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Chronicle AM: VA Forfeiture Reform, Jamaica to Decriminalize, Supreme Court Drug Dog Case, More (1/22/15)

There's medical marijuana action in the states, the Supreme Court hears a case about drug dogs, Jamaica is about to decriminalize ganja, an asset forfeiture reform bill is moving in Virginia, and more. Let's get to it:

South Dakota Highway Patrol drug dog and trainer. How long can you be detained waiting for them to show up? (dps.sd.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Washington State "Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Act" Filed. State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is filing this week legislation designed to bring the state's existing medical and recreational marijuana systems into agreement. "The main intent of my bill is to simplify and unify the two systems so that complex gray areas and dangerous illicit markets will eventually cease to exist," she said. The bill would eliminate unregulated dispensaries and collective gardens, but it would also direct the state Liquor Control Board to increase the number of retail outlets by adopting a competitive, merit- and experience-based licensing application system.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Parents Get Senate Hearing on Medical Marijuana Bill. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee heard Wednesday from parents of chronically ill children were speaking in support of pending medical marijuana legislation, SB 9, introduced by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City). Click on the title link for hearing details.

Maine Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana in Hospitals. State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) has filed LD 35, which would allow registered patients to use medical marijuana in hospitals. It does so by adding hospitals to list of eligible primary caregivers, the list of places where patients can store and use medical marijuana, and barring hospitals from prohibiting the use of smokeless marijuana by patients.

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Tommy Garrett (D-Bellevue) has filed LB 643, a full-blown medical marijuana bill that allows patients or caregivers to grow up to 12 plants and possess up to six ounces, envisions a dispensary system, and allows the plant to be used for a specified list of diseases and conditions.

Opiates

New Jersey Legislators Tackle Package of Heroin and Pain Pill Bills. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodridge), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, announced Wednesday that legislators from both parties had introduced a package of 21 bills aimed at confronting widespread heroin and prescription pill use. The bills are designed to increase access to treatment and recovery. Click on the link for more details.

Asset Forfeiture

Virginia House Panel Approves Bill Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bill that would require a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture could take place has passed the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Committee for Courts of Justice. HB 1287, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) now heads for a full committee vote.

Criminal Justice

Vera Institute for Justice DC Event Next Week Features Sen. Cory Booker. The Vera Institute is hosting "Justice in Focus: The Path Forward," in Washington, DC, next Tuesday. The event will feature a keynote interview with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as panels with other major figures in criminal justice reform. Click on either link for more information and event details.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Moving Forward With Public Benefits Drug Testing Scheme. Republican Gov. Scott Walker today announced more details of his plan to require drug screening and testing of people seeking public benefits, including food stamps and unemployment benefits. He said that those who fail the drug test would get a chance for free drug treatment and receive job training. More details will come when he unveils his budget proposal on February 3.

Search and Seizure

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Roadside Detentions While Awaiting Drug Dogs. How long can a police officer detain you on the side of the highway while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to come sniff your vehicle? That was the question before the Supreme Court Wednesday. The case is that of a man pulled over in Nebraska. He was issued a warning ticket and asked to consent to a search of his vehicle. He refused, but rather than allow him to go on his way, the officer detained him for eight more minutes until a drug dog arrived. From their questions, it doesn't appear the justices are inclined to side with the defendant; click the link to get the flavor of their comments. The case is Rodriguez v. US.

International

Jamaica is About to Decriminalize Ganja. The island nation most closely associated with marijuana is about to decriminalize it. The Jamaican cabinet Monday approved a bill that would do just that, as well as allow for the creation of medical marijuana and hemp industries. The bill, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015, goes to the Senate tomorrow and will be debated there next Friday. It would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of ganja; allow its use for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; prohibit smoking it in public places; and provide for the granting of licenses for the development of a legal hemp and medical marijuana industry.

Chronicle AM: ME Mj Bills, OH Mj Init, VA Heroin Bills, WY Drug & Asset Forfeiture; More (1/20/15)

State legislative sessions are getting underway, and drug policy-related bills are popping up all over. There's good, bad, and ugly. Let's get to it:

Heroin is on the legislative agenda in a number of states, including Virginia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Bill Would Delay Regulations for Marijuana Concentrates. Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) last Friday filed House Bill 59, which would delay regulations for concentrates by up to a year. That conflicts with the language of the marijuana legalization initiative, and has legalization supporters unhappy. Click on the story link for more details.

A Big Batch of Pot Bills in Maine. There are at least 15 marijuana-related bills pending before the state legislature, including one that would legalize, tax, and regulate the weed. Rep. Dianne Russell (D-Portland), sponsor of the legalization bill, is also sponsoring four medical marijuana bills. Another bill, sponsored by the Department of Public Safety, would set a limit on the amount of THC drivers could have in their systems. Click on the link for more detail.

Nebraska Bill Would Make Pot Concentrates a Felony. The state decriminalized pot possession in the 1970s, but a bill being pushed by the state attorney general's office, LB 326, would begin to undo that by making possession of marijuana concentrates not just a misdemeanor, but a felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison. It's been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Responsible Ohio Lays Out its Vision for Legalization. The group wants to put a constitutional amendment to legalize pot on the November 2015 ballot, and today announced details of its proposal. The initiative would create a Marijuana Control Commission, allow for 10 licensed commercial grows, allow for marijuana manufacturing facilities that would sell only to retailers, allow for nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, and would tax marijuana at a 15% rate. Click on either link for more.

Heroin

Virginia Legislature Sees Heroin Bills Filed. At least four bills have been filed that seek to address the toll of heroin addiction and overdoses. House Bill 1638 would make people who provided drugs that resulted in a fatal overdose liable for a second degree murder charge; House Bill 1500 is a limited 911 Good Samaritan bill; House Bill 1458 would expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and Senate Bill 817 would expand the state's prescription monitoring program to allow probation and parole officers to access the database.

Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances to Senate Floor. A bill that would bar police from seizing people's property unless they are charged with a felony drug crime passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and now awaits a Senate floor vote. Senate File 14 drew late opposition from the offices of Gov. Matt Mead (R) and Attorney General Peter Michael (R), which claimed they would have to charge more people with felonies if they couldn't just take their money, but legislators expressed irritation at the late objections when the bill has been in process for months.

Drug Policy

Wyoming Bill Would Lighten Up on Repeated Drug Possession Punishments. Under current law, people convicted a third time in their lives for misdemeanor drug possession face felony penalties. House Bill 109 would change state law to make the felony penalties apply on the forth conviction, and the previous convictions would have to have happened in the past five years, instead of throughout the convict's lifetime, which is current law. There are at least three other bills relating to drug possession before the legislature; click on the title link to read more.

Drug Testing

Montana Food Stamps Drug Testing Bill Filed. Rep. Randy Pinocci (R-Sun River) Monday filed House Bill 200, which would require all applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the food stamps program) to be screened for evidence of drug abuse. Those whose screening suggests a possible issue would be required to undergo a drug test. People who test positive for drugs wouldn't be allowed to receive benefits unless they agreed to complete a 30-day drug treatment program.

Harm Reduction

Michigan Cops Start Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Deputies in Oakland County have begun carrying naloxone opioid overdose reversal kits in a bid to reduce overdoses. That was made possible by the passage last year of Senate Bill 1049, which allowed law enforcement agencies to distribute the drug to police who have been trained to use it.

International

German Cops Tired of Messing Around With Small Time Drug Crimes. The country's police union is calling for "soft" drug offenses and other minor crimes to be decriminalized so police can focus on serious crime and terrorism. German police are also faced with shrinking numbers due to mandatory retirement of officers.

Chronicle AM: DC Challenges Congress on Pot Legalization, ME Welfare Drug Test Plan Approved, More (1/14/15)

The District of Columbia is challenging Congress on marijuana legalization, Sens. Feinstein and Grassley complain about administration drug policy, a plethora of pot bills have bill filed in Oregon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

DC Sends Legalization Measure to Congress. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) Tuesday sent to Congress the District's voter-approved Initiative 71 legalization measure, in effect challenging the body to either block it or let it stand. Mendelson's move starts a 30-day clock during which time Congress must act or the measure becomes law. In December, Congress voted to block funds to implement the measure, but DC maintains that that move does not stop the District from enacting it. Stay tuned.

Anchorage Mayor Wants to Ban Public Consumption. Mayor Dan Sullivan has proposed an ordinance that would ban pot use in public places. But his plan is running into opposition, with opponents claiming it is too broad. Click on the link for more details.

Oregon Legislature Sees a Bundle of Marijuana Bills. You'd think legalizing marijuana would quiet the issue at the statehouse, but you would be wrong. At least 16 marijuana-related bills were introduced Monday, ranging from limits on physician prescribing to limitations on retail sales locations to warnings to pregnant women, and more. Click on the link for a fuller rundown.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Medical Marijuana Program Recommends Expanding List of Qualifying Conditions. The state's Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians voted today to include sickle cell disease, chronic back pain after surgery, and severe psoriasis as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, but not Tourette's Syndrome. The recommendations now go to the Consumer Protection Commissioner, who would then decide whether to accept the recommendation, then draft a new regulation that would go to another public hearing before going to the General Assembly's regulation-review committee for a final decision. It could take months or even years.

Drug Policy

Senators Feinstein and Grassley Criticize Obama's Policy on International Drug Control Treaties. Senate octogenarians Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have teamed up to express their dismay over the Obama administration's "flexible interpretation" of UN drug control treaties and their concern over whether allowing states to legalize marijuana puts the US in conflict with the treaties. They sent one letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and another letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. The co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control complained that administration forbearance in the face of state-level legalization could let states "implement policies that legalize other, even more harmful drugs, without recourse" and that administration approaches to the issue may "weaken US standing as an international leader on drug control issues."

Drug Testing

Maine Governor Gets Go-Ahead for Welfare Drug Testing. Gov. Paul LePage's (R) plan to begin drug testing some welfare applicants has won final approval from the state attorney general, his office said Tuesday. The state will begin drug-testing convicted drug felons who are applying for or receiving welfare benefits. Those who fail will lose benefits unless they enroll in a drug treatment program. Civil rights and poverty activist groups have criticized the measure as an intrusion on privacy and an attack on poor people.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Cops Now Carrying Overdose Reversal Drug. Police in the Volunteer State are now beginning to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. The first training seminars for law enforcement personnel began last Friday. The move comes after the legislature last year passed a law allowing for broader distribution of the drug, including law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

International

Walid Jumblatt Again Calls for Lebanese Hash Legalization, Cites Terror Fight. Senior Druse leader and Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt has reiterated his call to legalize the hash trade in the country and he has tied it the country's fight against terrorism. The government needs to increase security and stability in the Bekaa Valley, a leading hash cultivation area, he said. "The treatment cannot be a security one only, but it should be backed by development (projects), and thus I still believe that the cultivation of hashish should be legalized because the theory of alternative crops has failed," Jumblatt said.

Chronicle AM: CA Tribe Will Grow Pot, Call for Asset Forfeiture Reform, KY Heroin Bill Moves, More (1/12/15)

A California tribe looks to be the first to grow marijuana, DC councilmembers move ahead with plans to tax and regulate pot, key congressional committee chairs call for asset forfeiture reform, an omnibus heroin bill is on the move in Kentucky, and more. Let's get to it:

Key congressmen went to end the Justice Department's asset forfeiture sharing program. (flickr.com)
Marijuana Policy

Milwaukee Aldermen Want to Make Pot Ticket A $5 Fine or Less. If you get caught with marijuana in Milwaukee right now, you face a fine of between $250 and $500 -- and a trip to jail if you don't pay the fine. Two Aldermen think that's too much. Nik Kovac and Ashanti Hamilton are proposing lowering the fine to $5 or less. "We are effectively trying to eliminate any of these tickets," Kovac said, citing racial disparities in marijuana arrests. Although the city's black and white populations are roughly equal, five times as many black people were arrested for possession of marijuana last year as white people.

Half of Michiganders Support Marijuana Legalization. Michigan is evenly divided on marijuana legalization, with 50% saying they would support an initiative allowing possession by adults and taxable sales at state-regulated stores, and 46% saying they opposed such an idea. The figures come from a new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. A similar poll last year had support at 47%. The trend is upward, but the numbers aren't high enough to excite deep-pocketed potential initiative backers; the conventional wisdom is that initiatives should be polling at 60% or more when the campaign begins.

DC Councilmembers File Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana. In a pointed message to the Congress, DC councilmembers last week introduced a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana sales in the nation's capital. The move comes despite passage of a federal spending bill that included an amendment barring the District from spending local or federal funds to implement such a law. Councilmember David Grosso and three colleagues have introduced the Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Act of 2015 (B21-0023), which would create a framework for a legal marijuana industry, complete with licensed cultivators, product manufacturers, retail stores, and testing labs.

Washington State Legislators Face Plethora of Pot Bills. Voting to legalize marijuana in 2012 was not the end for marijuana policy at the state legislature, but a new beginning. This week, at least seven marijuana-related bills have been filed as the session gets underway. A pair of bills seeks to resolve the problems with the fit between recreational and medical marijuana, another bill would raise the excise tax, yet another addresses organ transplant eligibility, while another would bar open containers in moving vehicles. Click on the link for more details and all the bill numbers.

A Second Ohio Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerges. Ohioans to End Prohibition has become the second group to plan a 2016 legalization initiative in the Buckeye State. The group is finalizing language for its Cannabis Control Amendment within the next few weeks. Already out of the gate is Responsible Ohio, whose End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA) would set up 10 authorized marijuana growing locations around the state.

Northern California Tribe Could Be First to Grow Pot. The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, California, said last Thursday it had signed a contract to grow thousands of marijuana plants on its 99-acre rancheria (reservation) north of Ukiah. The Justice Department recently gave the okay for marijuana operations on tribal lands, and it looks like the Pomos are first off the blocks.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative is Back. Proponents of last year's failed medical marijuana initiative have filed a rewritten ballot measure aimed at 2016. "The language and the essence of the amendment is essentially the same," said John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who chairs People United for Medical Marijuana, and the chief financer of the legalization drive. "What I would say is that we have tweaked or clarified positions that were constantly brought up by our opposition to help us talk more freely about the real issue, which is the legalization of medical marijuana."

Poll Finds Georgians Back Allowing CBD Cannabis Oil. Some 84% of Georgians support the legalization of low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils to treat medical conditions, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. The poll also found that when it came to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Georgians were split almost evenly, with 49% saying legalize it and 48% saying don't.

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Passes Senate. A multi-pronged bill designed to address the state's heroin problem passed the Senate in three days. The measure would increase treatment, prevention, and overdose prevention measures, but would also increase penalties for some heroin offenses. Democrats in the House said they will pass a similar measure, but probably without the mandatory minimum prison sentences approved in the Senate version.

International

Geneva Wants to Legalize the Marijuana Business. A year after Switzerland decriminalized pot possession, the canton on Geneva is thinking about legalizing the pot trade in a bid to undermine the black market. The canton's multi-party Advisory Commission on Addiction has urged the regional government to seek federal government approval of a pilot legalization program. The commission is recommending something akin to the Spanish model, where home cultivation is tolerated and private cannabis clubs offer smoking space and weed for sale to members.

Brazil Justice Minister Says No Marijuana Legalization. Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said Sunday that Brazil has no intention of following neighboring Uruguay down the path of pot legalization. "Legalization of drugs is not a part of the government's plans," he said. While reform advocates have cited prison overcrowding as a reason to legalize pot, Cardozo said the answer to overcrowding is not to stop arresting marijuana offenders, but to build more prisons.

Chile Authorizes Second Medical Marijuana Grow. Government officials have given the okay to a Chilean concern to grow a medical marijuana crop, the second time such a crop has been approved in the country. Agrofuturo will begin industrial production at its facility in the city of Los Angeles, south of Santiago. In September, the government granted approval to the Daya Foundation to grow the country's -- and the continent's -- first legal medical marijuana crop.

Chronicle AM: DC Pot Foes Busted, VT Pot Legalization Coalition Forms, KY to Hand Out Naloxone Kits, More (1/7/15)

DC pot legalization foes get nailed for campaign finance violations, Vermont activists are joining forces to legalize it this year, the Congressional Black Caucus is going to concentrate on criminal justice reform, Kentucky is spending money to prevent opiate overdoses, and more. Let's get to it:

Kentucky is spending $100,000 to give naloxone overdose reversal kits to drug users. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Governor Says Legalization Off to Good Start, But He's Worried About the Kids. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told reporters Tuesday that despite his initial concerns, the state's marijuana industry is well-regulated and staying within the law "in almost every case." Still, said Hickenlooper, "The concern that we still have — that I still have — is whether young people will view this legalization as in some way saying to them that marijuana is safe."

DC Legalization Opponents Violated Campaign Finance Laws. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has concluded that the anti-Initiative 71 group TIE DC ("Two is Enough, DC") violated several campaign laws in its effort to defeat the successful legalization initiative. It failed to register as a political committee, failed to file a financial report, and failed to include proper language in its campaign literature, according to the campaign finance office report. The office is recommending that the group be fined $2,000.

Oregon Liquor Commission Seeking Public Comment on How to Proceed With Legal Marijuana. The commission, which is charged with implementing legalization, wants to hear from interested parties. It has posted a survey on its website asking the public for its input on how best to move forward. The commission is planning a series of "listening sessions" later this month.

Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Forms. Groups of Vermont legalization supporters have come together to form the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana with an eye toward getting a legalization bill passed this year. Coalition members include the Vermont ACLU, the state Libertarian and Progressive parties, other state groups, the Marijuana Policy Project and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). A legalization bill last year morphed into a study bill, whose report will be released next week, but Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) said he plans to introduce a legalization bill this session.

Harm Reduction

Kentucky to Pay For 2,000 Take-Home Overdose Reversal Drug Kits. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced Tuesday that the state will provide $105,000 for three urban hospitals to buy 2,000 naloxone kits to send home with heroin overdose patients. "This project will allow us to get this medicine into the hands and homes of the people who need it most: heroin users and their families," Attorney General Jack Conway said at a Capitol news conference, standing with Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear. "They will be walking out (of the emergency room) with a medication that could save their lives." At least 723 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in the first nine months of 2014; 27% of those cases involved heroin.

Criminal Justice

New Head of Congressional Black Caucus Promises Focus on Criminal Justice Reform. Incoming caucus head Rep. GK Butterfield (D-NC) said at his swearing in ceremony Tuesday that the group will focus on criminal justice reform this session. "Thjere is a well-founded mistrust between the African American community and law enforcement officers," Butterfield said. "The statistics are clear. Video clips are clear. We recognize that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. Unfortunately, there are some officers who abuse the sacred responsibility to protect and serve by using excessive and sometimes deadly force when a less severe response is warranted. The CBC will seek legislative action to reverse this terrible trend." The caucus will also work to reform sentencing laws, he said.

International

At White House, Obama Pledges to Support Mexico in Fight Against Drug Violence. Meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Tuesday, President Obama said the US will stand alongside Mexico as a "good partner" in its fight against violent drug traffickers and related problems. "Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and drug cartels that are responsible for so many tragedies inside of Mexico," he said. Despite calls from groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Center for International Policy's America's Program for the US to hold Mexico's feet to the fire over human rights violations, corruption, and impunity, Obama did not publicly address those issues. 

The Year's Top 10 Domestic Drug Policy Stories [FEATURE]

Whew, what a year! Two more states legalize it -- and DC, too -- decriminalization spreads, and more. But it wasn't all good news. Here's our Top 10:

1. Marijuana Legalization Wins at the Polls in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. In an Election Day clean sweep, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, delivered a marijuana legalization trifecta. Legalization won with 53% of the vote in Alaska, 55% in Oregon, and a whopping 69% in Washington, DC, the highest percentage vote for legalization ever recorded. With victory in Oregon this year, every state that has had the chance to vote for legalization since 2012 has now done so.

2. The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Colorado and Washington. It's now been two years since the first two states to legalize marijuana did so, and the predicted horrible consequences have not materialized. While possession became legal almost immediately, legal sales commenced in January in Colorado and in July in Washington. Teen pot smoking declined this year, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey, and Colorado teens in particular were consuming less weed, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Neither have traffic fatalities increased, according to The Washington Post. Nor has crime increased. What has increased is state revenues from the taxation of marijuana, from zero before legalization to tens of millions of dollars annually now.

3. Big Eastern Cities Decriminalize Pot Possession. The city councils in Philadelphia and Washington, DC, this year approved the decriminalization of small-time pot possession. Although New York state decriminalized in 1978, New York City had been the marijuana arrest capital of the world, thanks to NYPD's habit of stopping people, telling them to empty their pockets, and then charging them with the misdemeanor office of public possession instead of the civil infraction. Now, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York cops can't do that anymore. And let's not forget Baltimore; the state of Maryland decriminalized this year, too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose crystallized concerns over abuse of opiates. (wikimedia.org)
4. The Death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman Crystallizes Rising Concerns About Heroin and Prescription Opiates. The February overdose death of the acclaimed actor turned a glaring spotlight on the issues of heroin and prescription pain pill addiction and overdoses. Ever since, government at the federal, state, and local level has been moved by the urge to "Do something!" And it has -- with responses covering the gamut from harm reduction measures like 911 Good Samaritan laws and increased access to overdose reversal drugs to calls for more drug treatment to more-of-the-same drug war approaches and calls for more money for law enforcement.

5. California Defelonizes Drug Possession. With one fell swoop, California voters struck a big blow against mass incarceration when they approved Proposition 47 in November. The initiative makes drug possession and five other low-level, nonviolent offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. It becomes the 14th state to do so, and by far the largest.

6. Congress Tells the Justice Department to Butt Out of Medical Marijuana States. In passing the omnibus spending bill last week, Congress approved an historic amendment barring the Justice Department from spending taxpayer funds to go after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Passage does not promise an end to all federal interference -- it doesn't address taxing issues, for instance -- and it is only for this fiscal year, but this is still a landmark vote.

Attorney General Holder has striven to reduce overincarceration of drug offenders. (usdoj.gov)
7. Floridians Vote for Medical Marijuana, But It Still Loses. Florida should have been the first Southern state to approve medical marijuana, and 57% of Florida voters agreed in November. But because the Florida initiative was a constitutional amendment, it needed 60% of the vote to pass. Even with that high bar, the initiative still could have passed, if not for some campaign gaffes. Some $5 million worth of contributions to the "no" side by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson didn't help, either.

8. Medical Marijuana Lite. Maryland passed a medical marijuana law and Minnesota and New York passed limited medical marijuana laws, but this was the year of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana laws. Such measures passed in a number of states where full-blown medical marijuana hasn't, including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Utah. They typically provide access to high-CBD cannabis oils to a limited number of patients.

9. The Obama Administration Moves to Reduce the Federal Drug War Prison Population. It didn't do it all by itself -- the US Sentencing Commission deserves recognition for proposing sentencing reforms -- but the president and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke our vigorously and repeatedly against mandatory minimums and over-incarceration. It wasn't just talk; the Justice Department instructed US Attorneys to find ways to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, and exhorted federal drug prisoners to seek clemency.

10. But The Drug War Juggernaut Continues to Roll. Despite all the good news this year, the reality is that we are still nibbling around the edges. While marijuana arrests the previous year were down to just under 700,000 (the historic high was 872,000 in 2008) and overall drug arrests declined by about 50,000, there were still 1.5 million people arrested on drug charges. And the number of people arrested for drugs other than marijuana actually increased.

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

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

Marijuana Policy

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Pardons and Commutations

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

Opiates

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

International

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

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

Chronicle AM: TX Pot Bill Filed, Another MO Legalization Initiative, KY Heroin Bill, More (12/15/14)

Texas begins heading down the path of marijuana reform, a Missouri legalization initiative seeks to really free the weed, Rep. Andy Harris isn't very welcome in DC these days, Kentucky tries to deal with heroin again this year, and more. Let's get to it:

The Kentucky legislature will try to deal with heroin again this year. The bill has good and bad elements. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Filed. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) today introduced a bill that would remove the threat of arrest, jail, and a criminal record for small-time marijuana possession. The measure is House Bill 507. "Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn't working," Rep. Moody said at an Austin press conference. "We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction." The legislation is being backed by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a coalition that includes the Marijuana Policy Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Another, Looser Missouri Legalization Initiative Effort is Underway. Show Me Cannabis has some competition. The marijuana reform group has a legalization initiative pending, but now, there's another, less restrictive initiative also in the works. A team from KC NORML last week submitted a petition to put its own measure on the ballot. The Missouri Cannabis Restoration and Protection Act would remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances, free anyone imprisoned for marijuana-only convictions, bar police from charging drivers with DUI if the only drug they test positive for is marijuana, and put no limitation on the number of plants people can grow. Once approved by state officials, the initiative will need 160,000 valid voter signatures -- 8% of registered voters in at least six of the state's eight legislative districts -- to qualify for the ballot.

DC Businesses Tell Maryland Congressman Who Tried to Block Legalization to Stay Away. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is not very welcome in the District these days. He has been the primary mover behind Republican efforts to block voter-approved legalization in DC. While his rider blocking legalization was included in the recent omnibus spending bill, whether it will actually stop DC legalization remains to be seen. Now, there is a Blacklist Andy Harris movement, and at least one business, has put up a sign displaying his face along with prominent text reading "Not Welcome."

Heroin

Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Increases Sentences, Has Harm Reduction Provisions. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel has pre-filed a bill, Senate Bill 29, that attempts a broad response to the state's issues with heroin. The bill would allow for increased access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, create a 911 Good Samaritan provision to try to reduce overdose deaths, and fund drug treatment. It would also increase sentences for some heroin dealing offenses. A similar bill failed to get through the legislature last year.

International

Uruguay Sees First Marijuana Expo. Uruguay is the first country to legalize marijuana commerce, and now it's had its first marijuana trade show. Expocannabis opened in Montevideo over the weekend.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths, Naloxone Price Hikes, How Weed Can Win in 2016, New Synthetics, More (12/2/14)

A new report suggests how to win pot legalization initiatives in 2016, a closely watched medical marijuana trial is delayed, there's naloxone and overdose death news, Mexican pot farmers are getting squeezed from competition north of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Moms Key Demographic for Winning Initiatives, Research Report Argues. Women between 30 and 55 are the key demographic group for winning marijuana legalization initiatives, according to a new report from the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The report, "Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012," analyzed the 2012 initiative efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as looking at the 2010 Prop 19 effort in California. The campaigns in Colorado and Washington successfully targeted that key demographic, the analysis found. The report also found that key messages to voters were that legalization would free up scarce law enforcement resources and that it would create new tax revenues. There's plenty more to read in the report; click on the link for the whole thing.

Marijuana DUI Breathalyzer Test Coming? Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that could detect THC on a driver's breath. The researchers said the device would probably not provide an exact reading of the amount of THC, but could help officers determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. But a follow-up THC blood test would still be necessary for use as evidence in court. Researchers said they hope to start testing this device in the first half of next year.

Arizona Legislative Analysts Say Legal Pot Could Generate $48 Million a Year in Tax Revenues. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has produced a report estimating tax revenues from legalization at $48 million a year. The report was produced in September, but details were not released until the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times obtained a copy Monday. The report was in response to a Democratic bill to legalize marijuana. That bill was killed in April, but could be back next year. And there is a legalization initiative effort underway for 2016, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical Marijuana

Trial Postponed, New Judge Assigned in Widely Watched Federal Medical Marijuana Case of Kettle Falls Five. A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

Los Angeles Has Shut Down More Than 400 Dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Members Save Over 200 North Carolinians From Drug Overdoses With Naloxone. The Coalition announced today that it had received a report of its 208th overdose reversal using the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Coalition has distributed over 5,100 overdose prevention kits containing naloxone since August 2013. That was made possible by the passage of a 911 Good Samaritan/naloxone access law in April 2013. For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, go here.

Naloxone Price Going Up Dramatically. Just as police departments across the country make plans to stock up on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, manufacturers are jacking up prices. In Georgia, police report the price of a kit jumped from $22 to $40, while New York City is reporting a 50% price increase. Manufacturers have not explained the increases, but some activists have suggested that with the surge in orders from government entities, the makers have seen a chance to grab windfall profits."We've had a pretty steady price for several years now,"said Matt Curtis, the policy director of VOCAL-New York, an advocacy group. "Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we're seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable."

CDC Reports Drug Overdose Deaths More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, more than 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, more than doubling the figure of 17,000 in 1999. Of the 41,000 drug overdoses in 2012, 16,000 were from opioid pain relievers (although that number actually decreased 5% from 2011), while nearly 6,000 were from heroin. Thus, legal and illegal opioids accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2012. The overall overdose death rate also doubled, from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. The highest rates of overdose deaths were in West Virginia (32 per 100,000), Kentucky (25 deaths per 100,00 people), New Mexico (24.7 per 100,00 people), Utah (23.1 per 100,00 people) and Nevada (21 per 100,00 people). The report is "Trends in Drug Poisoning Deaths, 1999-2012."

Law Enforcement

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is seeking an emergency appropriation for a "heroin surge" to combat increased heroin addiction and overdoses. He wants $100 million appropriated to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The move would increase HIDTA funding to $338 million nationwide, if the funding is approved in the federal budget.

Drug Testing

Kansas Welfare Drug Testing Law Not Catching Many. That's at least in part because the state is not actually testing many welfare applicants. After four months in effect, the state has tested only 20 applicants, of whom four tested positive. The testing is only required for people who are visibly using drugs, been recently arrested on a drug charge, or were found during a questionnaire screening to be likely to be using drugs. The state has paid $500,000 for the program so far, but has not achieved the $1.5 million in savings from people being disqualified for benefits earlier estimated because it has tested and disqualified so few people.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Synthetics and the Changing Global Drug Marketplace. Stanford University drug policy analyst Keith Humphreys has penned an informative piece on the increasing shift from natural, plant-based drugs to synthetic ones as well as the shift to on-line drug selling and buying. This phenomenon could "upend traditional understanding of drug markets and drug policy," he writes. There's much more; check it out at the link.

International

US Marijuana Production Hurting Mexican Pot Farmers. National Public Radio's John Burnett reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa that Mexican marijuana producers are being squeezed by made-in-America weed. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,"one grower there told him. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground." That grower said if matters continued as they were, he would plant opium poppies instead. The report also quotes a DEA official as saying Mexican cartels are now importing high-quality American weed to Mexico for high-end customers.

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Petition, PA Harm Reduction Law, TX Fake Pot Bill, More (12/1/14)

Oregon's dispensary law continues to be thrashed out in the courts, a Pennsylvania 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access law has gone into effect, Minnesota gets medical marijuana growers, there's a Texas bill targeting synthetic cannabinoids, and more. Let's get to it:

"Spice" and other synthetic cannabinoids are under the gun in Texas. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

APA Call for Papers on Marijuana Legalization. The American Psychological Association's (APA) journal, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, is seeking empirical (research, both original and meta-analyses) and theoretical (review) papers examining trends in marijuana use and use disorders and clinically-related research on the drug's addictive potential and health effects. The APA notes that policy is shifting "toward medicalization and legalization of marijuana" and says that "research on the potential effects of this drug is critical as the public health significance of marijuana is debated in this country." Click on the link for submission requirements and deadlines.

Alaska Marijuana Business Group Angling for Industry-Friendly Rules. A small number of people interested in getting into the marijuana business in Alaska have formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation to advocate for regulations and rules that will "let the market decided who makes it or who fails," said the Coalition's Bruce Shulte. The group says it will work with legislators and the Alcoholic Beverage Review board to guide rulemaking. The state has until late next year to come up with regulations and to decide whether to use the review board to regulate marijuana or create a new entity.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon to Appeal Court Ruling that Cities Can Ban Dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Minnesota Names Two Medical Marijuana Growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

ASA Petition for California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Law Goes Into Effect. A state law that puts the opiate overdose reversal drug into the hands of first responders went into effect today. The law also contains a 911 Good Samaritan provision, providing some legal protections for people who witness and report overdoses. The law is Act 139. The state has recorded more than 3,000 opiate overdose deaths since 2009.

New Synthetics

Texas Bills to Ban Synthetic Marijuana Proposed. State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) has pre-filed two bills aimed at criminalizing synthetic cannabinoids in the Lone Star State. The two bills, Senate Bill 172 and Senate Bill 173 designate certain synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances under the state Controlled Substances Act. Huffman is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus and vice-chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. She won Texas Monthly's award for "worst legislator of 2013," in part because of her intransigently conservative stands on criminal justice issues.

International

Uruguay Ruling Party Keeps Presidency, Marijuana Law Should Be Safe. Pepe Mujica's legacy as the man who legalized marijuana in Uruguay should be safe after his Broad Front's candidate, Tabare Vazques, won Sunday's election to succeed him. Center-right opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had threatened to repeal much of the law if he was elected. Vazquez, however, is not as enthusiastic about the law as Mujica was, and has said he might modify it. Roll out of the pharmacy sales portion of the law was supposed to happen at year's end, but was just pushed back until at least March.

Australia Goes Wild With Drug Dog Searches, Doesn't Find Much. Police in New South Wales are subjecting thousands of people to "intrusive and humiliating" police searches after being falsely identified by drug-sniffing dogs as carrying drugs, according to statistics revealed after a request from the New South Wales Green Party. Nearly 17,800 people were searched after being alerted on by drug dogs, but in nearly two-thirds (64%) of those cases, no drugs were found, and only 2.4% of searches led to successful prosecutions. The Greens complained that the use of drug dogs outside festivals was potentially dangerous, causing some users to either take all their drugs before traveling to events and others to consume them in a panicked fashion when it becomes evident a drug dog sniff looms.

New Zealand Meth Use Up After "Legal Highs" Banned. Addiction specialists are reporting that former meth users have gone back to the drug after the country reversed course and criminalized new synthetic drugs. The country had sought to regulate the new synthetics, but reversed course in May after loud public discontent with open drug use and strange behavior. "People who have used methamphetamine in the past are now going back to using it after the legal highs came off the market," explained one addiction counselor.

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