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The Next Five States That Could Legalize Marijuana

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

Four states, including California, the nation's most populous, voted to legalize marijuana on November 8. That doubles the number of legal states to eight (plus the District of Columbia), and more than quadruples the number of people living in legal marijuana states, bringing the number to something around 64 million.

Every one of those states legalized marijuana through the initiative process, but we're not going to see any more initiatives on state ballots until 2018, and perhaps 2020. That means that if we are to make more progress on spreading marijuana legalization in the next couple of years, it's going to have to come at the state house instead of the ballot box.

Rhode Island State Capitol
That's the same pattern we saw with medical marijuana. California led the way via the initiative process in 1996, with several other states following in 1998 and 2000 before Hawaii became the first state to okay medical marijuana via the state legislature.

The election of Donald Trump is causing great uncertainty about the future of legal marijuana, and will act as a drag on legislators until his stance is clarified. Just as governors hesitated to implement medical marijuana programs in the face of federal hostility a decade ago, legislators will hesitate to move toward legalization in the face of uncertainty, or worse, outright hostility from a Trump administration.

Still, efforts to legalize marijuana through the legislative process have been underway for several years in a handful of states and have already come close to passage in some of them. And now, especially in New England, the pressure of neighboring states having already embraced legalization is fueling legalization fervor. But it's not just New England. The marijuana legalization message is resonating across the land.

Getting a bill through a state legislature is a long, multi-stage process, with too many opportunities for getting derailed, from obstinate committee chairs to skeptical governors wielding the veto pen. Despite the obstacles, here are five states that could get it done before the 2018 mid-terms:

Connecticut

Connecticut already has medical marijuana and decriminalized possession in 2011 with the support of Gov. Dannel Malloy (D). Malloy had said that decriminalization was as far as he wanted to go, but he's hinting at changing his tune after marijuana's big victory on Election Day. "We might have to reexamine our legal position, our position of enforcement, based on what some surrounding states are doing," Malloy said three days later.

For veteran legislators such as state Reps. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) and Toni Walker (D-New Haven), Malloy's softening couldn't come soon enough. They've authored legalization bills in past sessions, but they haven't gotten much traction. Look for them to be back at it again next year, with the changed New England political landscape smoothing the road.

Maryland

Maryland approved medical marijuana in 2014 (although the long-delayed program has yet to see any actual dispensaries open) and decriminalization last year under then Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The bad news is that O'Malley is gone now, replaced by anti-marijuana Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The good news is that the legislature has already demonstrated a willingness to override Hogan's vetoes when it comes to pot policy; it did that this year with a housekeeping bill that decriminalized the possession of paraphernalia (an oversight in the 2015 decriminalization bill).

Reform-minded legislators last year filed a legalization bill, the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, in both houses, but they were stymied by unfriendly committee chairs. They're going to be back next year, backed by a carefully-built coalition of drug reform, social justice, and public health groups -- and with the support of a healthy majority of Marylanders, according to recent polls.

New Mexico

New Mexico Legislative Chambers
Eyeing next door neighbor Colorado, New Mexico is another state ripe for marijuana legalization. Two polls this year had popular support for legalization at 61%, and Democrats have now won control of the state legislature. That means two different moves toward legalization could occur: Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park) has filed a legalization bill the last two years, and says he will do it again next year. "It's not an academic exercise anymore," he said. And Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) also says he will be introducing a constitutional amendment that would take the issue to a popular vote.

But like Maryland, legalizers face an anti-marijuana Republican governor in Susana Martinez. Either Martinez is going to have to have a pot epiphany or the legislature is going to have to have enough votes to override a probable veto.

Rhode Island

This may be the best prospect of the bunch. Medical marijuana is well-established in the state, decriminalization has been in effect for four years, and now, in the wake of the legalization victory in neighboring Massachusetts, Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) says she's ready to more seriously consider doing the same in Rhode Island, although she has concerns about public safety and how any legislation is drafted.

Democrats control both houses of the legislature, and both House Speaker Thomas Mattiello and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio say they are ready to take up legalization bills. That would be a pleasant change: For the past six years, legalization bills have been filed, but never voted on.

Rhode Island's political leaders finally look ready to catch up to their constituents, 55% of whom supported legalization in a recent poll from Brown University and who smoke pot at the highest rate of any state, reporting a 16% past month use rate.

Vermont

Vermont very nearly became the first state to legalize weed through the legislative process this year. A legalization bill, S. 241, was supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and passed with strong support in the Senate, only to die in the House.

Now, a pair of key lawmakers said they are ready to try to get legalization through the legislature again. Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said legalization votes in Maine and Massachusetts are forcing the state's hand. "For me, that's a game-changer, that Massachusetts has voted to legalize," Sears said.

Sears' counterpart in the House, Judiciary Committee chairwoman Rep. Maxine Grad, is also ready to go, saying the Maine and Massachusetts votes will make lawmakers more amenable to moving forward.

There's just one problem: Shumlin is gone now, replaced by incoming Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who is not a big fan of government regulation, but is not a big fan of marijuana legalization, either. "I can appreciate the discussion around ending the prohibition of marijuana," he said, but had many, many concerns about this year's bill. Still, it's possible legislators will have heard those concerns and will come up with a bill that Scott can live with -- or a majority that can override a veto.

Chronicle AM: Dutch to Address Coffee Shop Supply, Campaign Against Sessions as AG, More... (11/22/16)

Nashville blows off state attorney general and will continue marijuana decriminalization, time to give your senators your two cents worth on the Sessions nomination, the Dutch ruling party belatedly comes around on coffee shop supply, and more.

Dutch coffee shops may finally get a legal source of supply. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana

Nashville Will Cite and Release Marijuana Offenders Despite State Attorney General's Opinion. The city of Nashville and surrounding Davidson County will continue to allow police to ticket and release small-time marijuana offenders, even though state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has issued an opinion contending that the local ordinance is invalid because it is preempted by state law. Metro Law Director Jon Cooper: "We have reviewed the Attorney General's opinion and understand his position. However, we believe we have a good faith legal argument that the ordinance is not preempted by state law," Cooper said in a statement Monday. "At this point, we do not believe a change in the police department's enforcement practice is warranted."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Lawmakers Eye Changes, Delays in Implementing Medical Marijuana. A week after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, some legislators are acting to delay implementation, saying they need more time for rulemaking. Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said he is preparing a bill to do that. And Sen. Bart Hester (R-Bentonville) wants to add an additional tax to medical marijuana to help pay for $105 million in tax cuts he is proposing.

Drug Policy

Write Your Senator to Oppose the Sessions Nomination for Attorney General. Donald Trump's pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is one of the worst drug warriors in Congress. He almost single-handedly blocked mild sentencing reform bills that members of Congress from both parties supported. He opposes marijuana legalization and has even claimed that "good people don't use marijuana." Sen. Sessions was rejected for a judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate because of racism and false prosecutions he brought against civil rights activists. He is not a likely leader for continuing the much-needed work that has begun on police reform; in fact he's more likely to worsen the divisions in our country, not improve them. Click on the link to tell your senator what you think.

International

Dutch Ruling Party Gets on Board With Cannabis Law Reforms. After 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference last weekend, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

Global Commission on Drugs Calls for Decriminalization of All Drugs [FEATURE]

In a report released Monday, global leaders denounced harsh responses to drug use, such as the mass killing of drug users in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, and called for worldwide drug decriminalization.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for drug decriminalization. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
The report, Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A New Approach to Drug Decriminalization, is a product of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-level panel that includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Switzerland; and British philanthropist Richard Branson, among others.

Since its inception in 2011, the Commission has consistently called for drug decriminalization, but this year's report goes a step further. Unlike existing decriminalization policies around the world, where drug users still face fines or administrative penalties, the report argues that no penalties at all should attach to simple drug possession.

"Only then," the report says, "can the societal destruction caused by drug prohibition be properly mitigated."

And the report breaks more new ground by calling for alternatives to punishment for other low-level players in the drug trade, including small dealers who sell to support their habits, drug mules, and people who grow drug crops. Many of those people, the report notes, engage in such activities out of "economic marginalization… a lack of other opportunities… or coercion," yet face severe sanctions ranging from the destruction of cash crops to imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Unlike people caught with drugs for personal use, however, the Commission envisions such low-level players being subjected to civil penalties, although not criminal ones.

"After years of denouncing the dramatic effects of prohibition and the criminalization of people that do no harm but use drugs on the society as a whole, it is time to highlight the benefits of well-designed and well-implemented people centered drug polices," said former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Commission. "These innovative policies cannot exist as long as we do not discuss, honestly, the major policy error made in the past, which is the criminalization of personal consumption or possession of illicit psychoactive substances in national laws."

"At the global, regional or local levels, drug policies are evolving," added César Gaviria, former president of Columbia and Global Commission member. "However, in order to build solid and effective policies to mitigate the harms of the last 60 years of wrong policies, and to prepare for a better future where drugs are controlled more effectively, we need to implement the full and non-discretionary decriminalization of personal use and possession of drugs."

The new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy issues the following recommendations:

1. States must abolish the death penalty for all drug-related offenses.

2. States must end all penalties -- both criminal and civil -- for drug possession for personal use, and the cultivation of drugs for personal consumption.

3. States must implement alternatives to punishment for all low-level, nonviolent actors in the drug trade.

4. UN member states must remove the penalization of drug possession as a treaty obligation under the international drug control system.

5. States must eventually explore regulatory models for all illicit drugs and acknowledge this to be the next logical step in drug policy reform following decriminalization.

DC report launch Monday with Cesar Gaviria, Pavel Bem, Ruth Dreifuss, Michel Kazatchkine and Paul Volcker
"People who use drugs have paid a huge toll to the current drug control system; they faced alone and without any legal protection the ravages of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, as well as many non-communicable diseases," said Professor Michel Kazatchkine, former Executive Director of the Global Fund on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. "Now we have the scientific and medical tools to provide all the services they need, but we mostly lack the political leadership to implement an enabling legal environment. This starts by the complete decriminalization of drugs."

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2010 by political leaders, cultural figures, and globally influential personalities from the financial and business sectors. The Commission currently comprises 23 members, including nine former heads of states and a former Secretary General of the United Nations. The high-level group's mission is to promote evidence-based drug policy reforms at international, national and regional levels, with an emphasis on public health, social integration and security, and with strict regard for human rights.

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Stokes MJ Fears, Global Commission Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (11/21/16)

Donald Trump has nominated a harsh drug warrior to head the Justice Department, Montanans will see a slew of bills aiming at making their medical marijuana system more workable (and at least one that wants to kill it), the Global Commission on Drugs called for drug decriminalization, and more.

"Good people don't use marijuana," says Trump's attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Marijuana

Trump's Pick of Jeff Sessions as AG Raises Fears in Marijuana Industry. President-elect Donald Trump (R) has nominated anti-marijuana Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department, setting off alarms in the marijuana industry. As attorney general, Sessions would oversee federal prosecutors and the DEA and could move to undo the Obama administration's policy of largely allowing the states to set their own course on pot policy.

Colorado Bureaucrats Nix On-Site Pot Consumption for Bars. Just a week after voters in Denver approved a social use initiative allowing restaurants and bars to seek permits to allow on-site consumption of marijuana, the Department of Public Health and Environment has announced that it will not allow liquor license-holders to obtain such permits. The department said using alcohol and marijuana together increases impairment. But proponents of the measure said alcohol establishments already rely on the judgment of servers and that the move would allow consumers to use marijuana products without having to go outside or hide behind closed doors.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Dispensary Operator Eyes 2018 Expansion Initiative. The owners of the Wellness Center, an Apache Junction dispensary, are moving toward an initiative to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The move comes a week after a legalization initiative was narrowly defeated. The initiative would expand the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana and it would allow people who live more than a mile from a dispensary to grow their own. The current law bars people who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own.

After Initiative Victory, Medical Marijuana Bills Pile Up in Montana. Montanans voted last week to restore their state's medical marijuana system, which had been gutted by the Republican legislature in 2011, and now the legislature faces at least 10 bills designed either to make the system more workable or to try to thwart the will of the voters once again. It's going to be a busy session in Helena.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Legislator Files Bill to Limit First-Time Opioid Prescribing. State Rep. Jeff Taylor (D-Hopkinsville) has prefiled a bill, BR 202, that would limit first-time adult prescriptions for non-chronic pain relief to a seven-day supply. The bill does include an exception that would allow a doctor to prescribe a longer supply if deemed medically necessary.

Kratom

Still Ten Days Left to Comment on Proposed Kratom Ban. Anyone who wants to commit on the DEA's plan to schedule kratom has until December 1 to do so. Click on the link for more information.

International

New Report Calls on UK to Legalize Marijuana. A new report from the Adam Smith Institute says that Great Britain's drug strategy "has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world," and calls on the government to legalize marijuana. The report is winning support from a cross-party parliamentary group that includes former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Global Commission on Drugs Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. In its annual report, the Global Commission on Drugs has called for an end to criminal and civil penalties for drug possession and more research into alternative regulatory models. The report comes months after the commission sharply criticized the United Nations' refusal to embrace more radical drug reforms at its UNGASS on Drugs last spring. Commission member Richard Branson called the UN's status quo approach "fatally flawed" at the time.

Chronicle AM: No More Small MJ Arrests in Vegas; NM & RI to Consider Legalization, More... (11/17/16)

Marijuana, marijuana, marijuana. The news today is almost all about marijuana, plus an asset forfeiture bill pre-filed in Texas.

Viva Las Vegas! (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana

Maine Recount to Proceed. Opponents of the Question 1 legalization initiative, which won by around 4,000 votes (less than 1% of the total votes cast), have handed in petitions seeking a recount. Now, state officials must verify that at least 100 signatures on the petition came from registered voters who voted in the November 8 election. Once that hurdle is passed, the actual recount will begin. The recount will cost Maine taxpayers about $250,000. "With thousands of votes in the margin, the recount is not going to be successful," said Yes on 1 campaign spokesperson Alysia Melnick, "and it's unfortunate the opposition would go against the will of the people and use taxpayer dollars for a recount that will not change the outcome."

New Mexico Democrats Eye Legalization Bills Next Year. Democrats now control the state legislature, and they are vowing to introduce new legalization bills despite the opposition of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Mesilla Park) has filed a legalization bill the last two years, and says he will do it again next year. "It's not an academic exercise anymore," he said. And Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) also says he will be introducing a constitutional amendment that would take the issue to a popular vote.

Rhode Island Governor Ponders Legalization in Wake of Election Victories. Gov. Gina Raimundo (D) said Tuesday she's ready to more seriously consider legalization after voters in neighboring Massachusetts approved it last week. Democrats control both houses of the legislature, and both House Speaker Thomas Mattiello and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio say they are ready to take up legalization bills.

Tennessee Attorney General Says Municipal Decriminalization Measures Not Enforceable. The state's two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, have both passed decriminalization ordinances this year, but in an opinion issued Wednesday, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery ruled that the measures are unenforceable because there are pre-empted by state laws that continue to make pot possession a criminal offense. "A municipal ordinance that attempts to regulate a field that is regulated by state statute cannot stand if it is contradictory to state law," he wrote.

Las Vegas Prosecutors Announce End to Small-Time Pot Prosecutions. Prosecutors in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, say they will now quit pursuing charges against people caught with small amounts of marijuana and won't file any new charges for pot possession. Prosecutors in the city of Las Vegas say the same thing. The moves comes in the wake of last week's victory for the Question 2 legalization initiative.

Asset Forfeiture

Texas Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Filed. State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa has pre-filed a bill for the session beginning in January that seeks to raise the burden of proof in asset forfeiture proceedings. The measure, Senate Bill 156, would raise the burden of proof from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."

Chronicle AM: ME Recount Possible, DEA Bans "Pink," WI Welfare Drug Tests Start, More... (11/14/16)

Cannabis cafes are coming, Maine legalization foes seek a recount, Massachusetts legislators are threatening to "improve" the legalization initiative, the DEA bans "pink," and more.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte wants to get rid of habeas corpus as he wages lethal drug war. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia
Marijuana

Marijuana Victories Will See Cannabis Cafes Coming. The victories for marijuana legalization initiatives in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada last week will set the stage for social marijuana consumption at licensed venues. Three of the states make provisions for social consumption, while the fourth leaves the issue for legislators. And in Denver, voters approved a local initiative that will allow local businesses to designate "consumption areas" for customers who bring their own weed.

Maine Legalization Foes Seek Recount After Narrow Defeat. Unofficially, the Question 1 legalization initiative won by a mere 5,000 votes out of about 750,000 cast, and that's too close a call for the "no" campaign to just accept. "No" spokesmen are threatening to seek a recount. They have until the end of work Wednesday to collect a hundred signatures in order to seek a recount from the secretary of state's office.

Massachusetts Legislators Turn Eyes on "Improving" Legalization Initiative. Senate President Stan Rosenberg said last Thursday said the Question 4 initiative will need "improvements" to address issues such as marijuana sales taxes, infused edible products, and driving while high. Rosenberg said the legislature could take up the issues shortly after returning in January. But the Question 4 campaign pushed back, saying that legislators should "respect the will of the voters," let regulators do their job crafting regulations, then see if anything needs fixing.

New Psychoactive Substances

DEA Bans Synthetic Opioid Known as "Pink." Using its emergency scheduling powers, the DEA has banned the synthetic opioid U-47700, commonly known as "pink." Effective today, the drug is now a Schedule I controlled substance. The drug has been linked to dozens of confirmed fatalities, and is now banned for 24 months while the DEA decides if it should be permanently placed in Schedule I.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Welfare Drug Testing Starts Today. As of Monday, people seeking welfare benefits will be subject to drug testing. Republican Gov. Scott Walker painted the move as helping families and employers. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free," Walker said in a statement. "These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."

International

Philippines President Threatens Drug War Suspension of Habeas Corpus. President Rodrigo Duterte said he is considering suspending habeas corpus because it's just too much work to build cases against individual drug suspects. And he doesn't worry about legality. "I am the president. Of course I have the powers," he said Friday. "I can be ordered by the Supreme Court to stop it, but there are things that they cannot, and maybe, I will not, stop I can go to jail. File all the charges that you can think of. But this country, in my time, will not deteriorate any further." The Philippines constitution says the president may suspend habeas corpus "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it."

Berlin Set to Move on Marijuana Liberalization. The city's governing coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and the Left Party has agreed to push for partial decriminalization of marijuana. The move would require a waiver from federal authorities to allow experimenting with drug policies that contradict the Federal Intoxicants Law.

Chronicle AM: New MA Poll Has Pot Init Winning Handily, Ghana Moves Toward Drug Decrim, More... (11/4/16)

It's just about all pot legalization and medical marijuana initiatives today--oh, and Ghana is moving toward drug decriminalization.

It's looking like legal buds are coming to Boston. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy 

Another New National Poll Has a Solid Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new American Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute finds that 63% of Americans 18 and over favor freeing the weed. Only three years ago, the survey had support for legalization at only 45%. The poll is in line with other recent national opinion polls that show solid majorities for marijuana legalization.

Former DEA Heads Ask California Governor to Take Stand Against Legalization. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has yet to take a position on the Prop 64 legalization initiative, and now five former DEA heads are urging him to come out against it. They cited alleged problems with drugged driving and use by teens in Colorado. "Let us at least see if these negative trends continue before taking this plunge," the letter said. "This means that Californians, many of whom will listen to you, should vote against Prop 64. Is it wise social policy to adopt a measure that will substantially increase the numbers of marijuana users, including our youth? The letter was signed by former DEA administrators Robert C. Bonner, Jack Lawn, Karen Tandy, Peter Bensinger and Michele Leonhart.

New Massachusetts Poll Has Legalization With Wide Lead. A new poll from the Western New England University Polling Institute has the Question 4 legalization initiative winning handily with 61% of the vote. Only 34% were opposed. The "yes" vote is up nine points from the group's previous poll at the end of September. The measure had a whopping 81% support among voters under age 40.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Reinstate Initiative; One Still Remains on the Ballot. The state's high court Thursday denied a petition for a rehearing on its decision to disqualify Issue 7. Another medical marijuana initiative, Issue 6, remains on the ballot.

North Dakota Initiative Campaign Gets Last Minute Cash. North Dakota for Compassionate Care, the group behind the Measure 5 medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected last-minute donation of $15,000 from Drug Policy Action, the lobbying and campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance. The group will use the money for a final advertising push to get their message out to voters ahead of next week's elections.

International

Ghana Moving Toward Drug Decriminalization. The country is moving to decriminalize drug use as a means of better managing addiction, Deputy Interior Minister James Agalga said Thursday. Under a bill moving through parliament, users would receive clinical care and treatment instead of prosecution and incarceration. "Those who are addicted and under normal circumstances ought to be treated as patients who need care in the hospital," he explained. 

Chronicle AM: Big Bucks for CA Legalization Init, MedMJ Cultivation Now Legal in Australia, More... (11/2/16)

The prospect of profits is fueling donations to the California legalization initiative, a key Old Dominion politico is ready to talk decriminalization, medical marijuana cultivation is now legal in Australia, and more.

Marijuana Policy 

California Legalization Initiative Has Raised $16 Million. Activist philanthropists like Sean Parker and George Soros and entrepreneurs with dollar signs in their eyes have kicked in a whopping $16 million to the Prop 64 campaign, which appears headed for victory next week. That's ten times the amount raised by the organized opposition, and about four times what was raised for the failed Prop 19 legalization initiative in 2010. "Legal marijuana is no longer a pipe dream: It's an investment," said Claremont McKenna College economics professor Jack Pitney. "Public opinion has shifted strongly in favor of legalization, and the smart money is following the people."

Key Virginia Pol Ready to Consider Decriminalization. State senate majority leader Tommy Norment (R) said Tuesday he supports studying marijuana decriminalization. "I think it’s absolutely crazy that we continue to lock people up for possession of a modest amount of marijuana," he said. Last year, Norment voted against a decriminalization bill, but he now says decriminalization would keep people from having the stigma of a criminal record. He added, though, that getting decriminalization through the legislature would be a tough fight.

Medical Marijuana

Ohio Medical Marijuana Growers Face High License Fees. Under draft rules promulgated by the state Department of Commerce, medical marijuana cultivation licenses would be capped at 18 and would cost a pretty penny. Twelve "Level I" licenses for grows of up to 15,000 square feet will require a $20,000 application fee and a $180,000 license fee, while six "Level II" licenses for grows of up to 1,600 square feet will require a $2,000 application fee and an $18,000 license fee.  The Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee reviewed the plan Tuesday morning, and the full rules were scheduled to be posted to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program website for public comment by Wednesday. 

International

Medical Marijuana Cultivation Now Legal in Australia. The country approved medical marijuana in February, but that didn't kick in until Tuesday. Now, organizations and businesses can apply for licenses to cultivate and manufacture marijuana for medical purposes. Susan Ley, Australia’s Health Minister said that the legislation will give patients safe and legal access to cannabis. "Until now, it has been difficult for patients to access medicinal cannabis products from overseas sources,"said Health Minister Susan Ley. "These new laws change that situation by providing for a domestic supply of medicinal cannabis products that are not readily available for import."

A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

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

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: OK MedMJ Initiative Looking Iffy, PA Governor Calls for Pot Decrim, More... (8/29/16)

Cornhuskers look down the road on marijuana reforms, Pennsylvania's governor calls for marijuana decriminalization, the Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative looks like it won't actually make the ballot, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) says decriminalize it. (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
Marijuana Policy

Nebraska 2018 Legalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway. A group calling itself Legal Marijuana Now has begun a signature gathering drive for an initiative that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of pot for medical or recreational purposes. The group is aiming at 2018 and needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said Monday the state needs to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. While some localities have quit arresting small-time pot possessors, too many haven't. "I think we need to do that in a more systematic fashion," Wolf said. "There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Initiative Unlikely to Appear on Ballot, Advocates Say. The group behind the initiative, State Question 788, said they will challenge the attorney general's rewording of the battle title, and that will begin a legal process that will delay the measure beyond the November 8 election date. State officials, on the other hand, said the initiative campaign waited too long to turn in signatures. "We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed," Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said. "It's important for the people of Oklahoma to know -- regardless of the substance of the state question -- the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely."

International

New Zealand Poll Finds Strong Support for Medical Marijuana. Another poll is signaling overwhelming support for medical marijuana among Kiwis. A new UMR poll has support at 76%, up four points from the same poll last year. The poll had only 12% opposed, with another 12% undecided. The poll also asked whether marijuana should be treated as a herbal remedy; 61% said yes.

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