Executive Branch

RSS Feed for this category

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.

Budget Bill Curbs Federal Medical Marijuana, Hemp Enforcement

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.

No more DEA medical marijuana raids? (justice.gov)
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 hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.

"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."

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."

"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."

"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."

If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.

"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."

Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Battle Unsettled, Federal Racial Profiling Ban, Budapest Drug Testing, More (12/8/14):

DC's marijuana reforms remain under threat from congressional Republicans, Washington state's pot-sellers are feeling burdened by taxes, California doctors reject denying transplants to medical marijuana patients, the Justice Department issued racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (house.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Nancy Pelosi Pledges Support for DC Autonomy as Possible Battle Over Marijuana Reforms Looms. At a press conference last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. "I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation." Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for pot law reforms, and the Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee wants to see Harris's amendment included in the appropriations bill. Stay tuned.

Tax Issues Fueling Concerns Among Washington State Pot Retailers. The state's 25% excise tax and the federal government's refusal to let pot businesses to deduct legitimate business expenses -- such as state taxes -- is putting the squeeze on the state's fledgling retail industry. That's helping to contribute to retail marijuana prices that are higher than black market prices, but still not enough to be profitable under the weight of the state and federal taxes. There could be a fix coming in the state legislature; efforts are also underway to change the federal tax code to recognize legal pot businesses.

Medical Marijuana

California Doctors Reject 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. "I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices," said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Unveils Racial Profiling Ban for Federal Law Enforcers. The Justice Department today issued guidelines that will ban federal law enforcement agents from profiling on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics. The guidelines cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on joint task forces alongside federal agents. The new guidelines will not apply to security screeners in airports and at border checkpoints, nor are they binding on state and local police forces.

International

Budapest Mayor Wants Mandatory Drug Tests for Teenagers, More. Mayor Mate Kocsis wants mandatory annual drug testing for city teenagers, as well as for elected officials and journalists. He said the idea was to target "those most at risk, decision-makers and opinion-formers." Kocsis is a member of the governing Fidesz Party, whose parliamentary group will discuss his proposal today. In August, Kocsis managed to get a needle exchange program for injection drug users shut down. He has also introduced legislation to ban picking through garbage and sleeping on the streets.

Chronicle AM: US Agents on Mexico Drug Raids, New Federal Cash Seizure Guidance, New Pain Pill, More (11/24/14)

Some House Republicans still want to mess with DC legalization, a key Washington state solon is planning a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the legal regulation system, federal officials issue a new code of conduct for highway asset seizures, US Marshals are reportedly going on drug raids in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

WA state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is moving to fold medical marijuana into the legal pot regulatory system.
Marijuana Policy

Some House Republicans Plan to Try to Block DC Legalization. While some GOP senators have no interest in blocking DC's legalization initiative, some GOP House members do. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) said he "absolutely" intends to block implementation, but that he probably wouldn't try to do so until next year. Earlier this year, he successfully attached an amendment to the DC appropriation bill to block decriminalization, and that amendment passed the House, but was never taken up by the Democratically-controlled Senate. Harris called legalization "crazy policy."

Washington State Senator Outlines Marijuana Regulation Bill. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said she plans to file a bill that would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana in a single system, slash marijuana taxes, and allow home cultivation of up to six plants for any adult -- not just medical marijuana patients or caregivers. The bill would phase out collective gardens and generally fold the medical marijuana system into the state's regulated marijuana system. Kohl-Welles hasn't filed the bill yet and said she is consulting with stakeholders and legislators, but she said she would pre-file it next month.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Okays Fourth Dispensary. The state Health Department has issued a permit for a fourth dispensary to start growing medical marijuana ahead of a scheduling opening next spring. The Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center won approval last Friday.

South Dakotans to Try Legislature, But Hold 2016 Initiative in Reserve. Activists met over the weekend in Sioux Falls to plot how to move forward in a state that has twice rejected medical marijuana at the ballot box. A 2006 initiative lost by just four points, but a 2010 initiative lost by a whopping 32 points in the year of the Tea Party. Now, supporters will try to get a bill moving in the state legislature, but if that fails, they are pondering a 2016 ballot initiative.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky 911 Good Samaritan Bill Proposed. At a press conference last Friday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to file a bill that would exempt drug overdose victims and people who seek help for them from being charged with drug possession offenses. "This should be another tool to keep people from dying, and that's what we're after," he said. But McDaniel also said such an exemption from prosecution could only be used once.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Officials Issue New Guidance for Highway Seizures. Officials with the White House's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program have issued new guidance for highway police in a bid to curb questionable civil asset forfeiture seizures of cash and property from drivers. The voluntary code of conduct reminds state and local police that the need to observe the Constitution and the civil rights of motorists. "Emphasize interdiction programs are NOT purposed for enhancing agency budgets," the code says. "Underscore forfeited ill-gotten proceeds be spent prudently in accordance with applicable statutes, sound policies and regulations." Asset forfeiture programs are currently under an intense spotlight in the wake of repeated revelations about abuses and aggressive enforcement by police.

Prescription Opiates

FDA Approves Second Hydrocodone-Only Pain Pill. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Purdue Pharma's extended-release Hydrocodone tablet Hysingla for use. The agency said Hysingla is designed to be difficult to abuse, but acknowledged it could still be. It is the fourth opioid to be granted abuse-deterrent status, after Purdue's reformulated Oxycontin, it's oxycodone-naloxone combo Targiniq, and Pfizer's morphine-naltrexone combo Embeda. And it is the second hydrocodone-only pill approved by the agency. FDA approved Zohydro in October 2013.

International

US Marshals Are Going on Drug Raids in Mexico. The Wall Street Journal has reported that members of the US Marshals Service have been taking part in drug raids disguised as Mexican Marines. Mexican officials flatly deny the charge, but the newspaper reported that the Marshals Service sends small teams several times a year to help hunt drug suspects, some of whom are not even wanted by the US. The Journal cited a July incident in which a US Marshal was shot and wounded while attached to Mexican Marines patrolling a field in Sinaloa. Six cartel members were killed in the ensuing shootout.

Australian MPs to Introduce Federal Medical Marijuana Bill. Members of parliament from the Labor, Liberal, and Green parties will this week file a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be grown under federal license. The bill would not require states to allow medical marijuana, but it would create a federal model and address how medical marijuana would be supplied. The MPs will brief colleagues on the plan Wednesday.

Australia's Tasmania Rejects Medical Marijuana. Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson has rejected an interim report calling for allowing the use of medical marijuana. He ruled out any changes to current laws, citing advice from the Tasmania Police. He said that Tasmania Police would not seek to criminally pursue terminally ill medical marijuana users.

Chronicle AM: Federal VA MedMJ Bill, CRS Report on Federal Pot Tax, Swiss Cannabis Clubs, More (11/21/2014)

Some Alaska officials are proving recalcitrant when it comes to legal marijuana, there could be a Senate hearing on pot legalization with DC in the cross hairs, congressional researchers release a report on a federal pot excise tax, asset forfeiture could play a role in hearings for the new attorney general nominee, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

GOP Senator Who Will Chair DC Oversight Committee Wants Hearing on Legalization. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the likely next chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, said Thursday he wants to hold a hearing on marijuana legalization. He told reporters such a hearing would focus on how legalization has worked in other states. He also said he generally supports more autonomy for the District, but didn't say whether he thought DC should be able to legalize marijuana.

Congressional Research Service Releases Report on Federal Marijuana Taxation. Congress's non-partisan research arm has released a comprehensive report on the federal government setting an excise tax on the production and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. The report suggests that under nationwide legalization, a $50 an ounce federal excise tax would raise about $7 billion a year, and that prices could drop to as low as $80 a pound. Click on the link for more.

Washington State Pot Tax Revenues Exceed Expectations. State officials said Wednesday that they expect legal marijuana to generate $694 million in revenue through the middle of 2019. That's up from a September estimate of $636 million. The state expects to collect nearly $43 million in pot taxes by the middle of next year, $237 million more in the 2015-2017 budget biennium, and $415 million more in the 2017-2019 budget biennium.

Key Alaska Prosecutor Says Marijuana Prosecutions to Continue. John Skidmore, director of the state Department of Law's criminal division, said prosecutors will continue to move on marijuana cases despite the voters' approval of legalization earlier this month. "We are not blind or oblivious to the fact that there is a change coming, but the change is not here yet," he said. "We did communicate to our folks that right now it is business as usual. We are evaluating what to do in the future." After Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, many prosecutors quashed pending marijuana cases, and some prosecutors have done the same in Oregon this year.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Wants to Ban Pot Sales. Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has prepared an ordinance to prohibit marijuana cultivation, production, testing and sales in Anchorage. Such a move would be legal under the provisions of Measure 2, which allows local option. She said she doesn't want the Alaska's largest city to be "a guinea pig" for the rest of the state.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Group of Legislators Files Federal Bill to Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana. A dozen House members led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act Thursday. The bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients, a right enjoyed by physicians outside of the VA system. Click on the link to see all the sponsors and more details of the bill. The bill is not yet available on the congressional web site.

Arizona Appeals Court Rules Doctors Can't Be Charged for Medical Marijuana Referrals. The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients are not subject to criminal charges even if they failed to do a review of a year's worth of patient records. Police sent an informant to the office of Dr. Robert Gear in 2012, and Gear signed a medical marijuana certification based on a physical exam, but before receiving the patient's records. Prosecutors in Navajo County charged him with forgery and fraud, but the appeals court ruled that the state medical marijuana law gives him immunity. "In enacting the (law), the voters explicitly barred prosecution of a physician for providing 'written certifications' or 'for otherwise stating' that certain patients may benefit from `the medical use of marijuana,'" presiding Judge Patricia K. Norris wrote in the opinion. The case is State v. Gear.

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Could Be Issue for New Attorney General Nominee. President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, bragged back in January about how her office seized nearly a billion dollars through civil asset forfeiture. But with the issue in the limelight now, it may come back to bite her during her confirmation hearings. Asset forfeiture reform bills have been filed in the Congress, newspapers across the country are editorializing about abuses, and congressional Republicans are sure to use any ammunition they can to try to damage the president's nominee.

International

Cannabis Clubs Coming to Switzerland? Officials in Geneva are exploring whether to allow marijuana social clubs, while the city has joined Bern, Basel, and Zurich in creating an expert working group to craft details for a potential pilot project. Marijuana is not legal in Switzerland, but possession of less than 10 grams is effectively decriminalized. Click on the link for an informative overview.

Chronicle AM: Congress Unlikely to Mess With DC Marijuana Legalization, Guatemala Could Legalize Next Year, More (11/17/14)

Congress may "just say meh" to DC legalization, Washington state's first pot auction was a success, it's back to the drawing board for Florida Charlotte's Web regulators, Lebanese hash farmers have an unusual problem, Guatemala's president said pot legalization could be coming soon, and more. Let's get to it:

There's too much hash in the hash fields of Lebanon. (cannabisculture.com)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Republicans Not Too Interested in Blocking DC Legalization. Congressional Republicans, eager to wage battle against President Obama and the Democrats on immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, don't appear that interested in trying to block the District of Columbia from implementing the marijuana legalization initiative voters approved on Election Day. The Washington Post quoted several senators who said they had other things on their minds. "That's pretty far down my list of priorities," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC). "I haven't given it one thought," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). The Post also quoted a Heritage Foundation analyst as saying trying to block DC legalization could cost valuable political capital and expose a rift between GOP social conservatives and libertarians.

Washington State's First Pot Auction Brings in $600,000. In the first auction of legally licensed and produced marijuana in the state, Fireweed Farms sold more than 300 pounds of pot Saturday at an average price of $2,000 a pound. That's a $600,000 payday for the growers.

Pot Smoking Tickets Up Nearly Five-Fold in Denver. Through the first three quarters of this year, Denver police have cited 668 people for public pot smoking, compared to just 117 during the same period last year. That's a 471% increase. Even under legalization, public display and consumption of marijuana remains a no-no. Some advocates said public consumption will be an issue until the city allows for it to be consumed in bars or pot clubs.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Judge Rejects Medical Marijuana Growers Lottery Plan, Sends Health Department Back to Drawing Board. The state legislature this year approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils, but now an administrative law judge has ruled that the Department of Health's plan to use a lottery to choose growers is not the way to go. "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it," said Judge W. David Watkins in his order last Friday. The ruling should result in a better system of distributing licenses, but it could also delay when the cannabis oil actually becomes available to patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Scranton Times-Tribune Calls for Asset Forfeiture Reform. One of Pennsylvania's mid-level newspapers has jumped on the asset forfeiture reform bandwagon. In a Monday editorial, The Scranton Times-Tribune called for federal civil asset forfeiture reform. Citing "pervasive abuses" by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies, the newspaper called on the Congress to pass pending asset forfeiture reform legislation, and for Pennsylvania officials to examine whether the state's asset forfeiture law needs reform as well.

Prescription Drugs

DEA Pays Visit to NFL Teams Over Use of Pain Relievers. Spurred by reports of widespread use of prescription pain relievers in a recent lawsuit filed against the NFL, DEA agents Sunday visited several NFL teams to question medical staff members about their prescribing practices for drugs used to energize players before games and relieve their pain afterward. The DEA characterized the visits as "administrative," and nothing was seized and no one detained. "Our role is law enforcement, and we have the regulatory authority to make sure anyone who has a license operates within the law," said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Recovery Alliance's Harm Reduction Gets Work Some Notice. The DePaul University newspaper The DePaulia has profiled the Windy City's Chicago Recovery Alliance and the harm reduction work in which it is engaged. The newspaper calls harm reduction "a small movement in the United States meant not to stigmatize drug users, but to safely educate and assist drug users with the ultimate purpose of reducing risk and eliminating drug-related complications and deaths." It's actually a pretty good overview of the harm reduction field.

International

With Lebanese Army Busy with Syrian Civil War, Hash Farmers Are Cursed By Oversupply. For the second year in a row, the Lebanese Army has been too concerned with the fighting on its borders to get around to eradicating marijuana crops in the Bekaa Valley, but the hash farmers can't win for losing. Now they face a flooded market and falling prices. Before the Syrian civil war and the glut, farmers were getting $1,500 for 1.2 kilos of hash; now that price has fallen to $500. Not only is the glut the problem, but political and military insecurity have made smuggling more difficult as well, feeding further downward price pressures.

Guatemala President Says County Could Legalize Marijuana Next Year. In an interview with TeleSur TV on Saturday, President Otto Perez Molina said Guatemala would decide early next year whether to follow Uruguay on the path to marijuana legalization. Perez Molina has also made similar noises about legalizing opium poppy production. Stay tuned.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's been a quiet week on the medical marijuana front, perhaps a post-election lull. But there is news from California, Colorado, and Rhode Island. Let's get to it:

California

On Tuesday, activists complained that California veterans were being denied pain medications over their medical marijuana use. California NORML reported that it is being contacted by veterans who are being told by their VA doctors that they must choose between their prescription pain medications and medical marijuana. The group reports "a spate of complaints" from Long Beach and Loma Linda after scheduling changes for some prescription drugs recently took effect. Those changes entail stricter reporting requirements for doctors, and that, among other factors, seems to have spurred the tightening up. Click on the title link for more details and a plan for action from Canorml and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

Colorado

On Tuesday, Colorado reported another $30 million month in medical marijuana sales. September sales were at $31.6 million, down slightly from August's $33.4 million. The all-time high was in February, when medical marijuana sales totaled $36 million. Recreational sales are also running about $30 million a month.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over medical marijuana employment discrimination. The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user. The suit is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters' degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches. She lost a pain internship offer with Darlington Fabrics after disclosing her medical condition and medical marijuana patient status. The lawsuit argues that failure to hire because of a potential employee's patient status is discriminatory under the state's Civil Rights Act.

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

Medical Marijuana Update

A medical marijuana initiative won in Guam, but the one in Florida lost despite winning a majority of the votes. There's other news, too. Let's get to it:

California

Last Friday,nine Lake County patients filed a $600,000 claim for damages for warrantless raids on their gardens. The move comes two weeks after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring such warrantless raids. The patients claim Lake County law enforcement entered their properties and seized their goods without their consent or a search warrant. They seek recompense for their stolen goods, as well as punitive damages.

On Tuesday, Election Day was a mixed bag for local medical marijuana initiatives. Local measures to tax marijuana businesses passed in two Riverside County towns, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs, as well as in Santa Cruz city and county and Shasta Lake City. But measures to loosen restrictions on cultivation failed in Butte, Lake, Nevada, and Shasta Counties, and measures to allow dispensaries were rejected in Blythe, La Mesa, and Encinitas. The town of Weed approved dispensaries, but also approved an outdoor cultivation ban.

Florida

On Tuesday, the Amendment 2 initiative won a solid majority, but fell short of victory. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needed 60% of the vote to be approved. According to the Florida Division of Elections, with 96% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 2 had 57.52% of the vote.

Guam

On Tuesday, Guam voted approved medical marijuana. With all precincts counted, the Joaquin Conception II Compassionate Use Act of 2013 passed with 56% of the vote. The legislatively-sponsored referendum overcame both political inertia and legal challenges to make it to the ballot this year. Guam now becomes the first US territory to approve medical marijuana.

Illinois

Last Saturday, the state began a second round of patient registrations. The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun a second round of patient registrations for the state's medical marijuana program. As of last Saturday, people whose last names begin with M through Z can apply for a patient card. Patients whose last names begin with the letters A through L have been able to registers for several weeks already.

Iowa

On Tuesday, the Board of Pharmacy announced it would hold a hearing on medical marijuana. The board, which has already said the state should be moving toward allowing medical marijuana, is considering whether to make new recommendations to legislators. A board committee will meet November 17 to hear testimony. Among those addressing the committee will be long-time Iowa medical marijuana activist Carl Olsen, whose petition to the board started the ball rolling. Click on the link for meeting details.

New York

Last Thursday, New York US Representatives asked the Justice Department to let the state import high-CBD medical marijuana for sick kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

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

Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today [FEATURE]

Federal drug sentencing reforms adopted earlier this year by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect today. They should result in tens of thousands of federal prisoners seeing their sentences cut and being released early, as well as ensuring that future offenders are not sentenced so harshly.

The Sentencing Commission, an independent body in the judicial branch which is charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce the guidelines for most drug sentences. Then, in July, it voted—again unanimously—to make those sentencing reductions retroactive, meaning they will be applied to current federal drug prisoners.

Congress had an opportunity to disapprove of the sentencing reductions, but failed to act, so the changes are now in effect.

As of today, current federal drug prisoners can begin petitioning courts for sentence cuts based on what the new guidelines call for. If the courts determine they are eligible for the sentence cuts and a reduction is appropriate, the sentences will be reduced. That will result in some federal prisoners getting out early, but none will be released until a year from today.

The sentence cuts will not, though, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, which are set by Congress. Prisoners serving sentences longer than the mandatory minimum may win sentencing reductions, but not below the mandatory minimum.

(The federal sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums provides an overview page on the move and what it means, as well as FAQ page for prisoners and their families.)

For the past two decades, the Sentencing Commission has attempted to rein in the harshly punitive impulses in Congress that led it to impose lengthy prison sentences for even low-level drug offenses in the 1980s. The federal prison population has increased more than three-fold since 1980, driven largely by the war on drugs. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the 98,482 federal drug prisoners make up 48.8% of all federal prisoners.

The federal prison at Butner, NC. Will there be room at the inn? (bop.gov)
"The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety," Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, said in a statement. "Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution. I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward."

According to the Commission, more than 46,000 current drug prisoners will be eligible for sentence reductions through retroactive application of the revised sentencing guidelines. The Commission estimates that the sentence cuts will reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 within five years and more significantly as time goes on.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) applauded the sentencing reductions, and especially the Commission's move to apply them to current prisoners.

"It makes little sense, of course, to reform harsh sentencing laws proactively but not retroactively," said Ethan Nadelmann, DPA executive director. "But that’s what politicians do when they’re scared of allowing people out of prison early. The Sentencing Commission really had no choice but to rectify the moral absurdity of keeping people locked up based on sentences that are no longer the law. What they did was right and just."

"This is an important step toward undoing some of the worst harms of the drug war by allowing people to be reunited with their families," added DPA media relations manager Tony Papa, who served 12 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense.

The US Sentencing Commission considers retroactivity at a meeting in May. (uscourts.gov)
While the Sentencing Commission has been working for years to address prison overcrowding and unduly harsh sentencing, recent years have also seen some advances in Congress. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S 1410), has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Parris said Congress still needs to get around to passing comprehensive reforms.

"Only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties," she said. "I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation."

Maybe then we can actually reverse the decades-long trend of sustained growth in the federal prison population. Actually, thanks to reforms already passed by Congress, we may see the first decrease in the federal prison population announced next month, when the Bureau of Justice Statistics issues its annual prison population report. The preliminary numbers suggest that the population may have peaked in 2012.

This move by the Sentencing Commission will only accelerate that (presumed) trend, but will only result in sentence reductions for about half of incarcerated federal drug offenders. There is still more work to be done. 

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: DC Council Ponders Pot, NJ Cops Get Naloxone, Denmark Funds MedMJ Research, More (10/31/14)

Oregon's Measure 91 is getting big bucks and using innovative outreach techniques in the final days, the DC council ponders how to implement pot legalization, NYC councilmembers demand the cops quit targeting minority men for pot busts, Denmark funds research on medical marijuana (but not underground trolls!), and more. Let's get to it:

Opioid overdose reversal kit handed out to police in Mercer County, NJ. (nj.gov)
Marijuana Policy       

Last Minute Contributions Boost Oregon's Measure 91. The Drug Policy Action Network, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, has contributed another $250,000 to the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative campaign as the clock ticks down toward election day. That means Drug Policy Action has now donated $1.74 million of the $3.9 million raised by the campaign. The campaign is also getting a boost from pot legalization supporter US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has made an in-kind contribution of $40,020 to help pay for TV ads.

Oregon's Measure 91 Campaign Using Innovative "Did They Vote?" Website. The campaign is using DidTheyVote.org, a web site that allows voters in the state to log on and see if their Facebook friends have voted. If the friends haven't voted, people using the web site can "nudge" them to do so. "Check to see if your Facebook friends turned in their ballots! It takes 60 seconds. If it appears the elections office hasn’t received your friends’ ballots yet, you can give them a little nudge by sending them a reminder message," the web site explains. The web site is a project of the progressive non-profit group Our Oregon.

Sacramento Federal Court Hearing on Marijuana Scheduling Ends. In a groundbreaking federal court hearing, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller in Sacramento has heard five days of evidence around whether marijuana is properly classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Doctors and scientists made a strong case that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I. The judge issued no immediate ruling, but instead requested extensive briefs from the parties involved. She could rule on the issue two months from now or more. Click on the link to get some flavor of the discussion.

Five NYC Councilmembers Accuse NYPD of Continuing to Target Minority Men for Pot Arrests. Five black or Latino city council members today sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton charging that the NYPD continues to single out young men of color for marijuana arrests. "This is not an abstract issue for us," the letter said. "We approach this issue not just as lawmakers but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices. The NYPD continues to target people who look like us, and we know from our own experiences and those of our peers that these racially skewed arrests create distrust between young men of color and the police." The letter was signed by Councilmen Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), and Donovan Richards (D-Queens). While arrests have declined from the 50,000 in 2011 to some 29,000 last year, minority men are still the primary target, the councilmen said.

DC Council Holds Hearing on Moving Toward Legalization. With the marijuana possession and cultivation initiate Measure 71 heading for an apparent victory at the polls on Tuesday, the DC city council is moving to address how to tax and regulate legal marijuana in the District. The council's Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and its Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint hearing Thursday to begin to lay the groundwork. Click on the link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

New York US Representatives Ask Justice Department to Let State Import High-CBD Medical Marijuana for Sick Kids. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, they called on the Justice Department to find a way to let the state import medical marijuana to be used by severely ill children. The governor this year moved to allow some access to medical marijuana, but the state program will not be in full effect for more than a year. That's too long to wait, the lawmakers said. "Every day makes a difference for children with these severe disorders. Given this urgent public health need, we urge you to allow New York the ability to import finite and strictly controlled amounts of cannabidiol,"they wrote.

Harm Reduction

Every Cop Car in Mercer County, New Jersey, To Be Armed With Overdose Reversal Drug. Police departments in Mercer County (Trenton) are now armed with 600 naloxone (Narcan) opiate overdose reversal kits. Beginning tomorrow, every patrol vehicle in the county will have one, as will every detective vehicle and detention center. Police in the state have begun carrying the drug since Gov. Chris Christie (R) ordered it made available throughout the state following successful pilot programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Officials said naloxone had saved 325 lives in the state so far.  

International

Britain's Cameron Stands Firm: No Drug Policy Review. Facing an insurrection over drug policy from the junior partners in his governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats, after a Home Office report found no obvious link between tough drug laws and drug use levels, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is stubbornly refusing to consider any changes to Britain's drug policy. "I don’t think anyone can read that report and say it definitely justifies this approach or that approach, but the evidence is what we’re doing is working," Cameron said, citing falling levels of drug use. "I don’t believe in decriminalizing drugs that are illegal today. I’m a parent with three children; I don’t want to send out a message that somehow taking these drugs is OK or safe." In a sign of the depth of the discord between the coalition partners, Cameron's statement also included a zinger aimed at the Lib Dems: "The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs."

Denmark to Fund Medical Marijuana Research. The Danish government agreed Thursday to distribute at least $6 million for health research that will include research on medical marijuana. The funding is part of a broader agreement to fund socially relevant research. Strangely enough, the Danish newspaper article linked to above ends by noting that "no additional funds were set aside for the study of underground trolls."

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School