during a drug raid in which the party sought wasn't even there. Habersham County officials have refused to pay the medical bills, and the family has no means of paying them.

International

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Calls for Legalization of Hash Farming. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called today for the legalization of marijuana so the state can benefit from hash export revenues. "We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it," Chehayeb said in a morning interview with a local radio station. "Instead of prosecuting the farmers, let’s find other solutions for them," he said. "The planting of cannabis must be organized to benefit the state and the industrial sector, and it is one way of helping the farmers." Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made a similar call earlier this week.

Peru Eradicates Record Amount of Coca. Peruvian officials announced today that they eradicated 77,000 acres of coca crops this year, the highest total since eradication programs began in 1983. But they didn't touch the country's largest coca producing area, the valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in south-central Peru. The UNODC says Peru is the world's largest coca producer, and the DEA says it is the world's largest cocaine producer.

Bolivian President Criticizes Mexico's "Failed" Drug War Policies. President Evo Morales said Mexico's failed model for fighting the drug war, citing the recent incident where 43 teachers' college students were disappeared and are presumed dead at the hands of corrupt police working with drug gangs. "The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But … look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico," said Morales. "The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the US. empire. And now there are deep problems. "We do not want to have this kind of problem in Bolivia, of organized crime. It seems that crime groups are above the state. In some regions, not even with the presence of military bases can one fight drug trafficking," he said at a graduation ceremony for National Police cadets.

Chronicle AM: NE, OK Seek to Undo CO Pot Legalization, Philly Backs Off on Home Seizures, More (12/18/14)

Colorado's conservative neighbors try to undo its marijuana legalization, Philadelphia drops a pair of high-profile asset forfeiture cases, Obama commutes sentences for eight drug offenders, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Nebraska, Oklahoma Ask Supreme Court to Undo Colorado Legalization. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today with the US Supreme Court asking it to declare that Colorado's marijuana legalization violates the Constitution. "Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana," Nebraska Attorney General Bruning said. "Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the US Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles." But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who got a courtesy call from Bruning, scoffed. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court," he said.

New York Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Legalization. State Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would legalize marijuana in the Empire State. Krueger conceded the legislation was unlikely to pass during the coming legislative session, but said it was important to keep the conversation going.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Awards $8 Million for Marijuana Research. The Colorado Board of Health awarded more than $8 million for medical marijuana research Wednesday. The awards will allow researchers to investigate marijuana's medical potential, not its downsides, as is required for most federally-approved research on marijuana. Three of the eight studies will still require federal approval and marijuana from the US government. In the other five "observational" studies, subjects will be providing their own marijuana. Researchers will study marijuana's impact on PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, pain relief for children with brain tumors, pediatric epileptic seizures, and compare it with oxycodone for pain relief.

American Academy of Neurology Calls for Rescheduling Marijuana. In a just-released position statement on the use of medical marijuana for neurological disorders, the academy said it could not yet recommend medical marijuana for those disorders "because further research is needed to determine the benefits and safety of such products." To that end, the academy "requests the reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I status so as to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols." Click on the link to read the entire position statement.

Asset Forfeiture

Philadelphia Drops Two High Profile Asset Forfeiture Cases. Faced with an ongoing federal class-action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice over its brazen asset forfeiture practices, the city of Philadelphia announced today that it is dropping efforts to seize the homes of two families. In one case, the city moved to seize a home after an adult son of the owners was busted for selling heroin; in the other, the city moved to seize a home after  the owner's estranged husband was caught selling small amounts of marijuana. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit continues.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Issues Commutations for Eight Drug Offenders. President Barack Obama Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of eight drug offenders and issued pardons for 12 other people who had already finished their sentences. The commutations were for people imprisoned for crack cocaine and methamphetamine offenses. No one is walking out of prison today, but all eight had their sentences reduced to lengths that will allow them to walk out at some point in the next year.Among those who got commutations is Sidney Earl Johnson of Mobile, Alabama, who has been serving a life sentence for crack cocaine offenses since 1994. Another is Larry Naylor of Memphis, who has been serving a life sentence for 50 grams of crack since 1997.

Opiates

Senators Send Letter to Officials, Health Groups Urging Stronger Response to Drug Overdoses. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week urged government officials and health groups to come up with stronger responses to drug overdoses. The call came in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Governors' Association, the American Medical Association, and associations of state and local health officials. Click on the link to read the letter.

International

Eleven Dead in Mexico Vigilante Clashes. Mexican "self-defense" vigilante groups in the Western state of Michoacan turned their guns on each other Tuesday, leaving 11 dead. The vigilante groups emerged last year in rural communities to fight the Knights Templar cartel, and in May they accepted an offer to be folded into government security forces. And now they are fighting among themselves.

Bangkok Police Hassling Tourists With Searches, Drug Tests, On-the-Spot Fines. Since the military coup in May, foreign visitors to Thailand are increasingly complaining that police Bangkok are stopping and questioning them, searching their persons and belongings, demanding they submit to drug tests, and handing out on-the-spot fines that must be paid immediately in cash. Most of the harassment is taking place on the city's main thoroughfare, Sukhumvit Road. The British ambassador said last week he had raised the issue with local tourism authorities. 

Medical Marijuana Update

Big news out of Washington and, for a change, most of our medical marijuana news is out of the Midwest this week. Let's get to it:

National

Last Saturday, the Senate passed the omnibus spending bill with an amendment blocking federal medical marijuana enforcement. The amendment that will effectively end for now Justice Department interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there.

Indiana

On Wednesday, a lawmaker said she would introduce a medical marijuana bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Iowa

On Tuesday,a group of Iowans orgnized to push for a more effective medical marijuana law. The legislature this year passed a bill allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis oil to treat people with epilepsy, but that's not good enough for a new group, Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. The group today announced it had formed to push legislators to make it possible to produce and dispense medical marijuana.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, a cannabis oil medical marijuana bill was filed. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he planned to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

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

Chronicle AM: A Century of Drug War, Yet Another Drug War Bill, Iran Drug Executions Slammed, More (12/17/14)

It's the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, a GOP senator chides Obama for "pro-marijuana" messages, human rights groups urge the UNODC to quit funding Iranian drug enforcement because of its resort to the death penalty, and more. Let's get to it:

An execution in Iran. The Islamic Republic has executed more than 300 drug offenders this year. (iranhr.net)
Marijuana Policy

Republican Senator Says Obama Administration's "Pro-Marijuana" Messages Promote Teen Drug Use. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) suggested Tuesday that the Obama administration's failure to block marijuana legalization had sent kids the message that drug use is okay. "When kids receive the message that marijuana use is acceptable and even welcome, it's no wonder that the perception of harm from marijuana goes down," Grassley said in a statement. "By offering pro-marijuana messages, the president and his top appointees are working at cross purposes with the federal government experts who are trying to stop drug use among teenagers." Grassley was complaining that the annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use showed that kids didn't think pot was as dangerous as they used to. But he seems to have missed the part that showed that teen marijuana is not increasing.

Anchorage City Council Kills Move to Ban Pot Sales. A proposal from Anchorage Assembly member and mayoral candidate Amy Demboski to ban recreational marijuana sales in Alaska's largest city went down in ignominious defeat Tuesday night. After four hours of public testimony -- almost unanimously against the measure -- and debate, the measure was killed on a vote of 9-2.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Lawmaker Will Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill. Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) said today she plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill in the upcoming legislative session. She cited Congress's vote to bar the use of Justice Department funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. In previous sessions, Tallian has introduced pot decriminalization bills, but those have gone nowhere.

Drug Policy

A Hundred Years of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, generally considered to mark the beginning of America's 20th Century war on drugs. While the act was not directly prohibitionist -- it was a regulatory and taxation measure -- it led almost immediately to the criminalization of both drug-addicted people and the doctors who sought to treat them with maintenance doses of opiates. A hundred years later, we're still mired in the drug war.

Senate Approves Yet Another Drug War Bill. The Senate Monday approved Senate Bill 706, the Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which would give the Justice Department the authority to prosecute people in other countries who manufacture drugs or precursors that they have "reasonable cause to believe… will be unlawfully imported into the United States." It also increases penalties for trafficking in counterfeit drugs. The bill was cosponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). An identical bill, HR 2214, is in the House, but has not moved since May.

International

Citing Death Penalty, Human Rights Groups Urge UN to Quit Funding Counter-Drug Operations in Iran. Six human rights organizations today called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to quit funding anti-drug operations in Iran until the Islamic Republic ends the death penalty for drug offenses. The call came in a letter sent to UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. The groups said more than 300 drug traffickers had been executed in Iran so far this year. Signatories to the letter included Human Rights Watch, Reprieve, Iran Human Rights, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Harm Reduction International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

French Health Minister Wants to Ban Pot Vaporizers. Health Minister Marisol Touraine said Tuesday she would seek to ban a new e-cigarette than contains marijuana. The move came on the same day a French-Czech company called Kanavape announced its vaporizers were going on sale in France. "I am opposed to such a product being commercialized in France," Touraine said. Such as product would "incite the consumption of cannabis," she added. Kanavape argues its product is legal because its oil contains no THC.

Most Dutch-Grown Pot is Exported, Government Report Says. A report from the Dutch government's Research and Documentation Center (WODC) estimates that between 78% and 91% of marijuana grown in the Netherlands is exported. The report is expected to support moves by the Dutch government to crack down on marijuana cultivation instead of moving to regulate it.

Chronicle AM: Teen Pot Use Not Up, Federal Police Killings Bill Filed, Mexico Mayhem, More (12/16/14)

The Monitoring the Future teen drug use survey is out, the "CRomnibus" bill also killed highway drug use surveys, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) wants better information on police killings, a damning report is released in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

If Walid Jumblatt has his way, this Lebanese hash field could be legal. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Drug Use Survey Finds Teen Marijuana Use Declining Even as States Legalize. The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen habits is out today, and it finds that legalization has not sparked an increase in teen pot smoking. The survey found that 24% of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders reported past use marijuana last, down from 26% the year before. And among 12th graders, the number who reported daily use also declined from 6.5% last year to 5.8% this year. There's much more to the survey; click the survey link to see it.

Medical Marijuana

Iowans Organize to Push for More Effective Medical Marijuana Law. The legislature this year passed a bill allowing for the use of low-THC cannabis oil to treat people with epilepsy, but that's not good enough for a new group, Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. The group today announced it had formed to push legislators to make it possible to produce and dispense medical marijuana.

Driving

Omnibus Spending Bill Cut Funds for NHTSA Roadside Drug Use Surveys. The $1.1 trillion spending bill that has gotten so much attention over its marijuana provisions also bars the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from using funds to complete its "National Roadside Survey." It was a voluntary survey that only collected data from people willing to participate, but came under congressional criticism after a Texas TV station aired a program about a Fort Worth checkpoint where police ordered motorists off the road at random to collect samples.

Law Enforcement

Federal Bill Filed to Increase Reporting of Deadly Force by Police. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has filed HR 5866, which would "require the Attorney General to issue rules pertaining to the collection and compilation of data on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers." The bill next was not available at press time. The bill has five cosponsors -- all Democrats -- and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Drug Testing

WorkForce West Virginia Drug Testing Doesn't Find Many Dopers. In its annual report to the legislature, WorkForce West Virginia, the state's employment services program, reported that it had subjected 1,205 people to drug testing upon their seeking tuition reimbursement for employment training programs. Only 1% of them failed. No word on the cost of drug testing all those people.

International

Mexican Federal Police Accused of Collaborating With Local Cops in Case of Missing Student Teachers. In an article published over the weekend, the respected Mexican political weekly Proceso reported that federal police worked together with Iguala police in the September attack on teachers' college students that left 43 missing and presumed dead and which has sparked protests across the country. Proceso also reported that federal police likely tortured key witnesses whose testimony was critical in the federal attorney general's investigation of the case. "We have information that proves the federal government knew what was happening in the moment it was happening, and participated in it," Anabel Hernández, the lead reporter for the Proceso piece, said in an interview. "The government has tried to hide this information." There's much more at the link.

Armed Civilians Block Western Mexico Highways Seeking Crackdown on Cartels, But… Hundreds of armed men blocked highways around nine cities in the Western state of Michoacan over the weekend as a means of pressuring the government to crack down on the Knights Templar cartel. They unfurled banners calling for the arrest of cartel leaders. But at least some of the armed men were identified as members of Los Viagras, a group of gunmen who had once served as the Knights Templar's armed wing and who are now trying to displace them from the drug trade in the state.

Canadian Federal Government Loses Again in Bid to Block Home Medical Marijuana Cultivation. Health Canada earlier this year issued new medical marijuana rules that prohibited home growing and shifted production to commercial operations, but it has so far been blocked by the courts from implementing them, and now it has been blocked again. Patients won an injunction earlier this year to allow them to continue growing their own. Health Canada appealed that decision, but the Federal Court of Appeal has now upheld the injunction.

Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt Calls Again for Legal Hash in Lebanon. Veteran Lebanese power-broker Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze community, has renewed his call for legal hash production. "It's time to allow hash to be grown and to overturn arrest warrants against people sought for doing so," wrote in Arabic on his Twitter feed. He expanded his comments in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV. "Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Let's legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation."

On Marijuana, Congress Giveth and Congress Taketh Away [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With final approval by the Senate Saturday night, the Congress has successfully approved a massive, $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill, and the president has signaled he will sign it. The bill includes two provisions that illustrate Congress's currently schizophrenic approach to loosening marijuana laws.

On the one hand, the bill contains an amendment that will effectively end federal interference in states where medical marijuana is legal by barring the Justice Department from using its funds to go after patients and providers there. On the other hand, it also contains a rider that seeks to undo the will of the voters of the nation's capital by blocking the District of Columbia from enacting the recently approved Measure 71 marijuana possession and cultivation legalization initiative.

Sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), and 10 others, the medical marijuana amendment is blunt. After listing all the medical marijuana states, it says: "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." (The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.)

The amendment is also important. In the past three years alone, the Justice Department has threatened elected officials, dispensary operators, and their landlords with legal action over medical marijuana. Those threats have delayed or stopped implementation of medical marijuana laws in at least six states. Similarly, threats of criminal prosecution and/or asset forfeiture aimed at landlords in California and Colorado have resulted in the closure of at least 600 state law-abiding medical marijuana businesses.

And DEA teams have aggressively raided and US Attorneys have prosecuted medical marijuana patients and providers. One stark example is the case of the Kettle Falls Five, a family of patients who were growing medical marijuana for their own personal use in accordance with Washington state law. In a state where marijuana is legal, federal prosecutors are seeking to send a pair of elderly patients and their children to prison. That prosecution is now in doubt.

"This is truly a long-fought victory for medical marijuana patients who have lived in fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicting state and federal laws for nearly two decades," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which has lobbied for years for passage of the measure. "But this is also a victory for taxpayers because of the hundreds of millions of dollars saved on unnecessary and harmful enforcement."

Last year, ASA issued a report showing the Obama administration had spent $80 million a year on medical marijuana enforcement. That may be chump change in a trillion-dollar spending bill, but it's still $80 million that could be better used each year.

"Congress has finally initiated a drawdown in the federal government's war on medical marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "This legislation makes it clear that the DEA has no business interfering in states' medical marijuana laws. Taxpayer money should not be used to punish seriously ill people who use medical marijuana and the caregivers who provide it to them."

"For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It's not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed."

But if federal marijuana prohibition will someday be repealed, no one has told congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats didn't seem to care much, either. The second part of Congress's schizoid pot policy two-step was a slap in the face to both marijuana legalization and the will of the voters of the District of Columbia.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R) authored a rider to the bill that says that the District cannot "enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative."

Republican House committee heads got it inserted into the House version of the bill, and Senate Democrats didn't consider it important enough to fight to remove.

Marijuana reform proponents (and believers in democratic rule for the residents of DC) were livid, and they are not ready to roll over in the face of congressional attempts to quash legalization in the District.

"In light of recent events in Ferguson and New York, it would be particularly disturbing if Congress has chosen to overturn the will of the voters in a majority black city," said Dr. Malik Burnett, DPA policy manager and vice-chair of the DC Cannabis Coalition, the group that got Measure 71 passed. "DC voters chose to reform their marijuana laws, which have a direct impact on how communities of color interact with police. Congress should not undermine that."

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the rider to block DC marijuana legalization. (house.gov)
"By prohibiting the regulation of marijuana in the District, they are ensuring authorities have no control over it," Tvert said. "If drug cartels and gangs had lobbyists on the Hill, preventing marijuana regulation would be their top legislative priority. If the District can regulate and tax alcohol sales, it should be allowed to do the same with a less harmful substance like marijuana."

The District city council has been advancing a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but the Harris rider effectively kills that. Less certain, however, is whether it can really block Measure 71 from taking effect.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Rep. Eleanor Holmes Horton, the Congressional Delegate from DC.; Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds DC; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; and others have said that the DC rider allows Initiative 71 to stand. The DC government is blocked from enacting any new marijuana law reforms but it is free to implement and carry out reforms that have already been enacted.

The congressional Republicans who pushed the measure naturally disagree. They argue that Measure 71 has not been enacted because the DC council has not yet sent it to Congress and that the rider thus blocks it from being implemented.

While the question is likely to end up being settled in the courts, the next move is up to the District city council. It can go ahead and send the measure to Congress despite what the budget bill rider says. Advocates are urging the council to do just that.

And the council seems to be in a mood to stick up for the initiative -- and for democratic rights for the District. DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post even before the final Senate vote that he plans to ignore the rider. He said he will instead follow normal procedure for voter-approved initiatives in a city that exists under the congressional thumb. He will sent a bill implementing the initiative to Congress next month for a 30-day review in which lawmakers can vote it up or down.

And if that doesn't work, there's still the courts.

"If the question is whether I'd be open to legal action, the answer is yes," Mendelson told Politico after the House vote.

Whether Congress has successfully blocked marijuana legalization in DC clearly remains to be seen. What is not in dispute, though, is that Congress has taken a major step toward clearing the way for medical marijuana, and that's a big deal.

Washington, DC
United States

What Does Congress's Medical Marijuana Legislation Actually Mean?

Earlier this year we noted here that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had enacted two pro-medical marijuana amendments. One of them, the long-fought for Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, bars the US Dept. of Justice (parent agency of the DEA) from using taxpayer funds from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. The other allows banks to accept deposits from marijuana businesses in states where it is legal (any type of state legality, not just medical).

Last night, both chambers of Congress passed the controversial "CRomnibus" bill to continue funding the federal government through September 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year. As we've noted the past week or so, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment was included in the negotiated language for the bill. With President Obama having backed the CRomnibus before its passage and being expected to sign it, that means that medical marijuana will take a large step toward full legality in the United States at any time.

What will this mean on the ground? It should mean that DEA and other branches of the Dept. of Justice can no longer threaten medical marijuana providers (or more theoretically, patients) with arrest or prosecution, and that landlords should no longer face the threat of asset forfeiture for property being rented to medical marijuana businesses. But the precise language, which focuses on states' implementating medical marijuana systems, could be argued as applying more narrowly, giving reassurance to state officials about their participation but not going further. Another concern is that a prosecutor could argue, for example, that a given marijuana business is not operating in strict accordance with a state's law. Our perspective in the movement is that that determination should be up to state authorities, not federal, but that's not necessarily the perspective of federal law enforcement. Those are some reasons why it remains to be seen just how thoroughly and reliably the protections that the new law provides will turn out to be, and these questions are being debated right now.

Where there's the most pessimism is about whether the new law will halt medical marijuana prosecutions that are already underway, but we'll see. In the past the administration has allowed such prosecutions to continue, but the administration's stance on marijuana policy, criminal justice in general, and their willingness to take concrete actions, has markedly increased during the last two years, so perhaps there is hope.

The CRomnibus also includes language barring the District of Columbia from enacting marijuana reform legislation. On its face that would seem to block Initiative 71 from going into effect, the measure passed by nearly 70% of voters that legalizes possession and home growing of marijuana in the District. But that also isn't clear. Advocates have pointed out that the language doesn't explicitly block Initiative 71, which normally is the action that Congress is required to take if it doesn't want DC legislation to go forward. Because DC has already enacted the measure, and because it only removes penalties and doesn't have a regulatory component (which DC initiatives can't have), that will hopefully mean that the law can change in January after the Congressional review period expires, assuming Congress doesn't take another vote to explicitly block it. One question may be whether transmitting the measure to Congress, as the process requires, would count as an expenditure of funds as defined in the language (though I haven't seen anyone else bring that up yet). According to several Democratic representatives including minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Congress's legislative intent was to allow the initiative to become law, but only to block a bill advanced by a committee of the DC City Council last month to establish a regulatory and taxation system with marijuana stores in the District.

Along with that gray lining, it should be noted that the banking issue, which as far as I can tell is unaddressed by the CRomnibus, is a really huge problem for the marijuana industry. Some consider it an even bigger problem than prosecutions. An attempt by the administration in February to establish safe harbor procedures for banks to take marijuana money has elicited only extremely slight movement on the part of banks, who mostly want to see clarity in federal statutes, not just a policy. So there is a pressing need to pass that second of the House's pro-medical marijuana amendments too.

Still, we have seen an amazing and historic victory this weekend. Whatever the legislation does or doesn't achieve in concrete help for medical marijuana defendants, businesses and patients right now, it clearly eases the way for further legislative progress on the issue. Mostly I think it will depend on whether the new Congress is able to do business at all. If they can, I will not be surprised to see even the Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass banking. And I expect to see bills to fully move medical marijuana into the realm of legality to see substantially increased support from both sides of the aisle.

Chronicle AM: Obama on DC Pot Laws, WI "Cocaine Moms" Law Challenged, No More 'Shrooms in Bali, More (12/12/14)

The president weighs in on congressional moves to block DC marijuana legalization, Oklahoma could be joining the cannabis oil medical marijuana club, a Wisconsin woman sues over the "cocaine moms" law, the ACLU is looking to sue a Connecticut housing agency over mandatory drug tests, and more. Let's get to it:

Indonesian police will begin enforcing the ban on magic mushrooms next month. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Thinks Congress Should Not Interfere With DC Pot Laws. As the battle continues over whether Congress has managed or not to block the District of Columbia's Measure 71 legalization initiative, President Obama has weighed in. In a Thursday press conference, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president did "not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the citizens of District of Columbia." Asked specifically about Measure 71, Earnest noted that the measure had been approved by the voters and that, "on principle," that Congress shouldn't interfere with home rule. But Earnest also noted that Obama supports passing the omnibus spending bill that would, some say, overturn the measure.

Medical Marijuana

Cannabis Oil Bill Should Be Filed Today in Oklahoma. Rep. John Echols (R-Oklahoma City) has said he plans to file a low-THC cannabis oil bill today. The bill would only allow for use my children suffering from epilepsy. The news comes as the director of the state's drug agency says he now backs a study that would make the medicine available to sick children.

Drug Testing

Connecticut Public Housing Agency Under Fire for Suspicionless Drug Testing of Applicants. The Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) requires mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of people applying to live there, and the ACLU of Connecticut is looking for people who want to sue the agency over the issue. "We urge you to repeal this policy because this suspicionless drug testing violates guarantees in the United States and Connecticut constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures," wrote ACLU staff attorney David McGuire in a December 2013 letter to the Authority. "We would like to hear from any potential tenant who objects to the suspicionless drug test so that we can consider legal action," McGuire said Wednesday. To make matters worse, the NHA is the only housing authority in the country to drug test using hair follicles, which unlike urine or blood samples, can reveal drug use going back weeks or even months.

Law Enforcement

Georgia Judge Convicted of Planting Drugs on Woman. A woman accused a judge of propositioning her when she appeared before him to seek warrants against people who had assaulted her, so he conspired with some local cops to plant methamphetamine in her vehicle and have her arrested. Now, former Magistrate Court Judge Bryant Cochran has been found guilty of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, violating the civil rights of a court employee by sexually assaulting her, and witness tampering. He's looking at almost certain federal prison time when he is sentenced in February.

Pregnancy

Lawsuit Will Challenge Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" Law. A woman who was jailed after admitting past drug use while seeking a pregnancy test and medical help for depression is filing suit to have the state's "cocaine mom" law thrown out. That law allows authorities to detain and force treatment on pregnant women suspected of drug or alcohol use. Tammy Loertscher of Medford is filing the suit with the assistance of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which says the Wisconsin "fetal protection" law is one of the most sweeping in the nation.

International

Hungary's Prime Minister Wants Drug Tests for Journalists and Politicians. Hungary's rightist prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make the country a "non-liberal" state, called today for mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians. "The government decided that it will rid Hungary of the drug mafia in this term," Orban said. "Politicians, journalists and those filling positions of public trust have to be included (in the drug tests) because it is clear that those who consume drugs cannot be relied on in the fight against drugs." Orban's statement isn't sitting well with journalists and civil libertarians, with the Association of Independent Journalists calling his proposal "legally and morally deeply outrageous." Earlier this week, the mayor Budapest calling for drug testing teens as well, but that proposal appears have been dropped.

Just a Reminder: Magic Mushrooms Are Now Illegal in Indonesia.Magic mushrooms had long been excluded from Indonesian drug laws, and were openly sold and used, especially in the popular tourist destination of Bali, but that's no longer the case. They are now considered a Type 1 narcotic since the law was revised earlier this year, and police are on a campaign to let people know. "All people who consume and trade in magic mushrooms are violating the Narcotics Law," Denpasar Police drug section head Comr. I Gede Ganefo said recently. "Many people do not yet know that magic mushrooms are illegal and they could face a prison term if they sell or consume them. They think it is all right as they grow naturally in manure," Ganefo said. Police said the informational campaign will become an enforcement campaign starting January 1. "Next month [Jan. 2015], there will be no more tolerance. If we find any people selling or consuming magic mushrooms, we will arrest them. They could face the same charges as those using marijuana and other drugs, a minimum four-year and maximum 12-year prison term," Ganefo said.

Medical Marijuana Update

Big news from DC on Tuesday as congressional budget negotiators included language barring the use of federal funds to go after medical marijuana where it is legal, and a whole lot of news from California, too. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, a congressional budget deal blocked federal interference in medical marijuana states. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana"

California

Last Tuesday, El Dorado County supervisors voted not to repeal the county's cultivation ordinance. Instead, supervisors decided to appoint a task force consisting of county counsel, the sheriff, DA and activists to come up with a solution that will protect patients' rights.

Also last Tuesday, Kern County supervisors approved civil lawsuits against collectives and cooperatives. The supervisors are going after 19 co-ops or collectives located in unincorporated areas of the county. The county previously sued other collectives and most of those have closed up shop.

Last Thursday, legislators filed statewide medical marijuana regulation bills. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.

Last Saturday, California doctors rejected denying organ transplants to medical marijuana patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use.

On Monday, the Siskiyou County planning division released its draft cultivation ordinance. The ordinance would limit outdoor grows to four plants on properties an acre or smaller, six plants on properties up to 2.5 acres, eight plants on up to five acres, and 10 plants on properties greater than five acres. Comments can be submitted via email at MMCO@co.siskiyou.ca.us.

On Tuesday, Butte County supervisors approved spending $446,500 to enforce the county's cultivation ordinance. The ordinance limits the size of medical marijuana gardens to 50 square feet on property larger than a half-acre, 100 square feet on properties larger than five acres, and 150 square feet on properties larger than 10 acres. The ordinance also allows anonymous denunciations of alleged violations.

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

Chronicle AM: Budget Bill Would Block DC Legalization, Also Blocks Federal MedMJ Enforcement, More (12/10/14)

With the budget bill, Congress moves to block DC's voter-approved pot legalization, but also to block federal enforcement actions against medical marijuana where it is legal, a DC protest on the legalization move is set for this afternoon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Congressional Budget Deal Seeks to Block DC Legalization. The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

DC Protest Against Congressional Interference Set For Tonight. The DC Cannabis Campaign, sponsors of the DC legalization initiative, has announced a march on the US Capitol tonight to protest Congress's move to override the voters' decision to legalize marijuana in the District. Marchers will gather at the Justice Department at 9th and Pennsylvania NW at 5:00pm, then march to the Capitol at 6:00pm.

Anti-Marijuana Speakers Heckled at DC Heritage Foundation Event. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the budget bill amendment attempting to block legalization in DC, along with Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), another strong opponent of letting the District set its own marijuana laws, were greeted by hecklers at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday. "I don't want to listen to these lies," shouted one heckler as Harris took the podium. "The people voted," a second shouted. Harris laughed when asked about the heckler, then proceeded to claim that legalizing marijuana would lead to increased teen drug use -- a claim that has not been borne out so far in states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Blocks Federal Interference in Medical Marijuana States. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor's Drug Testing Crusade Costing State's Taxpayers. The state has racked up at least $307,000 in legal fees and court costs as it tried in vain to defend Gov. Rick Scott's (R) unconstitutional law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants. And taxpayers are likely to shell out even more -- in legal fees to the ACLU of Florida, which took the state to federal court over the law. The bill could rise even higher if Scott decides to appeal the four federal court decisions that have found the law unconstitutional.

International

Isle of Jersey Rejects Islander's Requests to Use Medical Marijuana. Jersey's drug law allows the health minister to issue license for possess marijuana for "special purposes," but the island's parliament has voted against allowing three residents to use medical marijuana products. "It is unlikely that 'special purpose' was ever intended to cover medicinal use," said one senator. "While the law allows for the minister for health and social services to issue a licence for research and special purposes it does not provide for the minister to step into the shoes of a doctor and, in effect, take clinical decisions in respect of an individual case."

Indonesian President to Ban Clemency for Drug Offenders Facing Execution. President Joko Widodo said Tuesday that he plans to enforce the death penalty for people convicted of drug crimes. There are currently 64 drug offenders on death row, and he said he would reject clemency requests for them. "They are not on my table yet. But I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who committed narcotics-related crimes," Jokowi said. The government's insistence on implementing the death penalty has drawn criticism from human rights defenders in the country.

India Cops Do "Workarounds" to Bust Mephedrone Sellers. The synthetic psychedelic stimulant drug mephedrone is not illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, and police are resorting to workarounds to "curb the menace." Mumbai police have instructed officers to arrest sellers under the penal code's offense of selling poison. And some police have even arrested sellers by charging them with selling methamphetamine, which mephedrone is not.

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